Russia Says Karabagh Peace in Sight

By Emil Danielyan

YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Russia expects the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet again shortly after next week’s Azerbaijani presidential election and reach a framework peace agreement on Nagorno- Karabagh, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday.

He stressed the importance of a Nagorno- Karabagh settlement and the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations for Armenia’s security and economic development.

“There remain two or three unresolved issues which need to be agreed upon at the next meetings of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Lavrov told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta. “Our understanding is that such meetings will take place shortly after the forthcoming [October 15] presidential elections in Azerbaijan.”

“As one of three mediators, we have a sense that a denouement is quite real,” he said, adding that the two other mediating powers, the United States and France, also see a “very real chance” of a resolution of the Karabagh conflict.

The mediators have been trying to get the conflicting parties to accept the basic principles of Karabagh peace that were formally put forward by them in November 2007. Senior French, Russian and US diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group discussed the possibility of another Armenian-Azerbaijani summit during the most recent talks with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers held in New York late last month.

Lavrov said the future of the Lachin corridor, which provides for the shortest overland link between Armenia and Karabagh, is now the main stumbling block in the peace talks. He did not elaborate.

The Russian minister was interviewed by a Rossiiskaya Gazeta reporter late last week as he flew to Yerevan to meet with Armenia’s President Serge Sargisian and Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian. After the talks with Nalbandian he sounded cautiously optimistic about prospects for a breakthrough in the Karabagh peace process.

However, a top aide to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev struck a cautious note as he commented on Lavrov’s upbeat statements in Yerevan. “Major issues have not been agreed upon,” Novruz Mammadov told the Azerbaijani Trend news agency.

According to Lavrov, Armenia should be keenly interested in a Karabagh settlement in the wake of the crisis in neighboring Georgia which he said exposed “the vulnerability of its position” and highlighted the importance of having an open border with Turkey. “Armenia has huge difficulties communicating with the outside world,” he said. “It is in the fundamental interests of the Armenian people to unblock this situation as soon as possible.

“It really has few geographic and political options. As soon as the Nagorno-Karabagh settlement becomes a fact, Turkey will be ready to help Armenia forge normal links with the outside world, naturally through the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ankara and Yerevan.”

The remarks ran counter to a widely held belief in the West that Moscow is disinterested in the normalization of Armenia’s relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey for fear of losing geopolitical leverage against Yerevan.