Minsk Group Absent as Armenia–Azerbaijan Conflict Continues

As a sign of how turbulent the Nagorno-Karabakh region has become, a ceasefire that took effect Oct. 18 lasted mere minutes. Fighting quickly resumed with each side blaming the other for violating the truce. While no one expected the arrangement to magically cure decades of squabbling over the territory, there was at least some hope that a pause could take hold and allow for diplomacy.

The truth of the matter is that a ceasefire is simply not enough to considering the forces at work in the Armenian–Azerbaijan conflict. With no one to hold the states accountable for breaking the truce, there was little incentive for them to honor it. It was’t even the first time this month a ceasefire arrangement had been tried; on Oct. 10, a similar deal was struck and like the latest, it too was quickly discarded.

Another Proxy War

With Turkey and Russia stoking opposing sides in the war, the feud will continue until it no longer serves their interests. Although Moscow did broker the Oct. 10 arrangement, it in all likelihood understood it was destined to fail. After all, the Kremlin is fighting proxy battles against Turkey in Libya and Syria. They are one of the ways Russia is expanding its sphere of influence, by challenging Ankara.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not known to back down from a challenge. He annexed Crimea and continues feeling disruptions in Ukraine. Worse, he has carried out both with minimal negative consequences from the international community. Therefore, why shouldn’t Russia continue pushing Armenia to defend itself? 

Put simply, conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is viewed by Moscow as another opportunity — perhaps even an obligation — to stand up to Turkey. That mentality is precisely the reason the fighting won’t simmer down anytime soon.

Unlike Syria and Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh was once part of the Soviet Union. The battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan is amplified when viewed through this lens by which Putin approaches the situation.  To add more justification for Russian support, it has a mutual defense agreement with Armenia, raising the possibility of military support from Moscow. Currently, Russia has ruled out the option, however.

Where Is The Minsk Group?

Russia, alongside France and the US, co-chairs the Minsk group that is tasked with keeping the peace in the region. As Andrew E. Kramer noted for The New York Times, the world became too preoccupied to notice trouble brewing and the Minsk Group similarly was caught off guard. 

The problem with the organisation is that its members are currently ill-suited for the task of keeping and restoring order. Washington is in no place to broker peace with a president who has spent his administration sowing discord. France has the most level-headed of the three powers, but it is presently consumed with a fight it is losing in the Sahel and other African interests, notably Libya. 

Russia is similarly flat-footed as the Kremlin’s resources are spread rather thin. Putin has his state involved in conflicts across the globe from Greece and Libya to Belarus and even domestic protests. 

The Minsk Group was established to be a body dedicated to long-term peace, but with only three members that are all busy trying to be the next superpower, it is incredibly weak and ineffective.

Turkey’s Armenia Problem

Finally, there is the Turkish aspect to the equation. Ankara cast heavy doubts on peace succeeding without the complete withdrawal of Armenians from the region, as Thomas Falk wrote for InsideOver. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likely views the recent outbreak of renewed conflict as a chance for Ankara to finally have its way in the region.

Turkey has always considered the issue of Armenia a struggle to overcome. Over 100 years after the Armenia Genocide, the Turkish government continues to attempt to disassociate itself with the word, insisting on referring to it as “Events of 1915.”

While Turkey, like the Minsk Group, has called for peace in the region, it would only accept it on its terms, which means Armenians would need to abandon territory they have held for decades.

What Will Peace Take?

Peace in Nagorno-Karabakh will only come when world powers — the Minsk Group and Turkey — resolve that the region will not become a battleground for a proxy war between Ankara and Moscow. Furthermore, after decades in limbo, it is time for the world to recognize the region as independent from Azerbaijan. The state has not had control of it for long enough that it can’t possibly continue to lay claim to it.

Ceasefires in Nagorno-Karabakh are growing shorter and shorter. Soon, there may be an all-out war because the organisation responsible for preventing it is too self-interested and preoccupied to do actively pursue peace.