Pashinyan and Aliyev did not accept a joint statement after a public skirmish in the Kremlin
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on May 25, through the mediation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, discussed relations between the two countries in the Kremlin, but in the end they did not even adopt a joint statement at the end of the day. The day before, the parties were preparing at least two documents, Kommersant reported: on the unblocking of transport communications (it was prepared by the Deputy Prime Ministers of the three countries Shahin Mustafayev, Mher Grigoryan and Alexei Overchuk), and the fifth joint statement of the leaders of the three countries (for him answered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
At the trilateral meeting, Putin noted that much has already been achieved in this format, and despite the difficulties, the situation is developing towards a settlement. The issue of transport communications is connected with unresolved issues, which, according to Putin, are of a “purely technical nature”: “The issue is terminology. Of course, behind these terms there should be an accurate understanding of the realities and events that will follow the signing of the relevant documents.” In the eyes of all three, these are surmountable obstacles, Putin said. The parties agreed that the vice-premiers of the three governments would meet in a week and "remove pending issues." As Overchuk explained, these are "important details" - the procedure for crossing the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia (border and customs control).
Prior to this, Pashinyan and Aliyev confirmed that they were ready for mutual recognition of each other's territorial integrity, which means the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh by Armenia as part of Azerbaijan. This point, according to the common opinion of the leaders of the states, can become the basis for further normalization of relations. At the same time, Pashinyan said that the issue of the rights and security of the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh should be resolved “within the framework of an international mechanism” and hoped for a quick start of a dialogue between Baku and Stepanakert.
Dispute over the Zangezur corridor
The subtleties of the issue of transport communications led to skirmish between Pashinyan and Aliyev during the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (SEEC), where the latter was present as a guest. The reason was Aliyev’s mention during his speech of the project of the so-called Zangezur corridor, which should connect the main territory of Azerbaijan with its exclave of the Nakhichevan Republic through the territory of the Syunik region of Armenia (the road existed in Soviet times, now it is 70% ready on Azerbaijani territory).
According to the ninth point of the joint statement dated November 10, 2020, by agreement of the parties, “the construction of new transport communications connecting the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic with the western regions of Azerbaijan” should be ensured, while their status is not specified there (but it is noted above in the document that control transport communications should be managed by the Border Guard Service of the FSB of Russia). According to Pashinyan, the very phrase "Zangezur corridor" is used by Azerbaijan "as an attempt to put forward territorial claims against Armenia." Aliyev rejected this claim.
After that, Pashinyan emphasized that in the 2020 statement, the word “corridor” is used only in relation to Lachinsky, which connects Armenia and the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert (Khankendi in Azerbaijani), and which should be under the control of Russian peacekeepers. In reality, according to the Armenian prime minister, it is blocked by Azerbaijan. The situation there began to escalate from December 12, 2022, when Azerbaijani eco-activists began to hold actions there, speaking out “against the illegal exploitation of natural resources.”
From April 23, 2023, a checkpoint of the State Border Service of Azerbaijan appeared at the entrance to the Lachin corridor from Armenia on the bridge over the Akera River. On April 24, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned Azerbaijan's unilateral steps to install a checkpoint in the Lachin corridor zone.
What Putin spoke face to face with Pashinyan and Aliyev
Journalists had access to all the talks only words of welcome. First, Putin held a meeting with Aliyev, thanking him for coming to Moscow. The President of Russia noted the progressively developing relations between the countries and recalled the celebration of the centenary of Heydar Aliyev this year. His son, in turn, thanked Putin for inviting him to the SEEC meeting, noted the allied relations and thanked Russia for its efforts to resolve the situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
“I think that after the recent statements of the Armenian leadership on the recognition of Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, as well as the recognition of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, indicating specific figures for the area of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the issue of agreeing on other points of the peace treaty will go much easier, because this was the main factor by which we could not come to an agreement,” Aliyev said.
At a meeting with Pashinyan, Putin thanked him for the second time for agreeing to Aliyev's presence at the EAEU event. According to the Russian leader, the unblocking of transport links will benefit not only Armenia and Azerbaijan, but the entire region. Pashinyan spoke about the tense situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, where, contrary to the trilateral agreement, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin corridor in the presence of Russian peacekeepers. He added that because of this, a humanitarian crisis broke out in Karabakh, which is aggravated by the blocking of gas supplies, and food supplies are complicated.
At the same time, Armenia is interested in unblocking transport routes and communications in the region, but on a parity basis: Yerevan expects that the Azerbaijani railway will be opened for Armenian trains through Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan to Russia and Iran. Putin noted that Russia did not change its position on the Lachin corridor and other points of the 2020 tripartite statement.
Negotiators in East and West
The talks in Moscow took place against the background of Pashinyan's harsh rhetoric against the CSTO and representatives of Russia, as well as the internal Armenian reaction to his readiness to recognize the entire Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani. On May 22, the Armenian prime minister said that Yerevan could agree to this if Baku respects the rights of the Armenian population. The next day, a representative of the opposition Dashnaktsutyun party, Ishkhan Saghatelyan, criticized Pashinyan and the President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arayik Harutyunyan.
At the same time, representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to negotiate through the mediation of Western countries - on May 1, Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenia Ararat Mirzoyan met in the Washington suburb of Arlington through the mediation of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and on May 14 Pashinyan and Aliyev communicated through Head of the European Council Charles Michel in Brussels.
The issue of a peace treaty and recognition of territorial integrity is the most important for Azerbaijan, for which it is important to obtain legal confirmation that the entire territory of Nagorno-Karabakh is its own, says Stanislav Pritchin, senior researcher at the Center for Post-Soviet Studies at IMEMO RAS.
The issues on transport corridors are secondary, and sooner or later they will be resolved, the expert is sure, but it is very likely that not in the way it was supposed in the joint statement of 2020, the analyst admits. In particular, this is supported by the appearance of the Azerbaijani checkpoint in the Lachin corridor and Armenia's disagreement with the corridor through its southern part without its control. At the same time, transport issues in this matter can be considered the most politically neutral, says Pritchin.
At the same time, in the negotiations between Baku and Yerevan, the western track is really gaining momentum, which is beneficial to both sides, the expert believes. Armenia, in its geopolitical pivot, wants to get the support of the West from Russia, which is more loyal to it than to Azerbaijan, while it is important for Baku to distance itself from Moscow because of the sanctions and the desire to gain a foothold as a reliable supplier of energy resources to the European Union, Pritchin concludes.
At the political level, a peace treaty can theoretically be concluded through the mediation of the West, but in reality its implementation is still tied to Russia, since it will be difficult to carry out demarcation and delimitation without maps of the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces of 1975 kept by it, and the Russian peacekeeping contingent is located in region until at least 2025, he concludes.