The National Interest: America must stop ignoring Karabakh conflict

Armenian News –NEWS.am presents the abridged version of the article by the editorial intern Evan Gottesman, published in the American magazine The National Interest:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to meet his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, on June 13 in Baku. On the agenda: resolving the quarter-century-old dispute over the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh… There is little reason to believe the meeting will yield any progress. The Minsk Group is plagued by Western inattention and Kremlin intrigue.

American disinterest could prove costly for both the United States and Europe. For the United States, settling the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict would carry two key benefits: improving energy security for European allies and reducing the risk of a conflict involving NATO member Turkey.

In 2010, Aliyev and Sarkisian verbally agreed to some elements of the Madrid Principles, a basic outline for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. On the surface, this makes the lack of progress in recent years surprising. Closer examination of Russia’s role in the South Caucasus indicates otherwise. Moscow, ostensibly pursuing a negotiated peace, benefits from an indefinite dispute.

Eventually, Azerbaijan may determine that retaking Nagorno Karabakh is worth the risk. If Russia entered the fray, it would undoubtedly result in a catastrophic defeat for Baku. However, Moscow could remain on the sidelines, on the basis that Nagorno Karabakh is not part of Armenia’s internationally recognized territory and is therefore not protected by the CSTO.

What is clear is that Russia is unlikely to mediate in good faith as long as it can control the initiative in the Nagorno Karabakh dispute and profit from the conflict’s perpetuation. For Moscow, revenue from arms sales to Armenia and Azerbaijan, political leverage in the South Caucasus, and protection of Russian energy interests all come before a peaceful settlement. This does not bode well for the United States or its European allies.

In addition to threatening European energy security, another South Caucasus war could draw in other regional powers like Turkey. If Ankara became involved again, it might find pretext to invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, the charter’s mutual defense clause. In this eventuality, the United States and other NATO members would be drawn into a conflict directly on Russia’s doorstep, something that would undoubtedly poison already strained relations between Moscow and the West.

A framework for peace already exists. While challenges will arise, the United States can and should commit itself to a consistent negotiation process on Nagorno Karabakh. Renewed warfare would carry negative ramifications well beyond the South Caucasus. Armenia and Azerbaijan need a mediating partner that benefits from peace in the region, not perpetual conflict.”

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