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The issues facing a Constitutional settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within OSCE's Minsk Group's framework / Проблемы конституционного урегулирования Нагорно-Карабахского конфликта в рамках Минской группы ОБСЕ
Аннотация.В статье рассматривается один из самых сложных международных конфликтов XXI века, возникший в конце 1980-х годов и превращенный в военную конфронтацию между сторонами в начале 1990-х годов. Анализируется процесс создания Минской группы ОБСЕ и ее посреднической миссии между сторонами в конфликте. Рассматриваются так называемые «пошаговые» и «пакетные» планы разрешения конфликта. Отмечается, что стороны в конфликте не идут на компромисс, поскольку это будет расцениваться публикой как проигрыш. Методологическую основу исследования составили общенаучные и частнонаучные методы познания, в том числе анализ и синтез, обобщение, сравнение, исторический метод. Нагорно-карабахский конфликт в регионе Южного Кавказа ждет своего решения, существует вероятность возобновления военных действий, что может привести к катастрофическим последствиям. В заключении указывается, что перспективы разрешения конфликта зависят не только от позиций его сторон, поскольку на соотношение сил в регионе влияют геополитические, экономические и военно-стратегические интересы России, Турции, Ирана, США и ЕС.
Ключевые слова: Азербайджан, Армения, Нагорно-Карабахский конфликт, ОБСЕ, Минская группа ОБСЕ, Южный Кавказ, Геополитика, Международная безопасность, Принцип территориальной целостности, Резолюции ООН
Дата направления в редакцию:20-03-2018
Abstract.The article examines one of the most complex international conflicts of the 21st century, which sparked in the late 1980s and turned into a military confrontation between the conflicting parties in the early 1990s. The process of establishing the OSCE Minsk Group and its mediation mission between the parties to the conflict is analyzed in this work. The so-called "step-by-step" and "package proposal" plans for conflict resolution are considered. It is noted that the parties to the conflict avoid compromise, as this will be regarded by the public as a loss.The methodological basis of the research was made by general academic and specific academic methods of cognition, including analysis and synthesis, generalization, comparison, historical method.The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the South Caucasus region is waiting for its solution, and there is a possibility of reignition of military conflict, which can lead to catastrophic consequences. In conclusion, it is pointed out that the prospects for resolving the conflict do not depend only on the positions of its parties, as the geopolitical, economic and military and strategic interests of Russia, Turkey, Iran, the United States and the EU influence the balance of forces in the region.
Keywords:Geopolitics, South Caucasus, OSCE Minsk Group, OSCE, Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Armenia, Azerbaijan, International Security, Principle of Territorial Integrity, UN Resolutions
The prelude to the conflict
Origins of this conflict come from the beginning of the XX century. After the establishment of the USSR, Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region (NKAO) was created within the Azerbaijani SSR (July 7, 1923) with the majority of the Armenian population. During the long period of time Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh were discussing the idea of joining Karabakh to Armenia. Territories of Karabakh and Armenia was separated by a small territory of Azerbaijan (Lachin corridor)
Officially February 20, 1988 is considered as the date of beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It was on this day that at the extraordinary session of the Council of People's Deputies of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAO) held in Stepanakert (Khankendi), the administrative center of the NKAO of the Azerbaijani SSR, a decision was adopted on "Withdrawal of Nagorno-Karabakh from the territory of Azerbaijan and the transfer of the territory of this region to Armenia (6)." July 18, 1988, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR unequivocally expressed its support for the preservation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region within the Azerbaijan Soviet Union and adopted a resolution on the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijani SSR. In August 1991, the Azerbaijani SSR proclaimed its state independence and announced the withdrawal from the Union, after which the Regional Council of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region announced the establishment of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). The conflict escalated and in 1992 it turned into hostilities.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has become one of the most violent and protracted conflicts of the 20th - early 21st century in its consequences. Against the backdrop of unsuccessful attempts to find a settlement formula satisfying both sides with the help of the international community, its main military outcome is the occupation of part of the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan, tens of thousands of killed and wounded, more than a million refugees and displaced persons, several thousands of missing persons (7).
Establishment of the institute of mediation
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been involved in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since 1992. During the first additional March meeting of the CSCE Council in Helsinki, considerable attention was paid to the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. At the end of the meeting, it was decided to convene a "conference on Nagorno-Karabakh under the auspices of the CSCE as soon as possible, which will provide a permanent forum for negotiations with a view to a peaceful resolution of the crisis based on CSCE principles, obligations and provisions"(3).
In February 1992, the 7th meeting of the OSCE Senior Officials' Committee was held in Prague. Its participants urged the conflicting parties to establish immediately a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, respect the integrity of internal and external borders, which can only be changed peacefully and with common consent, and renounce all territorial claims.
In 1993, the UN Security Council adopted resolutions Nos. 822, 853, 874, 884, demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan, as well as calling for the immediate implementation of mutual and urgent actions envisaged by the agreed schedule of the OSCE.
11 participants were supposed to meet at the conference, which was being planned to be held in Minsk: Azerbaijan and Armenia, the CSCE Troika (at that time the Czech and Slovak Republic, Germany and Sweden), the host country (Belarus) and a limited number of interested states (Italy, Russia, USA and France). It was also considered that after consultations with the participants of the conference, its Chairman would invite "elected and other representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh" to it as interested parties. Thus, within the framework of the CSCE, the first permanent forum for negotiations with an aim to peaceful resolution of the crisis on the basis of CSCE principles, commitments and provisions was to appear.
The Additional meeting in Helsinki of the CSCE Council on March 24, 1992 recommended that a conference on Nagorno-Karabakh should be convened as soon as possible under the auspices of the OSCE, called for initiating a comprehensive negotiation process with an aim to a peaceful resolution of the crisis on the basis of OSCE principles, regulations and rules. It was planned to convene this conference in Minsk.
In 1993, the so-called "specified timetable" of conflict resolution was proposed, based on a step-by-step approach and envisaging a number of measures, including the withdrawal of troops from the occupied territories, the restoration of all transport routes and communications, the exchange of hostages and prisoners of war, the unhindered delivery of international humanitarian assistance to the region , the establishment on a permanent basis of a comprehensive ceasefire under the supervision of the CSCE, as well as the convening of the Minsk Conference. Also the question of the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force in the conflict region was put on the agenda.
Due to the position of the parties, the conference has never been convened, however, in December 1994 at the Budapest Summit of the OSCE it was decided to establish the institute of the Minsk Group co-chairmen. They were representatives of Russia, France and the USA. The corresponding mandate was issued to them on 24 March 1995 (DOC. 525/95). In addition to the co-chairs, the participants in the Minsk process are Belarus, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Turkey, the rotating "troika" of the OSCE, and, of course, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Thus, the OSCE Minsk Group is the main existing institution, which is looking for a political solution to the conflict.
Based on the adopted documents, the goals pursued by the Minsk Group can be formulated as follows. First of all, it is necessary to ensure, with the support of the Minsk Group, the process of negotiations. It is the negotiating process that is an indispensable attribute of conflict resolution. The negotiation process implies the conclusion between the conflicting parties of an agreement on the cessation of hostilities, which will allow the Minsk conference to be convened. Since the Minsk Conference has not =-been held already, working meetings continue to take place within the framework of the Minsk Group. Attempts have been made to work out a political solution on the basis of Security Council resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 (1993) (10).
An important step towards the resolution of the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh was the initiative of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on May 5, 1994 and the mediation of Russia, which led to the conclusion of the Ceasefire Agreement. This agreement was signed by representatives of three sides of the conflict: the ministers of defense of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan and the commander of the army of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In September 1994, participating States, encouraged by the cessation of hostilities, began to study the possibility of establishment of peacekeeping forces under Chapter 3 of the 1992 Helsinki Document, which defined the common tasks of CSCE peacekeeping operations. Unfortunately, there was no consensus on the participation of a "third party" in the peacekeeping process. With a view to intensify the peacekeeping process in the region, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office in August 1995 decided to appoint a "Personal Representative of the Chairman-in-Office for the conflict that is the subject of consideration at the planned OSCE Minsk Conference".
Plans of step-by-step settlement
At the OSCE Lisbon Summit of 1996, the Chairman-in-Office expressed the three principles recommended by the Minsk Group co-chairs, which were to become part of the settlement of the conflict:
• Territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan;
• The legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh, based on self-determination and providing Nagorno-Karabakh with the highest degree of self-government within Azerbaijan;
• Guaranteed security for Nagorno-Karabakh and its population, including mutual obligations to ensure that all parties comply with the provisions of the settlement (13).
The proposed recommendations were supported by all participating states, except Armenia. The delegation of Armenia, expressing its disagreement with these principles of the settlement, expressed its conviction that "the solution of the problem can be found on the basis of international law and the principles fixed in the Helsinki Final Act and, above all, on the basis of the principle of self-determination of peoples" (2).
In this regard, it would be appropriate to note that the provisions of the Helsinki Act emphasize both the right of peoples to self-determination and the call to refrain from any acts incompatible with the UN Charter against the territorial integrity of states. Unfortunately, the position taken by Armenia at the OSCE Lisbon summit was another obstacle on the way to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The decisions of the OSCE Council adopted in Bucharest, Porto, Maastricht and Ljubljana confirmed the need to resolve the conflict on the basis of norms and principles of international law. However, consensus on the basis of official negotiations has not yet been reached.
The OSCE High-Level Planning Group (HLPG) is also working on the development and promotion of the peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. During the meetings with the leadership of Nagorno-Karabakh, its representatives are adjusting the program for the OSCE mission in Nagorno-Karabakh, developing a schedule and travel routes through the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas. The leadership of the republic has repeatedly stated about the readiness of the Karabakh party to render the necessary assistance in the implementation of its mission.
At the meeting of the OSCE Council on June 22, 2006 in Vienna, the co-chairs of the Minsk Group issued a statement on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This document (the so-called "Memorandum of Solidarity on Nagorno-Karabakh"), reflected the following basic principles that were defined as "fair, balanced, working and able to help the parties prepare a long-term comprehensive peace agreement".
The Memorandum stipulated:
• Phased withdrawal of the Armenian military contingent from the surrounding Azerbaijani territories;
• Establishment of a special approach to the Kalbajar and Lachin regions and the demilitarization of these areas;
• Holding a referendum or a general vote to determine the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh; it also provided for the continuation of negotiations to determine the timing and format of the referendum;
• The achievement of certain interim arrangements that will ensure the contacts of Nagorno-Karabakh with those who provide international assistance (France, USA, Russia);
• Deployment of international peacekeeping forces in the conflict zone;
• Creation of a joint commission on implementation of the agreement;
• Providing international financial assistance for demining, rehabilitation works and for the return of internally displaced persons to territories that were occupied in the past and suffered from the war in Nagorno-Karabakh;
• Refraining from the use of force or demonstrating such threats, and ensuring international and bilateral security assurances.
Unfortunately, the sides did not reach an agreement on the Memorandum, and the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group expressed serious concern about the further development of the negotiation process. Since the spring of 2006, the OSCE Minsk Group has noted the slowdown of the negotiation process and the parallel strengthening of radical trends in each of the parties to the conflict. The actions of the Minsk Group were subjected to increasingly harsh criticism by the parties to the conflict. An attempt to revive the conflict resolution process was a presentation of a new document in Madrid on November 29, 2007 (4). It contained the following guarantees to Azerbaijan:
• Gradual return to Azerbaijan of the territories around Nagorno-Karabakh, which are now under Armenian control (seven districts);
• At the first stage, the Armenian troops leave the Kalbajar region, but leave a limited contingent there (the number is unknown). Meanwhile, in Kalbajar district, international management is established under the auspices of the OSCE, but after a certain period of time the region must pass under full control of Azerbaijan. The international community encourages the return of Armenian settlers from these territories to the internal regions of Armenia. The area is populated by Azerbaijanis;
• A railway from Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan is opening.
The document also offered the following guarantees to Armenia:
• Creation of a corridor in Lachin district (Lachin-Shusha), linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
• The territories liberated from the occupation by the Armenian side will be demilitarized, and international peacekeepers will be deployed there.
No peacekeeping contingents are present In the Karabakh conflict, only a few officers from the OSCE periodically visit the line of separation. As is known, Russia was the first to introduce peacekeepers to this region in 1994.
Now the issue of peacekeeping in the region comes to the fore again. During one of Sergei Ivanov's visits to Baku (January 25, 2006, as Minister of Defense), the possibility of participation of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the territory of Karabakh was mentioned, of course together with other members of the OSCE Minsk Group. However, the remaining details of peacekeeping were not discussed (16). It was intended to demilitarize the territories liberated from the occupation by the Armenian side and to deploy international peacekeeping forces there if an appropriate resolution of the UN Security Council was adopted on this issue. The UN Security Council will act as the guarantor of the peace agreement for all (1).
While details are unknown concerning the number of the planned peacekeeping contingent, which countries will participate and in what proportions will it be represented. The amount of funds provided by the international community has not been determined already. The qualitative and quantitative parameters of rehabilitation programs have not been developed (for Azerbaijan - the volume of costs for the return of refugees, construction of infrastructure and communications, for Armenia - the amount of funds for the resettlement of people moving from Azerbaijani territories to the regions of Armenia).
It seems that the prospect of the deployment of the OSCE military contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh has not taken shape already. The realities are such that for Baku and Yerevan every new step in the settlement is fraught with unexpected crises, to which neither side is absolutely ready. It is not a secret that the Karabakh problem is actively used by the opposition against the ruling regimes, political independence or unity of any participating state and, in particular, of any such action that would represent the use of force or the threat of force.
New mediation attempts
The Prague Process, which started in April 2004, initiated a "new format" of meetings between the leaders of the MFA of the conflicting parties. With the assistance of the OSCE Minsk Group, a number of meetings of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministries were held. At the end of April 2004, Warsaw hosted a meeting of the presidents of the two countries, which became the impetus for the negotiation process that stalled in 2002. Later, a number of meetings between the Foreign Ministry and the presidents of the two countries were held, but they did not bring tangible results (11).
However, we cannot talk about the beginning of a permanent and consistent negotiation process. At the moment there is an exchange of opinions. For purposeful negotiations, it is necessary to create an average document. On the way to a phased resolution of the conflict, certain difficulties may arise.
In all likelihood, the Armenian side will in every possible way strive to introduce certain changes in the provisions presupposing a step-by-step version of the settlement. It, apparently, will require including in the talks the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is unacceptable for Azerbaijan, which believes that the determination of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh can take place only after the stage-by-stage solution of the issue, which is, the liberation of all occupied territories (seven regions not included in Nagorno-Karabakh), the withdrawal of all military formations of Armenia, the return of all refugees to their homes (5).
At the moment the parties clearly do not trust each other. Although there is a way out: if the parties commit themselves to the UN, the Council of Europe, it gives grounds for the parties' commitments to be fulfilled.
Interest of other organizations
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was also engaged in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. PACE resolution 1416 says: "The Assembly expresses concern that military actions and the prevailing widespread ethnic hostility caused mass expulsion on the basis of ethnicity and the emergence of mono ethnic areas that make us remember the terrible concept of ethnic cleansing. The Assembly reaffirms that the independence and withdrawal of any regional territory from the state is possible only as a result of a legitimate and peaceful process based on the democratic support of the inhabitants of this territory, and not because of an armed conflict leading to expulsion based on ethnicity and leading to the annexation of that territory by another state. The Assembly reiterates that the occupation of a foreign territory by any member state constitutes a grave violation of the obligations of that State as a member of the Council of Europe and reaffirms the right of displaced persons from the conflict area to return safely and dignifiedly to their homes (12). "
Until today, the resumption of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia is hampered mainly by the position of the world community. For example, on June 28, 2008, at the initiative of the Azerbaijani and Armenian ambassadors in Moscow, a group of prominent representatives of the Armenian and Azerbaijani intelligentsia visited Nagorny Karabakh, Yerevan and Baku, which was a positive contribution to the development of the peace process. It was hoped that the dialogue between the representatives of the Armenian and Azerbaijani intelligentsia will be continued and will cover even wider public circles of the two countries (15).
A number of non-governmental organizations are proposing their plans for a phased solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In particular, such an authoritative organization as the International Crisis Group published a report, the main provisions of which include:
• deployment of international peacekeeping forces;
• the withdrawal of the armed forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh from all the occupied territories around the Nagorno-Karabakh, with the establishment of special conditions for the Kalbajar and Lachin regions;
• the return of temporarily displaced persons;
• determining in the long term the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh through universal voting, and establishing an interim status until a voting is taken on this issue;
• Unblock all transport and trade routes.
The same group appealed to the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan and the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh with the recommendations:
• Comply with the terms of the 1994 ceasefire, refrain from using force, stop the growth of military budgets and stop speaking with mutual accusations, militant and provocative statements;
• Promote informal diplomacy and debate on compromise solutions, including the adoption of the above principles, the holding of relevant debates in parliaments, and facilitate contacts between Azerbaijanis and Armenians;
• The de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh must stop supporting the settlement of the occupied territories by Armenians, including the cessation of privatization, the development of infrastructure and the creation of local government structures in these areas;
• Azerbaijan should allow the Azerbaijani Karabakh people to choose their community leader and take joint initiatives to increase transparency and reduce corruption so that oil revenues are used for the benefit of all citizens, especially internally displaced persons (IDPs) (8).
Probably, most of the recommendations of this group reflect the approach of the USA, the EU and a several other countries. This concerns, above all, the deployment of a peacekeeping contingent, which will make it possible to control strategically important and explosive areas on the border with Iran. The proposal on the referendum (with the participation of only Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijanis) is suggested by the Armenian side. However, the Azerbaijani constitution requires holding referendums throughout the country. According to observers, the prospect of changing the constitution may destabilize the internal political situation in Baku.
What is new in settlement of the conflict
In April 2008, in Bucharest, where the NATO summit was held, the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group made a statement at a meeting with the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. The co-chairs of the Minsk Group confirmed the support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the belief that a peaceful resolution of the conflict will require compromise agreements on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. On the other hand, both presidents and co-chairs of the Minsk Group agreed to continue the negotiations and determine the position with regard to the existing proposals, to take further steps to advance the peace process. The mediators stressed the usefulness of the meetings of the parties at the highest level in the immediate, as far as possible, time frames.
On March 14, 2008, at the session of the UN General Assembly at the initiative of Azerbaijan, the issue of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the withdrawal of Armenian military units from the occupied territories was considered. The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs - the USA, France and Russia - voted against the adoption of a resolution on this issue (18). The Russian, American, and French officials motivated their position by the fact that today a different kind of document is on the negotiating table, and it is necessary to resolve the questions posed there within the framework of the OSCE.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also stressed the primary role of the Minsk Group co-chairs' efforts aimed at assisting the parties in finding mutually acceptable solutions, which excludes the military solution. He was sympathetic to the desire of one side or another in the conflict to reach a settlement as soon as possible. At the same time, he noted that "if they have already agreed to work in a specific format, then it is necessary to act consistently. And understandable in some cases, impatience should not question one or another negotiating mechanism, especially a mechanism that in practice proves its effectiveness". The position of Russia stated by him confirms that "the consistency and commitment to the reached agreements, including to the agreements that give the result, and eventually allow the final settlement, are an extremely important element of the common task (20)."
During the meetings in 2008 of President Dmitry Medvedev with the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia's position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was once again confirmed. At a press conference following the talks with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev noted that the crisis centers in Transcaucasia should be extinguished exclusively by peaceful means, in established formats and in strict accordance with international law. He highly appreciated the mediation role of the OSCE Minsk Group in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement, and also reported that he spoke with the Armenian President on additional opportunities for intensifying the negotiation process on Nagorno-Karabakh, which is of interest on both sides. According to Dmitry Medvedev, close cooperation between Russia and Armenia is "a guarantee of stability and a worthy future for our common region."
The "Declaration on Friendship and Strategic Partnership between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation" signed in July 2008 noted that Russia and Azerbaijan express particular concern over the unsettled conflicts in the region. They reaffirmed their adherence to the principles of territorial integrity and inviolability of the borders of states, the retreat from use of force or the threat of force. The parties expressed their readiness to take measures to strengthen ... stability in the border regions and continue cooperation on the suppression of activities on their territory of organizations, groups and individuals directed against state sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other, and also stated their intention to strengthen and expand the military and military-technical cooperation. They confirmed their intention to facilitate the early voluntary and safe return of refugees and displaced persons. The sides once again stressed the importance that they attach to the adoption by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs of further efforts to promote an early peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The impact of the "four-day war" on the peace process
"The four-day war" is exactly what the military actions that took place in the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan between the armed forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan are called. In the international legal documents of the OSCE these events were called "escalation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict". The events related to this escalation occurred from 2 to 4 April 2016 and brought some dynamics to the process of peace negotiations, which at that time lasted more than 22 years.
The question of a peaceful resolution of the conflict by "all at once" or gradually played a central role in the settlement process prior to the escalation in April 2016. The existence of the so-called "status quo" in the region is the main problem on the way to a holistic ("package") solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.) It is the status quo change, which first of all means the demilitarization of the region, the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories, and is the first step towards a phased resolution of the conflict. As practice shows, the key issue in this process is the restoration of confidence, which is possible only when concrete measures are taken by the parties. The resolution of the conflict by military means can only take place after the withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces.
It is important to note the fact that the escalation raised doubts about the "frozen" nature of the conflict. The parties were convinced that in fact there are no practical mechanisms that would allow leveling out possible outbreaks of the conflict. In the context of the negotiation process and the entire peaceful settlement of the conflict, the resolution of this issue should be a top priority. The escalation of the conflict in April clearly showed that it is impossible to resolve issues on which there are disagreements between the parties, by a "package" approach. This is due to the fact that after a time and with any increase in tension at the points of contact of the armed forces of the opposing sides, the level of trust is significantly reduced. Restoring this trust, or, at least, bringing it to the state that preceded the escalation, takes a lot of time.
In May 2016, almost a month after these events, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group at the level of foreign ministers took a direct part in the meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia. This fact underscores the importance attached to the negotiation process by those who are authorized to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the conflict. With the participation of the representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, an oral agreement was reached between the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia on the expansion of the Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office to investigate the incidents on the contact line. Such an approach indicates that, by reaching oral agreement through the mediation of the representatives of the co-chairing states, the parties demonstrate that these agreements represent an act of good will.
Nevertheless, agreements (both verbal and noted in the statement by the parties) in Vienna, and later in St. Petersburg, have not been implemented. Thus, the positive trend in the process of peaceful settlement, which followed the escalation of the conflict, was interrupted fairly quickly. The reason for this is a strong opposition to the peace process in Armenia, as evidenced by events related to the seizure of the police building in Yerevan by the organization Sasna Tsrer, the arrest of the former defense minister of NKR and other internal political events in Armenia. Among other things, many experts also list other possible obstacles in the further settlement process, related to whether the societies are prepared for concessions, as well as relating to the direct content of negotiations and the involvement of the international community in this process.
In these circumstances, it is necessary to emphasize once again the leading mediating role of the Russian Federation in the settlement of the conflict in the South Caucasus. At the same time, it is Russia out of all the external actors is involved most of all in the resolution of this confrontation and suffered most in the image plan following the April escalation. Such losses forced Russia to actively join the peace process at the highest level, as evidenced by visits of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Azerbaijan and Armenia. The interest and unconditional mediation role of Russia is due to several reasons, including the fact that Russia is neighboring with this region and is an important foreign economic partner for both opposing sides. In addition, it should be noted that the situation in the region affects Russia's relations with Turkey, as evidenced by the addition of heat to strained relations between the countries in April 2016, after the escalation of the conflict in the South Caucasus region. In addition, this region is of a great interest for Russia and in the context of relations with Iran, the borders of which are separated from Russia by Azerbaijan, which indicates the important transit role of this country in possible future projects of cooperation between Russia and Iran. Thus, it can be concluded that the continuation of the uncertainty in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict bears many risks for Russia's interests in the region.
Still, the situation that has not found its solution in Nagorno-Karabakh causes great concern. The problems of almost two million refugees, the difficulties in the social and economic life of both countries are used as arguments by politicians as propaganda weapons that justify any actions by the authorities. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, where explosions do not rumble, the conflict has become a sluggish character (9). In reality, according to available estimates, since 1988, the parties lost in this war from 20 to 25 thousand people.
It is no secret that both Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives use existing problems to raise radical nationalistic sentiments. The spread of these sentiments is reflected in the data of public opinion polls, which testify that a large part of the population of Azerbaijan does not exclude the possibility of resolving the Karabakh conflict by force (17). A number of official statements by the Armenian side also create additional difficulties in achieving compromise solutions (19).
Of course, the prospects for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict depend not only on the positions of the parties to the conflict. Geopolitical calculations of the powers, first of all, Russia, the USA, Turkey and Iran, as well as the EU members, and economic interests related to the exploitation of the vast Azerbaijani oil fields of the Caspian Sea by an international consortium impose their indisputable imprint on the balance of forces in the region (14). Thus, an exceptionally complex picture of the intertwining of interests of a political, economic and military-strategic nature arises.
Hopes for a successful settlement of the Karabakh conflict are the events of recent years, when Armenia became one of the initiators of the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations (so-called football diplomacy), which is no less important without any preconditions. Thus, there is a hope that the idea will be taken to create a single space of security and peace in the Greater Caucasus.
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