YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, projecting Moscow’s diplomatic clout in the Caucasus, publicly offered on Tuesday to host the next meeting between his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, which international mediators hope will produce a breakthrough in their protracted efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“I hope that we are at an advanced stage,” Medvedev said during an official visit to Yerevan, commenting on the current state of the Karabakh peace process spearheaded by Russia, the United States and France.
“I hope that the three presidents will meet very soon to continue discussions on this theme,” he said. “I hope that the meeting will take place in Russia.”
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev last met on the issue in early June, but the war in Georgia in August appears to have lent fresh impetus to diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible.
The war in Georgia erupted when Moscow sent troops to prevent a bid by Georgian troops to militarily reassert control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, another "frozen conflict" arising from the break-up of the Soviet Union.
“The August events have shown that complex problems must be resolved starting from international principles, on the basis of international negotiations,” he said. “Nothing else can lead to a positive outcome. That’s one of the most important lessons of the crisis in the Caucasus.”
The American, French and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group have been pressing the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet in the coming weeks and iron out their remaining differences on a framework peace accord proposed by them last year in Madrid. “Our understanding is that such meetings will take place shortly after the forthcoming [October 15] presidential elections in Azerbaijan,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month.
But Armenia and Azerbaijan have never signed a peace treaty, and Azerbaijan has not ruled out using force to restore its illegal rule over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Armenia is ready to continue the negotiations on the basis of the Madrid Principles,” Sarkisian said, speaking at a joint news conference with Medvedev after their talks. Sarkisian reiterated that the proposed peace deal is on the whole acceptable to the Armenian side because it upholds the Karabakh Armenia’s’ right to self-determination. “The main thing is that we believe the conflict can be resolved by mutual compromise and by means of negotiations,” he said.
Medvedev, who arrived in Yerevan on Monday, said he and Sarkisian discussed the Karabakh conflict “in detail” but did not comment on chances of its near-term resolution, saying only that “both sides are ready to look for solutions.”
“We discussed the issue in detail with the President of Armenia. I will not comment on the details, since those are details for the talks,” Medvedev said.
Official Baku on Tuesday seemed to welcome the possibility of Russia hosting a future Armenian-Azeri summit on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with Azeri Presidential advisor Novruz Mammadov telling Trend.az that "trilateral talks took place earlier and it is possible to hold a new meeting.”
Azeri ally and NATO member Turkey had taken the diplomatic lead in the wake of the August conflict, proposing a new format for diplomacy it dubbed a "Platform for Cooperation and Stability in the Caucasus," and hosting trilateral talks with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 26.
Mammadov’s warm reception of Medvedev’s proposal comes after a series of announcemen’s from high level officials in the United States, Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey that have signaled a consolidated effort to rush to a resolution of the Karabakh conflict, as a pre-condition for ensuring and establishing stability in the region.
In remarks to a Russian newspaper earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed confidence that after Azerbaijan’s October 15 presidential election, the Karabakh conflict resolution would be on the horizon, since, without that Armenia and Turkey would not be able to establish normal diplomatic relations–a long-held policy by Turkey reiterated by President Abdullah Gul in his address to the United Nation’s General Assembly.
Russia has maintained close ties with Armenia and has a military base there, but it also recently stepped up its efforts to improve relations with energy-rich Azerbaijan.
Russia has been courting Azerbaijan by offering to buy its natural gas for shipmen’s to Europe. If Moscow succeeds, that would strengthen its monopoly on gas shipmen’s from the former Soviet region to Europe.
Meanwhile, U.S. rhetoric has also signled an increased effort by Washington to court Baku. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza said during a visit to Azerbaijan on October 9 that it was more important than ever now to resolve the dispute, pointing to the war in Georgia. Bryza promised that the United States would intensify efforts to help settle the conflict. Bryza, who serves as the State Department’s representative to the OSCE Minsk Group talks, called for a speedy resolution to the conflict based on Armenia’s agreement that Nagorno-Karabakh is legally part of Azerbaijan.
Medvedev’s initiative will be seen as a response, in a region where Russia and the West are vying for influence over vital energy transit routes from Central Asia to Western markets. Russia’s war with Georgia and its strong diplomatic overtures to Azerbaijan have deepened concern in the West over the reliability of the Caucasus energy corridor.
Diplomats say that, without Russia, little headway can be made on the ‘frozen conflicts’.
Alongside discussion on the broader security situation in the region in the aftermath the Russian-Georgian conflict, the two leaders also discussed Russian-Armenian economic relations. The latter issue was the main theme of a separate Medvedev-Sarkisian session that was attended by members of the Russian-Armenian inter-governmental commission on economic cooperation.
The commission met in Yerevan on Monday. Medvedev noted the fact that Russia remains Armenia’s number one trading partner.
According to Armenia’s National Statistical Service, the volume of Russian-Armenian trade rose by almost 20 percent year-on-year to $482.4 million in the first eight months of this year. The figure is equivalent to 14.65 percent of Armenia’s overall foreign trade turnover registered in this period.
“Our current economic relations are impressive but tend to lag behind our political relations,” Sarkisian said, calling for the launch of “large-scale joint projects.” He said he and Medvedev discussed potential Russian involvement in two such projects: the planned construction of a new Armenian nuclear plant and an Armenia-Iran railway.
Medvedev said Moscow “will do everything to strengthen and develop our strategic partnership” with Armenia as he and Sarkisian inaugurated a square in central Yerevan named after Russia earlier in the day. “I am convinced that coordinated actions in the international arena are a serious factor of security and strengthening of our positions both in the Caucasus region and the world,” he said.
“We want the Armenian people to live in a strong, flourishing and stable state,” the Russian President said. “"I am sure the Armenian people also wish us peace, power and well-being."
“Today this square is becoming yet another symbol of loyalty to the traditions of centuries-old brotherhood and spiritual kinship between our peoples,” Sarkisian said during the ceremony.
Medvedev also visited the Dzidzernagapert Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument and Museum Institute on Tuesday, where he laid a wreath and planted a tree in memory of the victims of the genocide. The Russian president was accompanied by, among others, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian.