High-level diplomats from the United States, European Union and Russia held a secret meeting in Istanbul two days before Azerbaijan launched a large-scale attack on Artsakh that has resulted in the almost complete depopulation of Artsakh, politico.eu reported late Tuesday.
A senior diplomat with knowledge of the discussions told Politico the secret talks took place on September 17 in Istanbul as part of efforts to pressure Azerbaijan to end its nine-month blockade of Artsakh and allow humanitarian aid convoys from Armenia to deliver aid.
“According to the envoy, the meeting focused on ‘how to get the bloody trucks moving’ and ensure supplies of food and fuel” could reach the Artsakh residents, Politico reported.
Politico revealed that the U.S. was represented by Louis Bono, Washington’s senior adviser for Caucasus negotiations, while the EU dispatched Toivo Klaar, its representative for the region. Russia, meanwhile, sent Igor Khovaev, who serves as Putin’s special envoy on relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In a statement, an EU official told Politico that “we believe it is important to maintain channels of communications with relevant interlocutors to avoid misunderstandings.” The official also observed Klaar had sought to keep open lines of communication on numerous fronts over the “past years,” including in talks with Khovaev and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department declined to comment on the meeting, saying only that “we do not comment on private diplomatic discussions.”
However, a U.S. official familiar with the matter who was granted anonymity by Politico to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters explained the discussions came out of an understanding that the Kremlin still holds sway in the region.
“We need to be able to work with the Russians on this because they do have influence over the parties, especially as we’re at a precarious moment right now,” the U.S. official told Politico.
Since Azerbaijan’s attack on September 19, however, Russia has blamed Yerevan for the situation in Artsakh, while the U.S. and the EU have, on the one hand, hardened their criticism of Baku while pressing for a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan.