The guns have stopped roaring and the drones have gone off sight with the signing of the peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the two republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Brokered by Russia and Turkey, the peace deal marked the end of the fierce fighting that erupted, in the last week of September, over Nagorno-Karabakh, the region internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but inhabited by the ethnic Armenians. But the peace deal — apart from ending the fight — signifies more than meets the eye.
By agreeing to the peace deal to end the bloody conflict, both Armenia and Azerbaijan have indicated their strength to end conflicts through negotiations in the larger interest of peace. And while Armenia has demonstrated its political acumen and pragmatism to save more territory from falling into the hands of Azerbaijan, the latter also has displayed its political maturity to consolidate on its territorial gains which it had made during the fighting and which the peace accord placed in its control. Most importantly, this landmark deal has given peace a chance to prevail and prevented further loss of men and material on both sides in the conflict.
Moreover, the peace deal in question has brought into limelight the positive role which diplomacy can play in ending intense conflicts. At the same time, the deal has altered the status quo and the balance of power in the region.
While the territorial gains are likely to boost the morale of the Azeris and give them a psychological edge over Armenians, the latter’s anger over the peace deal, is seen as their psychological defeat as well. A mob of the Armenians ransacked the parliament and demanded their prime minister stepped down after the deal was signed. To vent their anger, the Armenians who were required, under the accord, to leave the territory (now in control of Azerbaijan) put everything on fire before their exit.
Russia, on the other hand, has every reason to rejoice by brokering the peace agreement between the two warring nations, Moscow has displayed its political muscle in the region and beyond. It has capitalized on the window of opportunity as the United States engaged with the presidential elections and France with its domestic issues — to use its influence and score some brownie points as well. Since Russia is an arms supplier to both Azerbaijan and Armenia, it could do everything but enrage neither of these countries.
Further with Armenia, Russia has a defense pact. Siding with Yerevan was likely to alienate Azeris and put Moscow in direct conflict with Turkey, the regional power which fully backs Azerbaijan. Given this situation, Russia decided to show its ability to act as a peacemaker aimed at ending the conflict even if it meant Moscow’s sacrifice of its close ally, Armenia in this case, when the going gets tough. Around 2,000 Russian peacekeeping forces are required to patrol along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor that connects the region to Armenia for five years in accordance with the peace agreement.
Meanwhile, Turkey announced itself as the power whose say matters in the regional conflicts. Ankara, right from day one of the fighting, backed Azerbaijan politically, diplomatically and morally in a bid to keep Russia at bay. Russia and Turkey have a clash of interests in Syria and any miscalculation is likely to push them towards confrontation. This clash of interests was also visible in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. However not bothered by Moscow’s military might and nuclear arsenal, Ankara stood proactively behind Baku to balance the equation and to secure its own geopolitical interests — it can get direct access to the Caspian Sea through the Nakhchivan- Azerbaijan corridor and also directly infuence Central Asia.
On the other hand, the other regional power Iran appears to have ended up as a loser. With Azerbaijan now in control of the entire border with Iran, Tehran is justified in viewing it with apprehensions. In view of this situation, Israel (Iran’s arch rival) will be better placed to keep Tehran thinking. Azerbaijan and Israel are reported to have deep ties in intelligence, energy and military domains. This situation will not only change Tehran’s policies towards Azerbaijan and Syria but will also influence the public perception in Iran about its image as a regional leader.
Overshadowed by the role of Turkey and Russia, Iran has been pushed to the backseat. That showed to the Iranians that their country has little influence in the region. Besides, in case of war between Israel and Iran, the former can use Azerbaijan as a Launchpad or a refueling station.
For Tehran, the other cause of concern is the transit corridor which will run close to Armenia’s border with Iran. The corridor will be monitored by Russian troops and is likely to prevent Iran’s access to Armenia and to Europe through Georgia. In such a situation, Iran’s economy and influence will shrink further.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Sheikh Shabir Kulgami is a Kashmiri (Indian) political commentator, analyst and columnist. He writes extensively on South Asia.