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Invitation to St. Petersburg: Putin tackling Karabakh issue

On June 20 in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin will try to set a beginning to the end of the bloodiest inter-ethnic conflict in the post-Soviet territory. He is to meet first his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, then Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan. Or in the other sequence, which is not that significant. Then, a three-party meeting may take place. Evidently, this may happen if the two meetings before it pave the way for progress in the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement.

Expectations in both Transcaucasian capitals before the meeting are anxious. The matter concerns mutual concessions which Moscow will be insisting upon in the talks with Baku and Yerevan.

Especially anxious are attitudes in Armenia, where some observers even proposed abolishing Sargsyan’s trip to Russia, as they are afraid that he would be forced to make practical concessions, for instance, withdraw Armenian troops from some areas constituting the so-called security belt around the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The concerns are not groundless, as Azerbaijan has nothing to give up locally. Its concessions mean at least recognition of the status quo in the region, from which Baku is very far. Political analysts close to ruling circles in Armenia have conveyed an optimal interim outcome for Yerevan and Stepanakert. They say, a brilliant result would be to convince Aliyev to give up thinking of military resolution of the conflict.

Baku has repeatedly voiced its hopes: Moscow must press its strategic partner and force it to make concessions. Actually, by proposing that Russia should undertake initiative in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement under its scenario, Azerbaijan entered the bargaining process showing that in exchange for restoring its territorial integrity it may reconsider its foreign policy and not rule out completely participation in pro-Russian alliances, as it is doing now. Besides, growing pressure from the West may make Baku strengthening partner ties with Moscow. A resolution passed previously by the US Congress on human rights violations in Azerbaijan may be unprecedentedly tough. Before, Washington used such wordings only regarding Iraq or Iran. With all this in the background, the agreement with Gazprom on construction of a major gas-processing plant in Azerbaijan may stop seeming a purely economic project.

For Moscow, it is the right time to strengthen ties with Azerbaijan. It still wants to see Azerbaijan as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union. In the meantime, Russia’s relations with its only generally recognized strategic ally in South Caucasus, Armenia, are in a crisis. Yerevan dislikes that Russia continues supplying its weapons to Azerbaijan and that in April Russia showed not enough support in the Karabakh flare-up. Armenia is also dissatisfied with its status in the Eurasian Economic Union where it was invited, but was told to keep silent. If all this is added up with Moscow’s pressure in the Karabakh issue, Armenia may be inclined to take actions like Azerbaijan but in the contrary direction. Moreover, Washington will most probably approve such approach.

Unfortunately, both parties in conflict have approached to the St. Petersburg meeting with their traditional “tools” – shooting and making threats. The Azerbaijani side has additionally announced large-scale military maneuvers closely to the line of contact. In response, the Armenian side announced that the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army was put on high alert.

EADaily’s Transcaucasian Bureau

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