Russia Stresses Its ‘Red Lines’ as Armenia and Azerbaijan Continue Peace Negotiations

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 117

Residents in Karabakh rally in front of the local offices of the International Red Cross (Source: Civilnet)

On July 15, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met for the sixth time in Brussels via the mediation of European Council President Charles Michel to discuss the normalization of their bilateral relationship. The meeting took place, as Michel pointed out in his post-summit remarks, against the backdrop of “a worrying increase in tensions on the ground” (, July 15).

The already strained situation in the region (see EDM, July 7) had worsened prior to the Brussels summit due to the temporary closure of the Lachin checkpoint by Baku after the Azerbaijani State Border Service alleged that Armenia was trying to smuggle various items in vehicles belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on July 11 (, July 11). In its statement, the ICRC acknowledged the transportation of “unauthorized goods” across the Lachin road and declared the termination of contracts with those who engaged in this illegal activity (, July 11). In addition to this, the rally in the city of Khankendi in the Karabakh region a day before the Brussels summit, organized by the pro-Russian separatist leaders there and protesting the alleged “blockade” of the Lachin road, created an overall negative background for the talks (, July 14).

The European Union, despite these tensions, succeeded in bringing Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to the negotiating table once again, though no major breakthrough or progress was announced afterward. According to Michel, the sides reaffirmed their previously reached agreements, including the recognition of one another’s territorial integrity and their readiness to accelerate the work on border delimitation and re-opening transportation links (, July 15).

Even so, two major novelties came from the recent summit. First, the EU declared its readiness to contribute financially to the construction of a “railway connection” between the two countries. This is critical as the questions about the source of funding for the construction of the Armenian section of the railway along the Zangezur Corridor have caused heated debates within the country. Now, it appears that the EU will play some financial role here (see EDM, April 21, 2021).

The second major development is related to the delivery of humanitarian cargo to the Armenian community in Karabakh. For his part, Michel “noted Azerbaijan’s willingness to provide humanitarian supplies via Aghdam” (, July 15). This option, along with the continuation of humanitarian supplies via the Lachin road, was welcomed by the EU official as central to ensuring that the needs of the population in the region are met. This is widely seen as another affirmation of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity by the EU and Armenia—to the dismay of some ultra-nationalist groups in Armenia and on the Russian side.

Particularly for Russia, the Western-mediated peace process and the agreements reached on this track, especially the recognition of the Karabakh region as part of Azerbaijan by the Armenian side, is a markedly worrying development. Moscow believes that the West seeks to push for a peace treaty between Baku and Yerevan with the goal of minimizing Russian influence in the region by kicking out its peacekeeping mission and eventually the Russian military base in Armenia as well (see EDM, May 23).

Hence, it is not surprising that, on July 15, while the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders were in Brussels, the Russian Foreign Ministry shared a strongly worded statement expressing its vision and “red lines” for the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process (, July 15). Above all, the statement said the recognition of the Karabakh region as part of Azerbaijan by Armenia “radically changed the fundamental conditions under which the statement of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia of November 9, 2020, was signed, as well as the position of the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in the region.”

According to many observers, this statement, in the face of criticism for Russia’s inaction on Azerbaijan’s recent moves, shifted all the blame for the current situation in the Karabakh region to the Armenian leader Pashinyan, with a note that “responsibility for the fate of the Armenian population of Karabakh should not be shifted to third countries.” In its response, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs harshly criticized the mentioning of the issue of territorial integrity by the Russian side in this context (, July 15).

Moreover, the statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry called for “reliable and clear guarantees of the rights and security of the Armenians of Karabakh,” without specifying its details (, July 15). The Russian authorities, however, emphasized that “the strict implementation of the entire set of trilateral agreements between Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia” should be “an integral part” of a peace agreement. As noted earlier, Russia sees these trilateral documents as an assurance for its presence in Karabakh as well as in key regional transportation projects, including the development of the Zangezur Corridor (see EDM, May 23).

Next, the statement expressed Moscow’s “intention to actively contribute to the efforts of the international community to restore the normal life of Nagorno-Karabakh” (, July 15). This appears at odds with Russia’s earlier objection to the West’s “hijacking” of the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process (see EDM, April 14, 2022; May 31, 2022). The change in rhetoric may be related to the fact that the statement presents the efforts of the West as “secondary” to the “real” peace process, which apparently takes place under the Kremlin’s auspices. Hence, the ministry’s statement expressed Russia’s readiness “to organize a trilateral meeting of foreign ministers in Moscow in the near future to discuss ways to implement the agreements at the highest level, including the issue of agreeing on a peace treaty.” It adds that the Kremlin expects to hold a trilateral summit of the three countries’ leaders in Moscow to sign a peace treaty.

That said, while disagreements between Baku and Yerevan persist on major issues (see EDM, July 7), they seem to have increased their political will to overcome these differences, as the latest Brussels summit demonstrated. Yet, as the two countries move closer to reaching a peace treaty, the geopolitical aspects of the process will become increasingly pronounced. Few doubt that Russia will easily leave the process to the hands of the two negotiating parties and their Western mediators. As the statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry manifested, Moscow is readying to assert its interests in the process and reset the negotiating table under its control.