The hopes for a possible meeting on 9-10 November between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin soon fell flat. Furthermore, new clashes occurred on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border. It was the worst flare-up since the 2020 ceasefire agreement.
Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other for the fighting that left at least six Armenian and seven Azerbaijans soldiers dead. Around two dozen Armenian soldiers are also believed to have been taken prisoner by Azerbaijan. This, adding to existing concerns regarding those already held by Baku since late last year, dashed any hopes for a breakthrough.
That is, until now.
As suggested by Radio Free Europe in mid-October, the European Union was preparing a meeting between Aliyev and Pashinyan on the sidelines of the EU Partnership Summit scheduled for Brussels next month. That was confirmed on 19 November by Charles Michel, the European Council’s president. Russia, not wanting to have its own role diminished, surfaced again as possible facilitator of a meeting, also confirmed for 26 November in the Russian seaside resort of Sochi.
Adding to speculation that two possible agreements might be signed, the Armenian Prime Minister also held his first live interview in more than a year on the same day the meeting was announced. Broadcast live on Armenian public television, Facebook, and YouTube, what had appeared to be a political process frustrated by disagreement between the sides suddenly became active again.
The reasons for the failure of the 9-10 November meeting, as reported here earlier this month, are still subject to speculation, with some Armenian analysts suggesting last minute demands from the Azerbaijani side. In his live interview, however, Pashinyan claimed that the symbolism of the date, the first anniversary of the 2020 ceasefire, was the problem.
In an audio podcast by the Armenian News Network-Groong, Yerevan-based regional analyst Benyamin Poghosyan speculated that Pashinyan had indeed pulled out of the 9-10 November meeting because of this sensitive point. Richard Giragosian, Director of the Regional Studies Center (RSC) agrees, but also says there were other issues.
“Although the Armenian government has done a poor job of explaining its own diplomatic approach, it seems that Azerbaijan’s insistence on last-minute demands, including an Armenian commitment to recognising Azerbaijani territorial integrity and borders, effectively derailed the planned meeting”, he said via email.
Nevertheless, while sounding plausible, Pashinyan’s claims that the upcoming 26 November talks in Sochi had been agreed long in advance are unlikely to convince many given what now appears to be a flurry of international diplomatic activity. The Armenian Prime Minister’s live speech seemed more like preparing the population for what might happen next.
Yet, for any observer paying close attention to the post-war situation, there was nothing new in Pashinyan’s responses to a carefully curated list of questions. It was, however, an obvious effort to clarify Armenia’s position beforehand.
“The lack of information only promotes the risk of misinformation or disinformation”, says Giragosian. “And with the Russian management of the process, there is an added danger of external manipulation of the process, with both Yerevan and Baku vulnerable to Moscow’s agenda”.
Pashinyan stated that both Armenia and Azerbaijan had already recognised each other’s territorial integrity when they joined the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991. He also reiterated that any link between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan through Armenian territory would not be at the expense of its sovereignty. There is also the issue of whether any customs and border checks would be in place.
During the interview, that lasted for over two hours, Pashinyan also clarified speculation about any agreements that could be signed in the nearest future, and especially with regards to a contested border. “A potential document will be based on Armenia and Azerbaijan forming a commission that begins to deal with the delimitation and demarcation of borders”, he said.
It remains unclear whether any such a document might be signed at the end of this week, but the timing of the press conference gives reason to think that it could be on the cards. Regardless, argues Giragosian, some obstacles and issues remain unresolved.
“Given the delay in the return of all prisoners of war and civilian non-combatant detainees from Azerbaijani captivity, the required return to diplomacy only furthers the delay in reaching a negotiated peace agreement”, he says. “In this context, the timetable for such a peace agreement lies largely with the Azerbaijani government and will depend on when Baku is ready to re-engage in the peace process”.
As of writing, hopes that a breakthrough might be forthcoming at the Sochi meeting appeared to be bolstered by last-minute shuttle diplomacy. A day after Pashinyan’s televised interview, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk visited both Baku and Yerevan.
Onnik James Krikorian
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa