Moscow meeting of ministers: probabilities, scenarios and hopes

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Baku, 19 April 2019 –

The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Moscow on April 15 to discuss the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Russian foreign minister was also in attendance. The ministers released a statement following the meeting, positively hailing the discussions. Experts are making different forecasts, with some of them putting forward scenarios that meet interests of certain forces. In fact, the Moscow talks were a follow-up to the agreement reached in Vienna. Considering the Moscow meeting beyond this context is the distortion of reality. Some points were highlighted in Vienna. For example, the unchangeability of the format of talks. The Moscow meeting did not feature any point against this principle. In addition, Azerbaijan`s territorial integrity must be considered as a core principle. This was discussed in Moscow. At the same time, humanitarian measures were also high on the agenda. All these factors give a real picture of the Moscow meeting. This article will provide a geopolitical analysis of the discussions held in the Russian capital.

After Vienna: general points of the next discussions

It`s not a coincidence that experts show high interest in the talks held between the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers in Moscow. The discussions were expected to provide an insight into certain issues or clarify whether or not it is rational to continue the negotiations in this format. Some of the experts say that the settlement of the conflict is now in Russia`s hands. Anyway the fact that the talks are held is of great importance itself.

The Moscow talks were attended by the Russian foreign minister and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs as well. The sides released a joint statement, welcoming the talks. It was even noted that important decisions were made at the meeting. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: "Agreements reached by the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers in Moscow are fruitful.''

The Azerbaijani foreign minister also welcomed the Moscow talks, describing them as fruitful and substantial. He pointed out certain progress in the negotiations, saying they discussed several sensitive issues causing problems. They include the future status of the Nagorno-Karabakh, security issues, withdrawal of the troops from the occupied lands and the return of IDPs. In this context, the humanitarian issues received high attention as the sides discussed journalists visits to Baku, Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh, security of farmers in the conflict zones and access of families to their relatives held in custody in the respective detention centers of the parties.

However, the sides did not elaborate on the details of the talks because they agreed to maintain confidentiality. The Armenian side almost echoed Azerbaijan`s assessment of the meeting. However, Armenian officials put their own biased interpretation of the discussion. Armenian experts say that the parties managed to agree merely on the issues of secondary importance that do not directly encourage the settlement of the conflict. For example, giving access to families to their relatives in custody in detention centers of the parties. It is a humanitarian issue, a sign of humanity, which does not directly affect the settlement of the conflict. But it may help increase confidence.

However, Armenian experts say that Yerevan is now arming in an intensive fashion. They allege that the situation is fragile as Azerbaijan`s behavior is unpredictable. This prompts the Armenian leaders to be ready for any scenario.

Following the talks Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Azerbaijan should make a choice between peace and war. He said Armenia was not afraid of war and that his country was not threatening anyone with war. Pashinyan said Armenia was always committed to peace.

What is interesting is that among other statements, the Armenian side also says that the negotiations now get back to "Medvedev`s plan''. During his visit to Armenia in 2016, the Russian prime minister said: "Here too, many politicians rightly realize their responsibility towards the younger generations. I mean we have to pass on the resolved conflict to the next generation, rather than a frozen one. The problem is that any solution to the conflict would please one party, but frustrate the other. I, personally, would prefer human lives to solving the conflict quickly. It`s better to keep the situation as it is in order to avoid bloodshed.''

Azerbaijan`s plan: main model of conflict resolution

This, in fact, means prioritizing the frozen conflict. But now Armenian experts allege that in 2016 Dmitry Medvedev was speaking of avoiding tension. The Russian prime minister specifically put forward an idea to maintain control over the situation through technical means in the conflict zone. And the goal is obvious: to keep the occupation unchanged, prevent the start of military operations and force Azerbaijan into making concessions. However, what Dmitry Medvedev then said and the issues discussed at the Moscow meeting of the foreign ministers revealed that Armenian experts are exaggerating the situation in their own interests.

A thorough analysis shows that Yerevan still remains committed to its non-constructive position and tries to give a wrong impression of the situation. However, the real state of things relating to the negotiations is completely different.

The Moscow talks were a logical follow-up to the meeting between the Azerbaijani President and Armenian prime minister in Vienna. At the meeting in the Austrian capital on March 29, the sides agreed to continue the talks and maintain dialogue between the foreign ministers. This was confirmed in a statement released by the Armenian side. That statement also highlighted humanitarian issues. The Moscow meeting confirmed that the format of Vienna talks remains unchanged and that Armenia`s attempt to throw the negotiation process into a dead end are unsuccessful because only two states were involved in the talks and signed the statement: Azerbaijan and Armenia. A new format of talks so insistently promoted by the new Armenian government was declined. So the Moscow talks should be considered in this context.

First of all, it is not about someone taking the initiative. Heads of state meet in Vienna, while ministers in Moscow. Why should the Moscow meeting be interpreted as the Kremlin`s taking initiative. It seems that some forces still prefer serving the interests of superpowers, rather than helping find a fair solution to the conflict. Unfortunately, some of them are in Azerbaijan.

Secondly, the results of the talks show that the sides had an exchange of views and the new Armenian government was told that the conflict could not be solved without restoration of Azerbaijan`s independence, that the Armenian occupying forces had to withdraw from Azerbaijan`s occupied lands and Azerbaijani citizens had to return to their homelands. Only after this, can all other problems be solved.

It is a well-known fact that Azerbaijan was always committed to the humanitarian aspect, most importantly, prisoner exchange. But official Yerevan is trying to delay this issue too. In addition, Baku does not protest against the idea of giving access to families to their relatives held in custody in the respective detention centers of the parties. Azerbaijan may also agree to exchange journalist visits to Baku and Yerevan. This kind of exchanges help reveal who the aggressor is and what it should do to ensure real peace. All this can be explained to Armenian journalists in Baku. At the same time, in Yerevan, Azerbaijan journalists can increase the Armenian society`s awareness of the realities.

The Moscow meeting should not be assessed as a success of an external power. The people of Azerbaijan have got accustomed to such maneuvers, and it is hard to deceive them. The reality is that the government and people of Azerbaijan stand united to liberate the occupied territories. The goal is not to win, the goal is to liberate the lands from occupation. The time will show whether or not the Moscow meeting will be one of the successful steps towards achieving this goal.

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