Experts reflect on US-Azerbaijan aggravation: when and how will that end?
    Pritchin and Neizhmakov on Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  29 November 2023 - 12:07

    Samir Ibrahimov

    US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien is wrong in his assessments regarding Azerbaijan's practical intentions.

    Let us recall that the representative of the current American government made a new statement: "We see a real opportunity for Azerbaijan and Armenia to make peace. We’re encouraged that the two sides are speaking with one another directly and with mediators. For example, if trade from Central Asia is able to flow through Azerbaijan and Armenia into Türkiye, then it would be a substantial boost for all the countries on that trade route. And we’d welcome the opportunity to be part of that. But if the decision is made not to pursue that peacefully, then we will have to use whatever tools we can to prevent the creation of that kind of trade route. We’ve been very clear with the parties about what we hope to see and about the consequences of moving forward otherwise. So we'll see what the parties decide. We know that they have expressed interest in a peace agreement as soon as possible, and we would very much like to see that."

    O'Brien also recalled that on November 15, the US suspended military and other assistance to Azerbaijan, cancelled several high-level visits, and Washington signalled to Baku that there would be no normalisation of bilateral relations until progress in peace talks with Armenia. According to the US administration, letting Azerbaijan and Armenia reach a peace deal depends at the current stage on Baku.

    But, apparently, this is not entirely true. There are a lot of reasons and differences at this stage between Yerevan and Baku, and the sides can settle all the issues during practical bilateral meetings. Baku initiates such a bilateral format. Even before the bilateral meeting of the commissions on border delimitation, it was possible to reach an agreement recently. American diplomats cannot be unaware of this. Then it is not quite clear what are the reasons for the current pressure on the Azerbaijani side. Do they seriously believe that Azerbaijan is preparing a forceful penetration of the Zangezur corridor? O'Brien's speech hints at this. Or are there some other reasons?

    Prominent experts shared their opinions on this matter with Caliber.Az.

    Stanislav Pritchin, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Post-Soviet Studies of IMEMO RAS (Moscow), says that in this case an interesting configuration is observed - the United States on the one hand acted as an intermediary, which hoped through this mission to drive Russia out of the negotiation process and in general from the South Caucasus. This primarily concerned Russian peacekeepers.

    "Here various options were considered and proposed by the American side, including a settlement just to resolve all the difficulties and issues so that in principle there was no need for Russian peacekeepers.

    But it turned out that Azerbaijan upset all the plans, because the actual loss of momentum in the negotiation process once again pushed Baku to unilateral steps to resolve the situation, and naturally, it did not fit into the understanding of Western countries, the European Union and the United States," the political scientist said.

    According to him, taking into account the factor of the Armenian lobby, they took the most critical position towards Azerbaijan - both on the Lachin checkpoint this spring and on the September events, which allowed to fully restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

    "It's hard for me to say whether the real intention behind this was to force Azerbaijan to abandon these plans or something else, but in fact, yes, both the US and the EU have lost to Baku the opportunity to mediate.

    Blinken's call yesterday is an attempt to defuse the situation somewhat, and his conversation with Ilham Aliyev is primarily intended to somewhat restore relations, which have been chilled due to the statements of the State Department and the American leadership on the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement.

    And now we see that the US is trying in every possible way to revive the negotiation process because they realise that Armenia under their pressure will not agree to participate in the negotiations on the Russian platform. And they are trying now, through Blinken's call, to somewhat replay this situation," Pritchin concluded.

    Mikhail Neizhmakov, director of analytical projects at the Agency for Political and Economic Communications (Moscow), noted in turn that, on the one hand, Azerbaijan, at least since the Second Karabakh War, has demonstrated greater potential in the military sphere, and more drastic actions are usually expected from a player with more such capabilities. On the other hand, the US, while increasing pressure on Baku, must have proceeded primarily from its own interests.

    "It is important for Washington to remind the very player, whose position has strengthened, of the need not to forget about the influence and capabilities of the United States. Therefore, in November 2023, the American side made a number of demonstrative steps towards Yerevan and sent a number of cool signals to Baku. Besides, it is quite possible that by putting pressure on the Azerbaijani side, the United States also sent a signal to Ankara, reminding it again that it can influence the balance of power in the region, where Turkey has interests," Neizhmakov said.

    At the same time, it should be remembered that when there is tension between two states, neither of which is a close ally for Washington, the usual tactic for the US is to alternately send more positive signals to one side or the other, the analyst reminded.

    "In recent weeks, we have seen yet another example of Washington using a similar 'pendulum principle' in its relations with Baku and Yerevan. But the same need to maintain a balance in relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia implied that the US is unlikely to be in the mood for a prolonged cooling with Baku. The telephone conversation between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on November 27 is illustrative in this sense. US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller limited himself to a rather brief statement on this occasion, saying that the US foreign policy chief 'noted recent concerns in the relationship and also spoke about opportunities to strengthen cooperation'. The official Baku's version of the same talks, as is known, contained a reference to Anthony Blinken's request "to give permission for the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien to Azerbaijan in December to normalise relations", as well as the US side's acceptance of the condition set by Ilham Aliyev to lift the ban on visits of high-ranking Azerbaijani officials to America.

    It is clear that the US is unlikely to prolong cooling with Baku for a long time. If Washington's line on 'thawing' in relations with Azerbaijan is confirmed and continued, it is not excluded that events in the Middle East, among others, could have had an impact on this. The discussion of the possibility of extending the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, with all the problems along the way, could be further developed. If such a truce eventually turns into at least a relative freezing of the conflict, Iran will also have opportunities to focus more on other regions where its interests are present, including the South Caucasus. This, in turn, may encourage the US to work more closely with this region, and to increase the effectiveness of its policy in this direction, i.e. to interact more actively with Azerbaijan," Neizhmakov believes.

    Caliber.Az

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