In a new report “Nagorno-Karabakh’s Gathering War Clouds” published on June 1, experts from the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a fresh warning of a new war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, arguing that “political and security conditions that prompted the April 2016 escalation have become more acute” and citing the steady pace of incidents on the Line of Contact since the start of the year.
The report urges the mediators to “apply concerted high-level pressure on the parties to unlock the current paralysis and mitigate risks of renewed violence.” ICG’s recipe to achieves this is “to resume regular communication between Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders and insist that Yerevan and Baku soften positions that have calcified over the past 23 years as well as tone down martial rhetoric that fuels their publics’ belligerence.”
Further, the recommendations parallel the OSCE Minsk Group’s focus since April 2016 for Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders “to agree to immediate measures to restore confidence and security, including: increasing the number of OSCE personnel to monitor the conflict zone; establishing an OSCE-led investigative mechanism to hold the two sides accountable, while introducing a degree of transparency regarding their military arrangements in the conflict zone; and establishing regular contacts between their respective field-based militaries.”
In perhaps the most intriguing portion of the report, ICG experts, based on interviews with Nagorno Karabakh’s civilian and military officials in February 2017, suggest that “an internal consensus emerged within the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh leadership that – in the event of an Azerbaijani attack – the Armenian side should not only defend their positions, but also attempt to advance deeper into Azerbaijan.”
“Preliminary planning by Nagorno-Karabakh-based military suggests advancing 15km beyond the established Line of Contact, which, they believe, would force the enemy to abandon hostilities, or at a minimum establish a new buffer zone that could break the enemy’s will to conduct regular attacks and become a new negotiating bargaining tool.”
While on the other hand “Azerbaijan’s success in the April 2016 escalation cemented confidence in the army and reinforced hopes that Baku could regain control of at least some territory through military means.”
According to the report, even though both sides want to avoid a large-scale war, conducting military operations with even limited objectives bears risk of larger confrontation and potential for foreign intervention.