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Karabakh is only the latest place where Russian peacekeepers have returned to a place they had been before, failed and then been withdrawn, Viktor Alksnis says. Moreover, the reasons for that pattern in 1991 are still very much in place and make a similar pattern and outcome likely.
In an interview with Elena Rychkova of the Nakanune news portal, the longtime defender of the Soviet order says that “the introduction of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh must not be considered the final accord of a conflict which has a history of many centuries”.
According to Alksnis, “the return to the status quo of the administrative borders of 1988 is a necessary and inevitable consequence of the conflict; and when Azerbaijan will have complete military superiority over Armenia, this will destroy the illusions of the Armenians” that they have any chance to add to their territory.
The Soviet state kept the Armenians and Azerbaijanis in check; but when that state weakened, the Armenians moved to take under their wing Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijanis resisted, and Moscow sent in a limited contingent of peacekeepers in 1989-1991. That effort ended in failure because it was not tough enough and did not last.
The festering conflict between the two nations can only end with the restoration of the pre-existing borders. That will have a “tragic” collateral effect: the entire Armenian population of Karabakh will be killed or expelled. “I do not call for this, but it is inevitable” because Russia and the international community defends state borders.
The leaders of Russia and other countries fully understand, Alksnis says, that “if the status quo is preserved and the Armenian population continues to live on this territory, this will be a source of constant conflicts and a hot spot in Azerbaijan.” Unfortunately, ethnic cleansing has become a commonplace in many parts of the post-Soviet space.
But when a country gains control of territory, it will “get rid” of minorities and arrivals from neighboring states. “After the return of territory which had been within the Azerbaijani SSR, [Baku] will do away with the Armenian population,” the commentator and politician continues.
“The Armenians understand this perfectly well and so are leaving Karabakh and burning their houses. They understand that the ship has sailed” and that they are the losers this time around. Alksnis says he isn’t calling for this, bemoans the enormous victims it will involve, but views it as inevitable.
The introduction of Russian peacekeepers this time around won’t solve anything. “The conflict will continue, but if before it was an Armenian-Azerbaijani one, now, it will be an Armenian-Russian-Azerbaijani one, or even more an Armenian-Russian one because the Azerbaijanis understand that Russia is playing on their side.”
Moscow has committed itself to defending Armenia’s 1988 borders but not the Armenian presence in Azerbaijan. And consequently, it will be “impossible” for Armenians to remain there. “This is a bitter reality. It is an enormous tragedy, and we will be shocked by those horrors which in the course of ethnic cleansing will take place.
There is a real danger that some Armenians will turn to terrorism to attack Russians and Azerbaijanis, he says. They have a long tradition of this. Russian peacekeepers Putin has sent to Karabakh may very well be the first victims of this. According to Alksnis, the Azerbaijanis will have no reason to use this tactic now.
Eventually, the Russian peacekeepers and the Armenians inside the borders of Azerbaijan will leave, and the situation may stabilize but only after these two groups suffer enormous losses.
By Paul Goble