Minsk Group distrustful of Russian efforts in Karabakh peace – Armenian politician

12:07 • 15.08.16

Russia, which keeps selling offensive weapons to Azerbaijan, has not drawn any lessons from the April escalations over Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) or the increasing anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia, says Ruben Karapetyan, an Armenian diplomat, politician and historian.

In an interview with Tert.am, Karapetyan, who now represents the Unity party, called attentio particularly to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent statement saying, “Azerbaijan is now ready to buy weapons from any state.”

Russia seems to have undertaken the sole mediator’s role over Nagorno-Karabakh, proposing the “Lavrov mechanism” to the parties. To what extent can this fit into the Minsk Group negotiations’ logic, and which of the sides can derive any benefit at all?

I don’t think Russia is a sole mediator in an absolute sense. The OSCE Minsk Group format is still functional; it hasn’t been suspended or changed into another format. However, at the current stage of geopolitical developments, Russia wishes to show off its “irreplaceable” role and assume a leading position in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement process. Against the intensifying Russia-West tensions, as well as in the context of regional developments, the Minsk Group has certainly developed a mutual distrust, especially over Russia's more active efforts and the “Lavrov plan”. Obviously, Baku has always criticized and complained about the Minsk Group’s existing format, so against the backdrop of Armenia’s undermined positions after the April war and the Russia-Turkey reconciliation, attempts will now be made to change the negotiation format and achieve a settlement at the expense of Armenia’s unilateral concessions.

After the Sargsyan-Aliyev meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope that Armenia and Azerbaijan will arrive at a mutual compromise and achieve a settlement without winners or losers. Could this imply specific steps towards a solution in the near future?

That reminds me of the Soviet-style Gorbachev vocabulary. Using almost the same words, [the last Soviet leader] simultaneously permitted or turned a blind eye to the Operation Ring, launched jointly by the USSR Armed Forces and the Azerbaijani special police squad, i.e. – the barbaric ethnic cleansing which followed numerous other crimes against the Armenians in Azerbaijan. What raised my concern were especially two points voiced by Vladimir Putin at the joint news conference with Serzh Sargsyan. First, it became clear that Russia had learned no lesson at all from Azerbaijan’s large-scale use of offensive weapons or drawn any conclusion from the increasing anti-Russian sentiments in Armenia. The Russian president’s statement that the multimillion-rich “Azerbaijan is able to buy armament from any country” stood as clear evidence of that. In the language of diplomacy, it means “we will continue supplying Baku with weapons”. Secondly, Vladimir Putin’s call on Armenia to step up efforts towards a settlement “because it is necessary for Armenia’s economic development and the Armenian statehood’s strengthening” is extremely troublesome. The Russian leader thus believes that Armenia will not be able to develop but it will also put its statehood at stake if it does not work towards a settlement. This already sounds like a threat.

Hence, I believe the “Lavrov plan”, imposed on Armenia today, stems from the country’s interests. The most regrettable thing though is that the Armenian authorities, which have ceded their sovereignty (national security, economy, strategic trends) to Russia over the past years, are not likely to resist the strong pressures by Moscow.

To what extent do you think our society is ready for mutual concessions over Nagorno-Karabakh, and to what extent can the authorities circumvent the society’s opinion?


In my deepest conviction, the operations by “Sasna Tsrer” [the armed group's seizure of the patrol police regiment with a demand of the authorities' resignation] were committed in the wake of the April war and the authorities’ somewhat defeating policies in an effort to avert a possible handover of territories. The public wave [of protests] in Armenia and the Diaspora demonstrated that the Armenian society in both Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora communities rejects territories’ handover, especially in return for an uncertain status promised for Nagorno-Karabakh.  I think the Armenian authorities could use the developments in Yerevan to not only protract but also repeal their “program”. But evidently, it will always keep looming over these authorities as the sword of Damocles.  


Are there any mechanisms for the Armenian authorities to win over the society in case of mutual concessions?


With respect to such a complicated problem as we have over Artsakh, only “brave” leaders who are legitimate, i.e. – enjoy trust and respect by society’s major part, can accept mutual concessions.  So how can a government with a minus zero trust in the society “win over” that public? I would like to also remind you that agreeing to a settlement in such conditions is a threat first of all to their own power.


The Turkish president said he expect a progress from Putin’s more active role in the Karabakh peace process, especially with respect to the liberated territories’ return. What could this imply?


Today, we see the Russian, Azerbaijani and Turkish interests coincide in many respects. Given the mutual interests and the Russia-West confrontation, Baku will try to once again raise the issue of the Minsk Group’s effectiveness and expand the format by involving Turkey in it. It may even attempt to create an absolutely new format should the scenario turn out to its advantage. With statements of the kind, Turkey is trying to encourage Moscow [to take further steps], expecting probably a certain role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement process. Against the deteriorating relations with the West, Turkey’s more active efforts may be aimed at probing for a response by [US and France], the other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. The current format’s maintenance will depend largely upon Paris and Washington’s response.


Despite the reported predictions, neither the return of territories nor the “Lavrov plan” were considered. Does that mean the sides have not reached a preliminary accord?


If it wasn’t considered, then nothing of the kind is on the agenda. After the war in April, the policies pursued and the statements made by the Armenian authorities from different platforms, including interviews, demonstrate that there is a certain document on the negotiating table clearly outlining a plan for returning the five regions which are constitutionally part of Artsakh.



Hripsime Hovhannisyan


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