A recent upsurge in fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh serves Russian interests and shows the dangers of war by accident.
Since a tentative ceasefire agreement halted fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia has largely benefitted from the unresolved nature of the conflict. Moscow not only helped to broker and then back that first informal ceasefire in May 1994, but it also emerged as a key mediator, along with France and the United States.
Through that tripartite effort at diplomatic mediation, institutionalised as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – the so-called “Minsk group” – Moscow was able to cement its position as an essential arbitrator.
As the years of diplomacy garnered little in substance or significance, due more to the lack of political will and less to any strategic neglect, the parties to the conflict became locked in a vicious cycle of what became known as a “frozen” conflict.
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No longer a ‘frozen’ conflict
Yet the “frozen” Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is anything but. With a steady escalation in fighting over the past few years, the conflict has rapidly thawed, marked by a pattern of consistent ceasefire violations.
And as the ceasefire has become much more fragile, ceasefire violations have become much more serious – to the current point to where they are no longer measured in shots fired or number of attacks, but in terms of military deaths and civilian casualties on both sides.
This was notable in the first few days of this month, with a fresh escalation that was especially serious, due to three specific factors:
First, this fresh wave of Azerbaijani attacks utilised artillery and mortars, rather than only sniper fire, and targeted Armenian civilian population centres along the northern Armenia-Azerbaijan border. This factor demonstrated that with the introduction of more serious weapon systems, the severity of attacks and the scale of the damage have significantly increased.