The risk is increasing that war will reignite between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh due to "escalating front-line clashes, a spiralling arms race, vitriolic rhetoric and a virtual breakdown in peace talks", warns the Intenational Crisis Group (ICG).
Armenia and Azerbaijan: Preventing War was released on February 8th. According to the ICG, it "highlights the deterioration of the situation in the past year. Increased military capabilities on both sides would make a new armed conflict in the South Caucasus far more deadly than the 1992-1994 one that ended with a shaky truce. Neither side would be likely to win easily or quickly. Even if neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan is planning an immediate all-out offensive, skirmishes could easily spiral out of control."
However, the report was critised in both countries. Eduard Sharmazanov, Secretary of the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) faction*, accused the ICG of bias. Whereas Azerbaijani Defence Ministry spokesman, Eldar Sabiroglu said the report failed to be objective.
"The document calls on Russia not to sell arms to the conflicting parties, without saying anything about supplies of arms to Azerbaijan from Turkey and Bosnia," he alleged.
For his part, Sabiroglu, criticized the report for not making sufficient distinction between the aggressor (in his view, Armenia) and the occupied country: "The time has come to name the guilty party and the aggressor. Only if such pressure is brought to bear can there be talk of reduction in the risk of war."
Sharmazanov may have taken particular exception to the ICG's assertion that "More has to be done to change a status quo that is deeply damaging to Azerbaijan, whose territory remains occupied and which accommodates large numbers of displaced persons."
A potential decline in oil production, which had been funding its military "increases Azerbaijan’s temptation to use force if diplomacy remains blocked", according to the Group.
Despite Sharmazanov's assertion, the report refers explicitly to arms that Azerbaijan has acquired from Ukraine, Bosnia and, reportedly, Russia, as well as Azerbaijan's development of "a domestic weapons industry to produce small arms and armoured vehicles, with help from Israeli, Turkish, Pakistani and South African companies."
The report highlights the pivotal roles of both Russia and Turkey and notes that "Russian-Turkish relations have greatly improved since 2002" and suggests that the interests of both, as well as EU and US energy interests would be severely undermined were the region to return to conflict.
“Lack of progress in the peace talks is increasing the likelihood of an accidental war at any time or an all-out offensive within the next few years”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “Russia, the U.S., Turkey and the European Union should make preventing this scenario a high priority”.
Crisis Group press contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635; Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1602.
*The Republican Party of Armenia is headed by Armenian President, Serzh Azati Sargsyan.