After the signing of the November 10, 2020 trilateral statement that ended the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the geopolitical realities of the entire region changed and the issue of Garabagh is no longer an international issue. Hikmet Hajiyev, Aide to the President of Azerbaijan, made this statement at the conference organised by the ADA University and dedicated to the anniversary of Azerbaijan's victory in the war. To add to Mr. Hajiyev’s statement, the status of Garabagh, the Kazan document, the Madrid principles, etc. are now worth considering from historical perspective only. Despite the long-standing talks about the return of the OSCE Minsk Group to the region, the post-conflict settlement is effective in the format developed after the 44-day war.
Also, there is a competition between the mediators within the group. This is the Russian President Vladimir Putin recently hinted at.
Putin's statement: what's behind the scenes?
Recently, at one of the meetings of the annual Valdai International Discussion Club, Vladimir Putin gave his own assessment of the conflict settlement process in Garabagh. He noted the wisdom of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia, who stopped the bloodshed, and said: “The most important thing now is to handle the situation on the border. And nothing can be done in this field without the participation of Russia. I believe we do not need anyone else but the two sides and Russia. Why? It’s all about very simple and pragmatic things really. Because the maps showing the border lines between the Union republics as they were in place during the Soviet period are stored in the General Staff of the Russian army...”
Well, one may accuse the Russian president of trying to establish a monopoly on mediation services in the region. But in reality even the most desperate Russophobes can hardly challenge Mr. Putin's statement. Indeed, it’s Russia that keeps hold of the maps that make the delimitation of borders possible. Not France, the United States or, say, the Republic of Kiribati. This fact noticeably diminishes the popularity and attractiveness of possible alternative options for mediation. Moreover, it is unlikely that the bankrupt OSCE Minsk Group can compete with Russia.
But here's the weird thing. Armenia made an attempt to get ‘alternative mediators’ involved in the process of border delimitation. And they make regular calls in Yerevan to return to the talks under the Minsk Group umbrella.
We can assume that by pulling the Minsk Group into the negotiation process, Armenia expects to return to the proposals that it had arrogantly rejected for more than 25 years but now remembers as an unattainable dream. It doesn’t even care whether it is possible to revive this negotiation agenda in practice.
History of grudges...
Apparently, it is difficult to imagine in Armenia the existence of sentiments besides pro-Russian ones. It is Armenia that is Russia's ally in the South Caucasus. It is even called the ‘outpost of Russia’. It is the Russian military base in Gyumri that is officially responsible for the security of Armenia. There are joint groups of ground and air defense forces operating in Armenia. Moreover, thanks to zero duties on oil, gas, and rough diamonds, Yerevan receives considerable inflow of money to the state budget. Experts warn that the Armenian economy cannot afford the world prices for energy resources. Russia helps Armenia by freeing up significant power reserves due to taking on the protection of Armenian borders with Turkey and Iran.
But... Nikol Pashinyan's ‘shishlik revolution’ left no doubt that there are serious anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia. Otherwise, the march once organised by the Yelk (Exit) faction, meaning Armenia’s withdrawal from the EAEU and CSTO, would not have ended in the fall of Serzh Sargsyan’s regime.
We can also mention the activity of Western donors, especially the Soros Foundation in Armenia. In fact, the 2018 election shows that the Armenian population took to the polling stations to vote against Serzh Sargsyan rather than to support Pashinyan and his team. And they made the same choice even after Armenia led by Pashinyan lost the war and signed a capitulation statement in 2020. Pashinyan very quickly abandoned his anti-Russian rhetoric and made a few reassuring statements claiming that his revolution had no foreign policy agenda at all. Then he took an unprecedented step by dispatching a group of Armenian sappers to the Russian military mission in Syria.
Not all of these activities is a product of the Western influence on Armenia through foundations such as George Soros's Open Society. They prefer not to publicise it either in Moscow or in Yerevan, but there is still serious grudge against the Kremlin in Armenia. Armenians yet to forgive the Russian authorities for signing the Kars and Moscow treaties with Turkey back in the 1920s, which nullified the expectations of the Armenian elite to get six East Anatolian provinces from Turkey. Back in the Soviet period, they preferred not to focus on this topic, but today Armenian political scientists and experts often use expressions like ‘collusion of the Bolsheviks and Kemalists’. The signing of these agreements was the main motive of terrorists led by Stepan Zatikyan, who revenged in 1977 by exploding a bomb in the Moscow metro.
... and the ‘betrayal’ that did not exist
Resentment towards Moscow grew after Armenia’s defeat in the 44-day war. Armenian experts could not sink in how Russia allowed Azerbaijan to win the war?! Why didn't Russia side with Armenia in the war? And signed a trilateral statement with the most difficult terms for Yerevan!
Armenians began accusing Russia of ‘betrayal’ right after the 44-day war. The tension grew so much that the Spokesman of the Russian President, Dmitry Peskov, had to comment on the situation: “President of Russia clearly stated that Russia did not forget about its responsibilities in the CSTO. Naturally, Russia will do everything possible to protect its ally in case anyone attacks on the territory of an ally, on the territory of Armenia. President of Russia has already addressed this issue. Therefore, any criticism in this context is ungrounded and unfair.”
It helped to ratchet down the degree of tension. But sentiments remained. And today they are pumped anew amid discussions on border delimitation, meaning that Armenia has to part with some of its territories, fulfil the terms of the trilateral statement, allow access to the Zangezur Corridor, etc.
Another facet of the problem is Armenia's clearly overestimated expectations of Russia, supported by a group of pro-Russian Armenian politicians actively exploiting the idea of revenge.
Obviously, Moscow cannot and should not be held responsible for the statements of politicians in another country. But this back-and-forth trend focused on the revenge theme gives rise to quite understandable expectations in the Armenian society, which Russia has to address again. They believe in Armenia that Moscow has to fulfil some very special obligations to Yerevan. But when they realise that Russia’s view on this matter is different from that of Armenia, they start with a new batch of resentful statements against Moscow. Taking into account the well-preserved traditions of terror in Armenia, these statements can transform into very dangerous acts. After all, the last anti-Russian rally in Armenia was organised by the National Democratic Pole, which is a political party founded by the infamous Sasna Tsrer terrorists. Terrorist is always a terrorist.