By Orkhan Amashov
At no point, during the course of the Sochi summit, did Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan manage to expound any of the demands with which he has been so vociferous in his own backyard. In Brussels, he is likely to make a fresh attempt to appease his disgruntled opposition and fortify the spirit of those supporting him, but, as things stand now, this is to no avail.
In Sochi, the leaders discussed a full spectrum of issues falling within the remit of the present Azerbaijani-Armenian negotiations and the final trilateral statement incorporated clauses on the delimitation and demarcation of the border and the unblocking of transport communications. The conclusion to which many jumped at that moment was that matters of an exclusively humanitarian nature were left for the Brussels meeting.
But it is not as simple as that. On December 4, in an abrupt move, Armenia, through the mediation of the Russian MoD, surrendered all the minefield maps to Azerbaijan, leaving very little room for any meaningful discussion on the subject in Brussels, and the Azerbaijani side returned 10 Armenians, detained as a result of the recent border escalation.
Although it remains to be seen whether the maps provided are fully authentic and if it is true that all the maps at the disposal of Yerevan have been delivered to Baku, it is clear that, by virtue of this development, the scope of humanitarian issues expected to be discussed has been circumscribed. This moment, coupled with the recent calls from the US and France to reactivate the beleaguered OSCE Minsk Group, gives a rise to the assumption that the Brussels summit scope will be beyond the humanitarian element and thus more all-encompassing.
Armenia has long been deeply uncomfortable with the trilateral format originated in the November 10 ceasefire agreement, which gives Yerevan absolutely no hope for bringing back the issue of the so-called status of Karabakh, which has notably not been the subject of Russian-mediated negotiations since the end of last year’s war.
Pashinyan clearly hopes to resurrect the dead through the reactivation of the OSCE Minsk Group. The EU is naturally expected to be supportive of such a move, as it would increase its leverage on the process, curbing Moscow’s dominant role. Although it can be safely assumed that no drastic movement will be made to deviate from the principal logic of the November 10 ceasefire deal, it is possible that in Brussels we will witness an attempt to add an extra layer of dimension, entailing an OSCE-centred regulatory element as an adjunct to the current negotiations process.
The fundamental problem with the misbegotten OSCE Minsk Group’s possible future role is that it is too much stuck in the past and there is no indication that it has sufficiently evolved in line with the newly-created geopolitical construction of the region. Its terms of reference are outdated. The preponderant part of the matters, in relation to which it was required undertake facilitative work, has been decided upon without its participation and it is now left with negligible raison d’ être.
When President Ilham Aliyev received the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs after last year’s war, being an experienced politician of the highest order, he was not fully dismissive of the organisation's potential future role, but Baku clarified that it was no longer a central mediator in the post-conflict negotiations. The Madrid Principles, Kazan Formula and many other oft-quoted legal-diplomatic constructs have already been consigned to the dusty shelves of history and, if the co-chairs are willing to justify their employability, new steps, fully cognisant of the post-war realities, are to be invoked.
For the OSCE Minsk Group to be a viable mechanism, the constituent co-chair countries should be reconsidered as a matter of urgency. Although it is unlikely that Baku will make any official demand in relation to this in Brussels, it is evident, beyond any reasonable doubt, that France has irremediably discredited itself, both through its stance during the Second Karabakh War and also by virtue of many subsequent developments. At the height of last year's war, French President Macron publicly declared that France would under no circumstances accept “a reconquest of Upper Karabakh” and openly sided with Armenia, breaching necessary diplomatic neutrality and irreparably damaging its status as a mediator.
Armenia is still frantically hoping to free itself from the constraints imposed by the November 10 deal. From its perspective, the reactivation of the OSCE Minsk Group signals new hope for the status of Karabakh, which Baku views as a relic of the past and is indefatigably determined to ensure any resurrection attempts are crushed. It is probable that, given Azerbaijan’s upper hand and the fact that Yerevan has very little to rely on in terms of bargaining chips, in the long run, even in Armenian parlance, the issue of the status of the former illegal entity in Nagorno-Karabakh will no longer be referenced to, with discussions being held within the framework of the status of Azerbaijani citizens of Armenian origin. The latter is in conformity with Baku’s worldview, as it has already expressed its willingness to grant Karabakh Armenians all necessary rights, provided the legal regime, which will be an accumulative result of these rights, will not amount to any form of territory-based autonomy.
There is still a week to go until the Brussels meeting, and certain developments that may take place between now and then could potentially have some bearing on its agenda and conclusions. Yet, given that the issues of substantive nature appear to be within the remit of the trilateral format for which Moscow is a mediator, it is likely that the EU forum will be secondary in nature and any potential agreement achieved on the sidelines of the EU Eastern Partnership Summit will be limited to a relatively narrow scope of subjects.
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