The change of the US co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group was marked by outgoing Richard Hoagland's detailed statement about the principles for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as the US sees them. Hoagland stressed in his statement that all the occupied territories around Nagorno Karabakh (which should be given a temporary status) should be handed over to Azerbaijan, and the sovereignty of the republic over these territories should be restored. In addition, he stressed that the whole Lachin district, which will also be controlled by Baku, should not be included into the corridor between Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. The leading expert of the North-South Political Science Center, Alexander Karavaev, told Vestnik Kavkaza about the implications of this statement and its compliance with the Russian position on the solution of the Karabakh problem.
- How does this statement characterize the US position on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement - has Washington started to push for actual steps to resolve the conflict?
- First of all, his statement is a kind of retelling of the Madrid principles, since nothing fundamentally new has been said: all the occupied Azerbaijani territories from the point of view of international law, in accordance with the Madrid principles, should be returned to Baku. In my opinion, the novelty of Hoagland's statement is linked to the emphasis on the need for a peacekeeping mission, because the existing documents do not say about the need for the introduction of peacekeepers, the mission is possible at the request of the parties, and if the parties fulfill the agreements reached, there will be no need for peacekeepers. But Hoagland emphasizes that the guarantees of the fulfillment of the settlement must be confirmed by peacekeepers.
- Will Baku and Yerevan agree with this demand of the peacekeeping mission?
- According to the compromise agreement, the line of contact of troops has been under the hood of informal agreements, so there were no peacekeepers. Russia has played the main link in these agreements, including in April 2016, when a cessation of hostilities was associated with calls to and from Moscow. Giving control over hostilities to Moscow was the only possible option from the beginning, which has became a fact of local geopolitical reality in 1994. If, relatively speaking, there were American or NATO military bases somewhere in the conflict zone and the balance of power of the Minsk Group participants was different, Washington and Brussels would take a more active part in controlling the situation, but they don't.
As for the hypothetical scenario of the introduction of a peacekeeping mission, its composition will coincide with the composition of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs. At the same time, one should understand that the deployment of peacekeepers from the three countries will start to blur Moscow's influence on the situation and make Washington a more active player. But now Washington is only trying to find certain lines to draw a picture of its future strengthening of influence on the region, because if you look in the long-term perspective, it will be difficult to see the possibility of productive interaction between Moscow and Washington over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
- Can we say that Hoagland's principles correspond to Russia's position, which stands for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan?
- The Madrid principles were declared long ago,more than 10 years ago. Over the years, one presidential administration changed another in the US, but in general, Russia has dealt in mediation on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with the administrations of Bill Clinton, George Bush Jr., Barack Obama, Donald Trump - and all of them had different political strategies. For years, the atmosphere of confidence between Moscow and Washington on the Karabakh issue was much warmer and allowed us to make positive predictions than now. Many times there were theses in media outlets of different countries that somehow participate in the settlement of the conflict, that Moscow and Washington will come to terms. But if they have not yet agreed on common mechanisms that would allow to unfreeze the settlement process, then there are no reasons to say that it will acquire some other dynamic now.
Moreover, since the confrontation between Russia and the US on issues related to Crimea and Ukraine is only increasing, the United States will try to drive a wedge between Russia's allies and partners in the post-Soviet space - including the EEU members, such as Armenia, and such countries as Azerbaijan, which is quite an important strategic partner for Russia. The US will not make any moves in favor of strengthening Russia's influence in the Caucasus, and the settlement of the conflict on the base of the Madrid principles would speak about the strengthening of Russian influence.
- Can the Minsk Group be expected to continue promoting the Madrid principles as the basis for a settlement?
- Most likely, there will be no development of the negotiation process now. Statements would be made, some situational progress will take place, another round of negotiations between presidents will be organized, new proposals may be voiced, as it is required by the need to maintain mediation work in the framework of the Minsk Group. With regard to the present situation in Russian-US relations, I would not expect significant progress. If progress was only up to Moscow, for example, then we would discuss the settlement in the Baku-Moscow-Yerevan format. Opportunities and the overall alignment of forces within this triangle are not enough to unlock the stalemate on the process of settlement and territorial changes.
- What can make modern Washington pay more attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- The US will certainly pay close attention to the South Caucasus, but not as expected there: Washington will act only in its own interests. Its interest is to knock Russia's influence out of the South Caucasus. For this purpose, the US needs to bring Armenia into its orbit, and they will not take any steps that could tear Yerevan from Washington and, therefore, bring it closer to Russia.
Another thing is that Armenia's internal social and political life is not important to the United States, since the Nagorno-Karabakh clashes, which could affect the internal political stability in Armenia, are more likely to affect Moscow, not the United States. It is more relevant and important for Moscow, since Armenia is a member of the Eurasian space and Eurasian economic partnership, and not a member of NATO or other similar associations. As a result, the US is concerned not so much with influencing any of the parties to the conflict, but rather with the weakening of Russia in the region as a whole. If there are no opportunities for this now, then they will not play up to Russia in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, as a result of which Russia's influence on Azerbaijan and Armenia will increase.