Munich Conference Casts Optimistic Light on Azerbaijani-Armenian Peace Process

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 36

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on the South Caucasus panel in Munich (Source: Eurasianet)

On February 19, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attended the discussion panel regarding the South Caucasus at the Munich Security Conference. Afterward, they held a face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of the conference with the mediation of United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (Asbarez, February 18). Ultimately, the parties focused on the points at the top of their respective agendas, and as a result, they failed to reach a significant agreement on many key issues, including the status of the Lachin road and future development of the Zangezur Corridor. Aliyev revealed in a later interview that he had proposed to the Armenian side the establishment of bilateral checkpoints at both ends of the Zangezur Corridor and along the Lachin road (Eurasianet, February 22). Since the end of the Second Karabakh War in 2020, Azerbaijan has long sought the establishment of this desired corridor through Armenia’s Syunik province to connect the country with its Nakhchivan exclave, albeit unsuccessfully. Thus, debates over the Zangezur project, among other issues, have led to a stalemate in peace negotiations, with regional actors, such as Iran, strictly standing against the project and supporting Armenia in its opposition (JAM-news, February 18).

The proposal to establish bilateral checkpoints in the border areas between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not a new phenomenon. Earlier, in October 2022, Yerevan expressed its willingness to set up additional border checkpoints with Baku, though in different locations (, October 27, 2022). Of Azerbaijan’s greater concern, shortly after the Munich meeting, Armenia officially rejected the proposal of checkpoints along the Lachin Corridor, referring to the point in the Russian-brokered trilateral agreement signed on November 10, 2020, of “unimpeded movement via the corridor” (, February 23).

Consequently, the continuing war of words between Baku and Yerevan coupled with the deadly clashes throughout 2022 have swiftly disillusioned both domestic audiences regarding the prospects for a comprehensive peace agreement. From the Azerbaijani perspective, one problematic issue had been the appearance of the Russian oligarch of Armenian descent, Ruben Vardanyan, in the Karabakh region in September 2022. Vardanyan assumed the role of the so-called “state minister” in the de facto separatist regime in Karabakh and was officially dubbed by Baku as a “project of Moscow” (JAM-news, January 24). Aliyev even went so far as to publicly state the Azerbaijani side would not negotiate with this “Russian emissary” (see EDM, February 13). Nevertheless, partially as a result of Azerbaijan’s continuous pressure and the ongoing civilian protests on the Lachin road, Vardanyan was sacked from his position on February 23 (OC Media, February 23). In a broader context, the core reason for Vardanyan’s removal from office was the lack of vocal support for his role from Moscow and Yerevan, as even Pashinyan had remained wary of the Russian oligarch due to his close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin (, February 24).

Notwithstanding the internal dynamics in the breakaway region, the main topic of discussion during the Blinken-mediated meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the Munich conference was the renewed draft version of the peace treaty that Azerbaijan had recently handed over to the Armenian government (, February 16). However, at that time and since then, no significant progress has been made in solidifying the key points of the new draft proposal.

While both sides failed to reach a serious consensus on this issue, the Munich meeting represented an attempt by the US to restore the collapsed Brussels negotiations format. Both Baku and Yerevan have not opposed a return to this format in light of mutual growing discontent with the destructive role of Russia—notably the mounting failures of the Russian peacekeeping mission deployed in Karabakh (see EDM, February 8). Moreover, Azerbaijan’s proposal of border checkpoints could be a signal to Moscow of Baku’s growing dissatisfaction with the Russian peacekeeping force in the Lachin Corridor (JAM-news, January 13).

As a result of these efforts, Ned Price, spokesperson for the US State Department, announced that the next Aliyev-Pashinyan meeting will soon be held in Brussels, without providing a specific timetable (, February 23). In this vein, Washington considers the Brussels format as the only reliable platform for peace talks between Baku and Yerevan, as it better suits US interests and prevents Moscow from fully weaponizing the endless process of negotiations, which de facto “freezes” the situation. Hence, the possible decline of Russian influence over the peace process in light of the newly deployed EU civilian mission has triggered a range of criticism from Moscow (Euractiv, January 27).

Indeed, the new EU mission has raised eyebrows in Moscow, as the Kremlin traditionally does not tolerate any challenges within its perceived geopolitical sphere of influence. For Armenia, the new civilian mission is more symbolic in nature, as it has limited capacity to prevent any possible escalation between Baku and Yerevan. Simply put, this mission seems to be a reactionary move against the Russian proposal for a Collective Security Treaty Organization mission to be sent to the region, which was largely ignored by Yerevan and soundly rejected by Azerbaijan (Carnegie Politika, February 16).

Consequently, Putin recently held separate phone conversation with Aliyev and Pashinyan, respectively, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov paid an official visit to Baku on February 27 (, February 23; Azernews, February 27). Lavrov’s visit came shortly after Vardanyan’s dismissal and the official deployment of the EU civilian mission. Nevertheless, Putin’s conversations and Lavrov’s visit have yet to yield any significant results regarding the peace process. As a result, it appears that the likelihood of Baku and Yerevan pivoting back to the EU-mediated process will keep growing steadily as both sides become increasingly disenchanted with Russian involvement.