Post-conflict settlement in Garabagh is entering a new phase. Diplomats from Russia, the US and France until recently called the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group are visiting Azerbaijan and Armenia as special representatives of respective countries for the South Caucasus.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk, who represents Moscow in the working group on the restoration of communications, also arrived to Baku.
Finally, and perhaps most remarkably, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Jeyhun Bayramov and Ararat Mirzoyan, had their first telephone conversation. Together they agreed on the composition of the commission on border delimitation and demarcation and the urgency to hold the first meeting of this body.
Theoretically, this means that the sides are making good progress towards a full-fledged peace treaty. In his address to the participants of the 5th Congress of World Azerbaijanis held in Shusha, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev said "Ministers, foreign ministries of the two countries are setting up working groups. I believe that we will see the beginning of concrete talks soon. No need to delay them, because a peace treaty will be based on the five principles. That’s why it is possible to prepare the text of the treaty and sign it. This will make it possible to establish communication between Armenia and Azerbaijan, including the establishment of diplomatic relations. By making this proposal, we demonstrate once again our good will. Let me repeat that we are demonstrating foresight.” This statement was followed by a warning: "Revanchist forces that periodically raise their voice in Armenia should know that this is the only way out, and maybe the last chance for Armenia.”
To Moscow, to Moscow!
Also, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited Moscow recently. Obviously, there is no need to remind you how dependent Armenia is on Russia. Therefore, Mr. Pashinyan had much to discuss with the Russian president even without Garabagh.
For understandable and expected reasons, it was the Garabagh agenda of the Moscow talks that Baku considered important. Interestingly, Nikol Pashinyan once again tried to revive the OSCE Minsk Group, which the Russian foreign ministry declared ‘inoperative’ the day before his visit to Moscow. The rest of the rhetoric was quite expected: unblocking of communications, post-conflict resolution, etc.
The final statement made by Mr. Putin and Mr. Pashinian did not touch the Brussels agreements, which suggests that Moscow was somewhat jealous, especially amid the current geopolitical conflicts, sanctions etc., of Brussels' active involvement in the post-conflict settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Just before Pashinyan’s visit to Moscow, many Russian media outlets harshly criticised him for his flirting with the West and attempting to sit on two chairs. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova twice (on April 21 and 28) rebuked Washington and Paris for actually paralysing the once coherent work of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group by refusing to engage with Russian participation. Zakharova also saw the activity of the US and the EU in normalising relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia as ‘Brussel’s shameless attempt to arrogate the subject matter of the well-known Russian-Azerbaijani-Armenian high-level agreements and the agenda proposed last year by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.”
Judging by the outcome of the Moscow talks, Pashinyan may be willing to play on contradictions between the mediators and bargain for better peace terms in Moscow than those negotiated in Brussels. But how realistic is this idea?
Five Principles or Clashing with Reality
Undoubtedly, contradictions and understandable competition between the mediators are likely. But will Armenia be able to take advantage of this situation and bargain for better terms? Yerevan can close its ears and eyes, but the defeat of Armenia in the 44-day war unambiguously determines the overall situation in the region and in the negotiations. It is Azerbaijan that sets the terms now, skilfully promoting its interests in almost all platforms, be it Moscow or Brussels.
It was clear that Armenia will have to reconcile on the terms of the peace treaty with Azerbaijan right after the war in Garabagh. Although Armenian politicians did not always have the courage to admit this, let alone declare it publicly.
This is how the Armenian politician, historian and diplomat Jirayr Liparitian commented on the November 10, 2020 statement in his interview with the BBC: “There can be two interpretations of this statement. One is pessimistic and probably the correct one. But it is so pessimistic that it will be difficult for people to accept it. The ceasefire statement effectively closes the Garabagh issue. It doesn't say this directly, but it is based on the principle of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. And it was signed by Nikol Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia. No one will change this any more.”
But did they listen to these words in Yerevan? Yerevan's elites are still hesitant to engage in direct dialogue with their own people and to declare honestly the terms they will have to negotiate with Azerbaijan. They still hope that it will be possible to return the negotiations to the pre-war agenda and to discuss the status of Garabagh. Azerbaijan cannot accept this condition a priori. After all, it is Baku that sets the conditions now.
Yerevan: a revanchist revenge?
This circumstance makes the interpretation of the ongoing revanchist rallies in Yerevan organised by the former head of the Armenian National Security Service, Artur Vanetsyan, leader of the political bloc I Have Honour, different. Clearly, they are trying to repeat the style and slogans of rallies that took place at the beginning of the Garabagh Movement. Moreover, they actively involve the relatives of Armenian soldiers who died in the 44-day war. Even before the rallies started, the Armenian opposition staged a show in the Armenian parliament with flags of the so-called Nagorny Karabakh, while some MPs tried to visit Khankendi, but they were stopped by peacekeepers.
The number of protesters in these rallies was insignificant. Vanetsyan and his team try to impress the audiences with creativity by setting up scooter rides and climbing on top of public buses holding their slogans in hands, to no avail though.
At the start of the rally, one of the Telegram channels close to Pashinyan noted: "We have studied Vanetsyan’s statements expecting to find an alternative concept or plan of action besides the demands to prevent the authorities from starting peace talks with Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, there were none.” In other words, even if revanchists succeed in coming to power, realities of the negotiation process, let alone the military solution, will not change for Armenia.