Staunton, May 22 – A debate has broken out between those who believe that Russian mediation in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan will lead to a situation in which Moscow will come to be viewed as supporting one side against the other, creating a situation of “two against one,” and those who say that without Russian involvement, the talks will go nowhere.
This issue has intersected with another. While Armenia would like to force Azerbaijani forces to pull back, any demarcation and delimitation of the border between the country would require Yerevan to acknowledge that Qarabagh is part of Azerbaijan, something Armenians don’t want to do.
But unless there is such an acknowledgement, Azerbaijani officials say, there can’t be a border demarcation; and unless there is such a demarcation, there won’t be an end to the conflict of the kind Moscow sought in its brokered declarations of November 2020 and January 2021. Indeed, at best the conflict will be frozen; and at worst, it will break out again.
Moscow has offered to mediate in border talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan if both sides express a willingness to have it do so, but whether that happens, Vladimir Yevseyev of the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries says depends on Azerbaijan’s larger goals (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/364162/).
“If Azerbaijan wants to continue the annexation of the territory of Armenia, such mediation isn’t needed. If however it intends to continue pressure on Armenia with for example the goal of securing the withdrawal of [Armenian] forces out of Karabakh, it could hope to achieve this with the help of Russia.”
Under the circumstances, delimitation and demarcation of the border will be extremely difficult for the two sides on their own to carry out, given that any such moves involve far broader issues, Yevseyev continues. What is important, he suggests, is “not demarcation but an end to the violation of the borders of Armenia.”
Zardusht Alizade, an Azerbaijani political analyst, says that Russian median won’t help. The issues involve only the two countries “and any mediator will think not about their interests but about its own.” The two sides must use the 1976 Soviet defense ministry map. Azerbaijan is already doing so; and Armenia simply needs to accept that.
Mekhman Aliyev, director of the Baku-based Turan news agency, disagrees. “Russia today is a real mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan, a moderator on issues of peaceful resolution, the opening of communications and humanitarian issues.” But he too does not see a role for Russia given the existence of the 1976 map.
But Russian experts say that map is inadequate because of the scale it uses and that other topographic maps should be used and that Russia and Armenia are in favor of doing so. (On these maps and this controversy, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/05/soviet-era-maps-in-conflict-with-one.html.
The issue of the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Syunik/Zengezur is unfortunately linked together with the broader issue of borders to the north, including those separating the two countries in the Qarabagh region. Consequently, talks and any Russian mediation become more complicated.
Indeed, getting the talks started has proved difficult. Yerevan says Baku has not shown up at planned meeting, but Baku says it has been continuing to talk and will continue to do so, according to Eldar Namazov, head of the Baku Center for International and Strategic Research (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/364129/).
The problem is elsewhere. Azerbaijan, Russia and the West want a border accord; and some in Yerevan do, he says. But others in Armenia oppose it because they do not want to agree to a border which leaves Qarabagh as part of Azerbaijan and thus not connected with Armenia in the ways they hope for.
Indeed, many in Armenia suspect that the border talks are in fact a covert way of undermining any chance for a special status for Armenians in Qarabagh, a suspicion that will make any progress in the Syunik/Zengezur district extremely difficult with or without outside mediation.