BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The news out of Baku on Monday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived for talks with his Azerbaijani and Iranian counterparts, signaled Moscow’s heavy hand in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution process.
Putin told reporters that Russia was continuing to assist Armenia and Azerbaijan to come up with compromises to end the Karabakh conflict, saying “there should be no winners and losers” in the process.
At the same time, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev sounded upbeat following his meeting with Putin, thanking the Russian leader for his role in the conflict resolution process.
So where do all the niceties emanating from Baku leave Armenia and more important, Artsakh?
It’s no secret that the four-day war in April has resulted in increased scrutiny on the Karabakh conflict with the leaders of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries becoming directly involved in the process. Russia, however, seems to have been given a carte blanche to advance the negotiations with the thorny issue of concessions taking center stage.
It is also no secret that Armenia is coming under increasing pressure from the mediators to take a step in unknotting the status quo, which Azerbaijan unilaterally challenged with its violent attack in early April that mainly targeted the Martakert region, with Talish and Madaghis being the epicenter.
While the international community–including the Minsk Group co-chairing countries, the US, Russia and France–has yet to condemn Azerbaijan for its vicious attack on civilian and military targets, Baku aggressive behavior has prompted the three countries to stand at attention and come up with a resolution to the conflict that is sure to benefit Azerbaijan more than any other party to the conflict.
To begin with, the basis for the conflict resolution process, the so-called Madrid Principles, is skewed heavily in favor of Azerbaijan and the implementation of the said principles would force Armenia and Artsakh to cede territory in return for a nebulous provision mandating a referendum to determine Artsakh’s status.
“Reaching a compromise means finding an optimal balance between the principles of territorial integrity and the right of peoples to self-determination. We are fully aware of the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the Armenian and Azerbaijani leadership. We welcome the constructive approach that prevailed during the latest summit on the conflict settlement held on June 20, 2016, in St. Petersburg,” Putin said on Monday in an interview with the Azerbaijani press.
On June 16, one day before an armed group calling itself the “Daredevils of Sasoun” seized a police compound in Yerevan sparking a two-week standoff that is certain to change Armenia’s political landscape for the foreseeable future, President Serzh Sarkisian was in Artsakh where he asked key stakeholders there about the possibility of ceding territory for peace. Reportedly, the answer was an almost unanimous rejection of such an approach.
Sarkisian also mentioned Artsakh last week when he broke his two-week silence after the standoff with the “Daredevils of Sasoun” came to an end.
“There will be no unilateral concessions in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Never! Nagorno Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan. Never. I repeat, once again: it is out of question,” said Sarkisian, who elevated Armenia’s recent diplomatic vernacular, which places the emphasis on Artsakh’s independence without addressing territorial concessions.
Sarkisian is scheduled to meet Putin in Moscow on Wednesday and both sides have confirmed that the Artsakh issue will be high on the agenda of topics the two leaders will discuss.
With Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declaring last month that a final solution to the Karabakh conflict was imminent and Aliyev sounding uncharacteristically enthusiastic after his meeting with Putin on Monday, signal that Sarkisian may be cornered into a situation whereby territorial concessions would not be out of the question.
That scenario would be unacceptable since not one inch of territory must be ceded to Azerbaijan, which the mediators are eager to appease. NOT ONE INCH.