Azerbaijan Defies International Community’s Agenda

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Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly announced that the Karabakh conflict is over because Baku has solved it through brute force. Azerbaijani officials, in their turn, never miss the opportunity to reiterate what their president has said since the disastrous 44-Day War in 2020.

But the actions of the international community demonstrate that Azerbaijan has not quite issued the final verdict on the situation and that for some parties involved, the conflict remains unresolved.

Recent events have brought to light more saliently that the international community, particularly the West, has been taking the issue into its own hands, to the intense displeasure of Azerbaijan.

Two specific events demonstrated the differences shown by the two sides: one was a recent gathering in Shushi, where Azerbaijan invited representatives of 60 countries, to show off the reconstruction of the city which they had bombed during the war, and the other was the appointment of a seasoned US diplomat, Philip T. Reeker, as the new US co-chair to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group.

In the first instance, the representatives of two countries, the US and France, who serve as co-chairs of the Minsk Group, along with Russia, were demonstrably absent from Shushi, drawing the ire of Azerbaijani officials, because that absence sent a clear message that the reality was not the way Baku leaders represent it to the diplomatic community.

The second initiative had scared Azerbaijani leaders stiff, because that appointment meant the resurrection of the Minsk Group and its mandate to take up the unfinished task in the South Caucasus.

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The stalemate in the Ukraine war has indicated that Russia’s failure in that war may result in a political vacuum in the Caucasus, which cannot be left unattended. That is why the West — and particularly the US — has taken a more active and assertive role in the past six months in the region.

Azerbaijan has been emboldened by its recent victory and is particularly reveling in Ankara’s unwavering support for its actions. Azerbaijan’s Aliyev did not hesitate to defy Moscow by closing down the Russian news outlet Sputnik in Baku, because Sputnik’s Armenian service had broadcast an interview with Karabakh’s Minister of State Artak Beglaryan.

Today, Baku comes out equally forcefully against the US and France, with the assurance that its recent gas deal with Brussels will absolve all its sins.

In the case of the Shushi gathering and the abstention of the US and French ambassadors, Hikmet Hajiyev, the top foreign policy advisor to the Azerbaijani president, said, “Attempts by some to revive the OSCE Minsk Group are hypocritical and shameful. … There are two countries that are not participating in this event. They are the US and France. We cannot understand the reason for their absence here. … Their absence, their statements on the restoration and resuscitation of the Minsk Group once again show what mission they carried out within the framework of the 30-year negotiation process.”

The reason that the two countries have boycotted the Shushi event, obviously, is that they do not consider the occupation of that city by Azerbaijani forces as legal, because that city always has been within the borders of the autonomous region of Karabakh.

That omission appears more explicitly in an answer that the US issued indirectly. Asked about Hajiyev’s comments, the US embassy in Baku released a statement to the Voice of America’s Azerbaijani service, expressing its support for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and independence, adding, “The personnel of the United States embassy have made and continue to make visits in all the regions of Azerbaijan, including Aghdam, Zangilan and Fuzuli.”

As we can see, Shushi is not mentioned, implicitly drawing a distinction between those regions. But the reference is clear enough to extend the message.

As far as the reactivation of the Minsk Group is concerned, the US position is clear in a statement by the State Department: “The United States is committed to helping Armenia and Azerbaijan negotiate a long-term political settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Ambassador Reeker will also work with like-minded partners, such as the European Union and, as co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, will promote dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The appointment of Ambassador Reeker during this period also confirms the importance of the role the United States in the Geneva discussions on Georgia.”

Azerbaijan’s reaction was equally strong in view of Mr. Reeker’s appointment, which demonstrates the United States’ resolve to bring an equitable settlement of the Karabakh conflict; the OSCE is the only international forum mandated by the UN to handle the issue.

Here is Azerbaijan’s reaction to the State Department’s news of the appointment: “Attempts to resuscitate the de-facto non-functioning Minsk Group may result in the USA to be estranged from the process of normalization of the Azerbaijani-Armenian relations. The Karabakh conflict has been resolved and Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. The international community, including our partners, should understand that connecting negotiations on the normalization of the Azerbaijani-Armenian relations with Karabakh issue does not serve normalization at all,” said Layla Abdullayeva, the spokesperson of the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry.

Contrary to Ms. Abdullayeva’s wishes, it means that the international community does not “understand” the Azerbaijani logic.

This is the general atmosphere and the context within which Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan’s Aliyev are heading to Brussels on August 31 to work out a peace treaty, through the mediation of Charles Michel, president of the European Union (after Mirror-Spectator press time).

The August 31 meeting was originally planned to take place in Moscow. This sudden shift demonstrates that the negotiating parties were dissatisfied with Moscow’s services and that is why they opted for Brussels. To explain this shift, Pashinyan placed a call to Russian President Vladimir Putin to explain the situation, because Moscow had expressed its anger over rising anti-Russian sentiments and actions in Armenia, using the pretext of the Surmalu market explosion.

Russia is not inclined to solve the conflict, because that will mean the removal of its peacekeeping forces from Azerbaijan’s territory. On the contrary, the West is interested in the resolution of the conflict, not because of its consideration and care for the parties involved, but because it wants to remove Moscow’s excuses for deploying its occupation forces in Azerbaijan.

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