At midnight Moscow time on November 10, the ceasefire signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia took effect, ending the 2020 war on Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) in which thousands of unnecessary deaths on both sides occurred. Tragically, this 30-year-old war is fraught with cynical geopolitical calculations, especially from Russia, and the new agreement is no exception.
So, what does the ceasefire entail?
Practically, it comes down to an Armenian capitulation. Azerbaijan will keep all its military conquests. Armenians will return all Azerbaijani districts that they occupied after the 1988–94 war, and they will remain de facto rulers over only non-Azerbaijani-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh. That makes Nagorno-Karabakh an enclave, but a corridor will connect it with the Republic of Armenia.
Russia has already deployed 1,960 peacekeeping troops to protect this corridor. They will stay there for at least five years and possibly five more years. Another corridor will connect the Azerbaijani exclave Nakhichevan with Azerbaijan proper. The Russian FSB will control this.
What does the ceasefire mean for Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia?
Although it received a lot of attention, Turkey has gained very little. The NATO country stimulated Azerbaijan to go on the offensive, sent drones, and reportedly also sent Syrian mercenaries. Turkey was hoping to become a relevant player in the South Caucasus, but was entirely left out of the trilateral deal. It wasn’t even mentioned. The president of Azerbaijan stated that Turkey will also send peacekeepers, but Russia denied that. The only real advantage for the Turks is that they can now reach Baku without going through Iran.
As said before, this is basically an Armenian capitulation. It lost a large chunk of territory and many lives. On top of that, what remains of Nagorno-Karabakh is connected to the Republic of Armenia only through a five-kilometer-wide corridor. An Armenian move that the Russians perceive as unpleasing could, for example, result in a Russian threat to leave the corridor, thereby cutting Nagorno-Karabakh off from the republic.
Furthermore, the corridor connecting Azerbaijani Nakhichevan with Azerbaijan proper constitutes a de facto loss of control of Armenia’s border with Iran because the Russians can now block imports from Iran. This means that Armenia will abandon any latent hope for a potential (military) alliance with Iran that would diversify its foreign dependencies. Thus, Armenia is trapped in an alliance with Russia.
Ultimately, this outcome is worse than what Armenia could have achieved through the negotiations. That’s what stings the most for the Armenians.
Azerbaijan regards the outcome as a victory. They conquered plenty of territory, and Nakhichevan becomes united with the rest of Azerbaijan. However, they had to accept Russian peacekeepers on their territory. Something they wanted to prevent, especially since they know that Russian peacekeepers tend not to be temporary. According to the deal, the peacekeepers will remain for five years, which can be extended. However, other examples have shown that Russian peacekeepers tend not to leave, as was the case in Transnistria, South-Ossetia, and Abkhazia.
Moreover, the corridor connecting Nakhichevan with the rest of Azerbaijan is protected by the Russian FSB. That means that it can be used as leverage if Russia deems it necessary. Azerbaijan may have won the war, but not independence from Russia.
Finally, Russia remains the “kingmaker” of the South Caucasus. A wrong move from either Armenia or Azerbaijan can now have military consequences—for instance, by threatening to withdraw troops. However, an even bigger win for Russia is that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s position has become untenable. Russia was never a big fan of him. He came to power after a “color revolution” and expressed an interest in closer ties with the West. This ceasefire, however, is such a big loss for Armenia that the population demands his resignation. At the time of writing, this has not happened yet, but this is only a matter of time. Finally, Russia is also quite content with Turkey ignoring the West’s wishes and with the West not playing any role in the conflict.
A ceasefire has been concluded; the war is over. But make no mistake, there is still no peace. The results of the ceasefire have created a different situation on the ground, which is undeniably closer to the situation that the UN Security Council imagined. A number of questions, however, remain unanswered. What will be the status of Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh? Will the area be demilitarized? What will happen with Armenian refugees? Thus, the region is fertile ground for new tensions. Or worse…