Karabakh Conflict Still Awaits its Breakthrough Moment

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 46

The March 5 meeting in Sochi between the Armenian, Azerbaijan and Russian presidents, Serj Sarksyan, Ilham Aliyev and Dmitry Medvedev, respectively, resulted in a joint declaration, but once again failed to produce the much-expected breakthrough on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. This was the eighth meeting of these state officials in such a trilateral format.

The joint declaration merely referred to the previous agreement between the two sides, reached in Astrakhan on October 27, 2010 regarding the full exchange of all prisoners of war. The document urged both sides to speed up and complete the exchange process and solve all other disagreements through peaceful means, as well as investigating possible ceasefire violations under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk group (www.president.az, March 6).

After the end of the trilateral meeting the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, met the co-chairs of the Minsk group to discuss the Karabakh conflict and further steps towards its peaceful resolution (www.1news.az, March 6).

It is evident that President Medvedev, who has been closely involved in this conflict’s peace process in the past two years, has put his personal reputation on the table. Many observers believe that the keys to the resolution of the conflict are in the Kremlin. In fact, the close military alliance between Russia and Armenia provides hope that at some point Russia can indeed play a constructive role in the resolution of the conflict and urge Armenia to make certain compromises. This would break the deadlock, which appeared in this 22-year old conflict, earn Moscow certain political dividends and image of a peacemaker as well as further drawing Azerbaijan closer to Russia.

Yet, despite the proactive participation by President Medvedev in this process, no significant results have been obtained. Armenia still refuses to accept the so-called “renewed Madrid principles,” a proposal made by the Minsk group in 2009 on the basic principles of the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan has already expressed its general consent with this document, which envisages the gradual return of the occupied Azerbaijani territories to Azerbaijan, return of the displaced persons to their homes, resumption of trade links, guaranteeing of the security of the local population and eventual determination of the status of Karabakh by the free expression of the will of the population.

The absence of any reaction from Yerevan towards this document frustrates both the mediators and official Baku. During the OSCE summit in Astana in December 2010, mediators urged both sides not to delay and take urgent steps towards the resolution of the conflict. All mediators are trying to save the peace process from becoming a complete fiasco by organizing new meetings of the presidents and foreign ministers and making new creative statements which establish an appearance that the peace process is still alive. In many ways, the Sochi meeting resembled an attempt to rescue the patient rather than treat him.

Meanwhile, many in Azerbaijan are convinced that Armenia is not interested in peace and the Minsk group is dragging out the process. Baku’s frustration with Yerevan’s refusal to agree on the Madrid principles translates into more military spending, harsher rhetoric from Azerbaijani politicians and anger among the general public with the international mediators. This week, President Aliyev visited several new plants which produce equipment and technology for the military and launched the construction of several more. Azerbaijan also participated in the IDEX-2011 military-industrial exhibition in the United Arab Emirates which displayed 71 types of new military products (APA, February 23). Generally, the Minister of Military Industry of Azerbaijan, Yaver Jamalov, stated that the country will increase the number of new products from the current 413 to 480 and some of them will even be exported (ANS-TV, February 23).

Thus, the military buildup by both countries is increasing, but Russian mediation seems to focus on strengthening the ceasefire rather than a complete resolution of the conflict. President Aliyev evidently places much hope on the Russian role in the mediation. If this process fails and Russia is unable to pressure Armenia to make compromises, it is unclear what other peaceful means will remain on the table. Frustration in both capitals can lead to new escalation of the conflict, including a full-scale war.