Andrei Epifantsev: "Double standard policy results in deadlock in which Karabakh conflict cannot be resolved"
Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan are expected to hold a meeting in September to discuss the Karabakh issue. The previous meeting of the foreign ministers was held on July 11 in Brussels with the mediation of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, Stephane Visconti of France, and Andrew Schofer of the United States). Political scientist and expert on the Caucasus Andrei Yepifantsev told Vestnik Kavkaza whether we should expect changes in the parties' positions after the recent Russian-US summit and the NATO summit.
- Which South Caucasian country - Azerbaijan or Armenia - will benefit from the Brussels meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the highest level and the Helsinki summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump?
- None of the countries will get visible bonuses or political advantages. The NATO summit maintained a policy of double standards, and it results in deadlock in which the Karabakh conflict cannot be resolved. The participants of the Brussels summit supported the territorial integrity of the South Caucasian countries. It's good for Baku, as the integrity implies the presence of Karabakh within Azerbaijani borders. However, there was a phrase in the final communique of the summit that it is possible to resolve the conflict only by peaceful means. That is, practically, it is a preservation of the status quo.
Baku emphasizes that the NATO countries have recognized the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, while Yerevan emphasizes that the conflict can be solved only peacefully, as well as that there is a democracy in Azerbaijan, unlike in Armenia. But if you remove all propaganda dross, in reality, none of the sides has benefited from the NATO summit.
If we recall Putin's meeting with Trump, the Russian president spoke of a referendum in Donbas, but it has no direct relationship to any South Caucasian country. If a referendum is held on the issue of who should get Karabakh, then the problem comes down to who will vote exactly.
I would advise both Armenia and Azerbaijan to pay attention to how Putin and Trump behaved at the summit. The first one was more sure of himself, more active, and the second one was silent, even on issues requiring his active intervention. This suggests that, if a compromise found, the leaders of superpowers may blench in a certain sense or meet the needs of each other on regional conflicts.
If Washington's relations with Tehran become even more tense, Azerbaijan may represent a certain asset for NATO and the United States. At the same time, the aggravation of the US-Iranian conflict represents a serious threat for Armenia, because contacts with Tehran are extremely important for Yerevan. Armenia must seek to avoid being drawn into this conflict.
One way or another, both the NATO summit and the Russian-US summit didn't changed the situation, didn't give clear advantages to any side, but outlined the dangers that Azerbaijan and Armenia might face in the future, based on the current situation.
- Trump continues to support Azerbaijan, taking into account this country's oil reserves, the development of energy projects and the confrontation with Iran. Is the US interested in Armenia?
- Not at all, and we see it. The US is reducing the level of economic relations even with Europe. But now we see that Yerevan is on very thin ice, tacking between the EU, NATO, the US on the one hand, and Russia on the other. Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan started this game, but he is not great at it yet. If Armenia says that they have an anti-Russian outpost in Transcaucasia, then, probably, the attitude would be different, however, the losses for Yerevan would be great.
- At the summit in Brussels, the Armenian Defense Minister met with the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, while the Azerbaijani Minister of Defense - with the US Secretary of Defense. What does the different level of the meetings mean?
- I would not try to catch the nuances here and base some kind of long-term policy on this. The main thing is that the meetings were held. The outcome of meetings is judged by documents, and the documents say nothing, except for the usual statement that the situation will remain unchanged.
- What is the chance that the process of Nagorno-Karabakh peaceful settlement will be accelerated, if the relations between Russia and the US are improved?
- The problem is not just that the US relations with Russia are not very good. There are many other players. There is the OSCE Minsk Group, its members' interest are different. It seems to me that the question is not quite correctly formulated. If Russia's relations with the United States are improved, it will not fundamentally affect the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. The conditions must be radically changed in order to resolve it. Now the situation is balanced and not expected to be changed.