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Svante Cornell: Minsk Group hopelessly outdated as mechanism for resolving Karabakh conflict

2 October 2020 17:11 (UTC+04:00)
Svante Cornell: Minsk Group hopelessly outdated as mechanism for resolving Karabakh conflict

By Trend

The OSCE Minsk Group is hopelessly outdated as a mechanism for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Svante E. Cornell is Director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, and one of its co-founders, told Trend.

“Our Institute has for years pointed to the absurd situation where competent but mid-level diplomats in three countries that do not agree on much are tasked with the resolution of a conflict that has gone on for thirty years and which involves interests of major powers. The fact that the main power that intervenes in the conflict for it own purposes, Russia, is also the most active co-chair of the Minsk Group is patently absurd and ensures there can be no progress. In effect, both France and the US have mostly allowed Russia, and particularly Foreign Minister Lavrov, to take the lead on the conflict while everyone knows that Russia is not interested in a solution. The Minsk Group has become at best an excuse for inaction, by showing that there is a “process” in place. But in reality there is no such process,” he said.

Regarding the recent escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Cornell noted that this is a fully predictable situation given three major changes in the conflict’s balance.

“First, actions by great powers starting with Russia and Iran but including also others like Turkey and China, including intervention in civil wars etc., have shown that armed force is increasingly used as a solution to problems, whereas the process of international law and international institutions is being marginalized. This has undermined Azerbaijan’s approach to seek to resolve the conflict through the process of international diplomacy. If diplomacy proves incapable, it leaves Azerbaijan with two options: simply accept the loss of territory, or to seek other ways to restore its territorial integrity. Second, the escalated involvement of great powers, particularly Turkey and Russia, on opposing sides of several conflicts including Syria and Libya, has directly affected the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan because the regional powers now see the conflict in the perspective of their broader rivalry. This provides both advantages and disadvantages for Azerbaijan – greater Turkish support, but also greater risk of confrontation with Russia. Finally, it is also clear that the transition of power in Armenia did not, as Azerbaijan hoped, lead to a more compromise-oriented government intended on resolving the conflict, but to a more assertive Armenia that seeks not only to stall negotiations, as was the case before, but to fundamentally change the negotiation process by rejecting Madrid principles, demanding changes to the composition of negotiations, resettling Middle East Armenians into the occupied territories, and so on, while also threatening “new wars and new territories”. We can debate the reasons behind all these changes but they all have led to a very unstable situation that could no longer be contained,” he said.

The expert believes the way out is a serious international effort that is led by Western countries – not neighboring regional powers – and which seeks to resolve the conflict for real, not simply to contain it. “But I am not optimistic this will happen.”

Answering the question about which measures by the international community would have a tangible effect on the situation at the moment, he noted that it is a serious commitment to work to find a resolution to the conflict by committing high-level attention over a sustained period of time, and mobilizing serious resources for post-conflict reconstruction and development.

When coming to the possibility of restoration of the negotiations, he said it is obviously difficult, because the countries involved, particularly Russia, will not easily allow a change.

“So the question is whether the solution is a change to the composition of the Minsk Group, or simply to abandon the Minsk Group altogether and seek an entirely different mechanism, such as a peace conference hosted by an impartial party. It seems to me that neither Turkey, Iran nor Russia should be mediators. Turkey and Russia could play the role of guarantor countries to any solution, Russia on the Armenian side and Turkey on the Azerbaijani side. But the mediation has to be undertaken by someone else, who has no direct interests in the conflict. The European Union would be the most natural party to host negotiations, but I am doubtful that it would, at this point, be willing or able to take on this role. Another possibility is that a country like Kazakhstan, with understanding of the region and good relations with both Russia and Turkey as well as experience in hosting high-level negotiations, could take a leading role in conflict resolution, backed up by the U.S. and EU.

“Every war eventually ends either by one side’s victory or by negotiations. Since a full victory by one side is not likely, negotiations will be necessary. But negotiations will only happen when both sides understand they can not gain more by the use of force. I am not sure we have reached that point. Then comes the next question. Will negotiations only re-freeze the status quo? Or is there a way to ensure that this renewed warfare leads to the resumption of serious negotiations to actually reach a resolution? I am not optimistic about this, precisely because the involvement of regional powers at this point is leading both sides to think they can achieve more on the battlefield. Concretely: As long as Russia backs up Armenia’s policy of seeking to make permanent its control over those occupied territories that were never settled by Armenians, this conflict will not find a solution, because that situation will – whether one likes it or not – lead Azerbaijan to seek to restore its territorial integrity by force,” Cornell concluded.

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