A Week On, Armenians Complain Of Azerbaijani "Impunity" For Helicopter Shootdown
A senior European diplomat has visited the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh to try to reduce tensions after Azerbaijani armed forces shot down an Armenian helicopter there last week.
Andrzej Kasprzyk, the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office, visited the de facto Karabakh capital of Stepanakert on November 17. Kasprzyk seems not to have made any public comments, but Armenian officials used the occasion of his visit to complain about what they called a muted international reaction and perceived "impunity" for Azerbaijan.
And Kasprzyk's visit itself became another point of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenian officials said he would visit the site of the shootdown during his visit, but Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense said that was "another lie and speculation of the Armenian side." And indeed, when Kasprzyk visited the line of contact for a planned monitoring mission on November 18, he appears not to have gone to the crash site.
The site has remained closed to Armenian forces since the helicopter was downed on November 12; it still has not been ascertained whether all three of the aircraft's crew died in the crash. Likewise, there has yet to be any outside assessment of the claims of the opposing sides that the helicopter had crossed the line of contact and was preparing to attack Azerbaijani positions (as Baku says) or was on the Karabakh side of the line and was unarmed (as Yerevan and Stepanakert say).
Among the international reactions to the incident, that of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization was among the few that (albeit subtly) criticized Azerbaijan more than Armenia. Nevertheless, the incident has rekindled tension and unease in Armenia over Russia's arms sales to Azerbaijan. Movses Hakopyan, the de facto defense minister of Nagorno Karabakh, said in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that they believe that it was a Russian Strela anti-aircraft missile that shot down the helicopter. This is hardly surprising, nearly all of Azerbaijan's air defense equipment is of Russian origin. But it's nevertheless an uncomfortable fact for the Armenian side:
"Our observations and data from Azerbaijan suggest that the helicopter was shot down by a Strela air-defense system. This is a Russian hand-held rocket," Hakopyan said, adding that there is no agreement by which Russia is forbidden from selling weapons to any country. "Russia is not accountable to Armenia about who it sells its weapons to."
"Of course it's too bad, after all we're allies, we're strategic partners, and I think that Russia, following its economic interests, should also take into account our interests, which doesn't happen."
Azerbaijan seems to be counting on the incident sowing dischord with Russia. This was an interesting excerpt from an interview with Aleksey Sinitsyn, of the American-Azerbaijan Progress Promotion Fund:
Analyst Ruben Mehgrabyan expressed that opinion better than others, saying that 'the human victims on the Karabakh-Azerbaijan border are the result of shipments of Russian arms to Azerbaijan.' If this social tendency grows, and it will grow, Armenia will give up the resolution of the Karabakh conflict under the Madrid principles... And this story with the helicopter may be used by [Armenian President Serzh] Sargsyan to pull out of accession to the Eurasian Union and again start the usual balancing act between Moscow and the West.
(It should be noted that the real salience of this question among Armenians is obscured by many vectors of geopolitical spin. The American-Azerbaijan Progress Promotion Fund, despite its name and base in Houston, appears to be much more about promoting progress between Russia and Azerbaijan. And it's telling that the outlet that asked Hakopyan about Russian arms was the U.S. government-funded RFE/RL, which has embraced the new Cold War with vigor and already tried to pin the blame for this incident on Russia.)
Anyway, all of this is likely the calm before the storm as we wait to see if and how the Armenian side will respond.