Aliyev, Sarkisian to Meet in Moscow

MOSCOW (Combined Sources)–Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will meet his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts in Moscow on November 2 for potentially decisive talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it was officially announced on Wednesday.

The Kremlin said the trilateral meeting will take place “in accordance with an agreement reached earlier.”

"On November 2, 2008, in Moscow… a meeting will take place between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian… on the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict," the Kremlin said.

President Serzh Sarkisian’s office confirmed the information. “Issues related to the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will be on the agenda of the meeting,” it said in a short statement.

The Kremlin said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would host the meeting.

Medvedev publicly offered to host more face-to-face talks between Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev during an official visit to Yerevan on October 21. The Karabakh conflict was reportedly high on the agenda of the trip. Medvedev also discussed it in a phone call with Aliyev the next day.

Medvedev announced his initiative following upbeat statemen’s on Karabakh peace prospects made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. In an October 7 interview with the “Rossiiskaya Gazeta” daily, Lavrov described as “very real” chances for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. “There remain two or three unresolved issues which need to be agreed upon at the next meetings of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he said.

The United States and France, which co-chair the OSCE’s Minsk Group along with Russia, have also expressed hope that Aliyev and Sarkisian will reach agreement before the end of the year on the basic principles of a Karabakh settlement proposed by the mediators. But they have yet to react to Russia’s seemingly unilateral initiative.

Senior American, French and Russian diplomats co-chairing the Minsk Group were due to jointly visit the conflict zone this week. However, the trip was postponed indefinitely.

Sarkisian said at the weekend that the Karabakh dispute can be resolved only if Azerbaijan recognizes the Karabakh Armenia’s’ “right to self-determination,” a principle worked out at negotiations in Madrid last year. But Aliyev insisted on Friday that Baku will never accept Karabakh’s independence from Azerbaijan.

Analysts say Moscow is keen to boost its influence in the South Caucasus after Russia’s brief war with US-allied Georgia in August raised tensions throughout the region.

The August war, which began when Georgia attacked its own breakaway enclave of South Ossetia, raised fears of similar violence in Nagorno Karabakh.

"Russia must repair its image in the Caucasus," said Alexei Malashenko, a political analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Centre. "The important thing for Russia is that it is seen to take the initiative."

But Malashenko said a quick resolution of the conflict would require concessions "at Armenia’s cost"–an unlikely scenario considering that Yerevan is Moscow’s "strategic partner" in the Caucasus.

Azerbaijani political analyst Vafa Guluzade predicted that the Moscow meeting would yield little result, as Baku had nothing to gain.

"Russia is looking to restore its influence in Azerbaijan," he said. "That’s why negotiations under a format of Azerbaijan-Russia-Armenia will bring nothing good."

But analysts said that if Moscow decided to push Armenia toward compromise, Russia could strengthen its position in the Caucasus.

Moscow is vying for influence with Washington in Azerbaijan, a key energy exporter that ships oil and gas through Western-backed pipelines through Georgia and Turkey, bypassing Russia.

"Russia is looking to strengthen its influence in the Caucasus… and if it manages to convince Armenia to compromise on Karabakh, Azerbaijan could in exchange export its oil and gas via Russian territory to Europe," Armenian political analyst Stepan Grigorian said.

Armenia and Azerbaijan remain in a tense stand-off over Karabakh, which has been independent from Baku for 17 years. Azerbaijan launched a war against Karabakh’s indigenous Armenian population in the early 1990s in a bid to quash Karabakh’s democratic movement. The conflict killed nearly 30,000 people and forced another million on both sides to flee their homes.

A ceasefire was signed between the two former Soviet republics in 1994 but the dispute remains unresolved after years of negotiations, and shootings between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the region are common.


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