Putin to Discuss Karabakh in Upcoming Talks
YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The presidents of Armenia and Russia will meet in Moscow next week for talks that are expected to focus on ongoing international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The talks slated for August 10 will come two days after President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Baku. He will hold a trilateral meeting there with his Azerbaijani and Iranian counterparts, Ilham Aliyev and Hassan Rouhani.
The Kremlin announced on Wednesday that Putin and Aliyev are also due to hold separate talks in the Azerbaijani capital.
A separate Kremlin statement said Putin and Armenia’s Serzh Sarkisian will discuss Russian-Armenian political and economic ties and “integration processes” within the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.
“It is expected that there will also be an exchange of views on a number of topical international and regional problems,” it said, clearly referring, among other things, to the Karabakh conflict.
Sarkisian’s press office released a virtually identical statement on the Armenian leader’s upcoming trip to Moscow.
Russia took the lead in renewed international efforts to de-escalate the conflict and lay the groundwork for its peaceful resolution following the worst fighting around Karabakh since 1994 that broke out in early April. Aliyev and Sarkisian agreed to bolster the ceasefire regime in the conflict zone when they met in Vienna on May 16 in the presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Putin hosted a follow-up Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Saint Petersburg on June 20. A joint statement issued by the three presidents there said Aliyev and Sarkisian reached common ground on unspecified “issues” hampering a peace accord on Karabakh.
Visiting Baku on July 12, Lavrov declared that Armenia and Azerbaijan are now closer to resolving the Karabakh dispute than ever before. Earlier in July, Putin telephoned U.S. President Barack Obama to brief him on the Saint Petersburg talks.
The United States, Russia as well as France have long been co-chairing the OSCE’s Minsk Group on Karabakh. French President Francois Hollande has reportedly offered to host the next Aliyev-Sarkisian meeting expected in the coming weeks or months.
James Warlick, the Minsk Group’s U.S. co-chair, on Wednesday spoke of a “positive dynamic” in the Karabakh negotiation process. The RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying that the mediators hope that “additional progress” will be made at the next Armenian-Azerbaijani summit.
Warlick gave no possible dates or venues for the summit.
The peace process was put at risk during a two-week standoff between Armenian security forces and gunmen occupying a Yerevan police station. The gunmen, who surrendered to the authorities on Sunday, are affiliated with Founding Parliament, a fringe nationalist group campaigning against any significant Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan.
Founding Parliament has specifically accused Sarkisian of being ready to ensure Armenian withdrawal from virtually all districts around Karabakh. Under a framework accord drafted by the mediators, such a withdrawal would be followed by a future referendum in Karabakh on the disputed territory’s status.
Both the current and previous Armenian governments have said that this compromise peace formula is largely acceptable to Yerevan.
Accordingly, Sarkisian on Monday declined to explicitly rule out restoration of Azerbaijani control over the seven districts that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. He stressed only that “Karabakh will never be a part of Azerbaijan.”
Incidentally, Warlick noted that Washington was “relieved” by the peaceful end of the Yerevan standoff.