West & Russia: Grapple for place at Azerbaijani-Armenian mediation table

    ANALYTICS  03 June 2023 - 12:00

    Matanat Nasibova

    The five-party informal meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU Council President Charles Michel, on the margins of the European Political Community (EPC) Summit in Chisinau, provided another opportunity to discuss key issues of resolving Armenian-Azerbaijani relations.

    On the whole, the meeting was held in a positive mood, as evidenced by Charles Michel's statements - the head of the Council of the European Union said unequivocally that the negotiations were productive, opening the veil of further action: "The parties are working intensively on the normalisation of relations and plan to meet again in a similar format in Spain”.

    "We had the opportunity to discuss all the issues that were previously raised at the meeting in Brussels in May. We managed to discuss the delimitation of the border, and preparation of a peace agreement, and this meeting was excellent preparation for the planned meeting in Brussels on July 21," Michel said, confirming that the Council of the European Union will continue to support the normalisation of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

    However, it is important to note the following nuances of the meeting. Firstly, the main discussions between the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders on the European track are held in a trilateral format, moderated by Charles Michel. This means that Brussels is the main negotiating platform, and not Paris or Berlin.

    Despite the fact that France tried its best to join the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations, all its efforts were in vain - Macron's participation in the meetings in Prague and Chisinau was only formal. It is clear that France is trying to prevent the promotion of a peace agenda in the region based on the principles proposed by Baku. And this policy was clearly demonstrated by Paris during the long years of the occupation of Azerbaijani territories by Armenia, as well as during and after the 44-day war.

    After the futile OSCE Minsk Group faded into oblivion, France actually lost its influence in the region and had to limit itself to a nominal presence on the European flank of the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations. Therefore, the contacts initiated by the European Union take place in the Aliyev-Michel-Pashinyan format, that is, in spite of Paris's efforts, without any significant role for Macron.

    By the way, the Brussels talks, scheduled for late July, will also be held in the same trilateral format. Somewhat earlier, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia are expected to meet in Washington to discuss the issues on which the conflicting sides still have contradictions, one way or another preventing the achievement of a peace agreement.

    Of course, the US is trying to be as active as possible in order to surpass Russia and the EU and dominate the mediation between Baku and Yerevan. That is why the American negotiation platform was added to the main ones -  the European and Russian. Of course, all three mediators compete with each other in order to promote their interests in the strategically important South Caucasus, which simply requires at least relative stability and security in the region.

    Formally, the US seemingly only encourages Baku and Yerevan to direct dialogue but actually acts as an intermediary in the negotiations in Washington. In its turn, Russia, despite its close involvement in the war in Ukraine, is also actively demonstrating its commitment to the quickest solution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in order to preserve its influence in the South Caucasus. The European Union also demonstrates considerable activity in resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, and not for the sake of selflessness, but for the sake of solving its tasks in this region, which is profitable from the standpoint of energy and trade-economic relations.

    As for the informal meeting in Chisinau, the US assessed its results as another productive step towards the solution of problems at the negotiating table, as it was mentioned in the statement of State Department Spokesman Mathew Miller. As for the Russian side, Russian President’s Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on the eve of the event that the Chisinau summit "will not be a full-fledged political process in the region due to lack of dialogue between the Western countries and Russia".

    He understandably did not surprise anyone: Russia is in geopolitical isolation because of the war in Ukraine and of course, one will not hear anything good from the West about it.

    In addition, the day before, the Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Russian deputy prime ministers had met in Moscow on the issue of unblocking regional transport communications, where technical details related to the modality of crossing the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia were discussed.

    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk has already announced in the media that the parties are very close to the issue of "restoration of railway communication between the Western regions of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan," while Armenia gets the opportunity to unblock the traffic through Azerbaijan to Russia, EU countries, as well as Iran.

    The meeting of the deputy prime ministers was announced by President Putin himself, speaking at a press conference after talks in Moscow with Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan. At the same time, the Russian head of state noted that "the deputy prime ministers will work out the remaining issues concerning the unblocking of transport communications in the South Caucasus.”

    Thus, it is possible that very soon there will be some progress in the issues that hinder the development of the region in the post-conflict period. Unless, of course, Yerevan, as usual, backs out.


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