As in previous times, the meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia is a good opportunity to share ideas on what is currently on the table with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. By no means has the Sochi Summit had a positive impact on maintaining the peaceful efforts of international mediators, which Azerbaijan has been attempting to derail by an unnecessary warlike stance.
Still, this is a desirable outcome, observable in the short-term. I would join those calling the Sochi Statement a "mini-agreement of non-use of force", which had been proposed by the President of Armenia in March 2010 at an Euronews interview. I hope that those quick-to-anger in Baku will seriously consider how the international community reacts to its continuing threats, bellicose statements and visible use of force at the Line of Contact. Of course, these types of statements are insufficient to save the peace - as just a day before the meeting an Azerbaijani (or mercenary) sniper shot and killed a Karabakhi soldier on the border. The three-party peace negotiations, which the presidents agreed to continue, are a good supplement to the Minsk Process, however, they still represent a half-measure. The mediators need to be clearer in their evaluations of the volatile situation on the border and clearly state that threats to use force, exercised or not, is a grave violation of international law.
When it comes to the joint statement, it is noteworthy to underscore the Republic of Armenia has nothing to implement there. It is not a direct side of the conflict and no “prisoner of war” or whomever is detained in Armenia. If we recall the UN Security Council resolutions, specifically the last one – UNSC Res.884 adopted Nov.12, 1993 – it called upon the Government of Armenia “to use its influence” upon Nagorno-Karabakh authorities. Armenia had limited itself with this in the past and needs to continue doing so in the times to come. I am aware that the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have already expressed their readiness to follow the implementation of humanitarian issues as agreed in written form in Sochi. They expressed concerns, however, whether the Azeri side would do the same.
The March 4 incident in the Line of Contact was initially a bad signal to the Russian President, who invests considerable effort, resources and time to achieve a resolution to the conflict. It should be noted that a similar offensive took place hours after the St. Petersburg meeting last year, when many experts concluded that the Azeri side "expressed its disagreements" with some updated principles in the Madrid Package. In my opinion, the next step of mediators, should be to influence Ilham Aliyev to remove the snipers from the front line, as continuously offered earlier and supported by the UN Secretary-General. This would represent a full step forward.
Last, but not least, the wording and spirit of the Sochi Statement opens up some questions in itself. Perhaps, many of those who argued about a declining Western participation in the peace process received good evidence of their position. Recently, however, we received clear signals from Washington that the meetings are being held at Russian sites merely due to geographical reasons and nothing more. I know there are many critics of the policies of the Obama Administration regarding the entire spectrum of issues in the former Soviet Union area, and many of them are justified. I would offer, however, we stay far from concluding that the White House has a declining interest in this region, and not because of Nabucco, as many in Baku would think. The issue is far more delicate and concerns both Iran and Turkey, including future modifications of the region, where Caspian oil and gas (Azerbaijani shares only) – I guess only 1% of the world exports – in reality plays only a propaganda role.
The Sochi Statement is a good milestone in this journey to peace, but it also had its side effects, awkwardly mentioned in the text, which, I am fearful of and may estrange the institute of co-Chairmanship from the process by only delegating some limited, or rather, supplementary role to that format. The Statement (originally in Russian) read that the three-party format is an “addition” to the co-Chairs business, not a part of it. This is what the Armenian diplomacy should be alarmed about and do its best to escape from it.
Written by Hovhannes Nikoghosyan - Research Fellow at Yerevan-based Public Policy Institute.
Image source: Kremlin.ru