Will Chisinau summit give tangible impetus to Armenia-Azerbaijan normalisation?

    ANALYTICS  01 June 2023 - 11:43

    Murad Abiyev

    Perhaps never before in the whole period of the post-conflict settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan has there been such an intensity of events - both on the ground and in the negotiation process - as in the last few weeks.

    One of the most important of these has been a statement from the US State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, which says in part, "We are pleased to see that talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan are continuing. As Secretary Blinken said, peace in the South Caucasus is achievable. We recently expressed appreciation for Prime Minister Pashinyan’s commitment to peace, and we welcome President Aliyev’s recent remarks on the consideration of amnesty".

    There has perhaps never been a clearer message from the US. Even a cursory look at it reveals three major nuances. Firstly, by simply accepting Baku's amnesty summons, Washington once more confirms the illegality of any self-proclaimed government in Karabakh, denying the unrecognized entity any legal personality whatsoever. Secondly, the White House rejects the claims of the fictitious authorities and separatist leaders to have the right to represent the Karabakh Armenian community in any capacity. The Americans thus recognize Baku's right to choose the format of the dialogue with the community. The third nuance is that the issue of amnesty is compared with Armenia's readiness for peace, i.e. Washington is voicing the maximum that Yerevan can get from Baku as concessions.

    It is also reasonable to assume that this message is addressed not only to Yerevan and Moscow (which for some reason is more than tolerant towards the separatists and has not even bothered to remove Armenian armed groups from the region with the help of the Russian peacekeeping contingent) but also to Paris, which insists on an international presence "to ensure the rights and security of the Armenian population of Karabakh" and openly supports the remains of the separatist entity. Suffice it to recall that, along with other odd moves by France, there was also an invitation to an "element called the president" to a TV show in Paris.

    But it seems that the French were seriously reprimanded from across the ocean. It is right on the eve of the European Economic Community (EEC) summit, which is to be held in Chisinau on June 1. In general, the EEC itself is an initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron to force a dialogue between European countries, including those outside the EU, to solve common problems and promote cooperation between countries and their solidarity. It can be said, however, that this dialogue does not always produce the results that the French leader seeks. For example, at the first EEC summit in Prague on October 6 last year, despite Paris's biased participation in the negotiations on Yerevan's side, the Armenian prime minister, reiterating his government's commitment to the Almaty Declaration of 1991, was in fact forced to make the first recognition of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.

    But since then the negotiation process has stalled for several months. The reason is that Pashinyan, in order to brighten up his image in the eyes of the people, has rushed around towns and cities of Eurasia in an attempt to either sell or resell the commodity called "Armenian sovereignty" in the hope of getting a guarantee from buyers to protect "the legal personality of Artsakh".

    CSTO, which, if we believe Pashinyan's inarticulate mutterings, is either staying with or leaving Armenia, in fact (represented by the Russian base in Gyumri and others) is not moving anywhere, which is exactly what Moscow needs. Armenia's provocations on the notional border with Azerbaijan, which Tehran may well have had a hand in, were met with a decent response. And one can hardly hope that representatives of Iranian special services will quickly leave the territory of Armenia now. And the EU mission prudently skips over incidents on the border, realizing very well that if the border is notional, the mission is also more symbolic.

    Azerbaijan, meanwhile, is playing in more solid markets. In the market for the export and transit of energy resources to Europe, for example. And this market urgently demands peace and stability in the South Caucasus, contrary to the geopolitical aspirations of certain global players. We emphasize that when we talk about Azerbaijan's economic leverage, we always mean it is complementary to our country's just position, confirmed by international law.

    Ironically, it is in Macron's presence that preliminary agreements on the signing of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, based on mutual recognition of territorial integrity, can be reached without any reference to international involvement in the Baku-Khankendi dialogue. Azerbaijan in these diplomatic battles resembles a skilled aikido fighter, masterfully harnessing the energy of the opponent to its own advantage.

    But news from Yerevan rather suggests that Pashinyan is intent on derailing the peace agenda. Thus, two days ago, commenting in parliament on Ilham Aliyev's statements in Lachin, Prime Minister Pashinyan said the following: "In Brussels, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to mutually recognise each other's territorial integrity of 29,800 square kilometres and 86,600 square kilometres respectively. I have to say that the statements made by the Azerbaijani President are at least incomprehensible in that sense. I think that both Azerbaijan and international partners should clarify whether this means giving up on the Brussels agreements."

    In the meantime, the Armenian Foreign Ministry could not stand to comment on Miller's statement. "We believe that it should be clear to all our partners that in the process of the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, recognition of the territorial integrity and inviolability of each other's borders on the basis of the Almaty Declaration, as well as addressing the rights and security of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, are key. As stressed in a May 29 Foreign Ministry statement, recognition of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity cannot be interpreted as a right to ethnic cleansing," the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

    There is nothing new here either. The Armenian side is once again manipulating concepts. That the issue of the rights and security of Karabakh Armenians is in no way connected with tolerating an illegal and criminal regime is clear to any schoolchild, let alone serious politicians in the West. For all the sympathy of some parts of the Western elite for Armenia, such cheap manipulation seems to have begun to, in the words of Don Corleone, insult their intelligence, and is unlikely to be understood.

    In general, Yerevan's antics run the risk of causing serious irritation to the Europeans. If the Prague summit last October was a kind of test of the project, at the second summit the Europeans will try to produce a qualitatively new product of activity. It is very important for Europe to demonstrate progress in the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations. It is all the more important that the summit will take place in the capital of Moldova, a country aspiring to join the EU and NATO. The very choice of venue is already an ambitious bid for Chisinau's eventual withdrawal from Russian influence.

    Armenia, in the light of recent statements by its leadership, seems determined to ruin the European holiday, which will only increase its already low negotiating status. Much will depend on whether Europe is willing to put pressure on Yerevan in the context of the US State Department statement.



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