US and Azerbaijani-Armenian peace process
By Orkhan Amashov
Although the South Caucasus as a whole and the Azerbaijani-Armenian dimension, as an integral element, remain important to the US, the past few years have witnessed certain developments that, at first glance, may be interpreted as signs of retrenchment of Washington’s involvement vis-à-vis Baku and Yerevan.
This claim could be contested on several grounds. One may argue that such an assessment is based on the externally visible features, beneath which reside deep interactions and cooperation modes of far more consequential import. When it comes to the post-war scenery involving Azerbaijan and Armenia, in view of the de facto dismemberment of the beleaguered OSCE Minsk Group, where Washington had acted as one of the co-chairs, and the emergence of two formats mediated by Moscow and Brussels, American participation seems curtailed.
On the basis of the recent steps taken by the US administration, the frequent exchanges between Washington and Baku within several formats, the regularity of which has by no means become less palpable, and observations made by those who are privy to the State Department’s constantly readjusting foreign policy priorities, some of the tendencies appear to be coalescing into tentatively shaped central trajectories.
First of all, there is a clear recognition that there are certain limitations to American involvement across the globe. Richard Kauzlarich, former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan from 1993–97, informed me that, in light of the war in Ukraine, the growth of China and many other challenges, Washington is not in a position to maintain a sufficient degree of involvement across all developments, including the Karabakh subject.
Simultaneously, one cannot help but observe there is a considerable concern, both in Europe and the US, over the role played by Russia in the region which, by virtue of its founding role in the trilateral declaration signed in 10 November 2020 and its peacekeeping contingent temporarily stationed in Khankendi, remains significant. To counteract this, Washington seems to be interested in enhancing the role of the EU, whose participation has been augmented since December 2021. Although the Brussels-mediated trilateral mechanism is a latecomer to the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace process, its comparative standing vis-à-vis the Moscow format has assumed heightened importance.
Paul Goble, former Advisor to the US Secretary of State, was very measured in his evaluation of the criticality of the EU. His formula was that Russia’s involvement is unavoidable, but will be less determining than has been the case hitherto, whereas Brussels’ role is welcome, but is not decisive. In this vein, the American focus seems to be that, although the EU’s proactive steps are to be applauded, to achieve significant progress, steps aimed at forming a genuine bilateral agenda, ensuring direct talks between Baku and Yerevan will be of import.
The emphasis on the bilateral context is also important for the US, due to the fact that it limits Russian involvement. Ambassador Kauzlarich, for instance, is of the opinion that Baku and Yerevan do not require external assistance in relation to the bulk of the issues currently forming the subject matter for the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace process.
In the light of the energy war between the West and Russia, although the US does not share Europe’s predicament in terms of being reliant on Russian gas, it is also exceedingly interested in curbing Kremlin-dominated energy webs. The recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the EU and Azerbaijan has been positively received in Washington. Although it is acknowledged that Baku, on its own, cannot replace Russian gas, it is perceived as a valuable member of the coalition of gas suppliers that cumulatively could change the entire energy landscape of EU-Russia dynamics.
Although the beleaguered OSCE Minsk Group’s resurrection is not regarded as a possibility, the role of the OSCE remains relevant. The Azerbaijani view is that the organisation could be critical in helping Baku and Yerevan to deal with the post-war challenges, in terms of demining and the preparation of a peace treaty.
Given that Baku is not desirous of maintaining a Russian monopoly over the current peace negotiations, being supportive of an enhanced EU role, the participation of the OSCE, not involving the Minsk Group or any other similar mechanism, to address the post-conflict issues could be seen as being in its best interests.
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