One of the most important consequences of the Prague summit of the Political Community of Europe on 6 October last was the resumption of talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with Turkey intervening to find a solution to the conflict. The results are yet to be seen, but several observers noted the qualitative leap in the relationship between Europe and the Caucasian region.
A four-way meeting between the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, France and the EU Council also took place in the Czech capital. The parties reached mutual recognition of territorial integrity on the 1991 borders, long called for by the Armenians, and agreement on the deployment of an EU civilian observer mission in the border area on the Armenian side.
Shayn Gadzjev, editor of the Azerbaijani news agency Turan, believes that a big step forward has been taken, but that the main causes of the conflict have not yet been eliminated: ‘All actors are trying to solve certain problems to their own advantage, both the two countries in conflict and Turkey and the West collectively’. The journalist points out that ‘one particular intrigue is the subsequent trip of Pašinyan to France, which was followed by other visits of Armenian representatives and the premier of Yerevan himself to the United States’.
The general impression is that Armenia is trying to reduce Russia’s role in controlling the territories. Moscow has also disappointed expectations because of the Ukrainian war, which is exhausting its intervention capabilities. Yerevan’s new pro-Western orientation intends to move beyond the phase of ‘paper’ agreements, such as the one in August, which was followed by two weeks of violent clashes.
Even the reference to the 1991 status quo has no definitive value, because it does not exhaust Karabakh’s claim to be considered an Armenian region with the name Artsakh: a problem that has existed since the end of the Soviet era. The compromise for the time being leaves this definition in brackets, which Pašinyan would like to close once and for all, but cannot go against the wishes of his people, not only of the political opposition, and especially of the inhabitants of the areas affected by the conflict.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in turn seems quite well disposed, but in all his statements the tone hardens when the subject of communication channels, the ‘corridors’ to Iran and Turkey that are the real target of Baku’s war, rather than the identity of Nagorno Karabakh itself is touched upon. The real question concerns the regime of the Lačinsk corridor, in parallel with the road from Azerbaijan to Nakhičevan, whether they will allow Baku to set up its own customs checkpoints.
Everything focuses on the road control regime, and in recent meetings there has been open talk of ‘freedom of transport, commercial cargo and people’. However, the Armenians are referring to a smaller route than the Azerbaijanis want. The Armenians want control and free access for their citizens, forcing Baku to go through controls, which it will never accept. According to the negotiations, these controls could be managed by the Russians, or perhaps the Europeans.
The balance swings to opposite sides: Azerbaijan seems to trust Moscow more, while the Armenians look to the West. The roads of Eurasia are a path to the future of all international balances, and in the Caucasus a much bigger game is being played than the particular interests of two seemingly peripheral nations on the international scene.