Russia’s muted comeback in Karabakh peace process
    … amidst blurry trust of Azerbaijan and Armenia

    ANALYTICS  06 December 2022 - 15:51

    Fuad Shahbazov

    On December 5, 2022, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov paid an official visit to Moscow upon the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Reportedly, the main agenda of the meeting was the normalization of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia following the 44-day war in the Karabakh region in 2020. Bayramov’s visit came at a time when Baku-Moscow relations went through some ups and downs in the light of President Ilham Aliyev's remarks that Azerbaijan is ready to negotiate with Armenians in Karabakh, but Ruben Vardanyan, who has been sent by Moscow to Karabakh with a “very clear agenda”. Moreover, the negligence of the Russian peacekeeping mission to use original Azerbaijani toponyms in their bulletins about Karabakh despite consecutive notifications by the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry has further tested the relations.

    Given the rising discontent in Baku, Lavrov’s invitation of his Azerbaijani counterpart to Moscow could be seen as Russia's endeavour to boost its "key mediator" image and make a quick comeback in the peace process. Due to the recent heavy losses in Ukraine, Moscow's role in the peace agenda between Baku and Yerevan was neglected, while the European Union (EU) quickly jumped in, though its participation is yet to bring tangible progress except for small breakthroughs.

    Hence, Russia's muted comeback in the process raised some optimism in Baku that some tasks could be achieved by the end of 2022. Minister Bayramov pointed out that "there is still time to organize another meeting of Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders before 2022 ends.” Nevertheless, considering the uneasy period in the region, bilateral accusations of Baku and Yerevan for not demonstrating a sufficient commitment to peace suggest that the current round of peace negotiations could be more complicated than before. Azerbaijan cautiously watches Moscow’s stance on separatist developments in Khankendi and provocative actions alongside the Lachin highway. As such, on November 24, Azerbaijani State Security Service issued a statement saying the transportation of military equipment to the territory of Azerbaijan, where the Russian peacekeeping contingent is temporarily stationed, and the creating conditions for holding various provocative actions there are also of particular  Meanwhile, the statement mentioned also the activities of Iranian security services in Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region.

    Members of the Russian temporary peacekeeping mission in Azerbaijan's Karabakh region

    As a result, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh General Andrei Volkov was put on a hot seat by Azerbaijani journalists on December 5 and vowed to "investigate the reports about arms smuggling and Iranian agents in Karabakh." This incident was also included in Minister Bayramov's agenda in Moscow, while Lavrov dubbed Azerbaijan's concerns as their priority. Hence, this time Sergei Lavrov vocally criticized Armenia for not following the commitments after the November 10 agreement, citing that the remnants of Armenian armed groups are still in Karabakh and violating the November agreement. Although Lavrov's statements aimed at gaining the sympathy of Azerbaijan, they stirred anger and criticism in Armenia.

    Russia intensified its efforts to arrange another meeting of leaders following the postponed Brussels meeting of Aliyev and Pashinyan in December. Notwithstanding, many experts argue that with Moscow's interference, the peace process will stall as Yerevan is unwilling to give any concessions. Minister Bayramov, however, optimistically mentioned that Azerbaijan had already reached out to Armenia with the third package of the peace plan. Earlier official Baku presented two peace proposals to Armenia based on five main principles, albeit unsuccessfully. The current negotiations in Moscow may lead to more intensive peace talks between Baku and Yerevan enabling Russia to capitalize on the peace process and neutralize the Western efforts.

    Another significant point about Lavrov’s speech was his reference to the Almaty declaration signed in 1991 by all post-Soviet states to lay the foundations of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). According to Lavrov, Armenia complicated its position by frequent references to the Almaty declaration. Following the Prague meeting between Aliyev and Pashinyan in October of this year, Armenia agreed to sign a peace deal based on the UN charter and Almaty declaration. Such a statement could be a signal that Russia’s renewed mediation efforts will not proceed smoothly.

    European Council Charles Michel with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Brussels, August 31, 2022

    Also, it is unlikely that the West, including the US, will be silently observing the process as bystanders, given the blurry trust in Azerbaijan and Armenia in Russia as a reliable peace mediator. Therefore, more active Western interference in the peace process could follow given the efforts of the Western powers to wean Russian influence off across the world, including in the South Caucasus.

    Caliber.Az

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