RUSSIALINK: “Nagorno-Karabakh Briefing – Oct. 30” – Moscow Times

Map of Azerbaijan and Environs, adapted from image at cia.gov

(Moscow Times – themoscowtimes.com – Oct. 30, 2020)

Azerbaijani forces were closing in on the key town of Shusha on Thursday evening – the capture of which could transform the conflict at a time when analysts fear a “war of attrition” could be about to set in as winter approaches the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region. Meanwhile talks in Geneva will attempt to move towards another ceasefire, though hopes for a resolution to the conflict are slim, analysts agree.

Oct. 30: what you need to know today

  • Azerbaijani forces were closing in on the town of Shusha, the second largest in the region, on Thursday evening, the leader of Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh said. Its capture would mark a turning point after a month of fighting. “Whoever controls Shushi controls Artsakh,” he said, using the Armenian names for the town (Shusha) and Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), AFP reported. Both sides reported continued missile strikes overnight and into Friday morning.
  • Talks are set to take place in Geneva on Friday with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group – the main body involved in peacekeeping efforts in the region made up of representatives from France, Russia and the United States. Russia’s state-run Sputnik News reported Thursday, citing an Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, that the two sides would not meet bilaterally, but would each hold separate talks with the Minsk Group’s co-chairs. The meetings were originally agreed as part of the latest U.S.-brokered ceasefire deal which was struck last weekend but almost immediately collapsed.
  • Russia is open to Azerbaijan reclaiming seven areas surrounding the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenia has controlled for 26 years, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.
  • Armenia either directly used internationally-banned cluster munitions or supplied them to Armenia-backed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh for an attack on the Azerbaijani city of Barda, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported. Azerbaijan claimed the strikes Wednesday killed at least 21 civilians, but Armenia denied responsibility. Human Rights Watch called on Yerevan to “immediately cease” using the banned weapons and destroy its stocks.
  • The U.S. said it believes “there is no military solution to this conflict,” following a phone call between National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan on Thursday evening, according to a U.S. statement released after the call. O’Brien said Armenia was “taking the brunt of the casualties” and called for renewed negotiations and a ceasefire.

Oct. 29

  • Azerbaijani authorities announced that the bodies of 30 Armenian soldiers that died in ongoing fighting were handed over to the Armenian side early in the day, thanking Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for the associated mediation efforts. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed the handover and said that Armenia is ready for a reciprocal humanitarian gesture.
  • Azerbaijan launched its heaviest missile strikes in a month of fighting on Stepanakert, the largest city in its Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, separatist officials said. “Azerbaijan struck Stepanakert for several hours, tens of missiles hit the city,” Karabakh’s rights ombudsman Artak Beglaryan told AFP. “Civilians were injured as a result of the strike, the heaviest during the recent fighting,” he said.
  • A planned meeting between Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers scheduled Thursday in Geneva has reportedly been postponed until Friday, according to Russian state-run news agencies RIA Novosti and Sputnik News, citing unnamed diplomatic sources in Baku. The meeting was agreed as part of the U.S.-brokered ceasefire which rapidly collapsed earlier this week.
  • U.S. Presidential candidate Joe Biden called on Donald Trump to stop the flow of military equipment to Azerbaijan and urge Turkey and Russia to also stop supplying the sides with weapons. In a statement posted on his campaign website, Biden added that “a large-scale humanitarian disaster is looming for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
  • The United Nations said Wednesday more than 130,000 people have been displaced by the fighting and that more than 70 schools and kindergartens had been damaged. Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary General said the body strongly condemned attacks on population centers, pointing to the reported Armenian strike on Barda, 20 miles from the frontline, earlier this week which Azerbaijan claims killed at least 20 civilians – the most reported in a single attack since the conflict resumed.
  • Reports from witnesses to that Wednesday rocket attack on Barda continued to emerge overnight, including a first-hand account and photos of the aftermath from New York Times reporters who were caught up in the attack. Armenia has denied responsibility
  • Both sides accused the other of launching new attacks Thursday morning, though no major fatalities were reported.

Oct. 29: Analysis

Laurence Broers, Caucasus program director at London-based peacebuilding organization Conciliation Resources who has written widely about Armenia, Azerbaijan and the conflict assesses the stakes as foreign ministers were due to meet in Geneva – a meeting which has now been postponed until Friday.

“Now the situation is close to turning into a protracted war – a war of attrition,” Vladimir Novikov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Socio-Political Studies of the Black Sea-Caspian Region told The Moscow Times. “There are no diplomatic solutions to the conflict yet. Both sides have taken tough positions.” He added that a key factor in whether Russia will become more involved is the geography of the conflict – Moscow will find it harder to refuse its obligations under a collective defense pact if fighting extends into Armenia proper.

Both Pashinyan and Aliyev would face significant domestic repercussions should they be seen to back down, Andrey Suzdaltsev, dean of the faculty of world economy and world politics at the Higher School of Economics told Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti agency. “If Stepanakert is captured, there will be a wave of refugees – more than 100,000 people who will flood Yerevan and all the cities of Armenia. Then Pashinyan will be turned from a defender of sovereignty to a loser. If Aliyev loses, he will suffer heavy consequences. There is strong opposition. A victorious war was needed to strengthen his power and pass it on to his inheritor. He needs victory.”

Oct. 28

  • Azerbaijan said Wednesday an Armenian missile strike on its Barda district near the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline killed 21 civilians, but Yerevan denied carrying out an attack, AFP reported. It would be the deadliest reported attack on civilians since new fighting over the disputed region broke out a month ago and the second in two days that Azerbaijan says killed civilians. An Armenian spokesperson called the claims “groundless and false.”
  • Yerevan also accused Azerbaijani forces of deadly new strikes on civilian areas of Karabakh, as both sides claim the other is increasingly targeting civilians after weeks of fierce frontline clashes.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he was “disappointed” in the breakdown of the latest ceasefire and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who negotiated the deal, pressed both Baku and Yerevan to honor the agreement.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone Tuesday evening about the conflict – the latest international showdown which sees the two powers backing opposing sides. According to a summary of the call published by the Kremlin, Putin expressed “deep concern” over the “growing involvement” of fighters from the Middle East in the region.
  • Iran announced it was increasing its air defenses along its northern border, which it shares with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, hours after Tehran also increased troop levels in the region. Iran has also offered to join diplomatic efforts to end the fighting alongside Russia and Turkey.
  • Before publishing statements of Wednesday’s claimed attacks, Azerbaijan said 69 civilians had been killed since the fighting broke out, while Armenia claims 37 civilian deaths on its side. Overall, Putin said last week that almost 5,000 people have died in the fighting – a significantly higher toll than publicly claimed by either Armenia or Azerbaijan.
  • In an address to the nation delivered Tuesday evening, and published on the Armenian government’s official YouTube channel, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pledged to launch a “destructive” counterattack to recapture territory lost by Armenian-backed forces since the start of fighting last month.
  • Russia has reportedly set up a small military outpost on the border of Armenia in an apparent attempt to keep Azerbaijan’s offensive from spilling over into Armenian territory, Eurasianet reported. …

[article also appeared at themoscowtimes.com/2020/10/30/nagorno-karabakh-briefing-oct-30-a71883]