GP Short Notes # 676, 10 May 2023
In the news
On 3 May, Armenia and Azerbaijan concluded the four-day US-sponsored peace talks in Washington. The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan took part in the negotiations that were mediated by the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. A joint press release followed by the meeting stated: "Ministers and their teams have made progress in mutual understanding on some articles of the draft bilateral agreement 'On peace and the establishment of interstate relations,' while positions on some key issues still diverge."
On 3 May, Blinken stated that Armenia and Azerbaijan have made "tangible progress" during the talks and urged the two ministers to return to their capitals "to share with their governments the perspective that, with additional goodwill, flexibility, and compromise, an agreement is within reach." He also claimed that a deal could be "within sight, within reach" and commended Armenia and Azerbaijan for coming together to help reach a consensus. He also expressed Washington's willingness to assist the two countries in reaching a peace agreement.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that direct negotiation between the two countries was the best way to achieve a peace agreement. He said: "I believe that direct negotiations between the two countries will be more useful and necessary. I think we should continue to move in this direction if, of course, Armenia is also ready for this." Conversely, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian stated that he still sees a "huge difference" between the wording of a draft peace agreement for Armenia and Azerbaijan despite the claims of progress at the talks. He also claimed that the main differences were not limited to Nagorno-Karabakh but also territorial and security guarantees.
Following the talks, the Kremlin responded, claiming that any effort to resolve the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is welcome, however, reiterating that the basis of any long-term solution should be a Russian-brokered peace agreement signed in 2020.
Issues at large
First, the elusive agreement despite multiple rounds of negotiations. Armenia and Azerbaijan have held several rounds of negotiations in the recent past. The two countries have initiated these talks at a bilateral level and also through other international actors. Previously, in October 2022, the two sides agreed to a civilian EU mission alongside their common border. Later in February 2023, the leaders of the two countries revealed that some progress had been made toward a peace agreement. Despite these attempts, the two sides are yet to reach a peace agreement that would settle the issues regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, the demarcation of borders, and the return of prisoners. Additionally, these negotiations have failed to curb the sporadic skirmishes along the borders.
Second, the increasing role of the US. The US has taken a proactive role in resolving the dispute and achieving lasting peace in the South Caucasus. Blinken has been at the forefront of these diplomatic engagements that have involved meetings and telephonic conversations with the two leaders. Blinken met with the two leaders during the trilateral talks in Munich in February and has also initiated meetings with several other ministers in the recent past. Additionally, several American diplomats engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Baku and Yerevan in late April 2023. However, the current US engagement comes as Russia chose to keep a measured role in the region, despite the ongoing Ukraine war.
Third, the dwindling role of Russia. While Russia has been preoccupied with the ongoing Ukraine war, its role in the region has been minimal. Russia has maintained that its peacekeeping forces will continue to remain in the region. Moscow has also attempted to initiate negotiations when Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the leaders in Sochi in 2022. However, Russia's unwillingness to address the concerns of Armenia, its ally, has caused strains in the relations. This coupled with Azerbaijan stepping up in the region, complicates the matter.
First, the framework for a peace agreement. Armenia and Azerbaijan have not been able to reach a consensus on each other's concerns despite the numerous rounds of negotiations. These issues are not limited to the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh but to several other enclaves, exclaves, transport routes, and border demarcations. A peace agreement would have to include a solution to all these concerns for which both sides would need continued cooperation and negotiations.
Second, the prospect of a new mediator. A vacuum has been created with Russia being preoccupied with the Ukraine war. This space would push Armenia and Azerbaijan to look to the West for an alternative to Russian mediation. The US and the EU have shown interest in resolving the dispute in the region. However, as of now the US nor the EU has labelled efforts taken in the region. Whether they chose to play a larger role of a mediator in the region remains to be seen.
Third, Russia's continued role. Although preoccupied with the Ukraine war, Russia would not step back from the region. Its role as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan is likely to be reduced because of their larger interest. However, a peace negotiation without Russia is highly unlikely.