Why was the Russian-brokered ceasefire effort of May 1994 successful?

The May 1994 ceasefire agreement was mainly the result of an arduous mediation effort by the Russian Federation. According to Thomas de Waal, “the only successful mediation effort in the conflict, the 1994 ceasefire, was in fact negotiated by one person, Russian envoy Vladimir Kazimirov, in long and tense but ultimately productive one-on-one discussions with the key actors.”[1] However, it should be mentioned that the ceasefire was a war-stopping, not a peacemaking attempt, and did not end the conflicting situation in the region. Therefore, many critical arguments were put forward, questioning why the Russian-brokered ceasefire effort was considered successful while the many previous efforts by international organizations and other regional states had failed.

The argument was that as a dominant regional power, Russia played a dual role in the Minsk Group to preserve its national interests in its “near abroad.”[2] When the neo-imperialist forces began to engage with Russian politics in 1993, they made it clear that Russia would not let any international or regional institutions or states act freely in the South Caucasus, its sphere of influence, without taking Russian interests into account. Therefore, it was Russia that brokered the ceasefire agreement unilaterally, thus undermining the Minsk Group’s peace efforts. Thus, it should be mentioned that at the time the ceasefire was being agreed upon, Swedish envoy Jan Eliasson, who was then chairman of the Minsk Group and later became president of the UN General Assembly, was in the region to promote the OSCE peace plan. However, despite Azerbaijan’s request, Eliasson was not invited to participate in the Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement, which was a clear indication of the dual policy of Russia toward the Minsk Group.[3] On this matter, while condemning the Russian stance, John Maresca, the UN representative to the CSCE, wrote the following:

At first, Russia fully supported the Minsk Group. But in 1993 Russia reactivated its earlier independent mediation effort, competing with and undercutting the work of the international community. The reason was clear: Russia wished to reestablish its dominance in the region and to exclude outsiders, particularly the US and Turkey. Russia wants to dominate Armenia and Azerbaijan for a number of reasons. Most obviously, Moscow would like to reestablish control of the former Soviet frontier with Turkey and Iran, and to share in Azerbaijan’s oil riches.[4]

John Maresca also narrates that for gaining military privilege, the Russian government was forcing Azerbaijan to let deployment of Russian military troops, which were withdrawn during the rule of Elchibey, again to the soil of Azerbaijan as a separation force and as border guards. “For leverage, the Russians have used an implicit but dramatic threat: if Azerbaijan does not comply, Russia will step up its backing for Armenia (Russian troops are already stationed there), with disastrous military results for the Azeris.”[5] However, during the one-on-one meeting with Russian diplomat Kazimirov, President Heydar Aliyev strongly opposed Russian attempts to deploy Russian “peacekeeping” forces to the region while stating that “Russia cannot deploy its troops in Azerbaijan by itself. They will have to tread over my dead body first. Russia’s troops can be deployed within the framework of an international force, which the CSCE will establish.”[6] Contrary to the Azerbaijan president, the Armenian leadership accepted the Russian proposal. Therefore, on June 9, 1994, a military agreement was signed between the two sides to establish two Russian military bases in the territory of Armenia for 25 years.[7]

Consequently, the Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement ended the war but did not bring peace and reconciliation to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. As Jan Eliasson said after the ceasefire agreement, “We achieved the ceasefire, yes. However, we still had the basic problems in this region of a scorched earth policy; return of refugees; no clear boundaries; and, of course, occupied territories.”[8] During the ceasefire negotiations in May 1994, Russia could end the conflict and reach a political solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, the status quo served its interests, preserving the Russian presence in the region. Almost three decades have passed since the ceasefire agreement was signed. However, no efforts by the Minsk Group or any other international and regional actors have been successful in achieving a lasting peace agreement until the Second Karabakh War. Armenia demanded the self-determination right for Nagorno-Karabakh and kept seven other Azerbaijan regions under its control. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan rejected the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan, did not compromise its territorial integrity, and insisted on resolving the conflict according to international law.[9] Thus, as a result of the ceasefire agreement, “the conflicts were not solved, but lived on in a passive form, without use of violence,” as Cornell concludes.[10]

[1] De Waal, Thomas, “Remaking the Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process,” Survival, Vol. 52, No. 4, 2010, p. 164.

[2] Jacoby, Volker, “The Role of the OSCE: An Assessment of International Mediation Efforts,” Accord: An International Review of Peace Initiative, Issue 17, 2005, p. 31.

[3] Cornell, Svante E., Azerbaijan Since Independence (M. E. Sharpe, 2011), p. 133.

[4] Maresca, John J., “Agony of Indifference in Nagorno-Karabakh,” The Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 1994; http://www.csmonitor.com/1994/0627/27191.html. Accessed on December 3, 2022.

[5] Maresca, “Agony of Indifference in Nagorno-Karabakh”.

[6] Croissant, Michael P., The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Causes and Implications (Praeger Publisher, 1998), p. 111.

[7] Croissant, The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, pp. 111-112.

[8] Eliasson, Jan, “Perspectives on Managing Intractable Conflict,” Negotiation Journal, Vol. 18, No. 4, 2002, p. 372.

[9] Niftiyev, Efgan, “The Fragile Ceasefire and the Prospect of Reconciliation in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Caucasus Edition: Journal of Conflict Transformation, Vol. 3, Issue 1, 2010, p. 4.

[10] Cornell, Svante E., “Peace or War? The Prospects for Conflicts in the Caucasus,” The Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1997, p. 210.