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Clinical death of OSCE Minsk Group: Finally final?

11 April 2022 17:54 (UTC+04:00)
Clinical death of OSCE Minsk Group: Finally final?

By Orkhan Amashov

The OSCE Minsk Group has long been dysfunctional and paralysed. Now that the U.S. and France openly declared they would not cooperate with Russia, it has become practically defunct. Is this the irreversible end of it? Has it been decisively consigned to the dustbin of history?

Finality, in this particular case, will likely require a more crystallised form of fixation. One probability is that the OSCE Minsk Group may die, in stages, a Zhirinovsky (in reference to Vladimir Zhirinovsky's recent departure from life) death, mimicking the veteran Russian politician's "incremental passing away", as to which a series of news cropped up in the public domain, out of which only the very last incidence was genuine.

The OSCE Minsk Group’s present state is akin to that of a patient, who is medically alive, thanks to being artificially connected to a life support machine. It will be "finally final" when a conclusive and long-awaited coup de grâce is delivered, which will probably require one of the conflicting sides’ formal statement, followed by an act of official disbandment by the OSCE.

In Azerbaijan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement as to the Western-initiated “cancellation” of the format has been received as a plausible and long-overdue development. However, in Armenia, gloomy wretchedness has taken over the national mood.

Ashot Mirzoyan, a political analyst and a former education minister, for instance, described Lavrov’s admission, as a sign that all that the OSCE Minsk Group had achieved before 2018, including the principles concerning the rights of self-determination of Karabakh Armenians, has now been “archived” and will no longer be of any use.

Fall from grace and crisis of relevance

Death may be caused by all sorts of reasons. The Ukrainian crisis and the schism it has brought about between the co-chairs form the backdrop of Lavrov’s recent admission. However, the reasons at the heart of the spectacular failure and subsequent fall from grace of the entity in question lie deeper.

Prior to the Second Karabakh War, the co-chairs’ principal activity was to engage in “creative inertia'' - lots of activity designed to achieve nothing and the insistence on the impossibility of military solution without offering a viable peaceful alternative.

The war and its results sent a near-death blow to this beleaguered entity and induced a crisis of relevance - grim and stern reality thrust upon it at negligible notice. If, before the 2020 campaign, the co-chairs were shrewd enough to synthesise some superficial lines out of muddled points, after November 2020, they have been firmly categorised in the mind of not just the Azerbaijanis, but almost everyone else, as a blatant example of incapacity and hopeless futility.

Military solution was an anathema to the OSCE Minsk Group. The co-chairs used to argue that President Ilham Aliyev's "if necessary, we will resort to military means" line was designed to placate his local audience and was not the real thing. History has proven them wrong.

Contrary to what many had been tirelessly arguing, Baku resorted to military means and practically fixed everything that the OSCE Minsk Group’s mandate was supposed to address. In a new conjecture, the co-chairs needed to change their terms of reference, readjust to the post-war realities and try to be of service to the parties by offering new ideas in terms of post-conflict normalisation, suggesting humanitarian advice and assisting towards the evolution of a comprehensive peace treaty. These were the elements they did not seem to understand.

When President Aliyev received the co-chairs after the war, he was unmoved and cold, stating that he had not invited them, but if they thought they could still do something, he would not mind. This was a fine mix of open rebuke and some magnanimity, as it did not amount to an outright death warrant.

In April 2021, the OSCE Minsk Group officially claimed that they retained their mandate. Having been excluded from the Moscow-mediated trilateral format and become irrefutably disgruntled, the co-chairs needed to maintain their relevance - doing that properly would have necessitated some form of reinvention or readjustment. Instead of doing the obvious, the format remained the same, and added another layer of inevitability to its inexorable liquidation.

Conjecture on apologetic defence grounds

Vehemently troubled to deny this charge, the apologists would retaliate, stating that the OSCE Minsk Group's hands were tied, and their offers were not accepted. They could not have forced upon the warring sides a final resolution, for their task was to create a fortuitous ground enabling Baku and Yerevan to work out a compromise. They would go on saying that it was incumbent upon them to deprecate any military solution, as they were peace builders.

The truth of the matter is that, throughout the first decade or so of its existence, the OSCE Minsk Group proposed some ways forward which were not admissible to both sides. Thereafter followed years characterised of what one may describe as the imitation of negotiations.

The co-chairs only troubled themselves with the task of producing empty and substance-free statements when required to react to some skirmish alongside the contact line and reiterating the importance of avoiding escalations, which served to freeze the conflict, with no prospective resolution in sight.

Therefore, any defence that could be erected to save the "good name" of the OSCE Minsk Group will be tantamount to chicane and casuistry. Former U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group James Warlick's recent attempt to justify the format's logic and the stance it has taken is a case in point.

In fact, with the exception of some individuals - which include the former American co-chairs, Matthew Bryza, Richard Hoagland, and possibly some others who were once associated with the format - no-one has engaged in healthy self-criticism.

Preliminary obituary

Lavrov’s recent admission has confirmed that the format is clinically dead. The one factor that kept it from dying was a strangely harmonious perspective that the U.S., France and Russia shared over the Karabakh settlement for some considerable time.

The war altered this harmony, and the November 10 ceasefire deal, which had no mention of the format, confirmed the Kremlin's shifted emphasis. Thenceforth, the EU has followed suit, albeit in a manner which was somewhat less abrupt.

What has, in effect, occurred after the war was the replacement of the OSCE format with two parallel trilateral mechanisms - the Moscow and Brussels ones. The Ukraine crisis has rendered this practicality of the OSCE Minsk Group an impossibility, consigning it to cardiac arrest.

The story of the OSCE Minsk Group is an unsurpassed tragicomedy of wholesale waste. Its account is tragic because so many hopes were associated with it at the outset, and so baseless and naive those hopes have transpired to be. It is also a laughable story with trappings of a comedy, as so blatantly obvious its futility and meaninglessness has been.

Now, the end is near, if it has not happened yet. Soon, before we know it, this miscreation will pass through a black hole and combust as quickly as a shooting star. It will be no more. It will stay in memories only and be subjected to periodical mental desecration before being forgotten as a subject, not worthy of being touched upon in any context.

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