On January 11, a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was held in Moscow. It did not bring any new results. More than that, it looked like a kind of a consultation on compliance of the parties with the agreements that were fixed in November 9 last year.
At that time, the termination of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia was arranged. In addition, an agreement was reached on the introduction of Russian peacekeeping force to the conflict zone, withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from Nagorno-Karabakh, transition of some areas previously seized by Armenian troops over to the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan that had been earlier, as well as creation of transport corridor between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, an exclave region of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Right before the trilateral meeting, Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron. They addressed the same issue. "The French President expressed support for Russia's efforts to facilitate a settlement process related to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue,” the Kremlin said in a statement posted on its website. “The importance of the urgent provision of humanitarian aid to people affected by the hostilities, including through specialized international organizations, was emphasized.”
Probably, this statement is addressed first of all to the Azerbaijani top officials who are dissatisfied with the active French intervention in the conflict.
For instance, Ilham Aliyev expressed general satisfaction with the agreements reached on November 9. Simultaneously, he sounded negative as regards the actions taken by France. To be more precise, the Azerbaijani leader was dissatisfied with the presence of Russian peacekeepers, too. However, he is somehow ready to deal with them as with something inevitable but not with the French “guests” in Karabakh.
According to the Azerbaijan State News Agency, at a meeting in Azerbaijan on the results of the year 2020, Ilham Aliyev said the following about the Russian military:
"The peacekeeping forces have their own duties in Nagorno-Karabakh. They were defined on November 10. Now, they are dealing with humanitarian issues there despite the fact that it was not presupposed in the statement signed on November 10. We are turning a blind eye to that. Why? Because we understand that people live there and that it is winter now and it is cold. Certain work should be conducted there so that this winter will not cause any problems for the Armenians living there. That is why we have allowed it. Today, most of the cargo is going there through the territory of Azerbaijan. We have allowed that. The cargoes are sent by rail to Barda, and from there they are delivered by cars to Nagorno-Karabakh."
As for France, in this case, the statement of the Azerbaijani President had a slightly different tone. "Representatives of parliaments of different countries used to go there (to Karabakh - ed. note.) And I’d like to see how they will do it now. A delegation from France and members of parliament visited it. Unfortunately, the peacekeeping forces allowed them to do it. Although we raised the issue with these forces that no foreign citizen should be allowed to go to Nagorno-Karabakh without our permission. As a result, the French ambassador was summoned to our Foreign Ministry and was handed a note. We are not going to keep silent," Aliyev said at the same meeting.
Apparently, the conversation between the Russian and French Presidents took place after this meeting. The statement "stressing help, including one through relevant international organizations" might mean "we continue to go to Karabakh without coordinating it with Baku." Moreover, it seems that Paris where political decisions are traditionally influenced by the powerful lobby of France’s ethnic Armenians is going to continue its policy in the region and Moscow might help it, partly with the aid of peacekeeping forces.
In general, despite the abrasive relations between Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan the meeting was peaceful and went without much ado. According to observers, unlike Putin, who greeted the guests with handshakes, the heads of the opposing countries only nodded to each other. Putin, as a successful mediator in trade matters, underlined his own importance by listing the merits of Russia as a peacemaker.
“More than 800 tonnes of building materials have already been delivered from Russia to the conflict zone. In general, more than 1.5 mln tonnes of humanitarian goods. The residents are provided with medical assistance. More than 479 ha of territory have been cleared of mines. A total of 182 km of roads and 710 buildings and installations have been inspected. More than 22,000 explosive objects were found and destroyed," said the Russian President. “We do a lot for ensuring the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons. Since November 14 more than 48,000 people have already come back to Karabakh. With the mediation of Russia, an exchange of prisoners and bodies of killed people has been done.”
However, Nikol Pashinyan was not so optimistic. He said straightforwardly that the issue of prisoners of war had not been resolved and that not all Armenian servicemen had returned from captivity. The Armenian leader was also skeptical about the future of Nagorno-Karabakh.
"The conflict in Karabakh isn’t settled yet,” Pashinyan said after the meeting. “And its status has yet to be determined. Armenia is ready for negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs."
Thus, Aliyev's positive assessments on the background of his well-known statements about France and Russian peacekeepers and Pashinyan's skeptical speech on the background of Armenia's membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization of several former Soviet states have become the result of the negotiations. It was obvious that today, the establishment of stable relations with Baku and through it with Ankara is a higher priority for Moscow than the regional "strategic alliance" with Yerevan.
One way or another, the final statement was signed. Some did it with full satisfaction and others, reluctantly. The meeting which lasted four hours "behind closed doors" ended with the parties agreeing to set up a work group to be chaired by the deputy prime ministers of the three countries. It will work out plans in the short term for further development of Nagorno-Karabakh. The first meeting of the group is expected to take place no later than January 30.
It was decided that this group “would present by March 1, 2021, the list and schedule of measures to complete restoration and construction of new objects of transport infrastructure, necessary for organizing international transportation via the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Armenia and ensuring its safety, as well as the transportation effectuated by Azerbaijan and Armenia whenever the crossing of the two countries’ territories requires top-level approval by the parties.”
This means that, in fact, Nagorno-Karabakh has already been declared a demilitarized zone. It is ready to integrate in the economic, trade and transport scheme of South Caucasus. However, the problem itself has not been solved. In fact, it was only put on the back burner once again.