Letter From the Editors
On Sept. 19, when Azerbaijan suddenly declared an “antiterrorist operation” in Nagorno-Karabakh, it seemed as though another large-scale and bloody war loomed. Yet after shelling military infrastructure in the self-proclaimed republic and breaking the line of contact in several places, Baku halted its offensive almost as quickly as it began – by the afternoon of Sept. 20, a ceasefire was announced, brokered by the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway region, was simply not capable of putting up much of a fight. Its official statement speaks to that: “In the current situation, the actions of the international community aimed at the cessation of war and settlement of the situation are insufficient.”
So just who “gave away” Karabakh, which has been de facto independent for 30 years? Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan laid blame at the Russian peacekeepers’ door. He added that by proposing the ceasefire, “Russian peacekeepers had unconditionally assumed responsibility for the security of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians,” writes Izvestia. However, according to commentator Oleg Shevstov, the peacekeepers simply had no other option. After Pashinyan himself announced earlier this year that Armenia was prepared to recognize Azerbaijan’s 1991 borders (which at the time included Nagorno-Karabakh), it effectively relinquished any claim to the region: “After this, it was foolish to demand that Russian peacekeepers fight for Nagorno-Karabakh if Yerevan itself recognized it as an Azerbaijani region.”
Of course, the biggest threat to Pashinyan right now is on his home turf – thousands of outraged Armenians who stormed Republic Square in Yerevan. While Pashinyan himself does not have personal ties to Karabakh – which, according to Oleg Karpovich of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Diplomatic Academy, made it easier for him to use the region as a bargaining chip – its loss dealt a painful blow to Armenian society. On the streets of Yerevan, Kommersant correspondent Vladimir Solovyov spoke to people from all walks of life. Needless to say, emotions were running high: “Pashinyan says Karabakh is Azerbaijan’s territory. We’ve been living there for 3,000 years, and Azerbaijan has only been in existence for a century. How can he say that Artsakh is Azerbaijani land?!” said Karabakh local Elbrus Budagyan. That sentiment is shared by those who came out to protest as Armenian society roils with indignation.
Similarly, several East European states this week were outraged by what they saw as Brussels trespassing on their home turf – literally. When Brussels announced it was lifting the highly controversial Ukrainian grain embargo, it looked like a rebellion was brewing. Farmers in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria were threatening to block roads in protest. And since the farmer lobby is nothing to be trifled with in these heavily agricultural states, their respective capitals had to respond. In the end, only three countries – Poland, Slovakia and Hungary – followed through on those threats and issued unilateral bans. “It is notable that the countries that went against Brussels are those where Euroskeptics are either already in power (Poland and Hungary) or are about to take it (Slovakia). However, countries where Euro-Atlanticists call the shots (Bulgaria and Romania) didn’t dare defy the [European Commission],” writes analyst Kirill Averyanov. Once again, the countries in the region are forced to walk the razor’s edge between the competing interests of various heavyweights.
Central Asian states certainly are not immune to the fallout of “great games” on their home turf. The recent C5+1 summit in New York between the US and the heads of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan is intended to show that America is returning to the region, says Aleksandr Knyazev. And it aims to counter Russian, Chinese and Iranian influence there, offering sticks (punishment for sanctions violations) as well as carrots (economic cooperation). “Work in the region is built on network principles and aims to create conditions for NATO’s military presence, if necessary,” he summarizes. So hold on to your hats – all is not quiet on the Eastern front.