Following the September 13 Azerbaijani attacks on Armenia, which led to more than 200 casualties and the occupation of a swath of Armenian territory, a flurry of intense diplomatic activity has taken place.

The US State Department and French President Emmanuel Macron have issued stern statements blaming Azerbaijan as the aggressor and calling for the withdrawal of its forces from Armenia’s sovereign territory. That stance injected some assertiveness into Armenia’s diplomacy; thus Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan took to task his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, demanding from the Kremlin a clear position on the grave situation.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan also blamed the passive stance of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which is supposed to defend its members against foreign aggression.

These actions were accompanied by some substantive summits in Brussels and Prague, as well as high-level visits of delegations to Armenia, resulting in concrete actions.

As a result of these developments, the European Union dispatched a contingent of 40 civilian monitors to observe the damage caused by Azerbaijan’s military attacks on Armenia’s border towns. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also took the initiative of sending a technical group to the border, in preparation for the arrival of a full-scale observation group.

As the Western mediation began making headway, Russia felt that the West was trying to squeeze it out of Caucasus, as Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said. Because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, it had been losing its singular foothold in the Caucasus and its impotnce in view of evolving events could no longer sustain its reign in the region.

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Russia does not have much to offer to the warring sides. The most that it could do was to devise a tactical move to woo the parties back into its fold. Therefore, President Putin offered a very slippery bait to Armenia in a statement made at the Valdai Discussion Club.

He remarked, “As far as I understand, the so-called Washington Variant envisages recognition of Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Karabakh as a whole. If Armenia thinks so, well, no problem. We will support any choice by the Armenian people. If the Armenian people and leadership believe that Karabakh has its own specificities and these specificities must be taken into account, defined in a future peace treaty, this is also possible,” he said. “But we need Azerbaijan’s consent, which is very difficult to obtain.”

Of course, the catch is in the last sentence; if in the end Moscow fails to deliver its pledge, it is always Azerbaijan that will be blamed.

This was a most disingenuous statement; the State Department reacted, accusing Putin of spreading “disinformation.” Spokesman Ned Price did not go so far as to state whether indeed there was a Washington plan. Most probably, the alluded to Washington plan is the OSCE Minsk Group position, which calls for settling the Karabakh conflict through peaceful negotiations, taking into consideration the principles of territorial integrity and the people’s right to self-determination.

What Moscow has been offering thus far is that Karabakh is Azerbaijan’s territory and the settlement of its status must be left to an indefinite future date.

Nikol Pashinyan took President Putin at his word and said that he accepts the Russian proposal and attended the Sochi summit on October 31, where President Ilham Aliyev dismissed the Karabakh issue out of hand. “There is no more Karabakh conflict. That was resolved two years ago. Now it’s time to negotiate a peace treaty with Armenia and we appreciate your mediation,” he said, as Putin was looking on peevishly.

Coming back to Russia’s jealous initiative, we should also analyze another factor. Although Russian and Iranian interests coincide on some issues, this time around, Tehran’s offer seemed more tantalizing, and it impacts Russia’s concerns. Indeed, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Syunik on the occasion of the opening of the Iranian consulate in Kapan. During the inauguration, he stated that “Armenia’s security is Iran’s security.”

Before arriving in Kapan, he had reiterated President Ebrahim Raisi’s and spiritual leader Ali Khamanei’s statement that any border change in the region is a red line for Iran. These statements were preceded by war games on the Iranian-Azerbaijani border.

Iran’s position was motivated by two factors. First, the visits of Turkey’s and Israel’s defense ministers, in addition to that of the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, to Azerbaijan, obviously plotting against Tehran. The other factor was the arrival of European observers to the region, who may also have as part of their intentions to peek through the Iranian border.

At the conclusion of the Sochi summit, the parties did not issue any individual statements. Instead, a joint communique was released, rehashing all the earlier statements and rhetoric. The communique calls for Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to comply with the agreements of November 9, 2020, January 11 and November 26, 2021.

The statement ceremonially gave credit to the Russian peacekeeping forces. They agreed to refrain from the use of force or threat of force, discuss and solve all the problematic issues exclusively on the basis of mutual recognition of sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders, in accordance with the UN Charter and the Declaration of Alma-Ata of 1991.

These very same words have been used again and again, to no avail.

The summit did not move the conflict forward toward a resolution because there are underlying principles and the interests of the parties which supersede any good intentions contained in those documents.

If there was any good that came out of this summit for Armenia, it was that Pashinyan stated his position in front of the media, putting President Putin on the defensive. He asked for the full implementation of the November 9 agreement, which calls for the release of all prisoners of war, and asked for the removal of Azerbaijan’s occupation forces from Armenian territory. He also clarified his position on the corridor issue, refusing any compromise of Armenia’s sovereign territory.

This summit proved to be a ploy by President Putin to delay Armenia’s move towards the West. It is not in Russia’s interest to resolve this conflict, because that will move Russian peacekeepers out of the area, which will then reduce Moscow’s leverage on Armenia and Azerbaijan.

For Azerbaijan, hatred toward Armenia is a necessary tool to hold together the regime’s authoritarian rule, one which is increasingly unpopular. Azerbaijani society has been agitating in view of the Aliyev clan’s opulent lifestyle; $700-million property in London and the arms race which impacts on the livelihood of the people. Azerbaijan thus far has been refusing to reveal its losses in the 44-Day War. By some estimates, it is more than double the 4,000 dead of Armenia. And the families of all those shahids (martyrs) have been resenting Aliyev’s self-serving wars.

Incidentally, a videotape emerged recently from an Azerbaijani general killed during the 44-Day War, which expressed fear that the Azerbaijani Army could not win the war without the active participation of Turkey.

Monitors on the border may restrain Azerbaijan for a while, during which time Armenia will have the daunting task of rebuilding its armed forces and developing its multilateral foreign policy.

There is nothing promising in being trapped in Russia’s sphere of influence.



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