Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict made on January 17 has provoked mixed reactions. Azerbaijan remained discreet. Some Russian and Armenian media outlets launched a propaganda campaign, alleging that Lavrov’s statement was in favour of Armenia. This both undermines the peace talks and distorts the truth, constituting another serious impediment to a fair settlement of the conflict.
The essence of the conflict: Armenia`s aggression lies at the root of all troubles
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict made at a press briefing on January 17 has provoked strong reaction. In response to a question from an Azerbaijani journalist, the Russian FM said the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not merely an internal affair of Azerbaijan and pointed out the existence of an international mediator (see: Выступление и ответы на вопросы СМИ Министра иностранных дел России С.В.Лаврова в ходе пресс-конференции по итогам деятельности российской дипломатии в 2016 году / “www.mid.ru”, 17 January, 2017). Lavrov said that the United Nations Security Council adopted many resolutions urging a suspension of hostilities when the conflict was at its hot phase. “If we look at archives, we can see who abided by the ceasefire and who did not.” (see: previous source).
Liberation of the occupied lands, according to the Russian FM, has always been on the negotiating table but “under the condition that it will be realized by peaceful means and that it will be followed by the determination of the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh” (see: previous source). Lavrov highlighted Russia’s role in putting an end to the April battles, describing this as “a positive step”. “This was followed by meetings of the presidents in Vienna and Saint Petersburg where the sides agreed to develop a mechanism of controlling incidents in the conflict zone. But there is no consensus on this at the OSCE”, said FM Lavrov (see: previous source).
Undoubtedly Russia is a superpower and it has serious influence on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Some circles even believe that Moscow probably holds the key to solving the dispute. From this perspective, some points of Lavrov’s statement need elaboration.
First and foremost, some Azerbaijani media unfortunately explain the Russian FM’s statement by “provocative questions” given by the Azerbaijani journalist. (see: Азербайджанские журналисты спровоцировали Лаврова / “haqqin.az”, 17 January, 2017). It`s natural for a Russian or Armenian news agency or website to have such an opinion, but it`s difficult to see logic behind an Azerbaijani media`s providing this argument. Every journalist, particularly Azerbaijani journalist, have the right to ask any official about his reaction to Azerbaijan’s launching military operation to liberate the occupied lands. Ignoring such a right is a flagrant violation of law and it’s absolutely unacceptable. It’s just an axiom. On the other hand, Russian FM Lavrov’s statement itself proved the rightness of the Azerbaijani journalist.
This was also evidenced by the reaction of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which reiterated that it is Armenia that disregards the four resolutions of the UN Security Council. The problem is not about achieving ceasefire, it`s about Armenia`s unwillingness to abandon its policy of aggression. So Lavrov’s “who abided by the ceasefire and who did not” rhetoric is completely illogical because if the occupation of Azerbaijan lands continues, this must not be left without a response. Would Russia, for example, appeal to the United Nations or the OSCE instead of directly tackling any intervention in its territory? It’s impossible. When Georgia launched military operations in South Ossetia in its own territory, Moscow not just pushed the Georgian army out of South Ossetia, but even bombed other Georgian regions. But now the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, including Russia, urge Azerbaijan not to conduct military operations. What is the goal behind preventing Azerbaijan from liberating its lands from the occupiers? Don’t we even have the right to pose a question about this? And who is the instigator then?
The way the how Russian and Armenian media commented on Lavrov’s statement clearly demonstrates that some circles interpret the Russian FM’s remarks in their own way. Sergey Markedonov says that external players – Russia, the West, Turkey and Iran – have a serious influence on the conflict. There is now disagreement among them on certain points. The USA and Russia share the same position on the peaceful settlement of the problem. Iran has a different point of view, but also prefers a peaceful resolution. Turkey mainly backs Azerbaijan’s position. (see: Сергей Маркедонов. Нагорно-карабахский конфликт: на перекрестке внешнеполитических интересов / РСМД, 17 January, 2016). Against a background of these comparisons, Markedonov believes that all ways of solving the conflict are acceptable except for the military one (see: previous source). He calls Turkey’s position pro-Azerbaijani, and says Russia, US, France and other Western countries took an objective stance and don’t want bloodshed. Markedonov describes these countries’ support for the aggressor as humane behaviour.
Ceasefire and territorial integrity: hiding hard facts
As Armenians are concerned, they make unfair and cynical statements. They allege that Lavrov urged the Azerbaijani authorities not to undermine the peace talks and not to regard the conflict its internal affair. Some of them say Lavrov’s statement was a wake-up call for Baku and that the Russian FM urged Azerbaijan to abandon diplomatic egoism and its fascist stance. (see: Заявление Лаврова о карабахском конфликте – констатация действительности: Теван Погосян / “armenpress.am”, 18 January, 2017; Пресс-секретарь президента НКР считает заявление главы МИД РФ о Нагорном Карабахе холодным душем для Баку / “armenpress.am”, 17 January, 2017).
Western experts are playing tricks by speaking of ceasefire, peace and peaceful coexistence. They ignore the fact of the occupation of Azerbaijan`s lands, try to present the current situation as a reference point and accuse Baku of refusing to accept this. They also accuse Ankara of supporting its “aggressive brother”. What is clear is that a major historical mistake of all the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries is that they have been covertly justifying the occupation. The resolutions and documents adopted by international organizations since the very first day of Armenia`s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent districts have urged unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the Azerbaijani territories. But has any co-chair country ever demanded this from Armenia? None of them has done this and will never do! This is a reality, a fact of life! And speaking of truce against a background of these realities is nothing but an attempt to defend Armenia and win geo-political dividends at the cost of the occupied lands.
It is a well-known fact that official Baku always wanted the conflict to be solved peacefully and remains committed to this position. In this context, Azerbaijan welcomes and attaches great importance to the peace initiatives put forward by Russia. Azerbaijan has reaffirmed this at the highest level on several occasions. Azerbaijan has always fully abided by its commitments, especially truce. But the conflict must be resolved on one condition – that the Armenian armed forces unconditionally withdraw from Azerbaijan’s occupied lands and the country’s UN-recognized territorial integrity is ensured. Azerbaijan would welcome a peaceful settlement of the problem. But unfortunately Armenians have kept the dispute in a state of uncertainty for more than 20 years, with the Minsk Group being unable to prevent this.
How long will this go on? In official Baku’s view the limit has already been achieved. It is high time concrete work was done. Azerbaijan will reserve the right to use the right to self-defense enshrined in the UN Charter to push out the occupier from its lands, if there is no support for a peaceful resolution, including from the Minsk Group co-chairs. Is there anything unclear about this?