MOSCOW, 24 Dec 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.
The settlement in Transcaucasia has entered an active diplomatic phase. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced a meeting of the special representatives of Turkey and Armenia on the normalisation of relations between the countries in the near future.
A meeting was also held in Brussels between Armenian Prime Minister Nikola Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The leaders of the two countries talked during the summit where the Eastern Partnership summit was held (the so-called meeting of the heads of state of the European Union and the countries participating in the project – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova).
It is important to recall that the initial basis for the negotiation process, and both sides agree on this, was the November meeting in Sochi, where, with the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the main directions of the search for compromises were outlined.
Two “corridors”, one approach?
In Brussels, the chairman of the European Council, Charles Michel, became the “arbitrator” between the parties. He also held talks with each of the leaders personally even before the first trilateral meeting, which began late on Tuesday and ended after midnight. On Thursday, it became known that at the initiative of the French side, the leaders met again – in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron.
In my opinion, it is important to note that in addition to trilateral meetings, the leaders of the two countries discussed the problems of mutual relations in private for about five hours.
What has been achieved in the course of such intensive communication? A number of experts tend to regard the results of the talks between Nikola Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev as a significant step towards the normalisation of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Let’s try to understand if this is really the case. The parties agreed to settle the problem of the so-called Zangezur corridor. However, it should be noted that the foundation for these agreements has already been laid with the participation of Russia. In Brussels, at the first stage of negotiations, it was not possible to agree on the fate of another important communication (the Lachin corridor) connecting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku categorically insisted on the installation of its checkpoints in the Lachin corridor, which is completely unacceptable for Yerevan.
However, after a personal meeting between Pashinyan and Aliyev, a certain compromise was reached during the negotiations. The joint statement on the results of the trilateral dialogue reads: “It was decided to proceed with the restoration of railway lines with appropriate border and customs control measures based on the principle of reciprocity.” And once again I would like to note that almost the same formulations were voiced on December 1 in Moscow during the next meeting of the trilateral commission, which includes the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.
The Turkish factor
So, nothing new happened at the Brussels summit? It happened… However, these events can hardly be regarded as a reason for optimism, even if restrained.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met only with one of the leaders — Ilham Aliyev. And although the press service of the alliance hastened to state that this meeting should not be considered as bias, such “selectivity” of the head of the North Atlantic Alliance cannot but cause concern. And there are at least three serious motives for this.
Firstly, Azerbaijan is a supplier of natural gas to four NATO members, which, in the context of the struggle of interests around the Russian Nord Stream–2 gas pipeline, is one of the factors of the energy security of the region. And, according to Mr. Aliyev, expressed at a meeting with the NATO Secretary General, energy security is directly related to the national security of the member states of the bloc.
The second, in my opinion, no less important motive is the lobbying of the interests of the Azerbaijani side by Turkey, which has its own far-reaching plans in this region. As a NATO member, Turkey ensures the presence of alliance forces as opposed to Russian participation. In this regard, we should expect a strengthening of Turkey’s role in the South Caucasus, which cannot but worry Russia.
And finally, the topic of Russian influence in this matter. An unbiased analysis does not allow us to call the results of the “Brussels meeting” a major achievement of European diplomacy. Basically, this is a repetition of what has already been discussed on Russian platforms, but Moscow does not feel jealousy about this. Moreover, Vladimir Putin, in his telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, noted that “the meeting of the heads of EU structures with Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan will be useful”, and “supported the expediency of intensifying work through the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs”, which includes Russia, the United States and France.
“3+3” – a new format?
Unfortunately, it is hardly possible to “suspect” the EU and NATO of the same benevolence. Each of them tries to pull the blanket over themselves. There is a desire to create an alternative negotiating platform for Russia to achieve its own goals in the region.
Whereas Russia thinks globally and tries to resolve the complex tangle of relationships that developed in Transcaucasia in the post-Soviet period. These are the problems of Georgia with its former autonomies, this is the transport corridor that connects the North Caucasus with Transcaucasia and, in particular, with Armenia. This list is long.
And now the Russian side is actively working on preparing a meeting in the “3+3” format (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia – Russia, Turkey, Iran). However, Tbilisi is still being determined by its participation in the negotiations. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko believes that it is necessary to discuss the overall situation in the region in the context of recent events.
It is worth emphasising that traditionally Russia’s role in the region has always been of a stabilising nature. Only some two centuries ago, Russia was able to protect Georgia and Armenia from being absorbed by Turkey and Persia. Russia came to the Caucasus at the request of the then leadership of these semi-feudal countries. Today we are on another historical turn, and we are once again trying to bring peace and stability to this neighbouring region.
Elena Panina – Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute