In Sochi, Putin and Aliyev sought to de-internationalize the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process

Ambassador David Shahnazaryan, Armenian presidential ambassador at large in 1992-95, head of the National Security Service in 1994-1995, now a Senior Analyst of the Regional Studies Center (RSC), proposes that Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh authorities start the implementation of the trilateral agreement on the strengthening of the ceasefire regime signed on February 4, 1995 by the defense ministers of the parties to the conflict. – Mr. Shahnazaryan, Armenia and Azerbaijan had been urged for quite a long time to accept French president Francois Hollande’s invitation to hold a summit in Paris to try to resolve the frozen Nagorno-Karabakh conflict; however, it was Russia’s president Putin who managed to bring both presidents to Sochi for talks. What did happen in Sochi and what an issue did Putin resolve by doing so – Let us try to briefly analyze the Sochi meeting. I would like to emphasize three important developments – the public statements made by the three presidents, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s assessment of the closed talks and President Serzh Sarkisian’s subsequent interview with Armnews TV. In his opening remarks made in front of the TV cameras, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about “international formats” for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but without mentioning the OSCE Minsk Group. He also underlined Russia’s special relations with both countries, saying that they “allow an exchange of ideas about what to do in order to move forward in terms of the conflict settlement inherited from the past.” However, Putin distorts the facts. The point is that the OSCE Minsk Group is the only international format mandated to help the conflicting sides to hammer out a settlement of the conflict. Incidentally, Putin did not consider the Sochi meeting as international in nature. In his opening remarks, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev complained of the OSCE Minsk Group because of its failure to make progress saying that “Russia, as our close friend, partner and neighbor, certainly plays a special role in the settlement process.” He then stressed the UN Security Council’s four resolutions as a “legal framework” for the settlement of the conflict. In response to both Putin and Aliyev, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian emphasized the role of the OSCE Minsk Group and the their proposed conflict settlement principles, saying they are acceptable to Armenia. Then in response to Aliyev’s complaint that Armenia did not fulfill the Security Council’s resolutions, he said: “I have a rhetorical question to Mr. Aliyev: which points of those resolutions have been fulfilled by Azerbaijan?” Serzh Sarkisian made it clearly understood that the UN Security Council’s resolutions refer to both Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh and that Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally recognized party to the conflict. Sarkisian’s shots may have a serious impact on Aliyev’s domestic and international propaganda machine, as it is based on allegations that Armenia refuses to fulfill the UN Security Council’s resolutions and attempts to portray Azerbaijan as “the victim” of the conflict. After the latest botched incidents of subversion by Azerbaijani military commandos in Nagorno-Karabakh that claimed the lives of dozens of Azerbaijani troops, Aliyev may face new problems at home if Azerbaijani experts decide to look deep into the UN Security Council’s resolutions. President Aliyev, himself a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) in the field of diplomacy, should also examine the resolutions in question. Interestingly, the Azerbaijani mass media was silent about President Sarkisian’s remarks. Even Aliyev’s official website placed only his and Putin’s opening statements made in front of TV cameras. As for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks made immediately after the talks in Sochi, speaking about the conflict settlement principles, he mentioned only the principles of territorial integrity and the people’s right to self-determination, omitting the third principle reflected in the Minsk Group co-chairing countries’ numerous presidential statements – the peaceful resolution of the conflict and the non-use of force or the threat of force. This omission was not accidental, since Lavrov is not only a seasoned diplomat, but is also well aware of all the details of the Karabakh conflict resolution process. Lavrov also said that both presidents expressed their readiness to continue the dialogue on the presidential level and noted that Russia, as an OSCE Minsk Group country, is ready to support the follow-up meetings. Lavrov’s remarks could be construed, in fact, as the creation of a new trilateral format. In fact, he presented it as an existing fact, speaking also about a “contact group” as a new platform or institutionalized negotiations outside the Minsk Group. Immediately after that, he added that the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan were given new instructions saying also that the sides had yet to overcome the main sticking points hampering a Karabakh settlement, hinting that they should be agreed upon not within the OSCE Minsk Group, but within the new trilateral format set up by the Russian Federation. Now, let us look into Serzh Sarkisian’s interview. Incidentally, he did not confirm any of Lavrov’s statements. Moreover, he emphasized the three major principles of the Helsinki Final Act mentioning in the first place the one about the non-use of force or threat to use it. Serzh Sarkisian in fact rejected the possibility of any deployment of only Russian peacekeeping force in the conflict zone, saying that “he heard about it for the first time,” and stressing that it could not become even a subject of discussion. Interestingly, he also spoke about the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) by saying there is no need to request it to respond to the latest clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. In fact, it was a message that Armenia does not turn to CSTO because the latter cannot become a guarantee of Armenia’s security and that Armenia has no allies in the Russia-led organization. By organizing the Sochi meeting following an upsurge in deadly fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces on the line of contact and on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, the Russian side did not pay attention to the deadly clashes and gross violations of the ceasefire. Moscow’s goal was clear – to try to seize the role of the only country able to settle the conflict and to send a message to the West that it continues to hold this leverage. Here is another interesting fact: as a rule, Russia has always stressed that the ceasefire regime became possible solely due to its efforts, complaining that this is forgotten. By organizing the Sochi meeting, Russia is trying, in fact, to shift its standoff with the West to the Karabakh conflict format and into the South Caucasus. Russia showed that it can destabilize the situation on the line of contact and summon quickly both presidents. But can Moscow show also that it can not only de-freeze or flare up the conflict, but also restore the ceasefire regime? Lavrov sought to show that the Kremlin used the Moscow-Baku-Ankara axis to succeed in diminishing the role of the OSCE Minsk Group and de-internationalize the Karabakh settlement process, making the negotiations process a Russian monopoly. In other words, thereby, it made the Karabakh peace process an internal issue of the Putin-declared “Russian World.” As a result of a political decision made by Armenia in 1992, the Karabakh issue was incorporated into the OSCE agenda and the issue was internationalized. The OSCE Minsk Group has been, and must remain, the only international format for its settlement. That was in fact confirmed by Serzh Sarkisian in his interview. I think the statements Lavrov made after the Sochi meeting has caused concern also within Russian diplomatic circles, as evident in the response of retired Ambassador Vladimir Kazimirov, a former Russian presidential envoy for the Karabakh conflict. A seasoned diplomat, Kazimirov is trying now to moderate Lavrov’s unrealistic statements. – In a previous interview to Aravot daily this past May you predicted that Russia would seek to monopolize the Karabakh peace process and push out the other two Minsk Group co-chairing countries. Do you think the ceasefire regime will not be restored and the high tensions will continue to run on the line of contact? – Diffusing tension was used as a pretext to organize the Sochi meeting. In fact, Russia pursued a different goal, as mentioned above. I do not think that the Sochi meeting will be followed by the full restoration of the ceasefire regime. Azerbaijan will be urged by Moscow and Ankara to keep tension running high on the border with Armenia and on the line of contact, but I am sure that it will get a more than adequate response. – What can the Armenian side do in this situation to minimize its losses? President Aliyev is trying to renounce all the previously signed or accepted international documents on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement. In this situation it would be correct for the authorities in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to start the separate implementation of the trilateral agreement on the strengthening of the ceasefire regime proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group and signed by the defense ministers of the three sides on February 4, 1995, under which each party to the conflict is required to inform about each ceasefire violation both the side that breaches the ceasefire and the Minsk Group co-chairs. Under the agreement, the Minsk Group co-chairs and Azerbaijan must officially respond to any such report. This agreement is a legal framework for the Nagorno-Karabakh as an internationally recognized conflict party to enter into official relations both with the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and with Azerbaijan. Next, Armenia should use all available means to step up the negotiation process within the OSCE Minsk Group and be ready to negotiate a broad agreement. Moreover, both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh may draft their own options, based on the so-called Madrid Principles or, as President Sarkisian said, based on the Kazan Document. Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh can also come out with their own new tactical initiatives. The passive stance of the other two OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs- the United States and France – is of serious concern. They need too to come out with initiatives. They seem to have left Armenia alone to save the OSCE Minsk Group format. They need to intensify meetings and talks on this issue. The OSCE Minsk Group should take over what was not done in Sochi – to strengthen the ceasefire regime along with working to get each sides to reach an accord on working on the settlement principles and the big agreement because if this is all left to Russia, then everything will be solved in a traditional Russian way- that is, to the detriment of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. – And what about Lavrov’s statement that the Karabakh conflict is not a hurdle to Armenia’s accession to the Russia-led Customs Union? Was it a positive message? – Since September 3, 2013, Armenia’s national security has been threatened more than ever. In the context of the latest geopolitical and dangerous developments, Armenia is viewed by the world community as an appendix of Putin’s Russia. There is no need for Armenia to hurry to join the Eurasian Economic Union, which has no future because of a number of reasons. First, contradictions between its current three members are extremely large. Here is one example – Russia has closed the imports of all Ukrainian goods to its markets. At the same time, Belarus has lifted all restrictions on Ukrainian goods revoking also the licensing of Ukrainian goods. Russia is already having mounting domestic problems as Putin enlarges Russia’s isolation. Western sanctions imposed on Russia have brought about not only insurmountable economic and social problems, but also a deepening of political and in-government contradictions. Therefore, if Armenia is not in a hurry to join the Eurasian Economic Union, the need for it may disappear along with the bloc itself. Armenia’s role for the West has grown noticeably after the Sochi meeting and Armenia should take advantage of it. Otherwise, Russia will try to hurdle the development of its relations with the United States, the European Union and the NATO. Armenian authorities should start diversifying the country’s national security and its component foreign policy. – What opportunities do you mean? How could Armenia’s role grow for the West in this situation? – Now we have quite a large field that has opened for us for shifting to a pro-active foreign policy. We should take advantage of these new opportunities. The authorities’ policy should be in tune with the current situation, it should be pro-active and multilateral, involving not only the executive branch of the power, but also the parliament, civic society, experts and so on.

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