Op-ed: The format of the Karabakh settlement will inevitably change
Photo: Gevorg Ghazaryan, JAMnews
The U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, sent a letter to Senator Bob Corker (R.-Tenn), outlining the upcoming organizational changes in the U.S. State Department. Tillerson proposed to eliminate about 30 special envoy posts, including the post of the Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group in Karabakh. It is suggested that his duties should be assigned to the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. As is pointed out in the letter, the Assistant Secretary of State will fully assume the Co-chair’s powers, thus retaining this position.
The decision hasn’t been made yet, but it can be said that it has given rise to a change in the Karabakh settlement format. If the USA eliminates a Co-chair’s post, Russia and France are likely to take a similar step. And this, in turn, will reduce mobility of the Co-chairs, who frequently travel to the region, issue statements and thus maintain control over the situation.
Speculations about a possible change in the Karabakh settlement format have been made in Armenia since the implementation of constitutional reforms in the country. The incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan’s term in office expires in April 2018. From that day on, Armenia will become a full-fledged parliamentary republic.
At the same time, the President will lose his former functions as a major leader, whereas the Prime Minister will be vested with more powers. However, the Prime Minister will not oversee the security and foreign policy issues, and he is unlikely to participate in talks.
Since 2007, under an unspoken arrangement, negotiations on the Karabakh settlement between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been held under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs from USA, Russia and France. If there is no President in Armenia from April 2018, then who is going to participate in the talks? There is no answer to this question so far. And if, let’s say, the Armenian Vice-Premier, who is in charge of foreign policy issues, participates in the negotiations, will the Azerbaijani President talk to him?
To put it short, the format is changing, though it’s not quite clear what it is going to shape into.
On a side note, Azerbaijan will also face some changes. The presidential elections in the country are scheduled for 2018, and there are speculations that Ilham Aliyev, the incumbent President of Azerbaijan, will give preference to his wife Mehriban Aliyeva, who was appointed as Vice-President earlier this year. This will also have an influence on the format and the nature of the Karabakh talks. Mehriban khanum [as her countrymen affectionately call her] has already made some statements on a number of occasions that have been less militaristic than her husband’s ones.
There will be some changes in Karabakh too. Although it’s true that the latter hasn’t been directly engaged in talks as yet, mediators, as well as the Armenian side, have been actively calling for bringing Karabakh back to the negotiation table. It’s yet unknown who is going to represent Karabakh in the event that it is decided to restore a format with its participation.
The matter is that a swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Bako Saharyan, who won the constitutional referendum and was elected as a ‘transitional’ president for a period of 3 years, will be held in Karabakh on 7 September.
Under the recent constitutional amendments, Karabakh has switched to the presidential form of government. The country is going to abolish the Prime Minister’s institution, and establish a new position, the State Minister, instead. The government is expected to resign tomorrow. There are speculations that the Foreign Minister will also be replaced. It can’t be ruled out that Karabakh may intensely insist on its participation in talks and refuse to extend a mandate, under which the Armenian President participates in talks on behalf of Karabakh.
Will changes in format lead to a revision of the settlement principles?
A decade after elaboration of the so-called ‘Madrid’ principles of the Karabakh settlement, more and more statements have been made about their ‘untimely demise’. Those principles imply a compromise-settlement option, namely ‘status in exchange for territorial concessions.’
However, after the April war in 2016, the Armenian side has stopped discussing concessions, while the mediators have been insisting on observance of the ceasefire and strengthening the ceasefire regime, rather than on compliance with the ‘Madrid principles’. In particular, all the mediators (the USA, Russia and France) call for introduction of the mechanisms for investigation of the incidents on the contact line, but Azerbaijan flatly rejects this possibility.
Experts more often voice the opinion that the West has apparently made a political decision on Karabakh, which is a decision on recognition of its independence.
As Grigoriy Trofimchuk, an expert on foreign policy, defense and security issues, stated in an interview with Tert.am, the West will take the path of ‘sovereignization’ of Karabakh. “There is nothing Russia can do in this regard,” he stressed.
In his opinion, against this background, a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan becomes inevitable, whereas the responsibility for the consequences of that war ‘will be placed upon Russia’.
It’s hard either to confirm or disprove the existence of such a plan. Yet, it’s quite obvious that the USA has recently stopped including the Karabakh problem in the list of conflicts in respect to which it demands observance of the territorial integrity. That list, as a rule, includes the Abkhazian, South Ossetian, Ukrainian and Transdniestrian conflicts.
Toponyms and terminology used in the publication, as well as views, opinions and strategies they contain, do not necessarily reflect the opinions of JAMnews or any of employees thereof. JAMnews reserves the right to delete comments it considers to be offensive, inflammatory, threatening or otherwise ethically unacceptable.