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Karabakh in focus: Armenia, Azerbaijan to discuss settlement at highest level after two-year break

Karabakh in focus: Armenia, Azerbaijan to discuss settlement at highest level after two-year breakOn November 18 Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian paid a visit to Moscow where he met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. The same day, the President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, left for Vienna to meet, after nearly a two-year break, with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev. The two Caucasus leaders will discuss the Karabakh settlement, which international mediators have unsuccessfully tried to take forward during the last two decades.

The meeting of the presidents has been initiated by the co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk Group represented by Russia, the United States and France. The meeting was necessary, first of all, “to compare notes” after the processes that have taken place in the region. And there have been quite a few of them – both Armenia and Azerbaijan have completed electoral processes that took them almost two years, Sargsyan and Aliyev were re-elected, but, more importantly, Armenia effectively gave up the process of signing a full association agreement with the European Union after deciding to join the Russia-led Customs Union. Moreover, on December 2 Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is already now called “the Russian Tsar”, is expected to visit Yerevan. This will be Putin’s first visit to Armenia after he returned to the Kremlin as president in early 2012.

The balance in the Karabakh conflict has been maintained for nearly 20 years due to the fact that Russia and the West have undermined each other’s initiatives. Experts can only guess whose initiative it was primarily for the new Armenian-Azeri summit to be held. Some say that the United States has offered a comprehensive plan that also includes the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is paying a visit to the United States these days.

In its turn, Russia is trying to take over the laurels of a Karabakh problem settlement and deploy its forces in Karabakh, including it into the territory of the Customs Union. The fact that the return to the Gulistan treaty (signed 200 years ago between the Russian and Persian empires about the division of the region) is possible was evidenced by the controversial letter that Armenian scholar Zori Balayan wrote to Putin in October.

Will it be possible this time to maintain the status quo in the Karabakh conflict? It appears questionable this time as Armenia has been sucked up, like with a powerful vacuum cleaner, to the Customs Union, and it suggests certain solutions on Karabakh. The West does not want Armenia to allow Russian troops on the ground in Karabakh. But it is quite possible given the hints about the use of newly created Collective Security Treaty Organization peacekeepers in Karabakh. On the other hand, Russia cannot involve Armenia in the Customs Union without guarantees on Karabakh.

In Armenia more and more opinions can be heard that the only way to prevent a catastrophic decision on Karabakh might become the resignation of President Sargsyan. Much depends on the decision to be made in Vienna. The Armenian leader’s recent policies have been viewed by some as unpopular and critics say that another decision on “surrender” may cost him dearly. The events on November 5, when dissident Shant Harutyunyan attempted to overthrow the government that is “yielding Armenia’s sovereignty to Russia”, shows the seriousness of sentiments in the Armenian society.


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