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Why did the CSTO not intervene in the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, as Armenia wanted?



In the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of the longest and most violent conflicts in modern history - the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict - began to unfold in the Caucasus. This region, located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, became an arena for the clash of two peoples and cultures, as well as a playing field for external actors seeking to influence the course of events in this geopolitical region. The beginning of this conflict was a complex and convoluted process involving ethnic, historical and political aspects.


Origins of the conflict

Complex historical events and ethnic tensions have shaped the history of Nagorno-Karabakh. The region has been populated by Armenians and Azerbaijanis, and their neighborhood has generated tensions for centuries. The conflict has its roots in the decisions of the Soviet government in the early 20th century. Since 1921, the region as an administrative-territorial unit was part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic on the rights of broad autonomy. In 1923 it received the status of an autonomous region within the Azerbaijan SSR.

In 1988, a wide public movement for reunification with Armenia began in an autonomous region. On September 2, 1991, independence from Azerbaijan was proclaimed under the name of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

From 1992 to 1994 Azerbaijan tried to take the self-proclaimed republic under its control, it was a full-scale military action, Baku and Yerevan used heavy equipment and aviation. These events went down in history as the First Karabakh War, during which up to 30,000 people were killed. In 1994 in Bishkek, the parties agreed on a ceasefire and the conflict was frozen.[i]

Throughout the conflict, various countries and international organizations attempted to mediate and resolve the conflict. Russia, Turkey, the US and other countries contributed to a peaceful settlement. However, progress remained slow.

Major escalations occurred in 2014 and then in April 2016, when more than 30 deaths were reported on both sides, with dozens of people injured. In 2016, the first use of combat drones (UAVs) by Azerbaijan was reported. The escalation lasted four days and went down in history as the April War. The sides, with the participation of the OSCE and Russia, agreed on a ceasefire.

In September 2020, more than twenty years after the truce, there was a new wave of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan and Armenia once again engaged in open military clashes, resulting in serious fighting and a high number of casualties.

In September 2023, rocket and artillery strikes on the territory of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, described by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense as "anti-terrorist measures of local character", led to its de facto capitulation and the dissolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh army. President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Samvel Shahramanyan signed a decree on the termination of its existence from January 1, 2024. After that, the disputed territory will finally become part of Azerbaijan. Thus ended the conflict between the unrecognized Armenian state and Baku, which lasted for nearly 30 years and claimed thousands of human lives.[ii]


Role of CSTO in the conflict

The CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) did not play a direct role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The CSTO is a military alliance consisting of a number of former Soviet republics, including Russia, Armenia and other countries. Its main purpose is joint defense in the event of armed aggression against any of its members.

When the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh erupted in September 2022, Armenia, which is a member of the CSTO, requested support in accordance with the organization's obligations. However, the CSTO did not take direct military action in the region and limited itself to expressing concern and calling for peace and conflict resolution through the diplomatic route.[iii]

It is important to note that Russia, as a key member of the CSTO, had a significant influence on regional developments and was an active participant in conflict resolution as a mediator. In November 2020, Russia played a role in reaching a ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which temporarily stopped active hostilities.[iv]

Thus, the CSTO was not directly involved in the conflict, but members of this organization (in particular Armenia) sought support and expressed concern about developments in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, how did it happen that Armenia, being a member of the CSTO, lost in the conflict?


Why did the CSTO not intervene in the conflict, as Armenia wanted?

The most obvious reason is that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) could not intervene in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict because its structure and actions are constrained by certain conditions and limitations established in accordance with its charter and principles.

The CSTO Charter stipulates that the organization intervene in conflicts only if one of its members is attacked.[v] In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, this would mean that Armenia would have to face an attack from another country. In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan, Armenia is a CSTO member country, but there is difficulty in determining who exactly started the conflict and who the aggressor is. Moreover, there have been no direct hostilities on Armenian territory.

The CSTO is focused on collective defense and security cooperation among members, not on intervening in conflicts within member countries. Its task is to prevent and suppress military aggression, not to resolve internal conflicts.

Many international and regional organizations, including the CSTO, prefer to resolve conflicts through diplomatic means and mediation. In the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, regional players and other countries sought to mediate and achieve peace through negotiations, which also mitigated the need for military intervention.

Thus, the CSTO, as an international organization, focuses its efforts on ensuring the collective security of its members and responds to threats consistent with its charter. In the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the absence of direct aggression within certain conditions remained one of the reasons for the CSTO's non-intervention.


Attitudes towards conflict within the organization

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also raises complex issues and conflicts of interest within the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The CSTO is a military alliance that includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as Armenia, which has been an active participant in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

According to the CSTO charter, members of this organization are obliged to provide mutual support in case of aggression against one of its members.[vi] Armenia, as a member of the CSTO, requested support during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, other CSTO members, including Russia and Kazakhstan, were not as actively involved in the conflict and faced a dilemma in supporting Armenia.

CSTO members have sought to maintain neutrality and balance their relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is due to the desire to preserve their interests and relations with both countries without questioning their role as mediator and guarantor of stability in the region. Many CSTO countries have expressed a preference for a diplomatic path to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They support the efforts of mediation and peaceful resolution of the conflict as it is in the interest of stability in the region. Economic interests also play a role in the conflict of interests within the CSTO. This includes issues of transit, access to resources and markets, and economic integration in the region.[vii]

It is also worth noting that Central Asian countries have varying degrees of support or neutrality in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Several factors, including geopolitical considerations, economic interests and diplomatic relations, influence their positions. In their diplomatic and cultural relations, the fact that both Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan share Turkic ethnic and linguistic ties may play a role. However, it is important to avoid overgeneralising this as the only or primary reason for supporting each other. Turkish cultural links may enhance the sense of affinity between Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan, but foreign policy decisions are influenced by many factors, and no single one, like shared ethnicity or language, determines the position of countries in international disputes.

Azerbaijan's oil and gas resources are of interest to Central Asian countries, and it is a major energy producer in the South Caucasus. They may seek to maintain stable energy supplies and transit through Azerbaijan.[viii]


Role of Russia and other players

Russia, as a major player in the organization, in this context has to balance its diplomatic and foreign policy relations with its interests in the region and the influence of Turkey and the United States.

Russia seeks to maintain a balance between its friendly relations with Armenia and its strategic partnership with Azerbaijan. This allows Russia to maintain its role as a mediator in the region and prevent possible diplomatic complications with Azerbaijan.

The role of Turkey in the region is also important. Turkey supports and has influence over Azerbaijan in the conflict. The United States also pressures the conflict resolution and supports Armenia. Russia considers these factors when shaping its policy.[ix]

Moscow has its own interests in the region, including security and stability and maintaining influence. It seeks to preserve its interests in the context of a complex geopolitical configuration.

As a result, Russia tries to take into account multiple factors and interests in the South Caucasus region as well as on the world stage. It seeks to maintain stability and conflict resolution while minimizing risks to its diplomatic relations and regional influence.[x]


Conclusion

The role of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been limited and complex. Although Armenia, a CSTO member, requested support, the organization did not directly intervene in the conflict. Instead, the CSTO supported mediation and diplomacy efforts to resolve the conflict. This is due to the limitations of the CSTO charter, which provides for intervention only in the event of an attack on one of its members.

The interests of CSTO members are diverse and may conflict in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenia, as a member of the organization, has sought support, but other member countries have sought to maintain neutrality and balance their relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Economic interests, energy resources and geopolitics also influence the decisions and positions of Central Asian countries within the CSTO.

The CSTO's balanced approach, which calls for peaceful conflict resolution and supports diplomatic efforts, allows the organization to maintain its role as a mediator and participant in regional security. However, this role is also subject to pressures from various interests and geopolitical factors.


By JTMS Intern Kunduz Bakytova


*** The views expressed herein belong solely to the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of JTMS or Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies. ***

[i] Galoyan N.G. - The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: historical background, chronology and ways of solution // International Relations. - 2018. - № 2. - С. 83 - 89. DOI: 10.7256/2454-0641.2018.2.26560 (In Russ.) URL: https://nbpublish.com/library_read_article.php?id=26560 [ii] Nagorno-Karabakh-2023: capitulation of the unrecognized republic,25 September 2023 URL: https://www.dw.com/ru/nagornyj-karabah2023-kapitulacia-nepriznannoj-respubliki/a-66919546 [iii] CSTO initiates launch procedure of border situation resolution mechanism, 13 Sep, 2022 CSTO initiates launch procedure of border situation resolution mechanism (1lurer.am) [iv] Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia sign Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal, 10 November 2020, URL: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54882564 [v] CHARTER OF THE COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY ORGANIZATION, dated October 07, 2002 URL: https://en.odkb-csto.org/documents/documents/ustav_organizatsii_dogovora_o_kollektivnoy_bezopasnosti_/#loaded [vi] CHARTER OF THE COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY ORGANIZATION, dated October 07, 2002 URL: https://en.odkb-csto.org/documents/documents/ustav_organizatsii_dogovora_o_kollektivnoy_bezopasnosti_/#loaded [vii] Danyuk N.S., Semibratov E.V. CSTO in the Light of Modern Challenges and Threats: Directions for Further Functioning. Proceedings of Southwest State University. Series: History and Law. 2021;11(1):58-70. (In Russ.) URL: https://hisplus.elpub.ru/jour/article/view/256/253 [viii] Kazantseva, E. V. (2011). Central Asia and Transcaucasia as a geostrategic complex. Izvestiya vysshee obrazovaniya vysshee obrazovaniya. North Caucasus region. Social Sciences, (2), 20-24. (In Russ.) URL: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/tsentralnaya-aziya-i-zakavkazie-kak-geostrategicheskiy-kompleks [ix] Eup I. Atabay. Military coverage of Russia and Armenia within the framework of the CSTO in the field of security in the South Caucasus. Postsovetskie issledovaniya = Post-Soviet Studies. 2022;3(5):257-262. (In Russ.) URL: https://cyberleninka.ru/article/n/voennye-vzaimootnosheniya-rossii-i-armenii-v-ramkah-odkb-v-kontekste-bezopasnosti-na-yuzhnom-kavkaze/viewer [x] Aliyev N., War in Nagorno-Karabakh Requires a Russian Balancing Act, Analytical Articles, November 10, 2020, URL: https://www.cacianalyst.org/publications/analytical-articles/item/13646-war-in-nagorno-karabakh-requires-a-russian-balancing-act.html?tmpl=component&print=1

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