Peace in the South Caucasus - different meanings for Yerevan and Baku

After the end of the 2020 war, both Azerbaijan, Armenia and other players interested in regional stability and security in the Caucasus started talking about the real possibility of achieving lasting peace. The events that have followed since then have shown that the notion of "peace" has a different meaning in Yerevan and Baku. Along with the competing geopolitical goals of other players seeking to maximize their gains or minimize their losses in an ever-changing situation, an analysis of the real goals and means of achieving them of the two states is extremely important. In order to assess possible scenarios of future developments, it is useful to understand the essence of the current foreign and security policies of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan, victorious in the 2020 war, pursued a policy that led to a permanent change in power relations with the defeated Armenia. Despite the temporary cessation of hostilities, the war was not over. The path Aliyev traveled in September 2020 did not end in September 2023 either, as conquering Nagorno-Karabakh and expelling Armenians from there is not the full and final goal. Aliyev cannot but assume that territorial gains may well be lost in the future, hence his latent fears and threatening statements about "Armenian revanchism". Baku's official rhetoric and actions repeatedly confirm the fact that Azerbaijan seeks such a radical transformation of relations with Armenia that would permanently consolidate the current state of affairs. In this regard, encouraged by military successes, at virtually no political cost, the Azerbaijani president has now openly embarked on a path of expansion. Along with skillful eastern flirtations with major geopolitical players, his power politics and active foreign policy are based on three main pillars of effective implementation of the strategy of regional supremacy:

Military expansion has already proved its effectiveness by winning and establishing new power relations with defeated Armenia that can only be changed by a new war initiated now by Yerevan, which under current conditions would be a disaster for the latter. The almost constant use of force or threat of force, as well as the continuous build-up of military power, has so far been the most convincing tool for advancing its regional aspirations. However, unrestrained military expansion is a gamble with the highest stakes: one can win and lose, and become a victim of the expansion of others - and once and for all squander the spoils accumulated in the past.

Economic expansion is a less intrusive and indirect method of gaining power. An example of economic expansion is the relationship with Georgia, which is mainly dependent on Azerbaijan for oil and gas and Turkey for energy. In contrast to this "positive" example, the blockade imposed by Azerbaijan and Turkey on Armenia since the early 1990s proved to be an equally effective example of economic expansion, significantly limiting development opportunities for landlocked Armenia, also alienating it from regional economic and infrastructure projects, ultimately weakening it both economically and strategically. Under the new status quo, economic expansion will complement military expansion through economic control. The ultimate goal of this policy is to make Armenia's economic life dependent on Azerbaijan and Turkey, replacing Russia's current leadership in key areas of the local economy.

Cultural expansion is the most subtle and most successful of expansionist policies. It aims to conquer and control the minds of people as a tool to change the relationship between two nations.

Since 2020, the defeats, humiliations and losses experienced by the people of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have become fertile ground for the loss of national pride, strength and unity and have served as a source of further fragmentation of society, spreading frustration and apathy, deepening the sense of insecurity and impotence.

Aliyev has already mentioned the importance of economic and cultural expansion when he stated that "we will use cars, not tanks, to return to our historical lands."

 Armenia

 What is the essence of Armenian foreign and security policy in the face of Azerbaijan's apparent expansionist policy aimed at protecting territorial gains and further spreading influence? Like any state that has suffered a humiliating defeat, Armenia has also been deprived of important tools for conducting a focused foreign policy. Worse, while under normal circumstances "foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy", it is now external factors that largely determine Yerevan's international behavior and domestic agenda. However, the experience of the three years since 2020 suggests that, despite everything, Armenia pursues a policy of complacency in an increasingly deteriorating situation, and seeks to adjust the existing distribution of power through a policy of unilateral concessions and compromises.

The policy of appeasement pursued by Armenia since 2020, aimed at preserving the status quo, and the expansionist policy of Azerbaijan, aimed at finally changing it, are incompatible. Yerevan's mistake lies in not realizing that the consistent and ever-increasing demands of the opposite side are only links in a chain, at the end of which is the final change in the regional distribution of forces.

Only by understanding and recognizing the nature of expansionist policies can effective countermeasures be taken. History is replete with examples that the most effective way to stop an aggressor who intends to pursue an uncontrolled policy of force is a policy of containment.

Today, it has become obvious to Yerevan that the security policy, which for thirty years was based on the belief in guarantees from Russia, has completely failed - neither in 2020 nor in 2023 Armenia was helped by its membership in the CSTO, nor by the Russian military base located in Armenia, nor by the presence of Russian peacekeepers.  All this would seem, to provide a solid basis for regional security, but Azerbaijan's expansionist agenda "successfully" intertwined with Russia's plans to invade Ukraine, making the support of Azerbaijan and Turkey a much more valuable asset for Moscow than Armenia's security and the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In addition to the above, the events of October 2023 - the Hamas attack on Israeli settlements just weeks after the seizure of Nagorno-Karabakh - put Armenia in an even more difficult position. The focus of attention of the international powers that had been Armenia's traditional allies shifted to the conflagration raging in the Middle East, thus virtually eliminating the humanitarian disaster in Nagorno-Karabakh from the list of world news.

As processes inexorably approach the point of no return, Yerevan urgently needs to change the essence of its security policy. The nature and methods of containment are beyond the scope of this article, but I would like to warn about the risks of making "quick fixes" such as seeking guarantees from Iran, a geographic neighbor, ally of Moscow and sponsor of Hamas.

Suffice it to say that Armenia is still not alone and can rely on reliable partners who have similar perceptions of challenges, threats and interests. At the same time, Western countries such as France or the United States are not the only alternative to the failed security system built on Russia's guarantees. Previous publications have mentioned, for example, military partnership with India, which has its own interests in the region and is interested, in particular, in containing the strengthening of Pakistan and its allies. Creating a multilateral security system that relies on many partners, but shares common values, will build a solid wall that will deter further aggression, expansion, or other disruptions of the status quo. This may be the only way to achieve a compromise, just and honorable peace in the region.

Publicēts 19. janvāris, 2024

Autors Sergejs Potapkins