Armenian-Azerbaijani talks in Moscow and Brussels: more contradictions than connections
Quickened Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations by the end of August have caused alarm in Armenia, citizens fearing another concessions to Azerbaijan. A meeting of the national commissions of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the issue of demarcation and delimitation of borders is scheduled in Moscow for August 30, and on August 31, a meeting of the heads of state in Brussels.
Opinions of Armenian analysts about what can be expected from Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations.
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What happened prior to negotiations
Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations in Moscow and Brussels were preceded by a portentous series of events. In early August another escalation took place in Karabakh. Thanks to military pressure, Azerbaijan managed to ensure that the corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia was changed. In a related development, two more towns and the city of Lachin, through which the former corridor passed, came under the control of Azerbaijan.
At the same time, relations between Azerbaijan and the United States deteriorated. Baku reacted critically to the appointment of a new American co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. Baku is against the resumption of the Minsk process to resolve the Karabakh conflict, as it considers it to have been resolved militarily.
The refusal of the US and French ambassadors to visit the city of Shushi (Shusha in Azerbaijan) caused a scandal in Baku, being seen as disrespect for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
In Brussels, the creation of a working group to prepare the text of a peace agreement with Armenia will be agreed upon, Hikmet Hajiyev, adviser to the President of Azerbaijan, said prior to the Pashinyan–Aliyev meeting.
Armenian experts believe that fundamental contradictions between the parties on key issues will prevent this.
Hakob Badalyan, political commentator
Peace agreement is far away
“It is unlikely that the August meetings of heads of state in Brussels and heads of border demarcation commissions in Moscow will lead to a significant breakthrough. There are too many radically opposed approaches in the positions of the parties. It is hard to imagine that a couple of meetings will not only smooth them over, but also lead to a peace agreement. Moreover, in addition to the positions of the parties themselves, there are also conflicts of interests between major intermediary actors. This is not only Brussels and Moscow, but also Washington and Moscow.
“The latest US statements on the appointment of an American co-chair indicate that Washington has its own proposals and the main message is directed towards Baku. This suggests that substantive work on a peace agreement is not to be expected in the near future.”
You can’t sign an agreement on contradictions
“There are many contradictions between the positions of Armenia and Azerbaijan, above all the unblocking of transport routes, in which there are Azerbaijani “corridor” ambitions. There are complex discussions here, as evinced by the reaction of Iran.
The November 9 tripartite statement ending the 2020 Karabakh war says Armenia guarantees the security of transport routes between the western regions of Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. Azerbaijan interprets this paragraph as unhindered movement with no control by Armenia. Accordingly, Baku demands a road through the Armenian city of Meghri, calling it the “Zangezur corridor.”
The Armenian authorities say they are ready to unblock roads, but are not ready to lose sovereignty over the provided roads. The term “corridor” suggests a loss of sovereign control, but is not mentioned in the tripartite statement.
Iran has already stated several times that it will not allow changes in its borders with Armenia. This further complicates the matter of Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations.
“There are also contradictions in the issue of demarcation and delimitation of borders. The most acute is the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh. In particular, the issues of the status of Artsakh, management of the situation, defense, the army itself. The contradictions of the parties here are fundamental.
“At the same time there are contradictions between major players fighting for influence in the region. Moscow is trying to maintain its influence, the US is trying to limit and weaken Moscow’s influence. In the actions of the United States there is a certain pressure on Iran in order to dictate its terms on the nuclear deal. Turkey is trying to play both sides, navigating the contradictions between Washington and Moscow.”
Between the West and Moscow
“The key and painful issues for Armenia underlie the strategic struggle of major players. For example in the Karabakh issue, if it were beneficial for Russia to resolve the status of Artsakh today, the United States would do the opposite. America itself would suggest leaving the issue of status for later and addressing only humanitarian issues.
“The Russians see postponing the status problem as an opportunity to maintain their influence. Russia wants to leave these things behind, as it is busy with Ukraine and prefers to pay less attention to the Caucasus.
“The United States suggests to Baku only those solutions which will rid the region of the Russians, since with their solution it will be easier to withdraw Russian troops. Naturally, for this, America must make Baku a more attractive offer than the Russians.
“On the same issue of the “corridor” through Meghri. We know more or less what the Russians are proposing – according to point 9 of the tripartite statement on Karabakh, Armenia provides the road and the Russians control the transport of Azerbaijani and Turkish goods. Obviously, Russia does not want to give this corridor to Azerbaijan and Turkey.
“What the US proposes in this matter is unclear. It is reported that the West is offering assistance that will facilitate the unblocking of roads and provide technical support. What that means is hard to say. But apparently the approaches are again different, since Iran speaks of “the unacceptability of closing the Armenian-Iranian border.”
“Whether the West is offering an abrogation of the 9th paragraph of the statement, that is from Russian control in exchange for some kind of international mechanism, is unknown.
“Under such conditions it is difficult to imagine any work on a peace agreement. But if the meetings in Brussels and Moscow help maintain stability in the region and prevent the situation from escalating, then we can already talk about a positive result.”
Bidding is appropriate
“I am far from thinking that Baku is so naive that they decided to go on an adventure, allowing themselves a daring tone in a conversation with the United States. At the same time, I am far from thinking that Baku was unduly frightened by the announcement of a new American co-chair and the restoration of the OSCE Minsk Group. Russians will not work in this format, the MG cannot be restored.
“It’s most likely a trade. There are subtexts in the American responses; the US wants to lure Baku to its side. Washington says – accept our proposals, in three years we will withdraw Russian troops from the region.
“Washington now does not particularly need to revive the MG, especially since they understand that this is not entirely realistic. All statements are made for bargaining, and Baku, knowing this very well, allows itself free statements.”
Hovsep Khurshudyan, political analyst
Russia putting off Karabakh until later
“Obviously, Russia is not at all interested in a resolution in Karabakh. In this its approach coincides with Azerbaijan, but partly. Baku generally refuses to recognize the existence of the Karabakh issue, stating that the problem has been resolved, it is the territory of Azerbaijan; and the population may accept that or leave.
“Russia’s position is as follows: it admits that there is a problem, but it is not going to discuss it now and plans to postpone it until better times. The Russian Federation is trying to keep its place in the region, leaving a lever of influence on both Baku and Yerevan. Therefore, Russia is in no way interested in changing the favorable status quo for it with the presence of its troops here.”
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The West wants here and now
“Europeans and Americans understand this and therefore believe that the problem needs to be solved radically and the sooner the better. In this regard, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, through his press secretary, says that “we need to go back to the root of the problem and solve it.”
“The Americans say the same thing, saying that the problem has not been solved, and it needs to be thoroughly, globally and comprehensively addressed. The change of the American co-chairman to a fairly high-ranking and influential diplomat speaks to this.
“This is a sign of US interest in this issue and it plans to put pressure on Azerbaijan in order to bring it to the negotiating table regarding Karabakh in a new round of Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations. The regular refusal of the American and French ambassadors to attend an event organized by the Azerbaijani authorities in Shushi is also significant.
“The West declares that a political solution to the Karabakh issue is needed, referring to the status of NK. Everything depends on the approaches and readiness of Azerbaijan for peaceful coexistence with the Armenians in Artsakh. But today such total xenophobia, Armenophobia, racism and the desire for ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population are widespread in Azerbaijan, that I don’t think the Europeans will consider it possible to leave Nagorno-Karabakh entirely to Azerbaijan.”
Either democracy or “Kosovo”
“The West suggests Azerbaijan take the path of democracy: in this case, the problem of Artsakh is automatically attached to democratic processes and becomes a lever of pressure in the hands of the West on Baku. Otherwise, Azerbaijan loses NK.
“With a democratization of Azerbaijan, Baku will not be able to carry out ethnic cleansing of Armenians, because it will automatically agree to the presence of international forces, as well as to the status of Artsakh, providing a full guarantee of the security of Armenians. In principle, this was stipulated in the 1997 package agreement.
“If Azerbaijan does not follow a democratic path, I am sure that the international community and the West will force it into the Kosovo scenario, the legal and political packages for which are already being prepared by the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice in The Hague.”