Author: Natig NAZIMOGHLU
Azerbaijan's victory in the Patriotic War paved the way for the peaceful restoration of Garabagh, which had been almost completely destroyed by Armenia. With the liberation of its lands by military means, Azerbaijan is now consistently implementing the strategy of consolidating its political, diplomatic and economic accomplishments too.
Since the Daghlig Garabagh conflict is over, Baku opens the way for a large-scale process of multilateral cooperation in the region. Moreover, Armenia can also become part of this process, if it recognises the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and renounces any claims to Azerbaijani lands.
Is Armenia ready for fundamental changes to broaden integration interaction? After all, these changes, by and large, demand a breakthrough change in the Armenian mentality saturated with a nonsensical idea of building ‘Greater Armenia’. Is the Armenian political elite ready to accept the platform of constructive cooperation, which apparently is the only recipe for the survival of Armenia deprived of any development perspective but the establishment of relations with Azerbaijan?
As of today, we cannot see any sign of the miraculous reincarnation of the Armenian state, which has literally become broken due to the long-standing refusal to de-occupy the Azerbaijani territories. Instead of showing humility and acknowledging the negative implication of territorial claims to neighbours, Armenian politicians continue to make revanchist calls occasionally. We have already seen the remnants of the defeated Armenian army trying to undermine the peace in Garabagh and the high-ranking Armenian officials still denying the reality and remaining in wishful thinking.
The Iron Fist is still there
Just before the trilateral meeting of the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia in Moscow, initiated by the Russian President Vladimir Putin, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gave a number of clear signals, including about the inadmissibility of destructive actions of Armenia, any attempts to evade the implementation of the trilateral statement that put an end to the 44-day war. President Aliyev also warned Armenia that further provocations will only the position of Armenia even worse.
Recalling that Azerbaijan's ‘iron fist’ is still there, Ilham Aliyev also reminded about the sad consequences that Armenia might inevitably face in case of provocative trips of its ministers, including the Foreign Minister, to Khankendi; inadmissibility of allowing politicians from Armenia and any other countries (for example, French parliamentarians) to enter the territory of Azerbaijan through the checkpoints of the Russian peacekeeping forces without the permission of Baku.
The January 11 trilateral meeting in Moscow further cemented the realities developed after the ceasefire in Garabagh. Azerbaijan, as the victorious country in the Garabagh war, declared the unacceptability of military-political manipulations encroaching on its territorial integrity in any form. At the same time, Azerbaijan continues to develop the national economy, which is especially important given the key role of Baku in the regional configuration.
Factors for unlocking cooperation
Economic issues have been the key topic of discussions at least during the visible part of the Moscow meeting. Vladimir Putin set the tone of negotiations in his opening speech, underling that the "unblocking of economic, trade and transport links in the region, as well as opening the borders" deserved a special attention.
The final joint statement is almost entirely devoted to economic issues. The trilateral Working Group created under the joint chairmanship of the vice-prime ministers of the three countries will hold its first meeting by January 30. Based on the results of the meeting, the parties will develop a list of main directions of activities. In accordance with the November 10 statement, rail and road communications are listed as priorities.
By March 1, the Working Group will submit for approval at the highest level "a list and schedule for the implementation of activities involving the restoration and construction of new transport infrastructure facilities." They are necessary for the organization, implementation and security of the international transportation through Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as the transportation by Azerbaijan and Armenia, which require crossing the territories of both countries.
Thus, the Moscow meeting confirmed and outlined the course for unblocking communications approved by the November statement of three leaders. It includes the opening of a transport corridor between the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and mainland Azerbaijan through Armenia. A new road through Azerbaijan will connect Armenia and Russia. With the construction of a new road to Turkey through Nakhchivan in the near future, we will also witness overland transport communication between Russia and Turkey. As a whole, we are going to see the integration of transport and communication lines of the region involving all the regional countries, including Iran and Georgia. This will create the basis for the implementation of an initiative to create a six-party cooperation platform that meets the economic interests of all regional countries.
At the same time, for Azerbaijan, economic unblocking is of extremely important internal importance, since its integral part will be the restoration of transport links between Baku and Khankendi. And this means the inevitability of the reintegration of the previously occupied regions, including the mountainous part of Karabakh, into the political and economic system of Azerbaijan, conditioned by the Victory in the Patriotic War. Moreover, with all the positive consequences arising from this process (presupposing decent development and prosperity), including for the Armenians of Karabakh, whom the Azerbaijani state perceives as its full citizens.
Principles of peacekeeping
Meanwhile, despite the heavy economic component of the trilateral Moscow statement, the leaders of three states discussed a wide range of political issues, including in particular the operation of Russian peacekeepers in Garabagh. Remarkably, on the eve of the trilateral meeting, Mr. Putin held a meeting with the heads of Russian security forces. Undoubtedly, among the issues were the ones which Mr. Aliyev had previously expressed his dissatisfaction with. During the final press conference in Moscow, Mr. Aliyev positively assessed the role of Russian peacekeepers and said that "with the exception of minor incidents, there were no serious reasons for concern." We can therefore assume that the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia have reached fundamental agreements both in the trilateral format and at the recent meeting in Moscow on streamlining the efforts of the peacekeeping mission on the basis of international law and the laws of Azerbaijan.
Completely new perspectives
Interestingly, the outcome of the trilateral meeting has been interpreted differently. On the whole, Putin and Aliyev have positively assessed the negotiations. President of Azerbaijan recalled the words of his Russian counterpart who had said that the Daghlig Garabagh conflict was a thing of the past. Mr. Aliyev also said that the current situation opens "completely new prospects that we even, perhaps, could not have imagined before." The Armenian leader expressed his regret over the "unresolved conflict", saying that there were “many more issues, one of which is the status of Daghlig Garabagh, and that Armenia was ready to continue negotiations under the OSCE Minsk Group.
Thus, Pashinyan’s statements were in opposition to the approaches of Putin, Aliyev, and international law. He also tried to justify the need to revive the negotiation process under the OSCE Minsk Group. However, it is obvious that Russia does not feel any interest in cooperating its mediation efforts with the Western co-chairs of the group – France and the US. On the other hand, Azerbaijan does not have any intention to hold any negotiations with Armenia regarding the future of Garabagh after a triumphal war. The region is an integral part of Azerbaijan and is under the exclusive jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. In the final remarks of both Aliyev and Putin after the meeting, both leaders did not make any statements regarding the relevance of discussing the ‘status of Garabagh’ or the ‘restoration of the negotiation process within the Minsk Group.’ Therefore, Pashinyan did not find understanding among his colleagues during the trilateral meeting, which lasted more than three hours. Likewise, he did not find any understanding on the issue of the "prisoners of war." It is not surprising, since Baku considers over 60 Armenian militants, whom Armenia demands from Azerbaijan, not as prisoners of war but as saboteurs and terrorists because they were defected from Armenia to Azerbaijan after the signing of the November 10 trilateral statement, that is after the end of hostilities.
Obviously, Prime Minister Pashinyan makes references to ‘issues’ that have lost their relevance and significance following Azerbaijan’s military offensive. This shows that the prospects of mutually beneficial and full-fledged regional cooperation with Armenia are still controversial and ambiguous. The effectiveness of the Working Group proposed under the Moscow statement will depend on Armenia's readiness not to undermine the process of establishing a long-term regional peace, for it is clear that Azerbaijan will reject any political or economic steps made by Armenia in an attempt to revise the realities established after the 44-day war in Garabagh.
The military victory of Azerbaijan is a basis for a new regional order based on mutual respect of its participants, sustainable peace and full cooperation. One of the indicators of these realities is the establishment of the Russian-Turkish Centre for Ceasefire Control in accordance with the 5th paragraph of the November 10 trilateral statement. If Armenia tries to relaunch its pre-war aggressive strategy, it will face the final defeat. Therefore, only the consistent implementation of trilateral statements guarantee a non-lethal outcome for Armenia.