''US and Russia seem to value symbolic cooperation they have on NK''. Laurence Broers
We spoke about the recent developments over the NK conflict with Laurence Broers. He is one of the prominent experts on Nagorno Karabakh conflict besides Mr. Broers is "an Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House" .
1.During the recent years there is a high escalation on the line of contact. Do you see any possibility for the resumption of the full scale hostilities?
Not from a calculated escalation: the main risk at this moment is from an escalation arising from a miscalculation or misreading of signals. With the increased use of higher calibre, lower precision weaponry, there is an increased risk of civilian casualties. We've already seen a number of Armenian civilians killed in 2015 - three in Tavush area in September last year, and most recently on 12 February in Martuni in NK. Azerbaijani civilians have also been killed in the past. If there was an accidental strike on a civilian target, for example if one of the sides was to hit a school or hospital, an escalation could be very hard to control. That is why it is in the interest of both parties to agree to reinstate a hotline communication link across the frontline, as they previously had. A second issue is mis-reading of signals from external actors in terms of their commitments to the status quo: in the currently fluid international environment surrounding the Karabakh conflict it is possible that signals could be misread, or ambiguities misperceived. However, it is also true that Presidents Aliyev and Sargsyan appear to be, on the whole, cautious and pragmatic leaders. There have been several instances where escalation was possible but avoided over the last two years.
2.The economic situation in Azerbaijan and devaluation of manat is a serious challenge for incumbent authorities. How the instability in Azerbaijan can impact the Karabakh conflict?
The classic scenario might be seen as one where a weakened leadership seeks diversion through a military escalation. Of course events could develop in different ways, but I think that scenario is still distant. We need to distinguish between the economic impacts of the oil price slump on Azerbaijani state-society relations, and on elite cohesion. It may be that the latter is the main short to medium-term problem confronting the ruling elite in Azerbaijan, and it's not clear that a military escalation would solve that problem. Reduced revenue flows might instead have two other impacts on the Karabakh conflict. First, the strategy of expensive militarization will be much less viable. Secondly, if prolonged, and in an optimistic scenario, domestic issues of economic reform and governance may become more important to regime legitimacy than Karabakh-related nationalism. Developing another kind of legitimacy would (further) reduce any attractiveness of violent conflict. But in a pessimistic scenario, if the ruling elite felt an existential threat to itself, anything could happen.
3.Apart from the current OSCE Minsk group framework do u see any other platforms for the discussion of NK conflict? What is your opinion regarding the recent 2 resolutions discussed at the Council of Europe?
In a sense it is natural that the conflict parties seek to leverage all the diplomatic resources they can, and that can involve "forum shopping". Azerbaijani frustration with the Minsk Process is also real. But in the case of the Council of Europe resolutions they seem to have contributed more to noise about the conflict than focus on its resolution. There seems to be an underlying assumption that diplomatic pressure, rather than politics, can "solve" the conflict. That is a mistaken calculation, because it is only through politics - each side acknowledging the other's needs and red lines and negotiating the space between them - that can end this conflict. That politics is there in the Madrid Principles, in the difficult and deeply unpopular questions of territorial withdrawals, of interim status, the right of return for displaced communities, of a vote on the final status of NK. The resolution of the conflict lies in these ideas, elaborated within the Minsk Process, and discussions in other forums are most often a distraction from them. What we need is not forum-shopping, but statesmanship from the presidents to grab the thorns of unpopular politics for the long-term benefit of all.
4.The peace is not possible under continuous war threats coming from Azerbaijani high ranked officials. Do you see any future for the track 2 diplomacy under the current circumstances?
Yes, unfortunately parts of the ruling elite in Azerbaijan have seen more of a threat than a resource in track-2 diplomacy in recent years. But I am sure they are also aware of the imprisoning effects of militant rhetoric, and of the self-interest in keeping different channels open. It has been a very difficult moment for track-2 diplomacy in Azerbaijan, and the space for these kinds of contact will depend a lot on domestic developments in the country. But the need for brokers and intermediaries, both between societies and between state and society on each side, and for bottom-up channels of communication, doesn't go away. Opinion polls show that a silent majority in both Azerbaijan and Armenia expresses more confidence in a negotiated outcome than in the use of force. The strategy of militarization doesn't have a popular mandate and is looking economically unsustainable, so I hope that the Azerbaijani ruling elite will start to see more of a resource, and less of a rival, in track-2 diplomacy.
5.Can the the USA–Russia geopolitical rivalry have its destructive influence on the conflict resolution process in South Caucasus?
Yes, of course global and regional geopolitical rivalries have always had a negative effect on South Caucasus conflicts. But these effects are quite different in different conflicts. The Karabakh conflict, and specifically the Minsk Group, appears to be an exception to the wider rule of American-Russian rivalry. American and Russian diplomats have a completely different kind of conversation about Karabakh from the arguments they have about Abkhazia, South Ossetia - or eastern Ukraine. With rivalry and mutual suspicion high in these and other global theatres, the US and Russia seem to value the symbolic cooperation they have on NK. That could of course make them favour a continuation of this politically useful cooperation, contributing to the status quo and to stagnation. But until the leaderships of Armenia and Azerbaijan really grab the thorns of resolving this conflict, who can blame the US and Russia? Outside powers can’t impose a solution, because that solution lies in Armenian-Azerbaijani politics, in a legitimate territorial delimitation that only Armenians and Azerbaijanis, together, for themselves, by themselves, can decide.
Interview by Anna Barseghyan