On Friday, October 9, Moscow hosted the first meeting of high-ranking representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan since the start of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh two weeks ago. The negotiations dragged on until nightfall. The very fact of the meeting can be considered a diplomatic victory for the Russian Federation, which became possible as a result of negotiations between President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan Nikol Pashinyan and Ilham Aliyev. However, there is no need to talk about rapprochement of the sides’ positions. While the diplomats of the three countries were meeting behind closed doors, President Aliyev expressed disagreement with the thesis that “the Karabakh conflict has no military solution.” And he made it clear: Baku “will never reconcile with the occupation” of its lands.
In neutral territory
Events around the Moscow meeting developed rapidly. On Friday night, the Kremlin spoke about the results of the “series of telephone conversations” between Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan: it was decided to hold consultations in Moscow at the level of foreign ministers. As the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov stated, “in the second half of Thursday, until late in the evening, Putin did a lot of hard work with his colleagues from Baku and Yerevan.”
In the morning, the Russian Foreign Ministry said: representatives of the parties to the conflict “confirmed their participation in the consultations, there is active preparation.” It was announced that at 15:00 the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Armenia and Azerbaijan Sergey Lavrov, Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Jeyhun Bayramov will gather at the Reception House of the Russian Foreign Ministry. As a result, the meeting began only at 16:30.
Moreover, contrary to usual, the video broadcast of the protocol part of the negotiations was not conducted: the ministers decided to immediately start discussing issues that are not accepted to be discussed in front of journalists.
Judging by the tense faces in the photograph published by the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova, everyone understood that the conversation would be as difficult as possible. As a result, he dragged on until night. The broadcast from the hall, where there were three stands and three flags, was interrupted and then resumed. And the ministers did not go out to the journalists.
It was originally planned that Zohrab Mnatsakanyan would fly to Moscow on October 12 for bilateral talks with Sergei Lavrov – they had already been announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Jeyhun Bayramov was in Geneva on Thursday, where he met with the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (representatives of the Russian Federation, the United States and France). The talks were held in an atmosphere of increased secrecy: neither the start time, nor the venue, nor a specific agenda were announced. At the same time, the official representative of the UN Secretary General Stefan Dujarrick said that the Minsk Group co-chairs will also meet in Moscow after Geneva.
French President Emmanuel Macron was also involved in diplomacy at the same hours and minutes. Late Thursday evening, he held talks with Prime Minister Pashinyan, and spoke with President Aliyev on Friday morning. On Friday afternoon, an AFP source at the Elysee Palace noted that this negotiation process had been coordinated with the Russian side since the beginning of the week. And he added: “We are looking forward to a truce on Friday night or Saturday.”
The fact that the key goal is “the cessation of hostilities” was also stated in the statement of Vladimir Putin.
According to him, the parties should be guided by humanitarian considerations, and stop the fire, in particular, “with the aim of exchanging the bodies of the dead and prisoners.”
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan commented on the prospects for a peaceful settlement and the start of negotiations on Friday. “We are loyal to the principle of a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and are ready to resume the peace process in accordance with the statements made in the past few days by the presidents and foreign ministers of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries,” Nikol Pashinyan said at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Council of the Eurasian Economic Union.
Ilham Aliyev addressed the nation, saying: “There have been statements from mediators and leaders of some international organizations that there is no military solution to the Karabakh conflict. I did not agree with this thesis, and I was right. For 30 years, negotiations were going on, and the issue did not budge, we were not given a single centimeter of occupied land. The aggressor could not be forced to leave our lands and comply with UN resolutions. Now the conflict is being resolved by military means, then by political means. ”
«I changed the status quo, on the battlefield. He is not here. Contact line? There is no her. We broke through and destroyed it, ”added the President of Azerbaijan.
At the same time, he reported on the capture of nine more settlements in Karabakh, including the village of Hadrut, under control. “I am now in Hadrut and for some reason I see only Armenians,” wrote Artsrun Hovhannisyan, an official representative of the Armenian Defense Ministry, on his Facebook page shortly after.
President Aliyev’s speech in Azerbaijan attracted a lot of attention. Thus, the Kommersant correspondent witnessed how attentively the commander-in-chief was listened to at the checkpoint at the entrance to Terter, an Azerbaijani city about two dozen kilometers from the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh. All the police officers, along with the military in full uniform, gathered around the car with the doors wide open and the radio on. A high-ranking officer in a black jeep even stopped near them and listened to the speech together with his subordinates.
The head of the executive power of the Terter region, Mustagim Mammadov, who received the Kommersant correspondent not in his usual office, but in the basement of one of the buildings in the city center, where the entrance was lined with sandbags, not only listened, but also watched – on TV – the performance President. From the point of view of the administrative division of Azerbaijan, the Talish and Magadis villages, occupied by the Azerbaijani troops during the current aggravation, belong to the Terter region. Mr. Mammadov said that he had already visited the expanded area of responsibility. When asked what will happen to the Armenian monument in the village of Talysh (it is dedicated to the Armenian soldiers who died in the 1992-1994 war), the official did not answer unequivocally. “If the residents who have been waiting for this for 30 years will return, then they will decide what to leave and what not,” he just said.
“Russia’s strategic neutrality is bearing fruit”
In his speech, Ilham Aliyev also commented on the talks in Moscow, which were going on at that very moment. The Azerbaijani leader called them “the last chance” for Yerevan. «Withdraw the troops, return to negotiations, take on commitments, ”he addressed the Armenian leadership in absentia.“ We give (to Armenia.— “B”) a chance to leave our territories peacefully. We will return these territories anyway and restore our territorial integrity. We do not want bloodshed, but we want our territories, and they (the Armenians – “B”) do not miss this chance. ” At the same time, the Armenian side considers such rhetoric unacceptable.
What both Baku and Yerevan agree on is that Moscow has become a suitable platform for trying to find common ground.
“The OSCE Minsk Group, which should deal with the Karabakh settlement, has only three co-chairs. In the US, everyone is busy with the presidential elections. France has taken a position unacceptable for Azerbaijan, and therefore her word cannot be weighty. Only Russia remains. We can say that its strategic neutrality is bearing fruit, “Azeri political scientist and Valdai Club expert Farhad Mammadov told Kommersant. Mikael Zolyan, a deputy from the ruling My Step bloc in Armenia, assured Kommersant: “Russia is the most influential player in the South Caucasus, and everything that happens cannot but affect its interests, especially the aggressive participation of Turkey and the terrorist groups it sponsors. on the side of Azerbaijan. Well, it’s not a secret for anyone that Russia has a rich set of tools for achieving its goals – political, diplomatic and military. “
“Moscow still has some authority to at least try to act as a mediator. But one thing must be understood: the former adherence to the status quo in the future will only lead to Russia’s loss of initiative and popularity – and in the eyes of not only Azerbaijan, but also Armenia, – Yuri Mavashev, director of the Center for the Study of New Turkey, told Kommersant. – Authority always loses the force that is unable to offer anything new. ” According to the expert, the main task of the negotiations today is “to isolate as much as possible, at least, all non-regional players in their ability to influence the conflict.”
«In this sense, only the participation of Russia, Turkey and certainly Iran can at least create a basis for further negotiations, ”he added.
“It cannot be said that Moscow joined the settlement with a delay – rather, it took a more balanced position, taking a pause to see how the situation will develop,” said Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at the IMEMO RAS. “All previous attempts to bring the parties to the negotiating table immediately after the start of the escalation did not lead to anything. “On the ground,” nothing changed, and the parties were simply not ready to make concessions and achieve progress or compromise in the negotiations, the expert reminded Kommersant. “From this, Russia ultimately also lost, investing its diplomatic efforts, time and energy into a negotiation process that has not moved anywhere for 26 years. Now the parties have tried to sort things out on their own, including on the battlefield. Perhaps now the alignment of forces will make it possible to move forward in the negotiations. “
However, all Friday’s statements by the parties to the conflict indicated that it would be extremely difficult to move forward on any political issues.