Author: Namig MAILOV Baku
It was exactly a year these days that Armenia provoked a four-day war along the frontline of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. These were the most large-scale armed clashes for the past 22 years of ceasefire in Karabakh. The bloody battle was stopped thanks to mediation of Russia, and resulted in the loss of Armenia's control over the thousands of hectares of the occupied territory and numerous casualties on both sides.
Despite emotions that have run high in the following months, the mediators succeeded twice in arranging negotiations of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Vienna and St. Petersburg. As a result, the negotiators have come up with a specific plan of actions, which the experts nicknamed the Lavrov Plan. However, the proposal included in the plan to release the five occupied regions around Nagorno-Karabakh at the initial stage of the settlement was yet again refused by Yerevan, which is trying to disrupt the peace process under various pretexts. It is also regularly provoking incidents along the frontline in order to divert the attention of the international community from the subject of the settlement to issues of lesser priority.
The ongoing processes around the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict clearly demonstrate Yerevan's desire to maintain the status quo. Despite the intensified efforts of international mediators to resume the dialogue between the both sides of conflict, the Armenian President has visited the occupied territories and threatened Azerbaijan with Iskander missiles.
"If necessary, the commander-in-chief of the Armenian Armed Forces can cold-bloodedly order the use of the Iskander missiles. The neighbouring country understands this very well," said Sargsyan in his address to the Armenian soldiers and their families in Nagorno-Karabakh.
He recalled the clashes in April last year, when the situation in in Nagorno-Karabakh worsened. However, says Sargsyan, Armenian military managed to push back the enemy. "We blew their plans and we destroyed them in information war," said the Armenian president.
"Today, we have an ultra-modern powerful strike force deployed along the territory of our war-hungry neighbor and directed down to its most important infrastructure facilities," RIA Novosti quotes Sargsyan.
Of course, everyone understands that Sargsyan's brave statements made just before the parliamentary elections (April 2) were intended for the ears of internal audience. It is not clear though what the Armenian president thinks of his own people. At some point, Armenians will ask their authorities why the incumbent commander-in-chief Sargsyan fired his "victorious" generals led by the Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian immediately after the April war, if the Armenian military allegedly "pushed back the enemy"?! Incidentally, Ohanian, who led the vaunted "line of defense", so easily beaten by the Azerbaijani army last year, is Sargsyan’s opponent in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, Sargsyan continues fooling his people, this time bragging about the Iskanders. Apparently, he still feels like a field commander of Armenian terrorist groups and does not realize the responsibility of his own statements as a president. It is unlikely though that Sargsyan believes what he says, as he knows well that both Azerbaijan and the centres of world power are participants of transnational infrastructure projects ongoing in this region.
By the way, why does not NATO, which is against the deployment of Russian Iskanders along its borders, consider the threats of the Armenian leader? After all, Yerevan deployed the missiles directly at the NATO borders (Turkey) and openly threatens the infrastructure projects operated by the countries of the Alliance.
As for the "victory in information war”, Sargsyan apparently meant the concealment of information by Armenian authorities about the frontline events and the number of killed Armenian servicemen, while Azerbaijan each one of its killed soldiers with honours. "They kill us, and we quietly bury our sons. For our leadership is thinking only about making more money and keeping their soft chairs. They do not care about dysfunctional military equipment and shortage of diesel for the tanks," reports the Armenian website Yerepouni-news.com.
A scandalous statement made in the parliament by the Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetian demonstrates the “success” of the Armenian army in "pushing back the enemy". He said that during the four-day war in April, the Armenian army had problems with fuel supply. Therefore, it was impossible to use military equipment, reports the Armenian newspaper Zhokhovurd. Karapetian also added that the diesel fuel was mixed with kerosene and sold on the market.
While the representatives of Armenian authorities were refuting the statements of their president trying to outbid each other in populism before the parliamentary elections, Azerbaijan appealed to the OSCE Minsk Group, the chairman of the OSCE Permanent Council and other institutions of the organization regarding Armenian military exercises in the occupied territories, as well as Sargsyan's illegal visit to these territories and his notorious statements.
According to Baku, Armenian president portrayed the armed forces as the defenders of Christianity trying to couch the existing conflict in religious terms, thereby recognizing the participation of the Armenian military in the occupation of Azerbaijani territories.
Azerbaijan urged the OSCE, the Minsk Group and its co-chairs to take a unified position in order to prevent serious violation of the basic principles of interstate relations and to demand that Armenia stops the aggression against Azerbaijan.
Of course, there is no need to expect unambiguous condemnation of Armenia's actions by the co-chairing countries and rapid progress in resolving the conflict. Nevertheless, the intensified efforts of mediators observed last month is somewhat contributing to shifting the negotiation process from deadlock. And apparently, France is going to assume the role of the main moderator in the Karabakh settlement soon.
The French President François Hollande had individual meetings with both the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in the first half of March. After Hollande, Sargsyan was also received by the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs concluded their visit to the region in late March.
"We listened to positions of both sides. We will continue discussions in Vienna, at the Minsk Group meeting. We also expect to meet with the OSCE leadership. We have plans to meet with the High Level Planning Group," said the Russian co-chair, Igor Popov, in Khankendi.
American co-chair, Richard Hoagland, announced that the Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia would meet in Moscow in the near future to organise the meeting of presidents of both countries. The organizers have carried out certain works to create appropriate conditions for the meeting of the presidents.
At the same time, it seems the co-chairs will present a plan that is different from the one proposed last year by Lavrov. "The negotiated document is not called the "Lavrov Plan," said Hoagland at a press conference in Yerevan.
According to American diplomat, the document consists of three parts. "I cannot disclose the details. The parties should work on it individually. We are not gambling here. This is called diplomacy, and the plan may be changed. So, not everything is publicly available. We meet and try to find a common path to move forward," said Hoagland. He also admitted that the Karabakh talks have slowed down but they have not reached a deadlock.
The statement made by the French co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, Stefan Visconti, confirms that the mediators have concrete proposals to the parties. "I want to emphasize that the process is ongoing. It is not visible and known to everyone. Obviously, we cannot disclose the details because confidential negotiations are under way. But this does not mean that nothing is being done," noted Visconti.
He added that France was ready to host a meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. This was confirmed by the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault: "Such conflicts can only be resolved through diplomacy”. Speaking against the status quo in the Karabakh conflict, he added: "The preservation of the status quo is a political choice that complicates the situation."
Time will tell whether it is possible to organize a meeting of presidents, what proposals the mediators are going to present to the parties and whether the parties reach an agreement upon them. It is clear that the proposals are based on the same Madrid principles, which are primarily focused on changing the status quo through de-occupation of Azerbaijani territories.
However, according to Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, Armenia and Azerbaijan are far from being able to agree on several key aspects of the conflict settlement. At the same time, the parties have managed to agree on some issues.
His counterpart from Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, expressed his skepticism about the success of discussions. He believes that Armenia's position does not inspire optimism.
Azerbaijan hopes that mediators will still be able to persuade Yerevan to constructivism. However, much will depend on the results of parliamentary elections in Armenia, or rather the consequences of the existing political crisis amidst the electoral process.
Baku is interested in maintaining stability in the neighboring country, at least so that the internal political problems of Armenia do not push the Karabakh settlement to the background. But considering that the conflict with Azerbaijan is the bargaining chip of the criminal Sargsyan regime, one should be prepared for any provocations of Yerevan on the frontline.
Perhaps, the activation of mediators also demonstrates their desire to prevent any incidents on the anniversary of the April war, which exactly is the day of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Armenia.