President Vladimir Putin of Russia was behind the initiative to organize the most recent meeting between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Saint- Petersburg. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group also joined the final part of the discussions. This very aspect demonstrates that Russian leader signaled that Moscow could be the key broker in the resolution of this issue. While the co-chairs could eventually endorse the decisions made. The statements that followed the meeting indicated that the common ground was reached on some of the issues. According to number of Russian experts, in that meeting President Putin was able to exert his political influence. ”Коммерсантъ” newspaper published an article on this issue. In any case, indeed there were some fascinating elements to those discussions. President of Azerbaijan once again displayed his independent and resolute stance. Meanwhile, Serj Sargsyan filled his traditional role of a beseecher and seeker for from the benefactors.
Sargsyan’s Failure: Saint-Petersburg Debacle of Armenian Leader
Saint-Petersburg Summit ended. Thanks to Vladimir Putin’s initiative, President Ilham Aliyev and President Serj Sargsyan came together to hold discussions. The outcome saw scrutiny from different angles. It is understandable that the meeting was able to draw such great deal of attention because talks held in Russia after the Vienna meeting indicated that some new elements had emerged.
According to the analysts, by holding such a meeting, Kremlin aimed to demonstrate that it was in charge when it came to the fate of the conflicts across the South Caucasus. That is why, the diplomats describe the Saint-Petersburg meeting as ”task incomplete” on behalf of the Minks Group. That explains the presence of the phrase – ”agreement was reached to continue meetings in such format that supplement the activity of the OSCE Minsk Group” – in the statement released by the Presidents on the results of the talks.
As far as details are concerned, the Armenian side is completely bemused. In fact, Armenian experts emphasize that Sargsyan found himself in a miserable situation. His helplessness was evident from two aspects. First, while he was in Russia, authorities in Yerevan arrested a group of terrorists allegedly mulling a coup. Member of “Dashnaktsusyun” party and the Lebanese terrorist Jirayr Sefilyan with his followers accused Sargsyan of treason and ”surrendering Artsakh to Turks”. That is to say, majority of the society rejects the policy pursued by Armenian President. And it is not just the terrorists that are displeased, there are also disgruntled politicians. This means that the society in Armenia is aware that Yerevan is compelled to act for the conflict’s resolution and therefore, voices its objection.
Second, according to number of Armenian analysts, all the signs of the aforementioned were obvious during the Saint Petersburg talks. For instance, Igor Muradyan wrote, ”Sargsyan asked Putin to aid the resolution of the conflict”, while ”Aliyev demanded return of the lands”. Moreover, Putin smirked while telling Sargsyan ”we will help”. Whereas the exchange of views with Ilham Aliyev was full of substance.
Due to such difference, the experts argue that Russia continues to view Armenia not as a state but rather its own outpost. When it comes to Azerbaijan, Russia accepts it as a serious player in the region and holds discussions accordingly. It is no coincidence that the meeting between Putin and Aliyev saw exchange of views on development of cooperation. Talks with Sargsyan on the other hand, lacked similar substance. This could be sensed from the text of the statement that followed the meeting between the two.
Unwavering Position: Ilham Aliyev Demands
Indeed, the statements released after the talks shed light upon the aspects outlined above. They stated that the parties would continue their efforts towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict and that they reached mutual agreement on several issues that would enable progress. In order to create favorable conditions for that the parties agreed to increase the number of international observers in the conflict zone. Overall, the Azerbaijani side considered the meeting constructive.
The spirit of the statement made it clear that in fact, a step forward was taken in the direction of ensuring understanding in the course of the peace talks. In this context, one could note that the phased resolution option – something that Azerbaijan has insisted upon for many years – was selected as key principle. Furthermore, engaging in negotiations under the conditions that serve the interests of Azerbaijan and solidifying the overall control in the talks is of utmost importance. Baku is ultimately interested in the objective monitoring along the immediate contact line because that would help to expose the Armenians’ provocations. It would also reveal the truth that Yerevan has been deceiving the international community for years.
In the meantime, it must be stressed that the final element mentioned above does not imply that Azerbaijan would be stripped of its right to liberate the occupied territories. President of Azerbaijan made that very clear in Saint-Petersburg: ”Of course, today’s key topic of discussion is the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict… The conflict is protracted. The status quo is unacceptable as Russia and the other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group stated. We fully support this statement. However, in order to change the status quo, de-occupation of the Azerbaijani territories, which have remained occupied for more than 20 years, must start”.
This idea clearly signals that President of Azerbaijan is extremely attentive towards any party that is engaged in efficient mediation and is open to cooperation. Yet there is one important aspect. Several days before the meeting in Saint-Petersburg President Aliyev said, “It is a grave mistake for anyone to think that we will conduct meaningless negotiations for another 20 years”. This means that Baku is defiant about the principle of liberation of the occupied territories. The Armenian side is actually aware of that. Terrified by the Azerbaijani military’s exercises held next to the line of contact they are now imploring that their patrons prevent military clashes.
All of the abovementioned helps summarize the outcome of the Saint-Petersburg meeting. First, President of Azerbaijan has made his resolute position clear. The Russian President tacitly accepted that. Moscow knows that Azerbaijan will restore its territorial integrity by any means. On the other hand, Serj Sargsyan completely realized that the official Baku would not agree to compromises when it came to the issue of territories. Regardless of the host country of such meetings, Azerbaijan’s leadership will persist with the legitimate demands. There is no other option than reaching a fair resolution of the conflict. Whereas now, Armenia’s patrons seek to freeze the conflict which is not a sustainable option. Longevity of the ceasefire should be measured by the timeframe of liberation of occupied territories. Otherwise, Azerbaijan reserves the right to use alternative means.
This is why in Saint-Petersburg, Sargsyan mainly spoke of maintaining the ceasefire and avoiding military operations. By doing so, the Armenians attempt to protract the status quo indefinitely, while Ilham Aliyev announced that he had no intention of partaking in another 20 years of talks. Azerbaijan’s leader is fully aware of Armenian side’s prevarication and is steadfast about preventing that.
Thus, Ilham Aliyev emerges unequivocally victorious from the Saint-Petersburg meeting. Azerbaijan’s leader reached understanding with Vladimir Putin on economy and energy cooperation as well as the need to increase the trade between the two countries. He also conveyed official Baku’s resolute posture regarding the Armenia-Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh conflict. This was a backdrop to Sargsyan’s traditional plea for help to Putin.