Commentary: Positioning for the Kazan Summit

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Expectations as well as doubts abound regarding the forthcoming summit in the Russian city of Kazan, which will bring together the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia June 25-26.

The same presidents have walked the same road in the past, raising hopes for a breakthrough, but disappointment has followed each and every meeting. After issuing declarations and verbal commitments, the Azeri leaders have raised the ante upon returning home. Most significant violations happened especially right after the Meindorf declarations where the parties had agreed to refrain from military solutions and concentrate on the negotiations. But the ink was not yet dried on that declaration, when Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev provoked a border skirmish, claiming many victims.

Based on this kind of checkered background, neither the pundits nor the negotiating parties seem hopeful for a positive outcome. Although the Kazan summit is ostensibly called to negotiate on the basic principles worked out by the co-presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group, symbolism still matters if a positive outcome will be ascribed to Russia whose president, Dmitry Medvedev, will be mediating between President Serge Sargisian and Aliyev. Certainly the other parties do not wish to lose the limelight. The summit has already claimed one casualty, which was Iran’s president’s visit to Armenia; it was supposed to take place on the eve of Kazan summit, but was mysteriously postponed indefinitely. Although the Armenian government presented the lame excuse that the documents were not ready to be signed, another possibility which may not be ruled out is that should there be any tangible results at the summit, Iran should not share any credit.

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The Armenian side is skeptical of the outcome of the summit. The Azeri side is even vocally pessimistic and already gloomy predictions have been issued by high government officials.

Armenia’s Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian has announced that Yerevan has positively responded to the basic principles worked out by the OSCE group and has challenged Baku to do the same.

On the Armenian front, the negative voices are heard mostly from the Karabagh leaders.

Recently, Ashod Ghoulian, the speaker of the Karabagh parliament, and Georgy Petrossyan, the foreignminister, addressed a press conference.

Ghoulian’s prediction is: “No serious breakthrough is anticipated at Kazan, because preconditions for that breakthrough are non-existent. But a preliminary declaration is possible because the co-presidents of OSCE and the mediators are hard at work to bring some results.” But Karabagh leaders also add that any agreement at the summit cannot be considered as final, if the Karabagh government does not give its stamp of approval.

The Russian side is cautiously optimistic, while the spokesman for the Minsk Group Anjei Kasprschik has even divulged some details about the basic principles.

The US government has also sounded a positive note. Indeed in her farewell message, the outgoing US ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, has expressed her regret that she is leaving Yerevan at a “critical” and “historic” moment, indicating that an impending solution is about to happen to the most intractable problem in the region.

The Russian president of the Minsk Group, Igor Popov, has specified that “the documents which will be discussed at the summit need more refinement and further deliberation, which are being conducted on the Foreign Ministry level. We do hope that in Kazan the parties will demonstrate some constructive approach.”

Even Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu has expressed a glimmer of hope.

The basic principles are composed of six steps, while those steps begin with the evacuation of “occupied territories” for Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Mamedyarov and the expression of the will of the people (referendum) about the Karabagh status, Kasprschik indicates that the interim status of Karabagh cannot be less than what the region enjoys at the present time, but what is crucial is that Azerbaijan will have to acquiesce to that status which eventually win international recognition.

One of the sticking points among the six principles is the composition of the peacekeeping forces in the interim period while agreements begin to be implemented on the ground. It is believed that the

Minsk Group negotiating parties will come up with that peacekeeping force.

So much criticism was directed at the Minsk Group negotiations that the pressure is mounting on the opposing parties to move forward. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has, in a way, verbalized that pressure through its official representative, Alexander Loukashevich. He has stated: “There is great hope that the Deauville declaration by the three presidents will help the sides to realize that the process for a peaceful settlement has reached a limit after which they have to come to an agreement to implement them. Any delay beyond that point will indicate a destructive intention.”

The French co-president of the Minsk Group, Bernard Fazier, has similarly expressed hope for action by stating: “We are hopeful that the presidents will give their approval at the Kazan summit to the final draft of the documents presented to them. We refer to the documents which were delivered to them in March in Sochi.”

While pressure is mounting form all sides and hopeful signs are in the air, Azerbaijan’s leaders continue their war threats or negative statements. Thus the Azeri president has visited Serbia and although Baku does not recognize Kosovo’s independence but Mr. Aliyev has seized the opportunity to reiterate his eternal refrain: “Serbia, like Azerbaijan, is suffering from separatism. We hope that your territorial integrity will one day be realized.”

Two other contradictory statements from Azeri officials indicate that Baku is in the process of using carrot and stick policy, hoping that one of them will work.

Thus the spokesman for Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, Elbar Sabiroglu, has announced, “The Armenian side, through its actions is contributing to the possibility of a military solution to the Karabagh conflict. Azerbaijan will be liberating its occupied territories from the enemy. We are in the process of getting ready for war.”

Any government, prepared to sign a peace agreement, would prepare its population for that situation. These announcements are far from preparing Azeri people for a peaceful solution.

On the other hand, the deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan has made an contradictory statement, perhaps intentionally, for public consumption as a carrot policy, saying: “We are not interested to renew the war. We still believe that there is possibility to resolve the problem through diplomatic means. Why should we think about war?”

In this chaotic atmosphere where contradictory statements and political pressures are in action, any positive step at the Kazan summit will constitute a miracle and hailed by all parties.