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Nagorno-Karabakh: Iran and Russia do not force events, while U.S. “is in a hurry”

Presidents of Russia and Iran Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani

The “marathon” of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talks with his Iranian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, and Armenian counterparts has provided enough food for thoughts to mass media. Before assessing those high-level meetings, it is important to specify the course of events and official statements.

For instance, almost no one has noticed that before the trilateral summit of the Russian, Iranian, and Azerbaijani leaders in Baku, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held bilateral talks with Ilham Aliyev on August 7 in Azerbaijan.

We believe one should start analyzing what has been said, signed and commented concerning Putin-Rouhani-Aliyev, Putin-Erdogan, and Putin-Sargsyan talks from Iran’s joining some new arrangements in the region. Specifically, upon completion of the Russian and Armenian presidents’ meeting, Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif travelled to Ankara on August 11 and met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu to “discuss issues of bilateral cooperation and regional problems” as the Iranian and Turkish media reported. Zarif met with Erdogan too, but no details are reported from the meeting. However, talking to media, Zarif highlighted the important role of Iran, Russia, and Turkey in the Middle East. “Iran, Russia, and Turkey are considered important players in the region, and they need to engage in dialog and cooperation. [Even] if there are differences among the countries of the region, it can be resolved through dialog,” Press TV quoted Zarif as saying. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in turn, thanked Tehran for supporting the Turkish government during the recent coup attempt. “Iran was the first country to condemn the putsch,” he said.

These statements by Zarif unveil the goal of the Russia-Iran “shuttle talks.” It is clear why no one travelled to Turkey from Russia. Quite the contrary, Erdogan visited Saint Petersburg on August 9, since Turks are under an obligation to both Iran - over the events of July 15-16 – and Russia.

After all, neither Iran nor Russia have ever concealed that when it comes to the “settlement of regional conflicts” and “anti-terrorist” measures mentioned in the trilateral declaration, the conflict in Syria is much more important for them than the Karabakh peace process is.

Taking into account Zarif’s statements and considering that non-regional countries have no “freedom of actions” in the Caspian Sea region, one can see that Iran and Russia are ready to “tempt and involve” Turkey into something.

Zarif diplomatically, though toughly, said what Putin did not say directly during his meeting with Erdogan, what the Russian Foreign Ministry “hushes up” so far despite the loud statements by Erdogan and Cavusoglu on Nagorno-Karabakh. Zarif said Tehran and Moscow expect cooperation from Ankara ONLY (!) in the Middle East, specifically in Syria and Iran, but not in the Caucasus. Putin and Rouhani talked to Aliyev about Syria and the fight against terrorist groups that still enjoy Turkey’s patronage. The same Putin and Erdogan did. As it turned out Putin and Sargsyan as well touched upon the Syrian crisis, though Armenia seems to have “little involved” in the war in Syria. Furthermore, after the public unrest in Yerevan earlier last month and ahead of another trilateral meeting of Putin, Sargsyan, and Aliyev, it appears that Yerevan should care for the Middle East less than ever.

The three-day talks of the Russian president were framed with Iran’s diplomatic “attacks” against Azerbaijan and Turkey. This outlines the real interests of Moscow and Tehran in the context of preventive measures against Azerbaijan and Turkey. As for Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia and Iran cared for it secondarily – to warn the sides (including Armenia) that the authorities of Russia and Iran try to defuse the tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis (as Putin said) and prevent more flare-ups in Nagorno-Karabakh. It is noteworthy that prior to the Russian president’s “marathon of talks”, mass media in Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan hurried to present the future meetings nearly as “the final stage” of the Karabakh settlement. In all the three countries, various “experts” and politicians referring to “sources in the Kremlin” (!) wrote that Russia allegedly “sells Armenia,” “will force Armenia cede the regions around Nagorno-Karabakh,” “involves Turkey in the process to exert pressure on Armenia” etc. The supporters of such apocalyptic theories and “forecasts” hushed up the fact that like Russia Iran has also intensified its diplomatic “attacks” upon Baku and Ankara. The official reports in Russia and Iran did not play up the idea of Nagorno-Karabakh when publishing the agenda of their talks in Baku and Ankara.

Instead, it is known who indirectly supported the newest plan of Turkey and Azerbaijan on actual “dismantling” of the so-called Minsk process a couple of days before Putin’s “marathon of talks.” However strange it may seem, it was James Warlick, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group. A little prehistory: during his relatively recent visit to Baku, Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu said the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs would allegedly arrive in Ankara on July 18 to discuss the Karabakh issue. In addition, the Turkish minister said they have mutual understanding with Russia on the given issue. However, the visit was allegedly cancelled after the coup attempt in Turkey and the developments that followed it. Suffice it to recall the response by the Russian Foreign Ministry (let alone the response by the Armenian Foreign Ministry) saying whether Turkey have anything constructive to suggest. On August 5, when Vladimir Putin gave an interview to Azertag before leaving for Baku, Mr. Warlick talked to another Azerbaijani media outlet – APA – saying “the Co-Chairs are prepared to travel to Ankara to meet with senior Turkish officials at any time and we are awaiting an invitation for specific dates” and he is ready to bring them (the Russian and French co-chairs) to Ankara. “We have visited the capital of each Minsk Group member to hold consultations on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. We value the opportunity to exchange views with Turkish officials and to enlist their support for our efforts to advance substantive talks on a settlement and implement measures to reduce the risk of violence”, Warlick said.

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Bluff is the only word to describe both Turkey’s statements that Russia “presses Armenia” and the positions of Ankara and Moscow on Karabakh coincide and Warlick’s statement that the mediators are ready to travel to Ankara. It was bluff at least because on August 11, after the Putin-Sargsyan meeting, Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov preferred making a phone call to his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault rather than to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

During their phone call, the foreign ministers of Russia and France talked not only about Ukraine, Normandy Four and Crimea, but also about Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh. It turns out that Turkey is indirectly involved in the OSCE MG-brokered peace process in the person of Mr. Warlick. Perhaps, this is because in response of its direct appeals to the Russian and Iranian leaderships Ankara has not received yet an answer that would favor U.S., Azerbaijan, and Turkey too. It is noteworthy that representatives of the notorious “Turkish lobby” inside Moscow – both at the level of the pro-governmental and “liberal” experts, commentators and others - have stepped up its game.

One should not underestimate the fact that the territories of the so-called security belt around NKR are an object of permanent interest and pressure mainly on the Armenian side for obvious reasons. This issue is spotlighted in the notorious “Madrid Principles” too and all the talks and consultations on Karabakh are held around those documents. It should be recalled that these “principles” were first mentioned in summer of 2006 by Matthew Bryza, the then OSCE MG co-chair of the United States, and future ambassador of U.S. to Azerbaijan. Bryza publicly introduced the “principles” in Baku and then in Yerevan. There was everything – preliminary ceding of the territories of the security belt around NKR, immediate settlement of these territories by Azerbaijanis, and nearly automatic deployment of certain “international forces,” which Bryza later tried to specify as certain “international police” on the example of the operation in Bosnia/Herzegovina and Kosovo/Metochia. Now, these are separate provisions of the “Madrid Principles.”

In 2009, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry was nearly forced to discuss the status of “The Brčko corridor”… for Berdzor – Lachin. People familiar with the matter in Yerevan immediately sounded the alarm saying U.S. preparing for Nagorno-Karabakh a kind of “Dayton Agreement” – that document inherently put an end to the independence of the Bosnian Serb Republic - and submitted their objections to the Armenian President’s Administration. The U.S. pressure on Armenia over that preliminary plan of “Dayton Accords” for Karabakh prompted adoption of the Constitution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic through a nation-wide referendum on December 10 2006. Article 142 of the NKR Constitution states: “Until the restoration of territorial integrity of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and clarification of borders, power is exercised in the territory which is de facto under the jurisdiction of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.” Actually, Stepanakert put an end to the insinuations like “occupied territories,” since the negotiations are not over either and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs still lack a full agreement.

The rest is less significant, considering that Yerevan rejects any one-sided concessions, including Turkey’s involvement in the peace process. Russia as well objects such an approach, given Putin’s statements to Azertag, his remarks to Aliyev in Baku, and public statements during the talks with Serzh Sargsyan.

Furthermore, the Russian president has not abandoned his stance known since January 2001 either about the Karabakh issue that was inherited from the Soviet empire (a hint that application of the historical-legal principle in the settlement is inevitable) or about inadmissibility of pressure on the conflicting sides that are free to find a way out so that “there are neither winners nor defeated” (another hint that Moscow perceives the Karabakh factor from Armenia i.e. NKR will sooner or later get back its status of a party to the negotiations). Russia and “some other countries of the OSCE MG” “could have come out as guarantors adopting, if necessary, corresponding resolutions of the UN Security Council.” Considering Lavrov’s phone call to Ayrault, that “other country” is not the U.S., indeed.

As for Serzh Sargsyan’s statement that “It is impossible to resolve the Karabakh conflict by seeking to address its consequences rather than its root causes” and that “The core of the Karabakh issue lies in the struggle of the people of Karabakh for self-determination - an inalienable right of all nations in resolving such issues, which should be respected and guaranteed, which was discussed both in Sochi in 2014 and now,” Azerbaijan and the OSCE MG co-chairs will have to return to the background of the conflict and not try to “change anything on the go.” If the concessions must be mutual and “admissible to all the sides”, as Putin says, it is the right time to settle the original problem and then, as Article 142 of the NKR Constitution states, tackle “amendment of boundaries” in the region.

Sergey Shakaryants, political analyst (Yerevan) for EADaily

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