Baku-Moscow: Peacekeepers polemic


The Kremlin is considering where to place the military contingent in Karabakh

The relevance and sensitivity of the topic is obvious. The sensitive aspect of the issue is that this is not a diplomatic matter that revolves around the mere withdrawal of one country's peacekeeping forces from another country's territory. In fact, the issue is not limited to when the Russian peacekeeping contingent temporarily stationed in Karabakh will leave the region. The term of their stay in the region is clearly stated in the tripartite statement dated November 10, 2020 signed by the presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia and the prime minister of Armenia: November 2025.

There is one year and nine months until the end of that period. Behind this history lies the strategic plans of one of the great powers with interests in the South Caucasus and the intention to continue its presence in the region at any cost.

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The reason that made the topic relevant and brought it back to the agenda was the comments made by the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Azerbaijan, Mikhail Yevdokimov, in an interview with the "Izvestia" newspaper about the peacekeeping contingent temporarily stationed in Karabakh. The opinions of the Russian diplomat in this direction created heated discussions. M. Yevdokimov said in an interview that the date of the next round of negotiations between Moscow and Baku regarding the fate of the Russian peacekeeping contingent is being agreed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan. The ambassador's statement shows that according to the November 10, 2020 Statement, the peacekeepers will remain in the region until November 2025, and there are currently enough factors determining this.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan responded to the well-known statement of Ambassador M. Yevdokimov with a rather specific statement. The information released by the head of the press service department of the MFA, Aykhan Hajizade, says: "As is known, according to the Statement of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia and the President of the Russian Federation dated November 10, 2020, the stay of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Azerbaijan term ends in 2025".

"Interesting" diplomatic statements were made by Moscow regarding the peacekeeping contingent in Karabakh. One of them was, supposedly, that the peacekeepers were engaged in assisting Azerbaijan in demining the area. However, it became clear from the statement of A. Hajizadeh, the official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, that the Russian military contingent is not very interested in cleaning the land of Karabakh from mines. The statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "taking into account the problem of unexploded military ammunition in the territory, there is a need to hold consultations on the implementation of joint efforts to eliminate these threats" revealed that this version of the Kremlin is wrong. That is, there is no joint action with the peacekeepers in the direction of neutralizing the landmines buried by the Hays.

At first glance, the essence of the issue is clear to the parties, but in the context of the possibility of the peacekeepers staying in the region for a long time, different versions and opinions are heard from Moscow. This time, the released version attracts attention with its "concreteness". The new version only indicates that the diplomatic polemic around the topic has expanded to the point where it will play on nerves. It is impossible to describe the "option" put forward by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzi in his statement to the TASS agency. What he said about the Armenians who voluntarily left Karabakh is surprising. According to M. Galuzin, Russia is ready to create the necessary conditions for the safe return of Karabakh Armenians to the region. He further describes the "mechanism" of Armenians returning to the region: "Unfortunately, the vast majority of Karabakh Armenians have already left the region. Yes, it was a hard but voluntary choice for them. From this point of view, it is important to create the necessary conditions for those who want to return now, provided that their rights and safety are properly ensured. We are ready to provide comprehensive assistance in this process. This assistance can be provided through the Russian peacekeeping contingent. Their presence in the region is of great importance."

Every time the Kremlin officials said that "the Russian military contingent can stay in the Karabakh region after 2025", they were given the answer from Baku, "According to the November 10, 2020 Statement, the period of stay of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Azerbaijan ends in 2025." But it seems that Baku's reaction will be sharper this time. At least because, apart from the fact that this statement of the Russian deputy chief diplomat is not personal and subjective, his words should be considered as disrespect for Azerbaijan's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as interference in its internal affairs.

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After September 2023, Azerbaijan will not have a problem called Karabakh. No one forced the Armenians out of that region where they lived, they left with the "team" they bought from Yerevan. Even when they voluntarily left the territory, official Baku offered them an alternative option: apply for Azerbaijani citizenship, obey our laws and continue to live under our tricolor flag. As for ensuring the safety of Armenians who decided to return to the region under the conditions we mentioned, this is an internal matter of Azerbaijan. The fact that the Russian peacekeeping contingent acts as a guarantor of the rights and security of Armenians and attempts to carry out such a mission is beyond their mandate and is against international law.

Many local experts believe that there is no need for Russian troops to operate in Karabakh. It is not expected that they will receive a different appointment after that. This reality leads to the conclusion that extending the stay of the Russian peacekeeping contingent temporarily stationed in Karabakh in November 2020 cannot be a subject of discussion. It is another matter that the Kremlin can change the place of deployment of peacekeepers to another area, for example, Western Zangazur. In conclusion, there is an important point to consider here. The mentioned areas are the ancient lands of Azerbaijan.

Professor of Western Caspian University, political scientist

The issue of Russian peacekeepers staying in Karabakh will, of course, be resolved at the level of the heads of state. I have absolutely no doubts that this issue will be resolved in accordance with the interests of Azerbaijan. If there is a problem, it cannot be discussed at the level of the deputy minister. Mikhail Galuzin can say his opinion about this and declare something.

The reality is that Azerbaijan is capable of ensuring the safety of Armenians who want to return to Karabakh. We need neither peacekeepers nor outside help in this matter. It is unclear why the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia came up with this version. First of all, Armenians wishing to return to Karabakh must accept Azerbaijani citizenship. Azerbaijan is a state that ensures the rights and security of all its citizens. I repeat, we do not need the help of some peacekeeping military in this matter. True, it is difficult to say from whom those peacekeepers will protect the Armenians and what guarantee will they provide for their safety? On the other hand, this issue can be the subject of discussion until May 2025, as indicated in the November 10 Statement. But it is not a topic of discussion at the level of Galuzin, but at the level of heads of state. I am sure that Azerbaijan will not face any problems at this time. Because our position on this issue is concrete and quite clear.

Imran Badirkhanli