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One month ago, Iran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan Abbas Mousavi was summoned by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presented with a diplomatic note demonstrating the country’s concern over Iran’s shipments of cargo into the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Leading up to this confrontation, between July 11 and August 8, it was documented that 35 Iranian vehicles entered and exited the region via the Lachin corridor.
Raising this issue with Iran was fruitless. Between August 11 and September 10, not only did Iranian vehicles continue to travel to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, but the total number of vehicles entering the region increased. In this one-month period, 58 trucks entered the region. As Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding territories are internationally-recognized as belonging to Azerbaijan, these vehicles should, in theory, require permission from Azerbaijani authorities for entry.
Despite being formally addressed by Azerbaijan, this problem of illegal shipments of cargo persists, presenting several problems for conflict resolution. Iran insists that it seeks to maintain friendly relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the country’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict follows that of international law: that Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding territories are an internationally-recognized part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Furthermore, Iran has encouraged negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Continued support for illegal transportation of products and demonstrating partiality by aiding one side of the conflict undermines any credibility of the Iranian government when it calls for conflict resolution.
The fact that this issue has continued despite diplomatic communications once again calls into question the role and effectiveness of Russian peacekeepers. As Azerbaijani member of parliament Elman Mammadov recently noted, the Russian peacekeeping mission does not seem to be interested in ending the conflict. Instead, “the contingent of Russian military personnel stations on the territory of Azerbaijan cooperates with the separatist regime,” according to Mammadov.
The delivery of goods by Iranian vehicles into the occupied territories of Azerbaijan relies on the Lachin corridor. According to the third article of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement, facilitated and mediated by Russia, Russian peacekeepers were to be deployed along the line of contact as well as along the Lachin corridor. Despite their supposed presence in this region, peacekeepers have failed to uphold the principles of the agreement, before and after Azerbaijan raised this issue with Iran. If the peacekeepers were properly carrying out their duties, these Iranian vehicles would not be allowed to enter the Republic of Azerbaijan.
In reality, the complacency of the Russian government in upholding its own agreement will only elevate the risk of future conflict. With documentation of Iran blatantly ignoring international law, many in Azerbaijan are beginning to share the same view as MP Mammadov: that Russia is not interested in resolving the conflict or enforcing the rule of law. If the Azerbaijani side loses confidence in the ceasefire agreement, progress on critical issues will be brought to a standstill.
For example, the issue of border demarcation is by no means a new issue, but it has become an even more important topic in the post-war environment. After November 10, 2020, Armenia and Azerbaijan have routinely accused each other of violating each other’s state borders, leading to flare ups that have claimed lives and injured others. As described by the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “a prerequisite for [demarcations] is the existence of normal bilateral relations, including diplomatic relations, between the neighboring states.”
Iran’s continued illegal shipments of cargo into Nagorno-Karabakh and the Russian peacekeepers’ failure to respond is undermining the prospects of conflict resolution. As these actions continue, Azerbaijan will only become more skeptical of the Russia’s role as a ‘mediator’ and will be less likely to engage with a power that is deemed impartial.