Staunton, January 22 – For many years, observers have criticized the Minsk Group on Qarabagh issues as ineffective; and after the recent fighting changed the facts on the ground and Moscow intervened on its own to restore the ceasefire along new lines and organize the path forward, many have suggested that the Minsk Group no longer has a raison d’etre.
According to Sergey Markedonov, a specialist on the Caucasus at MGIMO, however, the Minsk Group has not “completely exhausted itself” as far as Moscow is concerned and thus the Russian government will pursue a variety of initiatives alongside but not in place of that grouping (eurasia.expert/minskaya-gruppa-obse-vozvrashchaetsya-ili-ukhodit/).
The Minsk Group was created in June 1992 to address the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Vladimir Kazimov, a Moscow expert, said that the Western powers backed the OSCE grouping to block what would otherwise have been much more effective unilateral Russian mediation at the time (ng.ru/dipkurer/2012-05-14/11_obse.html).
In the years since, the Minsk Group and its Western co-chairs, France and the United States, have made many proposals but none of them has been accepted by the parties immediately involved. And because Moscow has achieved so much after the Azerbaijani advance last fall, many doubt the Group is something Moscow has much interest in continuing.
But those who make such arguments, Markedonov says, forget or downplay two important factors: On the one hand, “mediators cannot and will not be able to solve conflicts in place of its participants.” Baku and Yerevan must reach agreements. Outsiders can help but they can’t achieve a great deal without a bilateral accord.
And on the other, the Minsk Group is not just about Qarabagh and relations between Yerevan and Baku. It is also about “relations between the co-chairmen.” If they agree, much can be achieved; if they don’t, little; but their conversations in this forum are not just about the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
Those relationships are important, and they are one of the reasons why Russia “is not hastening to reject the old format which may seem an archaism to many,” the Moscow analyst continues. The Group provides a format for conversations Moscow can use: it has even done so since last fall; and thus it is something the Kremlin values.
Moscow may be pleased to play up Paris as against Washington, but in the future, the US may return to this issue, and given that possibility, there is every reason to retain a structure which limits outsiders as much as Minsk sometimes has.
According to Markedonov, “Russia strives after a multi-lateral balancing and prefers to preserve a positive dynamic both in relations with Yerevan and Baku and also with all external plays, be they Turkey, Iran, France of the US. In this logic, the Minsk Group is important” for the Russian society.
“But besides this format, Moscow will develop others in parallel with it. Not in place of but together with,” including contacts with Turkey, Iran, and also individual members of the Minsk Group as well as with Baku and Yerevan. The Minsk Group can play an important role in allowing for such contacts and so Moscow almost certainly will want to retain it.