Blockade of Lachin Corridor in Context of Regional Security Challenges


Blockade of Lachin Corridor in Context of Regional Security Challenges

Interview with Tigran Grigoryan

REGIONAL POST talked to the head of Regional Centre for Democracy and Security Tigran Grigoryan on the current situation around Artsakh, whose only link to the world is blocked for over seven weeks, on Armenia’s current geopolitical predicament and possible steps for minimizing possible damage and building elements of security in the region.

Interview: Tigran Zakaryan 


- Following the blockade of the Lachin Corridor Moscow keeps inviting Yerevan to negotiations with Baku. Meanwhile Armenia consistently is rejecting such talks hoping for an international pressure on Azerbaijan. Is this course realistic and how do you see the solution of the problem and?

Well, the reasoning behind Yerevan’s decision not to participate in the negotiations is clear. There is a perception in the decision-making circles of Armenia that this blockade is coordinated between Moscow and Baku to actually extort concessions from Armenia in other agendas of the Armenian-Azerbaijani context. That’s the reason why they are reluctant to participate in these negotiations. 


- Do you think this idea of a Russian-Azerbaijani common agenda is grounded or it’s simply a misperception? 

Well, that is not important at this point, because if there is such a perception, Yerevan won’t be inclined to be cooperative. I personally do not see much evidence supporting the claim that Russia blocked the corridor but as I have already said it is not what matters. What matters is that there is such a perception and that’s why they are reluctant to start negotiations. However, it also has to be understood that the issue of opening of the corridor will be decided on the political level. So all the international pressure is of course important and we’ve seen that the pressure has been growing in the recent weeks. However I believe this issue will be resolved only through talks between Moscow, Baku and most likely Yerevan if it revises its position.

The claim that the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities should participate in the negotiation process is a bit weak, because it is clear that neither Baku nor Moscow will get engaged in any kind of meaningful political negotiations with Stepanakert. There are ties at a lower level between representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan discuss different practical issues but it is nearly impossible to envisage a situation where Baku agrees to a political dialogue with Stepanakert and I believe the opening of the Lachin Corridor is part of a political agenda.

Summing up my reply, I think Yerevan’s decision to not participate in the negotiations certainly does not help the situation however the concerns they have are also quite legitimate. Armenian officials have reason to keep saying that the Lachin Corridor situation was stipulated by the November 9 2020 agreement and there is no need to renegotiate it. That is a legitimate point, however we need to understand that the international relations – the processes going in it - are not always about justice , they aren’t always what you expect, so sometimes you need to make very hard decisions and take difficult steps to find solutions to different problems. 


- A question comes to me and can’t help asking it. If the circumstances force us and we have to negotiate, which of the two options would be less harmful to us: to have negotiated in the beginning or starting negotiations late as the humanitarian situation gets increasingly worse in Karabakh? 

That’s a very good question. Certainly, it would have been better to negotiate from the beginning because as time goes Baku’s demands become tougher and their position becomes more radical. Probably if there were negotiations in the beginning it would have been possible to find a mutually more or less acceptable solution – this is basically my take on that. 


- My next question has become somewhat traditional since recently and it is about Russian Foreign Minister’s comments on the announcement of EU’s civil observer mission deployment in Armenia. Do you think it’s a warning sign and that Armenia could get entangled in the global confrontation between the West and Russia? 

I don’t think the situation is as serious as you described in terms of getting into some kind of an international crisis, however it is understandable why Moscow is worried. Russia has always viewed the South Caucasus region as a zone of its own vital interests and as you probably noticed there is a special point in the press release they issued on Russia’s attitude towards extra-regional powers getting involved in the South Caucasus. 


- By the way that is the same language pattern that Iran and to some extent Turkey use when referring to the Western involvement in the region. 

Yes they have exactly the same position on the issue and all the discourse about the so-called “3+3 format” are based on that common interest. For Russia even unarmed European presence on the ground is a huge blow to its interests and it’s a fallout of the Russo-Ukrainian war however at this point I don’t think that Moscow would try to escalate the situation on the ground. Russia is generally not interested in the destabilization in the Caucasus because it is very much concentrated on its war effort in Ukraine. In that sense the Armenian government should communicate its positions to Russia and try to create an atmosphere where Europeans could cooperate with the Russians on the ground, because otherwise the efficiency of the mission will be at stake. That’s actually one of the recommendations that was put in the International Crisis Group report. 

In that sense I think Russia’s harsh reaction is more of a rhetoric than real threat. I don’t see any real action taken by Moscow to destabilize the situation. On the other side, the Armenian government should also work a lot diplomatically to explain why is this mission in place and why it is important for Armenia. Another problem from the Russian viewpoint is that Yerevan snapped at the CSTO monitoring mission.

There was a political decision in September 2022 to send a CSTO monitoring mission to Armenia and in Yerevan there is a perception that this mission would have been more beneficial for Azerbaijan than for Armenia. For Russia it’s a bit problematic. However, there is still a space for diplomacy and if proper work is done it is possible to create some sort of an environment where all these actors could interact constructively. 


- My next question is about the Russian presence in the region which – as some experts contend – is diminishing and there are perspectives that it may weaken even further. Given Iran’s limited potential in the region, is it a realistic scenario that Turkey takes over the whole region? How realistic could be the statement that the region is important enough for the West to intervene? 

For the moment I don’t see a declining Russian presence – at least military presence – on the ground. Certainly, Russia’s influence has decreased due to the war in Ukraine and its interests undergo some transformation. It’s difficult to make any kind of prediction in this volatile situation when there are too many black swans and long-term predictions don’t make any sense. Regarding the Western engagement there are some developments there, too. The US in particular got more involved in the issue in the South Caucasus and the deployment of the EU monitoring mission is something you would hardly imagine in the early 2022 before the war in Ukraine. As we see the situation is changing.

The trend before the war was diminishing for the Western presence and Russia was the sole decision-maker in the region but now we see that the war in Ukraine creates more opportunities and more space for maneuver and overall we see a greater western involvement in the region. However, we should also be realistic about the scope of that involvement and of that influence. Neither the US not the European Union are going to deploy any kind of military force in the South Caucasus in any scenario so that should be understood clearly in Armenia, because there are lots of unrealistic expectations. We need to manage our expectations and need to work with all the stakeholders actively to maintain some sort of balance to guarantee some sort of safe existence for the Armenian statehood in this region. 


- My last question is about predictions but rather in the past tense. Doo you think anything could have been done since November 2020 to help us to avoid the present quagmire in Lachin. Maybe those could be negotiations, specific moves? 

This is not that much about predictions, as it is about homework. If we had done it properly, we could still have the present situation but we could have been better prepared for the present state of affairs. Of course we could not predict the war in Ukraine – even days before the invasion – and that‘s why it is difficult to make any kind of predictions in this new volatile situation. There are just too many unexpected and unpredictable factors. But coming back to your question, I believe there wasn’t an understanding of the emergency in the Armenian government of restoring the military capabilities.

Of the Armenian army. There was so much wishful thinking about the international community’s support. Suffice it to look back at the statements made right after the snap parliamentary elections. We also remember the prime minister’s speech in the parliament on April 13 2022 when he said that the international community wants us to lower the bar of expectations in exchange for some sort of consolidation in support of Armenia. It was very naïve to think that any international actor could guarantee your territorial integrity or sovereignty. No one would do that unless you are capable of doing it. You should do everything in your powers to ensure your own borders. 

If we talk specifically about the situation in the Lachin Corridor, there were lots of minor mistakes made, too. For instance, Azerbaijan had actually an obligation to build a road bypassing Shushi-Karintak section of the old road which is currently blocked. At some point they broke the obligation and Armenia did not insisting on building that road. In case the alternative road bypassing Shushi had been build this “special operation” of blocking the road organized by Azerbaijan would have been very difficult to implement. We also don’t have any kind of stockpiles of fuel or food in Nagorno-Karabakh, while the blockade was quite predictable.

I was thinking about that months before the blockade and Aliyev was very open about that. Two or three months before the actual blockade he said something like “We have been tolerant about the movement of goods and people along the Lachin Corridor for two years but our patience cannot last forever.” So he was very clear about his intentions regarding the Lachin Corridor. Of course the Armenian government’s way of conducting diplomacy is not helping when you change your stance on a very important issue four times a year and we are not talking about minor or irrelevant changes but of fundamental changes. All this is not helpful and it is hard for the international partners to understand what the Armenian government wants. That is actually one of the most popular questions I am always asked by different diplomats coming to Armenia. So there are lots of things which could – I wouldn’t say prevent – the current situation, but could have helped us to be better prepared for the current situation.          

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