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Pashinyan loses his metaphorical blue: French meddling overruled

1 December 2022 12:10 (UTC+04:00)
Pashinyan loses his metaphorical blue: French meddling overruled

By Orkhan Amashov

Whilst referring to the 6 October quadripartite Prague meeting, President Aliyev, sporting a hint of a slight smile, some reserve and authoritative silence, all of which spoke more than punchy words could have possibly conveyed, declared that French President Macron also joined that self-same congregation and, with self-assuredly imperturbable aplomb, concluded that “I just would end my comments here”. Within this razor-sharp brief impromptu quip was ingrained an inherent death warrant regarding French mendacity.

And it is upon the meaning of this consequential moment that the entire debate around Yerevan’s attempts to give Paris a new role in the process can be properly assessed with the relevant disdain. Now let us move into the wider landscape of contestation.

For Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, any get-together with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, EU Council President Charles Michel and French Head of State Emmanuel Macron on the margins of a high-level international congregation is primarily a gigantic photo opportunity for signifying that Yerevan is not alone, having garnered invaluable support for its rescue in the shape of prickly France.

Evisceration of France from the Brussels format

We now know that the EU-mediated trilateral meeting, scheduled for 7 December, reconfigured at the request of Armenia in a quadripartite format envisaging participation of French President Macron, will no longer take place, Baku having expressed its firm disapproval. This is a moment of critical import. President Aliyev had never before categorically excluded any hypothetical humanitarian French involvement, hinting at probabilities, albeit limited, of the French participation being biased towards Armenia.

The situation has now irrevocably changed. And this should also be understood in the context of the options presently open to Pashinyan who, by relying on the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) on security matters, and on what is now fashionable to call the Collective West to garner audible diplomatic support, has put himself in an unenviable position which requires a great degree of maneuverability, which he, as far as one can ascertain, lacks rather badly. This line of enquiry resulted in his determination to give France a more emboldened role in the Azerbaijani-Armenian peace process, albeit such changes being beyond his remit.

Winter of discontent

Yerevan needs a prescription to survive what may be its winter of discontent. This French medicine, laced with cheap absinthe, could be fast-acting, with a disproportionately more prolonged rebound effect, consequently eviscerating the entire idea of its hoary audacity. The short-term policy imperative of Yerevan, in its essence, has not changed; endure the seemingly unbearable, blur the issue with a collection of statements specifically designed to accrue ambivalence, make one reasonably plausible statement at one point and retract it with a rigmarole-induced defence line later… The list does not end here. Here comes the French factor, which the government of Pashinyan is willing to incorporate into its ill-fated, ultimately doom-laden procrastination agenda.

What Pashinyan is driving at is more or less clear: by involving France as a fully-fledged mediator, operating as an adjunct to the EU track of negotiations, he appears to distort the already established fundamentals for post-conflict normalisation, in relation to which both Brussels and Moscow seem, despite their acrimonious relations on a number of global issues, to share a reasonably uniform approach amidst undeniable competing instincts.

However, the situation is not just merely about instincts. The EU envisages a solution based on mutual respect for territorial integrity, reportedly seeing the Karabakh issue not as an immediate forum for deliberations, but as a reasonably ascertained settlement upon which interstate discourse may ensue. For Russia, as far as one can infer from President Vladimir Putin’s 27 October Valdai message, the reverse is true: painstaking interstate matters must be pursued first, with the final word on Karabakh left for a future of uncertain distance.

The crux of the French perfidy here is that despite self-attributing itself as an adjunct within the Brussels negotiations, it is rather closer to Moscow’s worldview. President Macron yearns for a greater role in the South Caucasus and, despite this, the post-2020 post-conflict normalisation agenda has not been shaped to reflect this. France thus feels that it is incumbent upon itself, as an ineradicable residual effect of the former inglorious days of the OSCE Minsk Group, to act as a mediator.

There is nothing wrong with such a desire; it even may imbue some nobility. The question is about the modes of perpetuating this scheme. With any extended stretch of benign and credulous imagination, a nation whose senate adopted ill-designed, deeply amateurish, even by the standards of a student union of a mediocre Western university, and whose president, in a highly publicised TV interview, accused Baku of “unleashing a terrible war against Armenia”, despite this being the legitimate act of restoring international order, cannot even be entitled to a secondary advisory role. Macron is fully cognisant of this. But it is his modus operandi. And President Aliyev’s definitive rejection, ruling out French participation on 7 December, is testament to the arrogant miscalculation of official Paris.

Plus, there is a precedent. Macron, rather egregiously, following the 6 October Prague meeting, self-described himself as a key mediator, with a clear intent aimed at overshadowing Charles Michel and demonstratively backing Pashinyan at the expense of showing diplomatically injudicious aloofness towards President Aliyev. This has irrevocably discredited his credibility.

Pashinyan’s evolution and declension

Pashinyan has been at it for the best part of 24 years in Armenian political-public life, in a larger meaning of the term, beginning as a journalist, whose first years of scribbling were not a serene journey, but fraught with trials and tribulations, exacerbated by his opposition to the Kocharyan-Sargsyan tandem, which he pejoratively called the “Karabakh clan”.

Then, as it happens in history, a series of chaotic events, engendered by the accumulation of public anger and helped by circumstantial moments of sporadical spontaneity, brought Pashinyan to power, having been branded as a hero. It was at that moment that the world at large started to discern his inner political sanctum, initially giving him the benefit of doubt, followed by gradually evolving scepticism.

In May 2018, Pashinyan was no longer a young contrarian, but rather a conformist who, in some ways, by virtue of the excessive unreasonableness of the administrations that preceded him, found himself as a more forthcoming and probably most liberal of Armenian leaders in relation to the Karabakh subject. But he is also a nationalist at the core, with the dizzyingly nightmarish concerns induced by the Second Karabakh War still haunting him. Going down in his nation’s history as the major culprit, the evil of all tragedies, and the man “who lost Karabakh” are the verdicts that he is still willing to reverse.

He is perfectly conscious that, although he did nothing to prevent the war of 2020, he failed to manage to lead the process in a dignified manner, alleviating Armenia’s presently unenviable predicament. His argument is simple and contains a tinge of truth: Armenia had consistently lost its legal argument on the Karabakh dispute, and this all had been before him. He could not have stopped the war by signing a quick defeatist peace, for that would have amounted to a dishonourable act of surrender.

His constant references to “the remedial secession” gained no traction in the circles of legal disputation. His self-aggrandised formula that “any solution to the Karabakh issue should be acceptable for Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh Armenians”, in conjunction with another grandiosely empty sloganish asseveration that “Karabakh is Armenia and full stop » made him a laughing stock, which he has never managed to discuss coherently, with explanations offered at various junctures being mutually exclusive.

The game is afoot, but the end is certain

And what now? This man has a mission, but he is born into a losing struggle. Macron’s high-pitched words of support do not just have their rhetorical limitation, but also say more than they can offer. Vladimir Putin, a cold calculating man, deeply and rightly, suspicious of Pashinyan’s globe-trotting support-seeking sojourns, is unlikely to offer tangible assistance; Iran is vociferous and malicious but, in principle, can’t go beyond that. The US official line is too circumspect to induce genuine Armenian hopes. And President Aliyev has made it abundantly clear: there are two tracks of negotiations, the first being the interstate, and the second being pursued within the jurisdictional walls of Azerbaijan, between Baku and its citizens of Armenian origin, thereby limiting the scope of constructive ambiguity.

The field of Baku-Yerevan contestation has been narrowed. The game is afoot and will remain so for some time. Within the environs of ultimate finality, things are moving inexorably to what President Aliyev emphatically declared on 10 November. And it would be unforgivably superfluous of the author of this submission to repeat what was said on this momentous day, for there are some limits to the highest form of crystal-clarity.

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