Russia holds the key to unlocking the Karabakh conflict, although its motives are driven as much by its desire to retain its dominant regional status as to resolve the issue, the report of the US analytical center Stratfor reads.
According to the author, no progress has been made in the talks, the chances of a resumption of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan still remaining high.
The aim of Azerbaijan is at the very least to challenge the political and security status quo of Karabakh, whereas Armenia’s goal is to maintain the current situation.
“The unbending positions of Armenia and Azerbaijan have created deadlock in negotiations, but there is a crucial third player to take into account: Russia. Though the positions of Armenia and Azerbaijan are clear, the motivation for Russia in the conflict is much more complex,” the expert writes.
In a broader sense, Russia's primary interest in Armenia and Azerbaijan — and along the entire former Soviet periphery — is to entrench its own influence. According to the author, Russia has “has accomplished this in Armenia,” but it would like to move Baku closer. During the April events in 2016, Russia adopted a neutral stance “rather than supporting its Armenian ally militarily or politically.”
“Realistically, the escalation by Azerbaijan could not have proceeded without at least a quiet understanding with Russia. Although Moscow stepped in to prevent the fighting from turning into a full-scale conflict, the message was sent that Baku had more leeway in the region and that Yerevan couldn't fully rely on Moscow to guarantee its security.”
The article also notes that Russia would like to push for the so-called Lavrov plan, under which Armenia would cede five of its seven regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan in exchange for a peacekeeping force led by Russia. But the Armenian government would strongly oppose such a plan. “If Russia indeed is pushing the plan, it could explore options to overcome Yerevan's opposition. It could allow another military escalation by Azerbaijan to pressure Armenia to make concessions. Or Moscow could use its substantial political links in the Armenian government to influence a shift in Yerevan's thinking.”
It is also mentioned that although Russia has developed “close ties to several government figures (including in the foreign and defense ministries) and leaders in the political opposition who could be more amenable to seeing things Russia's way when it comes to the Karabakh issue,” the Armenian public may not tolerate such a deal.
As to the second option, allowing another military escalation by Azerbaijan is dangerous, since it comes with the risk of spiraling out of control and Russia might not be able to maintain “control of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
“It may even be the case that Russia wants to give Azerbaijan the impression that it is pushing Armenia for political concessions even if it is not. In that case, the Lavrov plan would represent an avenue for Moscow, which is already pursuing closer military cooperation and weapons deals with Azerbaijan, to develop closer ties with Baku without undermining the position of the Armenian government. This, too, has its risks: Maintaining the political status quo indefinitely is an untenable position for Azerbaijan, so Russia cannot continue to prolong the issue without concrete results. This is especially true since other regional powers such as Turkey and Iran — though currently distracted in the Middle East — may become more active in the Caucasus and be in a position to challenge Russia's dominance in the area down the line.”
In conclusion, the author notes that “Russia's position on Nagorno-Karabakh is subject to fluctuations as it relates to its longer-term interest of maintaining influence in the Caucasus. Moscow's ultimate objective is to be the dominant influence over both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and it can use the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh as a means to shape its position in both countries. This will be a key factor in driving the political and security evolution of the conflict there, which is likely to become more volatile in the coming months.”