Every political development in the Caucasus has an existential significance for Armenia. That is why the news media was in a frenzy while the political establishment was caught in a sadistic self-flagellating mood, during the course of the ebb and flow of politics in Armenia.

Many analysts who serve a specific political agenda do a disservice to the country; only those who dare to speak the painful truth can provide useful guidance and a realistic vision to the public. For example, recently, dour-faced analyst Alexander Iskandaryan was maintaining, during a panel program on Azatutyun TV, that Armenia, as the defeated party, is not in a position to dictate the agenda in the negotiations with its adversaries.

Since November 9, 2020, Armenia has been forced to sit down with the Azerbaijani enemy to sort out the situation after the 44-day war, which has changed the balance of power in the region.

Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, in the afterword to a Russian-language book, Storm Over the Caucasus, published by the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, stated: “The second Karabakh war, which broke out in the fall of 2020, was a turning point, and not only for its participants, Armenia and Azerbaijan. It changed the political and military balance in the South Caucasus. … It is Turkey, Iran and Israel, rather than the United States and Europe, which now hold growing influence over what happens in Azerbaijan and Armenia — and between them. This should focus Russian policy on the search for more appropriate approaches to the country’s South Caucasus neighbors in the broader context of the Middle East rather than the post-Soviet or Russia-West context.”

However, many in Armenia, in a Cold War mindset, believe that the alternative to Russia is the West and the democratic values of other nations. The fact that the West sustains medieval potentates in the Middle East, despite its stated values of democracy and justice, just shows how disingenuous its double standard is.

Developments in the Caucasus are happening at a dizzying pace and it is very hard to keep up with them.

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It was decided to hold a tripartite meeting between Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan on the painful anniversary of November 9, to assess the work achieved by the deputy prime ministers of the respective parties, and sign a new agreement to execute and finalize the terms of the ceasefire.

However, Azerbaijan preempted that meeting by new border provocations against Armenia, postponing that meeting indefinitely. Incidentally, Baku’s policy is very transparent; by creating new problems, it is pushing back against the primary agenda. The war broke out over the Karabakh conflict; Baku has been creating facts on the ground to keep Armenia busy with problems on its own soil. By forcing the issue of the Zangezur Corridor, neither Armenia nor its partners in the region consider Karabakh as a hot issue anymore. Armenia has to worry about defending its territorial integrity in the Syunik region, rather than pursuing Karabakh’s destiny.

With all these incidents, the situation has become so fluid that European Union President Charles Michel’s announcement a few weeks ago that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and President Ilham Aliyev were planning to meet in Brussels on December 15, on the sidelines of the Eastern Partnership of the European Union, galvanized the political atmosphere.

The Kremlin, anticipating the Caucasus agenda’s move to the West, decided to reverse the process and invited the two parties to Sochi on November 26 to iron out a deal and make the Brussels meeting irrelevant.

Thus, a new political drama was enacted in Sochi, where Pashinyan and Aliyev met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for three hours of tense negotiations. During the public portion of the meeting, an entirely reformed Aliyev appeared ready for a public relations overhaul as a peacemaker. Gone were his recent unsavory remarks about Armenian dogs, as his belligerence and rude demeanor had rendered him a distasteful dictator on the world political stage. That was certainly not the only reason for his transformation. There were also other political factors that had contributed to his civility.

Aliyev announced that Azerbaijan had fulfilled 100 percent of its commitments to the November 9 ceasefire declaration, and that he was ready to turn the page and begin a new era of neighborly relations with Armenia.

“I beg to differ,” answered Pashinyan, and he brought up the issue of the POWs and the hostages still held in Azerbaijan. And also, the fact that Azerbaijani forces had violated Armenia’s territory repeatedly. All three leaders said they evaluated the meeting as positive and constructive. Pashinyan even stated that he found out that some problems, which had been deemed unsolvable, seemed to have solutions.

What was very unusual was Aliyev’s complete silence over the corridor issue, at least during the public session. That was intriguing, since he and his political master, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, until recently had constantly brought up the issue and even made threats to enforce the corridor.

At the end of the meeting, a benign statement was signed by the three parties, sparing domestic problems for each of them.

However, the opposition in Armenia is up in arms, insisting that Pashinyan had signed an agreement over the corridor and had sold out Karabakh. Demonstrators outside the parliament demanded that the government resign.

The trilateral statement which was released at the conclusion of the Sochi meeting stated that the parties had agreed to “take steps to increase the level of stability and the security on the Armenian-Azerbaijani order and to work towards the creation of a bilateral commission on the delimitation of the state border between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia with its subsequent demarcation with the consultative assistance of the Russian Federation at the request of the parties.”

Of course, it is easier said than done, as the devil is in the details.

The opposing sides praised the role of the Russian peacekeepers profusely, while it is known that Baku has been actively trying to undermine their presence.

Of course, President Putin did not miss any opportunity to take credit for the peacekeeping force’s role as well as Russia’s role as mediator.

This particular issue has been promoted by many Kremlin advocates, comparing and contrasting the role of Turkey vis-à-vis Azerbaijan and that of Russia towards Armenia.

Now, however, we see a shift in the role of Russia toward Armenia. It has gone from an ally to a moderator — a game changer in Caucasian politics. Russia’s treaty agreements with Armenia seem obsolete now.

The political factors which have affected Aliyev’s mood, even to the point of conceding that there are positive signs from Armenia, are many. The first one is the Turkey factor. Ankara’s expansionism had stretched too far to be sustainable by its faltering economy. The tumbling Turkish lira and the opposition’s calls for a snap election almost shattered Erdogan’s dream for his 2023 reelection so he could be anointed as the second Ataturk.

That is why Erdogan tried hastily to mend faces with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. As a reward for its good behavior, the UAE decided to invest $10 billion in Turkey to boost the latter’s economy.

Erdogan advised Aliyev to do the same with Iran, with which it had almost gone to war just recently, drawing red lines against border changes in the Caucasus.

Baku had already an unresolved issue with Iran over drilling rights in the Caspian Sea. Iran even almost went to war to stop Azerbaijan from encroaching on the territorial waters off its coasts. Overnight, Baku signed an agreement on the issue and that paid off handsomely as Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian congratulated Baku on the anniversary of November 9 for having reconquered its territory during the 44-day war. Iran was also invited to participate in projects in the “occupied territories,” which of course, will provide an opportunity to Tehran to keep an eye on Israeli activities in Azerbaijan.

In the meantime, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu had visited Tehran and lay the groundwork for the forthcoming visit of President Erdogan. But preempting that visit, Erdogan and Iran President Ebrahim Raisi met in Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan, and talked about future cooperation between their two countries. President Raisi even expressed his satisfaction over Azerbaijan’s victory in Karabakh.

All these developments demonstrated that at this moment, Ankara cannot afford to support Baku in a new war.

The other factor which has helped Aliyev to behave is perhaps that he had been assured by President Putin to formulate the corridor issue in a fashion that may not sound as if extra-territorial sovereign rights are being taken from Armenia but rather to have the corridor appear to be under the control of Russian forces, similar to the status of Lachin corridor.

The forthcoming meeting in Brussels will serve as a reactivation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, whose co-chairs are planning to visit the region.

Whether the group will visit Karabakh from Armenia or from Azerbaijan will serve as a symbolic political message.

The political process in the region is not always moving in the direction that Aliyev had anticipated. Therefore, this will give Armenia a chance to build its armed forces in order to be able to maintain the credibility of its diplomacy.

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