It has now been over a month since Azerbaijani forces cut the Lachin corridor, lifeline to Artsakh, a largely Armenian enclave in Nagorno-Karabakh. Grocery stores are empty and pharmacy shelves bare. While Azerbaijan denies responsibility and chalks the blockade to the spontaneous work of “eco-activists,” few outside Azerbaijan and Türkiye accept that fiction. Not only does Azerbaijan have no meaningful let alone independent civil society, but an Azerbaijan-hired public relations firm appears to have put together the storyline.
What the White House now faces is a humanitarian disaster executed in slow motion on its watch. The Biden administration’s response? Repeated declarations and calls. Consider the following:
On December 13, 2022, State Department Spokesman Ned Price condemned the humanitarian implication of the blockade and said, “We call on the government of Azerbaijan to restore free movement.” He repeated his call on January 3, 2023.
On December 14, 2022, Michael Carpenter, US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, tweeted, “The closure of the Lachin Corridor is a dangerous development that jeopardizes the wellbeing of many people living in Nagorno-Karabakh, especially given reports of a gas cutoff to the region.” He repeated this sentiment in a January 6, 2023 tweet. By January 13, Carpenter said the United States was “gravely concerned.”
On December 15, 2022, USAID Administrator Samantha Power tweeted, “the Lachin Corridor must be re-opened immediately – the closure has the potential to cause a significant humanitarian crisis.” She repeated her demand on January 13, 2023.
On December 16, 2022, in her farewell calls with Armenian officials, outgoing US Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy reportedly reiterated the US position on restoring free movement through the Lachin Corridor. The same day, Deputy State Department Spokesman Vedant Patel stated, “the closure of the Lachin Corridor has potentially severe humanitarian implications and, quite candidly, sets back the peace process” and called for “the restoration of free movement through the corridor.”
On December 22, 2022, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called both his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts to convey Washington’s “ongoing concern over impeded access to the Lachin Corridor and the growing humanitarian implications of this situation.”
On January 10, 2023, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried urged both Azerbaijan and Armenia’s foreign ministers “to find a diplomatic solution to enable movement of goods through the Lachin Corridor.”
In a January 18, 2023 phone call, Secretary Antony Blinken expressed to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan “deep concern for the worsening humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting from the blockage of the Lachin corridor.”
Power aspires to be secretary of state in a second Biden term or a future Democratic administration. She rose to prominence for her history of America’s failed response to genocide, yet as more than 100,000 civilians face starvation, the best she and her colleagues can muster is condemnation or expressions of concern?
President Joe Biden may say diplomacy is back, but tweets and empty statements make the situation worse. Either people will die and the United States appear as callous, indifferent, and ineffective as when the United States abandoned Afghanistan to the Taliban, or Russia might deliver a solution that will empower Vladimir Putin throughout the region.
The sad part is the United States need not simply stand aside and tweet its indignation. The US Embassy to Azerbaijan has yet to send a diplomat to act as eyewitness to the Lachin blockade. Biden may say diplomacy is back, but why should anyone take him seriously when the United States funds those conducting the siege because of Blinken’s refusal to abide by US law in order to preserve military assistance to Azerbaijan? Blinken’s bothsiderism and willingness to reward aggression only rewards human rights violators. When autocrats challenge international norms, tweets and declarations are no substitution for action.
It is time to:
Impose sanctions on Azerbaijan
Station credentialed observers in Lachin
Return US diplomats, who have previously visited Stepanakert, to Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, regardless of Azerbaijan’s objection.
Preposition American forces in Armenia to coordinate humanitarian relief for Artsakh.
Credible diplomacy requires action, not empty rhetoric.
(c) 2023, AEI