The only mission with an international mandate for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the OSCE Minsk Group, finally spoke this week, calling on Yerevan and Baku to resume high-level political dialogue to build an atmosphere of trust promoting long-term peace. In fact, the main massage was that the conflict has not been resolved yet and the Minsk Group still has work to do.
The mediators, representing the United States, Russia and France, stressed that special attention was needed to a final, comprehensive, and stable settlement based on the principles of elements well known to the sides. Of course, the self-determination of nations, non-use of force, territorial integrity of states are meant.
What is the prospect for at least one of the three principles: further dialogue with a country that has violated the non-use of force, and what role can the Minsk Group play after the war?
The statement made by the OSCE Minsk Group was as unexpected as it was expected. The problem is that for almost half a year after the war, the only body with a mandate to mediate in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was virtually inactive, to the point that some analysts assumed that the disagreements between the co-chairing countries had deepened so far that the recovery of the format may not be possible.
At the same time, however, at least two of the conflict sides - Yerevan and Stepanakert, used every opportunity to call on the Minsk Group to intensify its activities and finally seek a political solution to the conflict. This is in the case when Baku regularly stated that the conflict had already been resolved, and there is no need for a mediation mission, including the Minsk Group. The Co-Chairs with this statement, in fact, showed that at least in this issue they do not agree with Baku, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is far from being settled.
“Additional efforts are required to resolve remaining areas of concern and to create an atmosphere of mutual trust conducive to long-lasting peace. These include issues related to, inter alia: the return of all POWs and other detainees in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian law, the exchange of all data necessary to conduct effective demining of conflict regions; the lifting of restrictions on access to Nagorno-Karabakh, including for representatives of international humanitarian organizations; the preservation and protection of religious and cultural heritage; and the fostering of direct contacts and co-operation between communities affected by the conflict as well as other people-to-people confidence building measures,” the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs' statement reads.
This, in fact, is a demand addressed, particularly to Azerbaijan, as it is Baku that refuses to return the prisoners of war (POWs), in every way hinders the entry of various international missions to Artsakh and its occupied territories. At the same time, it is impossible not to notice that many have already done it and the Co-Chairs’ statement text does not have a direct reference to the norms of international law, that is, non-use of force or threat of force, territorial integrity, right of nations to self-determination. This time, the Co-Chairs have simply reminded of the principles underlying the negotiations and offered the conflicting parties to enter into negotiations based them.
“We call on the parties to resume high-level political dialogue under the auspices of the Co-Chairs at the earliest opportunity. They reiterate their proposal to organize direct bilateral consultations under their auspices, in order for the sides to review and agree jointly upon a structured agenda, reflecting their priorities, without preconditions,” the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs' statement reads.
Official Yerevan’s response was not late. The day after the OSCE Minsk Group statement, Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Aivazian at the National Assembly reaffirmed Yerevan's commitment to continue the negotiations, emphasizing that, nevertheless, it is necessary to formulate an agenda and only then to talk about direct dialogue.
In particular, Yerevan insists that only a negotiated political settlement that takes into account the rights of all, determines the status of Artsakh based on the right to self-determination, can be considered a final settlement of the conflict. This means that Artsakh cannot be part of Azerbaijan, and other issues can be negotiated. As for Azerbaijan, official Baku has not yet responded to the statement, except for Ilham Aliyev's statement that the OSCE Minsk Group can be useful only in resolving some post-conflict issues, as the conflict no longer exists.
This persistence of Baku, in fact, can become an opportunity that the Armenian side will be able to use to increase pressure on Azerbaijan.
This is especially likely because the United States on the one hand and France on the other have their own accounts with Baku in connection with the efforts of the two capitals to establish a ceasefire during the war with their overthrow by Baku.
As for the third Co-chair, Russia, judging by the rather nervous behaviour of the same Aliyev recently, the less diplomatic statements and accusations against the Kremlin and Putin personally, the relations between Moscow and Baku are not so idyllic. Not excluded that Turkey, with which Russia’s disagreements are becoming more and more obvious, has a big role in it.
By Levon Sardaryan