Moscow Summit on Karabakh Falls Short of Kremlin’s Goals

Presidents Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, and Serge Sarkisian of Armenia met on November 2 near Moscow to discuss the current state of negotiations on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. With those negotiations moving slowly forward at several levels and on their own momentum, Medvedev initiated this summit hoping to lift Russia into the driver’s seat of the process.

The Kremlin hoped to capitalize on the political effects of its recent invasion of Georgia and seizure of that country’s territories through military occupation and diplomatic “recognition.” The Georgia crisis served to demonstrate that Russia can and does act decisively, brutally, and with impunity in the South Caucasus, while the United States was drifting toward strategic disengagement and the European Union failed to fill the vacuum. The moment seemed ripe for Russia to display “regional leadership” by taking the initiative in negotiations to settle the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Moscow also hoped to display a capacity for conflict resolution through diplomacy, not just through force. One major goal of this exercise in diplomacy, however, is to deploy Russian troops in this conflict theater as “peacekeepers” or “guarantors” at some stage of the settlement.

The summit’s only apparent result, however, was a joint declaration that fell clearly short of Moscow’s goals (, Arminfo,, November 3, 4). The Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents first held a two-hour, face-to-face session and were then joined by Medvedev for finalizing the declaration. Signed by the three presidents in front of TV cameras, then read out to the media by Medvedev, the five-point declaration does not commit the signatory parties to any specific approaches or actions within the continuing negotiating process. If the Kremlin wished to show “forward movement” after hosting this summit, its hopes were in vain.

The declaration’s preamble underscores the continuity of direct dialogue between the two countries with the mediation of the three OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs (Russia, the United States, and France).

Point 1 envisages a “political settlement of the conflict based on the principles and norms of international law.” This, however, neither resolves nor circumvents the dilemma between territorial integrity of states and the inviolability of internationally recognized borders on one hand and national self-determination on the other hand. This dilemma has been created and maintained artificially on the Armenian side as a means to freeze the post-1994 situation, with Azerbaijani territories occupied and the Azeri population forced out.

Point 2 reaffirms support for the ongoing and future mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group’s co-chairs, “taking into consideration their meeting with the parties on November 29, 2007.” The reference is to the three co-chairs’ joint proposals presented during the OSCE’s 2007 year-end ministerial conference in Madrid. The Armenian side interprets that document as elevating the national self-determination principle to the same level as territorial integrity and inviolability of borders. Yerevan therefore prefers to cite “the Madrid principles” as a point of departure for further negotiations. Azerbaijan, however, argues for the primacy of the territorial integrity principle in OSCE and other international documents of normative character. The Moscow declaration downgrades the significance of Madrid to a mere “meeting,” not principles and not even a document for further reference. This undoubtedly comes as a disappointment for Yerevan.

Point 3 stipulates that the “peaceful resolution should be accompanied by legally binding international guarantees in all aspects and stages of settlement.” Russia and Armenia insist on such guarantees: Yerevan refers to the security of the Armenian population of Upper Karabakh while Moscow needs an excuse for deploying Russian “peacekeeping” or “guarantor” troops. For its part, Azerbaijan does not oppose international guarantees but does insist that any such guarantees be in line with Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

Point 4 records Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s intention to continue their efforts for a political settlement of the conflict, at the level of the presidents and ministries of foreign affairs, and through cooperation with the OSCE Minsk Group’s co-chairs.

Point 5 “emphasize[s] the importance of creating conditions that will contribute to the consolidation of trust, within the framework of efforts aimed at settling the conflict.” However vague, this point clearly does not imply that Azerbaijan ought to agree to Armenia’s inclusion in regional energy and transport projects in order to facilitate the resolution of the conflict.

During the last few years, the European Union and even the United States have attempted to persuade Azerbaijan to include Armenia in regional projects before the Armenian forces withdraw from occupied territories, presumably in order to advance efforts for peace. Ideologically, this argument is a late legacy of the classical liberal belief that trade in and of itself promotes peace (“pipelines for peace” is a latter-day incarnation of that belief). On a more mundane level, that argument reflects the influence of political lobbies in Brussels and Washington, which has resulted in withholding funds from projects of Western interest in Western-oriented Azerbaijan. For its part, Azerbaijan is open to such cooperation with Armenia after the Armenian forces vacate the occupied territories and the refugees are free to return home.