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Nagorno Karabakh problem: step forward, two steps back?

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Baku, 12 June 2013 – Newtimes.az

Lately, some sources claim that certain activity is evident in the resolution process of the Nagorno Karabakh problem. Consecutive statements made from different aspects by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov and his Armenian counterpart Edvard Nalbandyan, regional visits of the OSCE Minsk co-chairs (Russia – Igor Popov, USA – Ian Kelly and France – Jacques Faure) and that of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-office Andrzej Kazprzyk somewhat attest to the accuracy of those claims. As the co-chairs reiterate their renewed commitment to the resolution of the problem, they are trying to encourage the parties to pursue negotiations and attempt to organize the meeting between the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the President of Armenia Serj Sarkisyan.

Initially, U.S. representative Ian Kelly said that agreement was reached to arrange a meeting of the two presidents. Later citing diplomatic sources, Russia’s "ITAR-TASS” news agency released information that the meeting scheduled for 12 June in Salzburg was canceled. The U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar said meeting of the Presidents will be made possible soon. Canceled meeting in Salzburg is likely to be rescheduled for late summer or early fall.

Hindsight of the previous presidential meetings reveals that serious efforts of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs precede the meeting of the two leaders. However, latest statements of the Foreign Ministers on the issue were conflicting, and the visit of the co-chairs to the region also failed to eliminate the differences.

What is the political atmosphere prior to the expected meeting of the presidents? Will parties be able to achieve some sort of consensus, or Armenia will remain faithful to its tradition of abandoning the table of negotiations and then accusing Azerbaijan of derailing the talks? Growing interest of powerful countries, especially Russia, towards the region, Russian pressure exerted upon Armenia regarding the Eurasian Union and Customs Union memberships, arming the country ("Iskander-M” missile complex sale) and boosting of the capacity of Russia’s 102nd military base in Armenia ebbs the chances of success of the presidential meeting.

Despite numerous statements by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying "parties are dissatisfied with the current status-quo, and there is a need for a change”, they fail to reflect the real situation on the ground. Although, as a mediator country Russia is trying to develop a positive image, efforts of the co-chairs in the 20 years long negotiation process have been futile.

Armenian authorities are aware of the ingoing historical game played by Russia and are trying to escape the realm of Russia’s influence, especially in foreign policy, energy, security and financial areas. Thus, upon the news of the price increase for Russia’s natural gas supplied to Armenia, the country’s National Security Council secretary Artur Bagdasaryan announced that Armenia would sign the EU Association Agreement by the end of the year. His statement coincided with the news that the two Presidents (I.Aliyev and S.Sarkisyan) would meet on 12 June. This is quite intriguing. Other side of the issue is the significant economic and social problems experienced in Armenia, growth of social resentment in the wake of Russia’ s decision to hike the gas prices and staging of a protest rally in front of the Russian embassy in Yerevan.

Scrutiny of the period preceding the announcement of the meeting of the presidents and the statements of the Minsk group co-chairs reveals noticeably lively position of the Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry manifested in numerous statements on the issue. It is likely that Russia plays a greater role in facilitating the meeting of the two Presidents. Russia’s energized engagement with the problem’s resolution in light of the Armenia’s efforts to seek closer ties with European Union is thought-provoking.

In connection with the possible meeting of the presidents Mathew Bryza said: "Nagorno Karabakh problem remaining unresolved does not imply that the Minsk group is idle. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and the President of Armenia Serj Sarkisyan share mistrust”. Interesting point emerges here. Although Bryza claims that Minsk group is continuing with the initiatives towards the resolution, he contradicts himself in the second part of the statement. What initiatives are we talking about if the Minsk group had failed to build trust between the presidents in 20 years? May be, Bryza deliberately made the statement to overshadow Russia’s latest initiatives with respect to the resolution of the problem?

Is Russia genuinely interested in the resolution of the problem by organizing another meeting of the presidents or it once again aims to "encroach upon Armenia’s future” and "trespass on its time”? If there is a possibility of reaching some sort of agreement during the next meeting, the U.S. and France will hardly allow Russia to enjoy the "mediation monopoly”. Accordingly, the U.S. and France are convinced that in the event of certain breakthrough in the settlement process, it is not just Russia but all the mediators that must relish the spotlight.

If Armenia is trying to solve "ossified” problems pertaining to its economy it cannot realize it by mere donations from Russia, Europe and elsewhere. Upon realizing that "mill cannot grind with water that is past” Armenia will be compelled to find common ground with Azerbaijan, to withdraw from occupied territories and to sign the peace treaty.

Armenia stands no chance of tackling any pressing problem for the country as it remains alienated from every significant economic, energy and transportation projects implemented in the last 20 years. Its foreign debt is rising exponentially. If logic prevails and Armenia’s authorities make the right decision by reaching consensus during the next meeting of the presidents, they increase the prospects of social, economic, transportation and energy problems. Abandoning Russia’s orbit of influence and rapprochement with Europe cannot be Armenia’s answer to the problems. The country must bind itself with the region and benefit from Azerbaijan’s financial, energy and transportation potential by solving all the outstanding problems with the latter.    

Dr. Hatem Jabbarli

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