On June 27-29, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan held bilateral negotiations in the United States. They also met with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs in Washington. After the meeting, both sides issued a statement of consensus on including some additional articles to the draft bilateral Agreement on Peace and the Establishment of Interstate Relations. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also confirmed that progress has been made as a result of 3-day negotiation. It should be noted that after the talks in early May, the US Secretary of State affirmed in the same way that Armenia and Azerbaijan had made significant progress towards signing a peace treaty. The talks in the US, as reflected in the statements, succeeded overall in taking another step towards peace.
The ongoing negotiations between Baku and Yerevan have accordingly increased confidence that a peace deal will be concluded soon and a period of peace and stability will begin in the South Caucasus. At such a moment, when optimism in peace is growing, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan are sadly on the rise once more.
These tensions should be viewed in a broader context of foreign policy, taking into account the current regional geopolitical situation. In this sense, it is interesting that the military provocations are happening in parallel with the intensification of peace talks in particular through the mediation of the West. To put it differently, we can say that it is already not considered unusual to observe such provocations immediately before or after the negotiations mediated by the EU and the US. As we have witnessed many times, such tensions occur specifically when the negotiations are developing on a positive track. Based on the past experience, that is not a secret to anyone this time too that in recent days the armed provocations committed by Armenians at interstate border and in Karabakh, where the Russian peacekeeping contingent is temporarily stationed, are exactly directed against the peace process mediated by the West.
It is an undeniable fact that if a peace agreement is signed, there will be no need for peacekeepers from any country in Karabakh. In other words, a possible peace deal between Yerevan and Baku will increase the possibility of early withdrawing Russian peacekeepers from Karabakh, which actually might be in the interests of both Azerbaijan and Armenia. Therefore, instigating such provocations potentially lead Armenia, a close ally of Russia to drift away from peace negotiations spearheaded by the West.
Most likely, sooner or later, the Armenian armed forces in Karabakh, which are the main source of insecurity in the region, will be completely withdrawn. This will happen either when they lay down their weapons and surrender, or otherwise they will be destroyed by the Azerbaijani army as a legitimate target. This is an inevitable process, and neither the hiding of these armed terrorists under the umbrella of Russian peacekeepers, nor the political and moral support of France will save them.
Meanwhile, the EU continues to maintain the role of a negotiating platform. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan will meet in Brussels on July 15. The expectation from the upcoming meeting is pitifully not too much optimistic. Despite that it is expected that if the agreement is signed it will be mainly based on the terms of Azerbaijan taking into account the new status quo in the region.
Frankly, it is a dramatic moment for diplomacy. Neither side trusts each other, even distrust between the warring parties runs deeper with accelerating danger and despair. This dangerous situation can head off even worse trouble ahead. And this is why, the parties must show political courage and take steps to overcome differences through dialogue.
Nevertheless, the Armenian political establishment is deeply divided and is not capable, as things stand, of holding substantive peace talks on ending the century-long conflict. Taking into consideration the fact that Armenia is a member of the CSTO and hosts a Russian military base in its territory, hence it is futile to expect from Yerevan to change its traditional foreign policy course and sign a peace deal through the mediation of Washington or Brussels.
However, an uptick in the level of contact between the warring parties is a positive signal. The continuation of talks is a sign of success in itself. In addition, an increase in the level of engagements from various international actors, including the EU and the US is the most promising thing in the peace building process. The West’s willing to play an active role in the peace talks will definitely help to facilitate signing final deal. However, Washington should obviously increase pressure on Yerevan in order not to manipulate in signing at least a framework peace agreement.
In a nutshell, with hopes of peace as close as ever, intensifying tensions between two sides casts doubt on reaching final deal in spite of persistent and enormous efforts by the EU and the US. It seems unlikely that Armenia will move against the political will of its major ally and sign any document in Brussels or Washington in the near future.