Their failure to do so and the fact that there is no agreement between the parties in the conflict on its future role in the changed situation after the 2020 war leaves this process without any legitimacy, argues Vasif Huseynov in this op-ed. “The calls of the French and American representatives to give a second chance to the Minsk Group are perceived in Baku as more of geopolitical nature rather than as an honest attempt to contribute to the peace efforts”, he argues.
In June, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried, in the course of her visit to the South Caucasus, called for the revitalization of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and declared readiness to cooperate with Russia within this mission. “We continue to believe that it is a very important format, particularly on Nagorno-Karabakh”, she told the media about the group which was established in 1992 to coordinate the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process and chaired by Russia and France along with the USA. “Azerbaijan has not been supportive of the Minsk Group co-chair process, the United States is,” she said in reference to the position of the Azerbaijani government which has consistently stated since the end of the 2020 Karabakh War that the group is defunct, and its pre-war agenda is no longer relevant. In contrast to Azerbaijan, Armenia persistently struggles to bring back the Minsk Group to the negotiation process.
Surprisingly, Donfried didn’t publicly discuss the Minsk Group in Baku that was her first stop in the South Caucasus. In Armenia, similar statements are often made by other representatives of the USA and France. For example, on July 20, France’s ambassador to Armenia Anne Louyot, reiterating the readiness to relaunch the Minsk Group, lamented that Russia refuses to cooperate with them in this format. “We are sorry for the fact, but we remain ready to resume the dialogue in the Minsk Group format,” Ambassador Louyot stated. A week later, the American ambassador in Yerevan also voiced this desire and reaffirmed Washington’s readiness for renewed cooperation with Russia within the Minsk Group.
As pitifully stated by the Western diplomats, Russia indeed refuses to work with the West within this group but, according to them, it was the Western side that first refused to cooperate – following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war. “We did not discuss the OSCE Minsk Group as such because it has ceased its activities. It happened at the initiative of the American and French participants,” Lavrov said in a press briefing following the meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart during his visit to the Azerbaijani capital on June 24.
This situation begs several questions, but most importantly: First, why do the USA and France insist on the relaunch of the Minsk Group and repeatedly call for cooperation with Russia in this format even though they are at loggerheads on almost all other geopolitical issues related with Eurasia? And second, how do such calls of the Western states affect the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Above all, it looks like the Minsk Group is seen by Washington and Paris as a way of securing a place in the negotiations concerning the future of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Although the European Union (EU) has been playing a major role in the peace process since a few months ago, the agenda of the EU-mediated talks is focused on the interstate relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and, as such, does not cover the Karabakh question. According to the outcomes of the 44-Day War, Russia has deployed its peacekeeping mission to Karabakh and thus secured a hitherto indispensable role in designing the region’s future, while Armenia is increasingly marginalised. There is, therefore, no other international format which the West can utilize to engage with this process – besides the Minsk Group.
In this quest, they disregard several important facts. First and foremost, there is not even a consensus between the conflicting parties on the role of the Minsk Group. While Armenia is keen to bring this mission back, Azerbaijan vehemently rejects any discussions within this format on the pre-war agenda. By this, Azerbaijan primarily refers to the initiatives to discuss the status of Karabakh which for Baku is not a matter of international negotiations as the region is internationally-recognized as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Minsk Group, after the 44-Day War, failed to put forward any proposals that would address the post-war realities on the ground. Under these circumstances, the insistent calls by the French and American diplomats regarding the revitalization of this group are perceived in Baku as an attempt to forcefully impose something on the Azerbaijani side.
Secondly, the Minsk Group does not have a reputation for effectively contributing to the peace process between the two South Caucasian republics. The negotiations mediated by the co-chairs for up to three decades failed to make any breakthrough in the conflict and eventually led to the resumption of hostilities in late 2020. The group never countered Armenia’s blatant efforts to abuse the peace process while reinforcing the outcomes of the First Karabakh War and creating a fait accompli for next stages of negotiations. They did not take any measures against Armenia in early 2020 when the country’s leadership rejected all the settlement proposals of the Minsk Group and called for the restructuring the negotiations by including the representatives of the separatist Armenian regime in Karabakh. As one American diplomat rightfully said, the Minsk Group was set up to manage the conflict not to resolve it. The Minsk Group has, therefore, extremely negative reputation in the Azerbaijani society.
That said, the calls of the French and American representatives to give a second chance to the Minsk Group are perceived in Baku as more of geopolitical nature rather than as an honest attempt to contribute to the peace efforts. The post-war situation in the region and the dishonourable track record of the Minsk Group give a certain ground for these perceptions.
Dr Vasif Huseynov, Head of Department at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) and Adjunct Lecturer at Khazar University in Baku, Azerbaijan.