Press comments on Russia and Nagorno-Karabakh

Despite agreeing to a ceasefire in his country’s war with Armenia over the disputed province of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani  president Ilham Aliyev was in a belligerent mood this weekend. ‘When [Armenian Prime Minister Nikol] Pashinyan gave us an ultimatum … he deserved to have been punished for it’, said Aliyev, ‘He should thank [Russian president Vladimir] Putin for the fact that once again, Russia came to save Armenia’.

The ceasefire agreement [signed in Moscow after the Russian government brought the warring parties together] was something of victory for Russian diplomacy. At present, though, its prospects look rather bleak, with both sides accusing the other of multiple violations. But even if it doesn’t last, the very fact that the Russians were able to get the two sides to sign it reveals the important role the Russian Federation continues to play in the politics of the Caucasus. And yet, you wouldn’t know any of this from recent media coverage of the Azeri-Armenian conflict. For commentary on the matter has invariably taken the line that, on top of the political crises in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan, events in the Caucasus are proof of Russia’s continuing international decline.

Take, for instance, Reuters which slapped the headline, ‘Russia confronts waning influence over Karabakh foes’, on top of a piece written by Mark Trevelyan and my one-time student Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber (who I’m happy to see has moved on to higher things after a spell as sports correspondent for the Moscow Times). The Economist meanwhile continued its consistent run of rotten foreign policy analysis with a piece which laughably claimed that the Azeri-Armenian war was a product of America’s disengagement. ‘Past American presidents might have put time, brainpower and muscle into preventing war in the Caucasus,’ said the magazine, ‘but Mr Trump showed no interest even before he fell sick with covid-19’. Ah yes, it’s Trump’s fault. Isn’t it always?

Perhaps the silliest comment, however, came as always in The Guardian, in an article by Thomas de Waal (author of a book on Nagorno-Karabakh). De Waal remarked that when the time for peace arrives,

Presidents Erdogan and Putin may try to impose a new settlement on Armenians and Azerbaijanis that suits their own interests but is careless of humanitarian principles and the claims of both countries to be part of Europe. … Or else Europeans, and perhaps a post-Trump United States, may try to convene a multilateral peace conference, first mooted in 1992, to resolve the conflict, seeking to respect people’s needs and the differing claims of international law.

It’s funny. I never realized that Azerbaijanis want to be ‘part of Europe’. And I was obviously asleep, or I would have seen that the Russian government’s efforts to get Azerbaijan and Armenia to stop fighting each other was ‘careless of humanitarian principles’. I must pay more attention in future, and wake up to the fact that America and Europe are the keys to peace.

One of the remarkable features of foreign policy thinking in the past 20 years is how this attitude has persisted despite repeated failure. No matter how often Western peacemaking efforts (which sometimes rather paradoxically take the form of war) collapse, the myth persists that giving up and going home is not the answer – what is needed is more of the same, only better. Withdrawal will allow malign powers to fill the void, and anarchy will follow. More America; more Europe – is always the only solution on offer.

In reality, though, both the USA and Europe have little ability to control events in most of the former Soviet Union, whether it be Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Nagorno-Karabakh, or anywhere else. In all of these cases, and others (such as Ukraine), any eventual peace settlement will almost inevitably involve Russia in some way or another. In the specific case of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia is probably the only state able to influence the warring parties to bring the fighting to an end. We must hope that it succeeds.

18 thoughts on “Press comments on Russia and Nagorno-Karabakh”

  1. Well, if you translate “humanitarian principles” from Newspeak to English as ‘cordoning the Russian Federation by western client regimes’, then it makes perfect sense.

    Although, I was watching Andrey Ermolaev, the Ukrainian philosopher, just now, and according to him, the unified West doesn’t exist anymore, and the cordoning is done by the British-American coalition.

    And, surprisingly, just like Starikov and others in Russia (Ermolaev is not what you’d call “pro-Russian”), it sounds like he feels that the UK is in the driver’s seat, still playing the Great Game. London is the center of power, and Washington is merely providing resources.

    Interesting. I hear more and more of this, from Russia, yes, but also from my Serbian friends, and I heard it before from my Chinese friends. What do you think, Paul, is there any reason to believe that the UK, London is the epicenter of what they call, when speaking of Russia, “the malignant influence”?

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    1. I can’t agree with that. I see the UK more as a follower – British leaders imagine that in following the United States, they gain ‘influence’, failing to realize that influence implies getting people to do what they otherwise wouldn’t, which is of course impossible if your policy is always to go along with them and never to change them.

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      1. Actually, I would qualify my above statement a bit by saying that the UK is more than just a follower, it’s often an ‘egger-oner’, in that it eggs the USA on in someof its more imperialistic endeavours (the Iran treaty is an exception, though even here the UK is avoiding a clean break). The invasion of Iraq was a case in point.

        I admit, though, that this is all somewhat a case of generalization, and as in all such cases exceptions to the rule can be found.

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      2. To what end Paul? I don’t genuinely see any good that can come from it, nor any favour that will be gained, above that of a nice pat on the head. from the US boss (who seem bitterly disappointed that we will.no longer be their trojan horse in the EU).The British seem far more aggressive in terms of propaganda (I’m thinking of Skripal and Navalny affairs) and also their extreme Russophobia as manifested on a daily basis in the tame UK press. I see no endgame, unless we’ve just become like the Americans in so much as it’s creating chaos for chaos’ sake because they lack any control.or influence.. Britain is a waning power, practically on it’s knees, with chronically under invested military and little world standing, Russia a power on the rise, seemingly decoupling from.Europe, I see the pettiness of it but not the policy. Have we sunk so low we’re just spitting dummies out of prams? Regime change isn’t going to happen in Russia and the UK backed the nazis in Ukraine and lost, so where does that leave us … UK/Russia policies seem utterly counterproductive in every way.

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  2. “‘Past American presidents might have put time, brainpower and muscle into preventing war in the Caucasus,’ said the magazine, ‘but Mr Trump showed no interest even before he fell sick with covid-19’. Ah yes, it’s Trump’s fault. Isn’t it always?”

    Wait… I struggle to remember, who was the POTUS back in *2016*, when the previous so-called “4 day war” between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place…


    ^Takbir!

    Oh, and he had a VP as well. I heard this young man is making a name for himself even now:

    What was his name?..

    Oh, well! I think Free and Independent Western Media ™ can agree: never before have the Americans lived so bad, as under Putin [nod-nod].

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  3. For good reason, I’ve never been especially impressed with Tom de Waal. I can honestly say that on a good number of the topics he comments on, I’m a better option

    Related:

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  4. Hey-hey-hey! Looks like I’ve found, what the US been doing in the region before the dreaded Trump ruined it all:

    “For years, Azerbaijan has papered over its dismal human rights record by presenting itself to the United States as a loyal partner in the “war on terror,” a stalwart friend to Israel, and an important energy supplier. In addition to traditional diplomacy, it has advanced these messages through aggressive lobbying in the think-tank world, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress. Mandatory filings by the Azerbaijan government and its U.S. lobbyists reveal that, in total, it and its proxies spent at least $4 million to this end in 2014 alone. (In 2013, when Azerbaijan spent only $2.3 million, it was still among the top 10 foreign governments buying influence in Washington, according to the Sunlight Foundation.) This February, the Azerbaijani embassy increased the monthly retainer of its main lobbyist, the Podesta Group, from $50,000 to $75,000. The Podesta Group’s filings reveal hundreds of contacts with congressional offices, executive branch agencies, members of the media, and think tanks.

    None of the disclosed spending is illegal, and many foreign governments — including liberal democracies — buy influence in Washington. But what the Azerbaijanis and their lobbyists have been able to achieve in the halls of Congress is striking — especially considering the true nature of the regime.

    On January 21, Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) praised Azerbaijan for its “close and important relationship” with the United States, and described it as a “beacon of democracy.” In February, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) said that Azerbaijan and the United States “share the same commitment to freedom and liberty,” Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) lauded Azerbaijan’s “commitment to the ideals of democracy,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said the country was a “reliable friend and valuable ally,” and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) called it a close ally of Israel and a “reliable partner.” Needless to say, no mention was made, in any of these statements, of the Aliyev regime’s well-documented abuses of its own citizens.

    These are public statements made on the floor of Congress — but a large fraction of this kind of rhetoric takes place at private functions. A congressional staffer who wished to remain anonymous described receptions organized by pro-regime groups, such as the Azerbaijan America Alliance, where up to 20 members of Congress at a time would “line up at the podium” waiting for their turn to praise Azerbaijan for its economic successes, its partnership with the United States, and its friendship with Israel. The events were remarkable, the staffer said, for how many members attended and for the uniformity of their comments, suggesting that they were being fed their lines by lobbyists or pro-regime organizations. Though there are no publicly available transcripts of what is said at such affairs, regime-affiliated groups like to boast of the glowing testimonials the regime receives from U.S. officials — and it makes for nauseating read.

    The Azerbaijan America Alliance is run by Anar Mammadov, the son of the country’s transportation minister, notorious for his corrupt dealings and outrageous exploits. His reputation, however, hasn’t prevented Dan Burton, a former House member from Indiana, from working for him as the Alliance’s chairman, praising the Azeri government in print, and giving remarks at celebrations of the former President’s birthday (thinly disguised as a faux “national holiday”). The Alliance is also closely involved with the House’s Azerbaijan Caucus, a group of over 60 legislators it considers friendly. In May, the Washington Post published a damning exposé of an all-expenses-paid trip ten members of Congress took to Azerbaijan in 2013. The trip was secretly funded by SOCAR, the country’s state-run oil company. Of the ten members who went on the trip, eight are members of the Azerbaijan Caucus. Neither of the caucus’s co-chairs — Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) — responded to requests for comment.”

    […]

    “What’s striking is that the positive sentiments extended to Azerbaijan by its friends on the Hill aren’t reciprocated by the government in Baku. In December 2014, the head of Aliyev’s administration penned a vicious (and distinctly Putin-esque) anti-American screed, accusing Washington of fomenting revolution under the pretext of promoting democracy. This, says former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Kauzlarich, was meant as a deliberate message: “You need us more than we need you.” The letter has been accompanied by a relentless anti-American campaign in the state-run media, a series of hostile statements by senior officials, and crackdowns on organizations funded by the U.S. government, like Radio Free Europe.

    Milli highlights the absurdity of U.S. members of Congress praising a regime whose pliant media spares no breath fomenting anti-U.S. sentiment amongst its people: “Every day on TV, from nine in the morning till late in the evening, they say John Kerry has left all his other business and spends the entire day trying to destroy Azerbaijan. So I want to ask all those people in Congress: Is this the great regime you’re praising? Is this your great ally?””
    – “How Azerbaijan and Its Lobbyists Spin Congress” (June 11, 2015)

    Wait! There’s more:

    “What would you do for a photo with President Obama? Hoping to secure one as he visits Washington D.C. this week, Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, my home country, has released 16 political prisoners. A one-on-one meeting with Obama doesn’t appear to be in the cards, but Aliyev seems to have scored a private meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry today, and he may still be seeking a photo opportunity, meetings with other top U.S. officials, or some other form of validation. If the United States values its commitment to human rights and democracy, it should make sure he doesn’t get it.

    Despite a powerful lobbying effort in the United States, Aliyev has not been able to secure an invitation to the White House during Obama’s time in office. But even a photo with the U.S. president would be too much recognition unless Aliyev offers clearly stated and comprehensive human rights reforms.
    In fact, it is a mistake for a high-ranking U.S. official like John Kerry to meet with Azerbaijan’s leader in the absence of serious reforms. Rewarding his recent release of prisoners instead of pressing for further concrete policy changes simply encourages Aliyev to carry on turning political prisoners into bargaining chips. Giving him any positive publicity at a time when his regime is so brazenly defying its international human rights obligations sends the wrong message about U.S. priorities.
    Those rushing to give Aliyev high marks for releasing innocent people from prison should think twice. There is nothing new about this revolving door of political prisoners, this never-ending cycle of convictions and releases. In 2009, Obama noted that in Azerbaijan, journalists are routinely harassed and jailed. The next year, he expressed his hope that the country would move towards democracy and improve its human rights record, calling for the release of two jailed bloggers. Indeed, the pair were eventually released. But since then, many more critics of the regime have been thrown into jail.

    […]

    There are still dozens of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, including journalists, bloggers, human rights activists, and politicians — more than in Belarus and Russia combined. Aliyev’s rubber-stamp parliament has adopted regressive legislation restricting fundamental rights and all but eliminating independent NGOs. In September 2014, President Obama commented that the laws in Azerbaijan “make it incredibly difficult for NGOs even to operate.””

    […]

    U.S. interests are also at stake. The Azerbaijani offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Peace Corps, the National Democratic Institute, IREX, and other U.S.-funded pro-democracy organizations have all been shut down over the past three years. Last year, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, demanded the release of journalist Khadija Ismayilova, along with other wrongfully imprisoned female human rights activists. But today, Khadija is still in prison, as is opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov, and many others.
    – “Freeze the Dictator Out” (March 30, 2016)

    “The Foreign Policy” is the Clintonistas printing organ, pining for the “Holy 90s” and whining, whining, WHINING about all things deplorable threatening their so-called “liberal world order”. In short – it represents a huge chunk of the Washington ObCom’s so-called “elite”, who were in charge during the Golden Age before the Ascent of the Darkness ™. Therefore it is hilarious to see, how the US of A followed onto their recommendation and “froze out” Aliyev, after he pwned local sorosyatas. Come Trump the Terrible and SUDDENLY everyone and their think-tanker calls for “more engagement” including, yes, with the “dictator” himself. Authors of the sentence:

    While Washington should continue to press for improvements on human rights, U.S. policymakers cannot allow that one issue to create a lopsided foreign policy that undercuts the United States’ broader interests in the region.

    should be charged with the crime of the cultural appropriation, because that’s a blatant case of chutzpah here. This, and their claim (in 2018, one month after coup in Armenia!) that Pashinyan is ready to attack Azerbaijan on Putin’s orders… any moment now.

    In the end of the day, the West’s policy in the region has always been shambolic – mainly because high and mighty in the Shining City on the Hill had been paid (even now) to look the other way. “Brainpower” and “muscle”? That’s a good one! Shameless propaganda must be shameless.

    But, uhm, yeah. Something-something-something… “Orange Man Bad”. Something-something… “Putin is filling the vacuum left after US retrenchment”. Something-something. There – the pinnacle of the “analysis”, that requires no mental efforts of its peddlers.

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  5. Excellent commentary, Paul! It is a really spot-on analysis of a critical aspect of Western coverage of the Karabakh conflict, i.e., the use of the conflict as a means to push the narrative of the necessity of American unilateralism and “indispensability.” The ideology that brought us the misadventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and so many other countries will not help ameliorate the tragedy in Karabakh.

    In fact, one can even argue that American “global leadership” did much more damage to the Karabakh peace process than good. For instance, U.S. military aid to both Turkey and Azerbaijan has arguably emboldened both states in the run-up to this most recent war. Moreover, as the French and Russian governments have concluded, Turkey is sending mercenaries and jihadists to Karabakh from two countries that were the focus of U.S.-backed regime change efforts — Syria and Libya.

    As for Thomas de Waal’s commentary, his work has received criticism from professional historians of the Caucasus for its oversimplifications of often complex problems. Regrettably, his writing, while well-intentioned, often obscures the crucial place of Russia in the history of the region, thus rendering his narratives incomplete. In my view, there are much better resources for those genuinely interested in learning about the Caucasus (especially students), in particular Arthur Tsutsiev’s fantastic “Atlas of the Ethno-Political History of the Caucasus” or Alex Marshall’s “The Caucasus Under Soviet Rule”.

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      1. Ron was my advisor back at UM when I did my MA there.) Of course, I greatly respect him. His best book is “The Baku Commune” (Princeton, 1972), his classic account of the Revolution in Baku, led by the Armenian Bolshevik Stepan Shahumyan, exploring the relationship between class and nationality. I continue to cite it, for example, in my Ph.D. dissertation research on Anastas Mikoyan and his approach to the nationality issue during the Khrushchev years. It is a must-read that has stood the test of time well. I have been less convinced by his arguments in “Revenge of the Past” (Maike Lehmann’s article “Apricot Socialism” recently published in the Slavic Review was much more convincing on the impact of the Soviet nationality policy). Recently, Ron has published a very substantial work on the young Stalin, which he has been working on for years and which I have only begun reading!

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    1. “As for Thomas de Waal’s commentary, his work has received criticism from professional historians of the Caucasus for its oversimplifications of often complex problems. Regrettably, his writing, while well-intentioned, often obscures the crucial place of Russia in the history of the region, thus rendering his narratives incomplete. In my view, there are much better resources for those genuinely interested in learning about the Caucasus (especially students), in particular Arthur Tsutsiev’s fantastic “Atlas of the Ethno-Political History of the Caucasus” or Alex Marshall’s “The Caucasus Under Soviet Rule”.”

      ****

      He has a definite PC attribute to him. As for solutions to the Armenian-Azeri dispute, he hasn’t come up with a better settlement option;

      https://www.globalresearch.ca/at-the-crossroads-of-strategic-pipeline-corridors-settling-the-dispute-over-nagorno-karabakh/12967

      https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/04/15/settling-nagorno-karabakh-and-reviewing-the-peripheral-talking-points/

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      1. Will add that de Waal is an admirer of the PC neolib-neocon establishment Bulgarian Ivan Krastev. Over the years, I’ve come in contact with numerous Bulgarians of all ages – all of them having spent extended time in the West. Not one of them is anti-Russian.

        Among other things, Krastev has written that China is freer than Russia. For his part de Waal expressed disapproval of my comments regarding the Crimean Tatars.

        In classic Anglo-American establishment moral ineptitude, he’s not aghast at the Russia hating bigotry which I’ve commented on in detail.

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  6. Good piece, Professor!

    From some stuff I was reading in the Russian press (can’t vouch for it), the Russian peace process started succeeding after Armenian army trapped a chunk of Azerbaijani army in a classic cauldron.

    Azers would have been slaughtered, this is where Russia stepped in and brokered a deal, driven by genuine diplomacy and humanitarian concerns. No one wants to see all these soldiers die, so they must step back and take a deep breath.

    Azers agreed to the truce, but are bitter, because their big blitzkrieg failed, and recognize that Russia, in the end, will not allow the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabach. But, despite hard feelings, still an opportunity to create a real peace (with some exchanges of territories) that might grant tranquility for maybe a decade.

    Which could never happen if you allow British or Americans into the process; they only make things worse, much worse, wherever they go. It’s simply their colonialist mentality, which is like a tic of which they cannot cure themselves.

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    1. “Armenian army trapped a chunk of Azerbaijani army in a classic cauldron.”

      […]

      Ho-hum. That’s how it’s been spinned? Oh, well.

      Actually, the mood among the Armenians after the announcement of the ceasefure could only be described as “somber”. Back in 2016 after the “4 day war” their blogosphere, TG-channels and various “discussmongers” erupted in indignation and Russia blaming, that dastardly stole the victory from them.

      Now nearly the very same “analysts” and “experts”, are basically admitting that, yes, Armenia won a tactical victory (Artsakh is still there), but suffered a strategic defeat. The fact, that Armenian army could not wage a modern war, that whatever advantage been left since 1994 rusted away, and just compare a generation of war in Afghanistan veterans (from the privates to generals) to the modern day “sensitive boys”.

      Pashinyan (and his team of sorosyata) are blamed for all that, which is only partially fair. His personal screw up was the purge of the Armenian “siloviki”, which harmed the special/espionage services rather heavily.

      [They also ask, in the light of Azeri inviting “friends”, wtf Armenia didn’t support Russia more strongly, as in “boots on the ground” in Syria. Not only would it rub some of the XP to them, but, if framed correctly, could be used as a bargaining chip for future military hardvare transfers/acquisitions from RF. Well, that’s all water under the bridge now]

      Aliyev can claim the victory. He liberated *some* of “Azeri rightful clay” ™ using human waves of mercs and drones, aka “reneawable resources”. Who will remember that just this July the protesters stormed Foreign Ministry in Baku?

      “But, despite hard feelings, still an opportunity to create a real peace (with some exchanges of territories) that might grant tranquility for maybe a decade.”

      […]

      Ho-hum again. Nope, there won’t be peace. If anything, conflict might reignite in not so distant future, because of pandemic fallout and economic crisis griping the world. That’s precisely the time for the “use it or lose it” opportunistic attempt for rearangement of the status quo.

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      1. The list of “rhetorical questions” asked by Armenians themselves in the aftermath reads like Milyukov’s “What’s this – treason or incompetence?” speech.

        Chief points:

        A) Ganja’s airbase. Why there wasn’t an artillery strike on it earlier? For nearly a week both Turkish F-16s and drones (all of them “allegedly” controlled by the Turks) flew missions from there, resulting in enormous loses for Armenians.

        B) Full mobilization. Why, if Armenian nationalist rhetoric (which under Pashinyan grew only louder in order to lend him legitimacy) claims Artsakh as the rightful Armenian territory, there wasn’t full mobilization on day one?

        C) Defense planning. Why since 1994 there wasn’t centralized and thorough attempts to fortify the territory with bunkers, tunnels and bomb shelters? This, granted, is not solely Pashinyan’s fault.

        D) Equipment and supplies. Why the Armenian army in the midst of the war found itself inadequately supplied with basically everything, despite claims to the contrary? Where are all new helmets and why the infantry on the frontlines had been issued old SSh-68s? Why, while the fighting was still raging, civilian volunteer organizations had to organize collection of the funds, acquisition abroad and subsequent delivery of the Night/IR visors plus of the modern armour vests? Pashinyan came on anti-corruption platform – where are the results?

        E) Surrender of the initiative. Commenters ask, why the Armenian side “chose” to surrender the initiative to the enemy both on the battlefield and in the informational warfare? They also point out the “gradual” level of measures undertaken by their “democratic” regime and wonder, why it was soooooo gradual?

        F) International response. During the last war, there was a real, tangible response from the Diasporas across the globe (money, lobbying, volunteers, etc.). Where was it now? Macron said: “I say to Armenia and to the Armenians, France will play its role.” What role? Why “our dear Western partners” didn’t help?

        They also put much emphasize on the humanitarian cost to the people of the N-K republic, about the victims (dead and wounded), about the degree of destruction. That’s not a commentary of the triumphant victor. That’s clearly attempt to solicit a pity for you woes.

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