Vladimir Putin managed to bring Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan together at the same table. According to the Russian president, the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan need to make at least “some step forward” before meeting at alternative venues, in particular in Brussels. The Kremlin considers this step to be the unblocking of transport corridors in Nagorno-Karabakh and the beginning of the process of demarcating the borders between the two republics. Aliyev and Pashinyan declared their readiness for “constructivism”.
Vladimir Putin planned to organize a trilateral meeting with Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan on November 9, the anniversary of the signing of an agreement to end the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. From the Kremlin's side, the matter looked so resolved that the holding of the summit was officially confirmed by the presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov.
However, the Armenian prime minister, who did not promise anything but shame and another portion of reproaches at home, refused to fly to Moscow, motivating its decision by the absence of a specific agenda. Indeed, Armenia still has enough problems in connection with the loss in Karabakh, but there is absolutely nothing to celebrate.
Talk about a trilateral meeting seems to have dwindled. But then two important things happened. First, in the course of the next conflict on the border of the Syunik region of Armenia, through which Azerbaijan expects to lay a corridor to the Nakhichevan enclave, people again died. Secondly, Aliyev and Pashinyan agreed to the proposal of EU President Charles Michel to hold talks on the sidelines of the Eastern Partnership summit “on December 15, in order to try to ease the ongoing tension between the countries.
Naturally, reaching an agreement on a meeting on an alternative platform could not please Moscow, which suspected the “European partners” of wanting to pull the blanket over itself, become the main mediator between the warring parties and oust the Russian Federation from the negotiation process.
The new date was agreed upon during a telephone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Nikol Pashinyan on November 21. The Armenian leader could no longer refuse the Russian president. This would be a violation of all the rules of political etiquette. In addition, the Russian president is certainly doing no less than Charles Michel to resolve the smoldering conflict, and, no less important, to maintain the stability of the Armenian economy. In general, the meeting was agreed on November 26 in a convenient place for all participants: the road to Sochi, where the GDP is located since the beginning of the week, took no more than 60 minutes for Pashinyan and Aliyev.
First, Vladimir Putin received the Azerbaijani president at Bocharov Ruchei, whom he had not seen since July (he has met the Armenian leader four times this year, the last one most recently on October 12). The public conversation, as Peskov had warned, concerned various aspects of bilateral relations – trade, investment, humanitarian ties.
Obviously, against the background of talks about the close proximity of Baku and Ankara, Vladimir Putin in his speech tried in every possible way to emphasize that relations with Moscow are also of a special nature. “34% of schoolchildren in Azerbaijan study in Russian in one way or another or study Russian. This is such a good indicator, which speaks of the desire of the leadership of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani people to maintain close and diversified contacts, ”VVP noted. He recalled that in 2022 Russia and Azerbaijan will celebrate 30 years of establishing diplomatic relations. “This is definitely a milestone that needs to be celebrated accordingly.” – suggested the president.
Aliyev did not object: strategic partnership, in his words, is “not just a phrase” – “this is actually the case” and there is a disposition to raise the level of relations in all directions.
At the same time, both Putin and Aliyev did not hide the fact that they had gathered not at all to exchange pleasantries, but to discuss problems – primarily around the Armenian-Azerbaijani settlement. “Unfortunately, there are problems, there are incidents. There are still casualties, ”stated Putin, noting that before the summit he had a detailed discussion on this topic with Deputy Prime Minister Overchuk, who oversees economic aspects, and with the Minister of Defense, and with the head of the FSB, and with the border service. There are a lot of questions, the president said. “But that's why we have gathered – to see what has been done and what everyone needs to do to calm the situation,” he said.
According to Aliyev, everything that happened between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the signing of the agreement is not “serious events.” There were only sporadic incidents “not a systemic crisis”. And most importantly, all the clashes have nothing to do with the Russian peacekeepers. “There were clashes on the border of Azerbaijan and Armenia, but this is not their area of responsibility,” Aliyev stressed.
Nikol Pashinyan, who by that time had already arrived in Sochi, did not wait long for the completion of the Russian-Azerbaijani tete-a-tete. Less than an hour later, all the leaders gathered at a round table, and Aliyev and Pashinyan were seated opposite Putin, with an impressive air disinfectant installed behind them.
At the beginning of the talks, the Russian president emphasized the positive: in the year that has passed since the signing of the agreement, a lot has been done, according to his estimates. The main thing is that they managed to stop large-scale hostilities and return the refugees. “And this is already good,” VVP considers. Ilham Aliyev added that “practically all the points of the agreements”, except for the unblocking of transport corridors, have already been fulfilled. And Azerbaijan “during the whole year showed maximum counter-constructivism” on all problematic issues. “We are ready to immediately begin the process of delimitation and demarcation of borders, as well as work on a peace treaty in order to recognize the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each other and to learn to live as neighbors anew,” the Azerbaijani leader said.
Unlike Aliyev, who spoke confidently and calmly, Nikol Pashinyan was noticeably nervous, and the strong accent did not allow the Armenian prime minister to clearly place semantic accents. However, he nevertheless conveyed the main idea: Azerbaijan wants to pass off wishful thinking. In addition to transport corridors, there are other points of the agreement that remain unfulfilled – in particular, the issue of the return of prisoners of war and hostages has not been resolved. According to Pashinyan, there are not “sporadic incidents” on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but a systemic crisis situation that has continued since May 12, when Azerbaijani troops again invaded the sovereign territory of Armenia. “Although the borders are not demarcated, the state border exists,” he stressed. The Prime Minister noted that Yerevan is no less interested in the registration of borders, as well as in the unblocking of all transport and economic communications. As for Nagorno-Karabakh, without determining the status of which the signing of a peace treaty is impossible, then, according to Pashinyan, the issue should be resolved within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. And in Sochi, it is necessary not only to outline the problems, but also to make progress in solving them.
Vladimir Putin made it clear that this will be so. “There is reason to believe that in the near future we will be able to make the decisions necessary for everyone to unblock transport corridors,” he said, adding that there is also an opportunity to start the procedure of demarcation and delimitation of borders. According to him, in a trilateral format, it is necessary to take “some step forward” in order to take further steps at some other sites, in particular, in Brussels. As a result of the summit, an agreement is expected to be reached on the creation of a working group that will deal with the borders.