Deputy PMs of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia discuss unblocking of communication routes
A trilateral meeting of the working group on unblocking communications in the region took place in Moscow. This was the eighth meeting of the Deputy Prime Ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. The meeting was supposed to go on for two consecutive days.
However, according to an official statement that appeared after the end of the talks, the participants in the meeting agreed to continue the discussions “in the near future”. No other details were disclosed.
The working group was created to implement the agreements reached by the heads of the three countries in the fall of 2020. On November 9, a trilateral declaration of an armistice in Karabakh was signed. One of the clauses of this document referred to the “unblocking all economic and transport links in the region”. On January 11, 2021, a working group was created, which holds periodic meetings and discusses possible options for opening the transport routes.
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The meeting on October 20 was held behind closed doors, without the participation of journalists.
At the end of the meeting, only the following official information appeared in the Armenian media:
• The first part of the 8th meeting of the working group has ended,
• The prospects for the restoration of transport communications in the South Caucasus region were considered,
• Further progress of work was discussed within the framework of the statement of the leaders of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan dated January 11, 2021,
• The meeting participants agreed to hold the second part of the 8th meeting in the near future.
But even before the end of the talks on October 20, the Armenian media, referring to their sources, reported that the parties were discussing the unblocking of the transport routes and had not yet come to an agreement on key issues. In particular, the meeting participants discussed legal issues that would arise in the event of a possible unblocking of transport communications.
Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia – on the eve of the meeting
Before leaving for Moscow, Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan told reporters that “the unblocking will take place within the legal framework of the CIS countries”.
He said that there should be a discussion of issues related to roads and railways. According to him, within the framework of the discussions of the trilateral working group, all options for railway communication of the Soviet era are being discussed. However, he did not specify which of them will be restored in the first place. He just stated that the Armenian side has certain ideas on this matter.
The Deputy Prime Minister reinstated that the working group is not discussing the issue of any “corridor”, including one running through the Armenian city of Meghri, on which the Azerbaijani side insists. Earlier, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan also said that they were in favor of unblocking, but all roads that would open for Azerbaijan and Turkey would be under the sovereign control of Armenia.
Local experts warn that the new ways proposed by the Azerbaijani side have little to do with economic feasibility. Moreover, they “do not promise Armenia anything except the next geopolitical risks”, political scientist Vahe Davtyan believes:
“The launch of the railway communication along the specified route will finally close the transport ring around Armenia, as a result of which the blockade, in which the republic has been for the past 30 years, will not only not disappear, but will acquire new outlines”.
In his opinion, it would make sense to unblock the Kars-Gyumri railway, which operated until 1993:
“By the way, this section is in a usable condition and, according to experts, as a result of the appropriate repair work, it can begin operating in one or two months. With the restoration of train traffic on this section, unblocking of regional communications could be implemented through the Armenian Yeraskh (north of the Ararat region) to Nakhichevan and further – along the route noted above to Baku”.
Gagik Aghajanyan, director of the Apaven cargo transportation company, claims that the construction of a railway connecting the southern regions of Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan and Turkey through a corridor to Meghri is fraught with complete transport isolation of Armenia and may turn into a disaster.
In his opinion, transport communications can be unblocked without Meghri, and with minimal costs. The businessman speaks about the operation of the railway from Turkey through Akhuryan to Gyumri, Yerevan, Yeraskh and Nakhichevan:
“Yeraskh is located 500-600 meters from the border with Nakhichevan. We can build a railway covering these 500 meters to the border, and that’s it. The road through Yeraskh will allow access to the Black Sea ports of Georgia through Nakhichevan. In addition, this road will not bypass Armenia unlike a corridor through Meghri”.