Fourth Brussels convocation: Peace lurks ahead
By Orkhan Amashov
The 31 August EU-mediated meeting of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has spawned a solidly palpable diplomatic outcome – the wheels leading to substantive work towards a future peace treaty have been set in motion, with a one-month ‘conditional deadline’ being prescribed for the foreign ministries to develop draft proposals. This is the gist and there is much beyond.
Baku and Yerevan can never be sure of avoiding future fisticuffs, so fragile and volatile is the atmosphere encompassing the negotiations. Although it would perhaps be disingenuous to claim that there was a sense of a vivid breakthrough prior to the meeting, it is doubtlessly true that there was a reasonable expectation that a discernible move would be made towards a comprehensive deal. From the guise of a success-defining litmus test, Baku’s drive has been gratifying, with Yerevan’s presumed can-kicking instinct failing to derail the process.
Inside the communiqué
EU Council President Charles Michel’s press statement, given in diplomatic communiqué format, was clearly compartmentalised and in no way akin to a jumble of ill-digested adumbrations. An agreement was made “to step up substantive work to advance on the peace treaty governing interstate relations” between the sides, and “the foreign ministers are tasked to meet within one month to work on draft texts”.
Long-term peace and the preparation of both populations for such an eventuality have been included in the communiqué. The criticality of phrasing public statements in such a way that would not have an undue impact on the process have also been highlighted.
It should not be overlooked that, in relation to humanitarian issues, there is no mention of Armenian Prisoners of War (POWs), contrary to Yerevan’s misbegotten efforts to attribute this unwarranted classification to those detained in Azerbaijan. What the statement covers in this respect is demining, detainees, and the fate of missing persons.
On the subject of the delimitation of the border, an agreement has been achieved to conduct the next meeting of the Border Commissions in Brussels in November. In the realm of connectivity, the statement does not go beyond an emphasis on the different modalities for unblocking the transport links and the economic development this will inevitably induce.
Beyond the communiqué
The results of the meeting, at first glance, save for its focus on a peace treaty, may appear to be a slightly modified variation on an unchanging theme. Such an evaluation could be made, yet one who is desirous of seeing the larger landscape of negotiated themes and implications should look beyond the superficial.
First, any communiqué is bound to reflect what has been mutually agreed in a public pronouncement, but not everything that has been vociferously debated. The four-hour meeting was, in the verdict of Charles Michel, “open and productive”, yet from what can be gathered on the grapevine, it was also rather dramatic, largely due to Armenian attempts to avoid agreeing to a one-month deadline for preparing the draft version of a peace treaty and downgrading the meeting’s import to a mere formality.
It can also be inferred that peace negotiations will be based on Baku's five principles. Although this is not entrenched in the press statement itself, given that there is no mention of some of the odd provisions that Yerevan's six-point counter-offer envisaged, this conclusion seems to be integral to the realities of the ongoing discussions.
Secondly, it follows that, apart from what has been agreed, it also matters what has been omitted, and in whose interests such omissions benefit. Again, as was the case with the previous Brussels summits, anything to do with the ‘status’ of Karabakh Armenians and the OSCE Minsk Group has been curiously absent.
This fits admirably with Baku’s general strategy, which, upon closer inspection, appears to embrace two linchpins, which are a) pushing for a comprehensive peace treaty with the earnestness and resources at their command and, b) ensuring that any future agreement is envisaged within the delicate framework of interstate relations, with the Karabakh subject being resigned to the internal Azerbaijani domain, exponentially losing its significance as a negotiable item.
Here, one needs a pinch of realism to appreciate the nature of the discussions under the aegis of the Brussels or Moscow formats in the proper light. The absence of the reference to the situation involving the security and rights of the Armenian population of Karabakh does not indicate it has been resigned to the dustbin of history, nor to the realm of Baku’s intramural administrative contemplation. What is true, however, is that it is incrementally becoming a matter which is increasingly recognised as Azerbaijan’s domestic subject in relation to which Baku may take on itself internationally-recognised constitutional obligations.
Again, as was the case with the previous efforts by Charles Michel in bringing President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan together, the upshot of the meeting was that, far away from grinding to a juddering and grit-imbued halt, the negotiations are moving forward and there is an undeniable momentum, although this can always be slackened and re-engendered.
The true practical value of the 31 August convocation will be revealed in September, which is bound to be a month of action, rather than stipulations and worthless rhetoric. This onset of autumn will also see some movement in Turkish-Armenian normalisation, which will have a specific bearing on the Baku-Yerevan front.
The question that looms large is with regard to the immediate impact of the recent discussions. At present, the Armenian media close to Pashinyan seems to focus on the return of the so-called “Armenian PoWs”, which is not just a mere obfuscation, designed to blur the issue, but a case of heinous iniquity, as the term constitutes an outright lie. The words employed in Michel's statement are “detainees” and “missing persons”.
Armenia is also going to insist that it is not Azerbaijan's five principles, but a collection of provisions stipulating Yerevan’s additions that will define a future peace treaty. Nevertheless, amidst the expected dilly-dallying there may be implicit concessions that Yerevan will try to impart an air of plausibility from its perspective. Naturally, the alternative to substantive talks and tangible progress is recurrent escalations near or within the area controlled by the Russian “peacekeepers“ which, as previous developments have shown only too clearly, do not benefit Yerevan.
Although no-one expects the cerebrally-challenged Pashinyan to fire on all four cylinders in doing the sensible, there is much he has to achieve in the department of reasonableness. He may have fewer marbles between his ears than advertised by his supporters, but he is not a chump incapable of overcoming passing whims. For all the political difficulties in his backyard, which he has been in the habit of exaggerating, his duty is clear, and any attempt to shrink from this will be commensurate with finding oneself on the thin end of a wedge and stuck between a rock and a hard place, as was the case in late September 2020.
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