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In a latest development, Russia brokered a new peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the two countries that have been in a military conflict for over six weeks over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus.
What is the deal?
- The deal, which is meant to end the conflict between the two nations, was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev and Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan.
- As per the new peace deal, both sides will now maintain positions in the areas that they currently hold, which will mean a significant gain for Azerbaijan as it has reclaimed over 15-20 per cent of its lost territory during the recent conflict.
- Further, under this agreement, all military operations are suspended, Russian peacekeepers will be deployed along the line of contact in Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Lachin corridor that connects the region to Armenia.
- These Russian peacekeepers with a force of roughly 2,000 will be deployed in the area for a period of five years.
- Refugees and internally displaced persons will return to the region and the adjacent territories and the two sides will also exchange prisoners of wars and bodies.
- Significantly, a new corridor will be opened from Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan, which will be under Russian control.
|Nagorno-KarabakhStraddling western Asia and Eastern Europe, Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but most of the region is controlled by Armenian separatists.Nagorno-Karabakh has been part of Azerbaijan territory since the Soviet era.When the Soviet Union began to collapse in the late 1980s, Armenia’s regional parliament voted for the region’s transfer to Armenia; the Soviet authorities turned down the demand.Years of clashes followed between Azerbaijan forces and Armenian separatists.The violence lasted into the 1990s, leaving tens and thousands dead and displacing hundreds of thousands.In 1994, Russia brokered a ceasefire, by which time ethnic Armenians had taken control of the region.While the area remains in Azerbaijan, it is today governed by separatist Armenians who have declared it a republic called the “Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast”.While the Armenian government does not recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as independent, it supports the region politically and militarily.|
- The recent conflict began in September, since when each country has claimed to have inflicted serious loss on its opponent.
- It was the first time that both countries have proclaimed martial law.
- During the course of the conflict, considered one of the most serious in recent years, over 1200 have lost their lives as per the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities, while thousands have been displaced.
What is Russia’s role in the conflict?
- Russia’s role in the conflict has been somewhat opaque since it supplies arms to both countries.
- Also, it is in a military alliance with Armenia called the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.
Recently, a three decades-old unresolved ethno territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh flared up once again. The conflict is between two relatively small countries and is territorial in nature.
However, several regional and global players particularly Russia, Europe, Turkey and Iran are also involved to secure their strategic, security and economic interests in the region.
As the strategic importance of the region is derived from energy exports, the stability of the region is very important for regional growth and oil importing countries like India.
Further, the conflict may cause geopolitical unrest in the region which is already suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic.Therefore, regional powers must strive to find a diplomatic solution to the problem and prevent the clash turning into a full blown regional conflict.
Role of Regional Players
- Turkey: The conflict between the two former Soviet republics has wider geopolitical implications as Turkey, which shares a border with Armenia, is backing Azerbaijan.
- Given the deep cultural ties between the two countries, Turkey is staunchly backing Azerbaijan.
- Further, this fits well into Turkey’s aggressive foreign policy, which seeks to expand Turkish interests to the former Ottoman territories.
- Russia: Russia enjoys good ties with both Azerbaijan and Armenia and supplies weapons to both.
- Armenia is more dependent on Russia than the energy-rich Azerbaijan and Russia also has a military base in Armenia.
- Therefore, Russia is trying to strike a balance between the two, by mediating a ceasefire between the warring sides, but it has yet to convene a meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani political or military leaderships.
- Israel: The conflict marks a strange coupling of Turkey and Israel, which are hostile to one another both diplomatically and in terms of security.
- Yet both states, dominated by their Sunni and Jewish communities respectively, support and arm Azerbaijan.
- Also, Israel’s major military and security firms seek to benefit from Azerbaijan’s eagerness to be armed.
Role of India: Interests & Challenges
Asymmetry in Relations
- With Armenia, India has a friendship and cooperation treaty (signed in 1995), which, incidentally, would prohibit India from providing military or any other assistance to Azerbaijan.
- In the case of Azerbaijan, ONGC/OVL has made investments in an oilfield project in Azerbaijan and GAIL is exploring the possibilities of cooperation in LNG.
- Azerbaijan also falls on the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) route, connecting India with Russia through Central Asia.
- It can also connect India with Turkey and beyond through the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars passenger and freight rail link.
- Armenia extends its unequivocal support to India on Kashmir issue whereas Azerbaijan not only opposess but also promotes Pakistan’s narrative on this issue.
- India does not have a publicly articulated policy for the South Caucasus — unlike “Neighbourhood First”, “Act East” or “Central Asia Connect”.
- The region has remained on the periphery of its foreign policy radar.