Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 168
https://jamestown.org-By: Vladimir Socor
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, Moscow, April 2019 (Source: Azerbaijan MFA)
The 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan (September 27–November 9) has resulted in an Azerbaijani national triumph, a Russian geopolitical and diplomatic victory over the West, and a conclusive discrediting of multilateral diplomacy as an instrument for conflict-resolution in and around the post-Soviet space (see EDM, November 12, 13, 17). The discrediting is conclusive simply because this instrument has run out of places in which to fail in former Soviet and nearby territories where Russia is involved. The West has tried multilateral diplomacy only to be defeated at its own game in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Syria, and now in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Karabakh.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group was instituted in 1992 and activated in 1994, with a mandate to promote a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict through negotiation and mediation (Osce.org, accessed November 23). (The Group was supposed to convene and act in Minsk but never did so, regardless of which it kept that official name ever since.)
Its structure includes the Minsk Conference (from 1992 onward), comprised of about a dozen OSCE states with a purely symbolic role; and (from 1997 onward) the triple co-chairmanship comprised of Russia, the United States and France (the latter acting in a national capacity to keep the European Union out—a point in Moscow’s favor). Turkey has all along been excluded from the co-chairmanship and relegated to the irrelevant Conference (another point in Moscow’s favor).
The triple co-chairmanship has been the Minsk Group’s sole initiating and operating agent all along. It has mediated between Armenia and Azerbaijan, acting by internal consensus among the three co-chairs. However, Russia has been the most active co-chair by far from 2010 to date. The Barack Obama administration decided, as a matter of its Russia policy, to defer to Moscow on this issue; and Moscow upgraded the level of its involvement, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Kremlin itself. Owing to US disengagement and French irrelevance to this region, Russia has practically monopolized the mediator’s role between Armenia and Azerbaijan, nominally through the Minsk Group but often bypassing it in practice, throughout this past decade.
Exceptionally, the period 2006–2009 became the most fruitful on the Minsk Group’s record, with the US co-chair’s committed and creative engagement. This period produced the Minsk Group’s legacy in the form of the “Basic Principles” for a settlement of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Karabakh. Presented to the parties by the triple co-chairmanship at the OSCE’s 2007 annual conference in Madrid (hence also the “Madrid principles”) in preliminary form and updated for public presentation at the G8 summit in L’Aquila in 2009, the Basic Principles comprise (Osce.org, July 10, 2009):
– Return of the territories surrounding “Nagorno” (Upper) Karabakh to Azerbaijani control [reference to the seven inner-Azerbaijani districts adjacent to Upper Karabakh];
– A corridor linking Armenia to Upper Karabakh (reference to the Lachin corridor);
– An interim status for Upper Karabakh, providing guarantees for security and self-governance;
– Future determination of the final legal status of Upper Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will;
– The right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their former places of residence;
– International security guarantees that would include a peacekeeping operation.
An accompanying joint statement by the US, Russian, and French presidents, representing the Minsk Group’s co-chairing countries, endorsed these updated Basic Principles, and called on the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “finalize their agreement on these Basic Principles, which will outline a comprehensive settlement” (Osce.org, July 10, 2009).
The Basic Principles did, at that stage, and could still constitute a viable and appropriate basis for a mediated political settlement of this conflict. Post-2010 developments, however, frustrated any further advances and, in due course, eroded the Basic Principles themselves. Those developments included: declining US interest, Russia’s takeover of the driver’s seat in the negotiations (see above), Moscow’s tilt in favor Armenia, Azerbaijan’s consequent loss of trust in the Minsk process, and Armenia’s “velvet revolution” which resulted in Yerevan’s outright repudiation of the Basic Principles from 2018 onward and paved the way to war (see accompanying article).
Even before the war’s outbreak (September 27), Russia had practically appropriated what had been the OSCE Minsk multilateral process. Following the outbreak of war, the U.S. and French co-chairs found themselves excluded from Moscow’s unilateral mediation between Baku and Yerevan. The U.S. and French co-chairs were reduced to telephoning Moscow for information. Yet Moscow has not killed the Minsk Group; it may still need it for a multilateral cover on Moscow’s own decisions down the road. Moscow has therefore kept the Minsk Group’s formal co-chairmanship barely alive during the 44-day war through meaningless “for the record” statements.
The armistice agreement, signed on November 9, 2020, by Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, consecrates Russia’s monopolization of the mediator’s role (see EDM, November 12, 13). Although the agreement does contain some of the Basic Principles, it makes no reference to them, nor to their collective author, the Minsk Group. It thereby conveys a message that multilateral diplomacy is over and Russia is now in charge. The armistice agreement departs from the Basic Principles in four respects:
– it omits any reference to Upper Karabakh’s legal or political status, current or future, although it does not prejudice that either;
– it places approximately one third of Upper (“Nagorno”) Karabakh’s territory de facto under Azerbaijan’s direct administration, apparently but not necessarily excluding this part of Upper Karabakh from the purview of self-governance and status that the Minsk process had envisaged for “Nagorno” Karabakh;
– it adds, as an entirely new provision, the opening of a corridor between western Azerbaijan and the latter’s exclave of Nakhchivan, across Armenian territory and under Russian border troops’ supervision; and
– it inserts Russian “peacekeeping” troops in Upper Karabakh, in a dual role: to supervise the ceasefire and to protect the Armenian population of rump Upper Karabakh. This move contravenes the understanding that all parties to the Minsk process had achieved from the outset (OSCE’s 1994 annual conference) and had maintained until now: namely, that any future peacekeeping mission would exclude troops from the three Minsk Group co-chairing countries (Russia, US, France) or from neighboring countries (such as Russia or Turkey).
These changes to the Basic Principles introduce significant elements of ambiguity; which, combined with Russia’s military presence on the ground, enable Russia henceforth to manipulate or block the negotiations toward a final settlement. Armenia has now fallen into full dependence on Russia; whereas Azerbaijan can rely on Turkey, the new entrant and game-changer in the region, to protect Azerbaijan’s interests to some extent though not fully yet.
The Minsk Group: Karabakh War’s Diplomatic Casualty (Part Two)
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 170
By: Vladimir Socor
The second Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan (September–November 2020) has conclusively discredited the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group, the instrument of multilateral diplomacy mandated 28 years ago to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict (see EDM, November 12, 13, 17, 25).
While the Minsk Group’s discredit accumulated over time since 2010 (see below), the second Karabakh war has now robbed the Group as such, and its triple co-chairmanship in particular, of its raison d’être. The Kremlin-brokered armistice agreement of November 9, 2020, and subsequent documents do not even pro forma mention the Minsk Group and its decade-old Basic Principles for resolving the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
Nominally accountable to the OSCE, the Minsk Group operates through its triple co-chairmanship of Russia, the United States and France, each co-chair being, in fact, accountable to its own government rather than the OSCE (the Group’s collective reports to the OSCE are a purely ceremonial exercise). Its multilateral legitimation through the OSCE notwithstanding, the Minsk Group’s triple co-chairmanship in fact attempted to introduce a concert-of-powers diplomacy to the South Caucasus.
The Kremlin, however, turned that concert into a Russian solo performance, practically monopolizing the role of mediator for the Russian co-chair from 2010 onward, after the Minsk Group’s three co-chairs had jointly tabled the Basic Principles for solving the Karabakh conflict (2009). From that point onward, Russian Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin took over the process, both through the Minsk Group and unilaterally by circumventing the Minsk Group. The United States allowed this to happen through its own passivity, and France through its own irrelevance to the South Caucasus. During the second Karabakh war, however, US and French diplomacy both switched to a largely pro-Armenia stance. If that was their quickly improvised way to recoup some of their lost influence over the diplomatic process, their attempt failed; and in that attempt, they forfeited the impartiality that qualifies any mediator for that role.
Russia was, all along, an inescapable participant in any multilateral mediation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, considering Russia’s proximity and interests vis-à-vis the South Caucasus. But Russia was (and remains) inherently unqualified for a mediator’s role, inasmuch as its interests in the region are hegemonic, and its mediation has only worked to advance those interests. Nor does Moscow meet the criterion of impartiality, since Russia and Armenia are strategic-military allies, whereas Azerbaijan had cast its lot with the West all along and, more recently, also with Turkey. Indeed, Moscow tilted generally toward Armenia after (and despite) the Minsk Group’s determination of the Basic Principles. Thus, the Kremlin’s 2011 proposals in the “Kazan Document” (see EDM, June 29, 2011), which shaped Russia’s position in subsequent years, so departed from the Basic Principles as to become unacceptable to Azerbaijan. The Kremlin, moreover, reinterpreted the Basic Principles to mean that five, not all seven, Armenian-occupied districts around Upper (“Nagorno”) Karabakh were to be returned to Azerbaijan, so that the two other districts would become negotiable.
The operating principle of Russia’s mediation consisted of keeping both sides off balance for more than two decades. Russia underwrote Armenia’s seemingly permanent occupation of Azerbaijani territories de facto; but at the same time, Moscow recognized Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty de jure. And in recent years, the Kremlin delivered weapons to both sides (discounted or gratis to Armenia, commercially for cash to Azerbaijan) (see EDM, April 12, 2016 and May 28, 2018). For its part, Yerevan came to regard Russia as the perpetual guarantor of Armenia’s territorial gains at the expense of Azerbaijan. The Kremlin never dispelled that Armenian perception until it was too late for Yerevan to recognize its overreach.
Never interested in a solution that would not advance its own hegemonic goals, Russia was instead content to maintain a controlled degree of instability between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Kremlin blocked any progress toward a political solution, pending an opportunity to further enhance Russia’s influence over the process and in the region. This opportunity came with Azerbaijan’s military victory over Russia’s ally Armenia, as consecrated in the November 9, 2020, armistice agreement. This agreement concludes one major phase in a protracted conflict that remains unresolved politically, despite Azerbaijan’s military triumph in this second Karabakh war. The Kremlin brokered this agreement on terms that have increased Russian influence on the further evolution of this conflict and in the region beyond Karabakh. Most significantly, the agreement authorizes neighboring Russia unilaterally to deploy troops to the region, in breach of the Minsk Group’s erstwhile consensus, OSCE understandings and United Nations norms on peacekeeping.
At the same time, Turkey has entered the South Caucasus as a political-military power (adding to its economic power) to Russia’s discomfiture. The Minsk Group had excluded Ankara from the co-chairmanship and, thus, from any meaningful role. As if to confirm the Minsk Group’s loss of relevance, Turkey has now entered the region hand in hand with Azerbaijan and even, to a degree, on Azerbaijan’s coattails. This will serve henceforth as an insurance policy for Azerbaijan vis-à-vis Russia’s stronger leverage.
Russia’s unilateral mediation of the armistice agreement has unceremoniously shut out the United States and France. The Minsk Group, with its collective co-chairmanship, looks all but defunct, as Washington and Paris undoubtedly realize. Yet Moscow deems it useful to keep the Minsk Group’s co-chairmanship barely afloat, for possible further manipulative use down the road. Russian officials, from President Vladimir Putin on down, maintain that the Minsk Group’s basic principles are the foundation of the armistice agreement. The Kremlin would welcome Minsk Group collective stamps of approval on those unilaterally driven Russian solutions. It, therefore, received the Minsk Group’s US and French co-chairs in Moscow post factum, to “provide them with full information about the agreement reached by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, in full compliance with the Minsk Group Principles,” as Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reported to Putin in a Russian inter-agency meeting (Kremlin.ru, November 20). Russia’s presence in this exercise of multilateral diplomacy, however, has doomed the whole exercise; and it will continue to have this effect, if the Minsk Group is allowed to limp further along.
The Minsk Group: Karabakh War’s Diplomatic Casualty (Part Three)
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 172
By: Vladimir Socor
Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the issue at stake, mediators are expected to be impartial between two parties to a conflict. Yet the Minsk Group’s co-chairing Western governments—those of the United States and France—clearly tilted toward the Armenian side in the just-concluded Armenia-Azerbaijan war over Karabakh (see Parts One and Two in EDM, November 25, December 1).
French President Emmanuel Macron sided with Armenia against Azerbaijan and Turkey even before the war’s outbreak. Already on August 30 Macron condemned Turkey’s “warlike rhetoric” for encouraging Azerbaijan’s “dangerous” territorial claims on Armenia (EurActiv, August 31). Following the war’s outbreak, Macron used the opportunity of a European Union summit in Brussels to attack Turkey again for its “reckless and dangerous” statements backing Azerbaijan. And he heated up his own rhetoric by claiming that Turkey had funneled hundreds of Syrian jihadi fighters to join Azerbaijan’s forces (see EDM, October 13). Macron telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to share his alleged concern (EurActiv, October 2). The French leader persisted with this poorly substantiated claim throughout the war and repeatedly communicated it to Putin.
Further undermining the Minsk Group’s triple co-chairmanship, Macron suggested by telephone to Putin that Russian and French mediation efforts should continue both within and outside the Minsk Group (TASS, Elysee.fr, November 7), thus implying that Paris and Moscow could act together to bypass the US side of the triple co-chairmanship.
Following the Kremlin-brokered armistice, the Elysée Palace weighed in again on one side, advocating that “any lasting agreement must take into consideration the interests of Armenians,” while Turkey should “end its provocations in the region” (www.Elysee.fr, November 10). Speaking in the French National Assembly, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Azerbaijan to “strictly respect its obligations” and warned Turkey to respect the armistice or else it would face European sanctions. At the same time, “France reconfirms its full friendship with the Armenian people in view of our close human, cultural and historical ties. We are on Armenia’s side in this dramatic context,” he boldly proclaimed (EurActiv, Arminfo, November 10, 11).
Relentlessly, the Elysée and Quai d’Orsay pursued the themes of protecting the interests of one side (the Armenian), ejecting phantomatic “Syrian mercenaries” from Azerbaijan and stopping Turkey from “fueling tensions,” as Macron and Le Drian framed those issues in public statements and telephone call readouts (Agence France Presse, November 19, 23).
Behind Macron’s theatrical posture lurks a multi-pronged domestic and international agenda: securing the significant French-Armenian vote in the upcoming presidential election; conveniently targeting “Islamist” Turkey to compensate for the French establishment’s failure to deal with Arab-Islamist terrorism in France; and undermining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by forming a French-led bloc in the Eastern Mediterranean against Turkey (Tablet, November 30). All those issues are far removed from the Karabakh conflict itself; yet Azerbaijan’s legitimate interests as well as the Minsk Group co-chairmanship’s credibility have become collateral targets of Macron’s outsized agenda.
Washington also aligned itself indirectly or directly with the Armenian side, abandoning the mediator’s equidistance. From the outset of the Barack Obama administration to the end of the Donald Trump administration, Washington allowed the Kremlin to replace the Minsk Group’s co-chairs as mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Disengaged, inattentive, and consumed with multiple external and internal issues (merely topped by the 2020 presidential election campaign), Washington was caught unawares by the Karabakh war’s outbreak and poorly prepared to react. The question as to another possible intelligence malfunction (akin, mutatis mutandis, to Georgia 2008 or Crimea 2014) seems to go unaddressed. Trump administration senior officials, on short-term tenures of office and no previous involvement with the South Caucasus, seemed to improvise their reactions. And their reactions seemed mainly inspired (akin to Macron’s) by vote-counting as well as by Washington’s unsettled relations with Turkey, rather than the merits of the issue at stake. Joseph Biden’s presidential campaign expressed itself in the same vein as the incumbent officials (see below).
The main themes running through the Secretary of State’s and National Security Advisor’s public statements during the 44-day war and afterward included: calling for an immediate ceasefire; asking Turkey (by name or by inference as “outside actor”) to stop supporting Azerbaijan; resolving the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict on the basis of the Helsinki Final Act; and resuming negotiations mediated by the Minsk Group’s co-chairs at the ambassadorial level.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told a press conference on October 14, “We ask that there be a ceasefire, as a beginning of a solution to the conflict. We have watched Turkey begin to reinforce Azerbaijan. We have asked every international player to stay out of the region” (The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, October 14).
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien publicized his remarks to Azerbaijan’s visiting minister of foreign affairs, Jeyhun Bayramov: “I pressed [sic] for an immediate ceasefire, then a return to Minsk Group-facilitated negotiations with Armenia, and rejection of outside actors further destabilizing the situation. There is no military solution” (Twitter, October 23).
Meeting separately with Bayramov and with Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanian in Washington, on October 23, Pompeo “emphasized the need to end the violence and protect civilians,” resume negotiations under the Minsk co-chairs, and resolve the conflict “based on the Helsinki Final Act” (State.gov, October 23).
In Paris on November 16, Pompeo concurred with Macron that “Turkey’s recent actions have been very aggressive (Agence France Presse, November 16). And on the next day, in Istanbul (avoiding meetings with the government in Ankara), Pompeo welcomed the cessation of hostilities, urging the parties to resume Minsk co-chairs–mediated negotiations toward a “political solution based on the Helsinki Final Act” (State.gov, November 17). Finally, in his last appearance to a NATO ministerial meeting, on December 1, Pompeo condemned Turkey’s actions across the board, including its support for Azerbaijan in the Karabakh war (Hurriyet Daily News, December 3).
Along similar lines, as presidential candidate, Biden called for “stopping the advance of Azerbaijani troops into Karabakh,” denounced Turkey for supplying weapons and (allegedly) mercenaries to the conflict area, and warned that the United States under his presidency could impose sanctions on Azerbaijan under section 907 of the US Freedom Support Act (Arminfo, October 29).
Almost all of those public statements showed a mediating power tilting toward one of the sides. Thus, an unconditional ceasefire could only have stopped the Azerbaijani forces’ momentum. Washington’s calls ignored Azerbaijan’s repeated offers of a ceasefire conditional on Armenian forces’ withdrawal from the seven inner-Azerbaijani districts adjacent to Upper (“Nagorno”) Karabakh—in which case, Azerbaijan would commit not to pursue Armenian forces into Upper Karabakh. The hostilities were, after all, strictly confined to Azerbaijan’s own, internationally recognized territory.
The Minsk Group: Karabakh War’s Diplomatic Casualty (Part Four)
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 173
By: Vladimir Socor
Over the past two decades, the main international mechanism for resolving the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group—has shown itself incapable of achieving its underlying objective. During the most recent bout of fierce fighting in the region (September 27–November 9, 2020), the format’s two Western co-chairs, the United States and France, effectively sided with Armenia (see Parts One, Two and Three in EDM, November 25, December 1, 3). And while criticizing, instead of welcoming, their North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally Turkey’s newfound role in the South Caucasus amidst that war to balance Russia, the US and French statements voiced no objection to (third Minsk Group co-chair) Russia’s instigation and manipulation of the various protracted conflicts in this region, including that over Karabakh.
Calling for a solution based on the Helsinki Final Act is a formulation that implies withdrawing from the Minsk Group co-chairs’ previously agreed Basic Principles to resolve the Karabakh conflict. The co-chairs had proceeded from the Helsinki Final Act’s general norms to, in 2009, develop the specific Basic Principles tailored to the Karabakh conflict. Yerevan, however, has overtly repudiated the Basic Principles since Nikol Pashinian became prime minister (see EDM, November 25), to no censure from Moscow, Washington or Paris. Recommending simply a return to the Helsinki Final Act clearly implies stepping back from the Basic Principles, thus accommodating Yerevan.
Resuming Minsk Group–mediated negotiations (with or without the Basic Principles) looks like a pious hope at this stage. While wishing this to happen, US officials stopped short of promising in their statements a more active US engagement in the Minsk Group after a decade of passive involvement at the ambassadorial level, far outranked by Russia’s presidential- and ministerial-level involvement.
Nevertheless, the war’s surprising outbreak this autumn prompted Washington and Paris to attempt reactivating the institution of the Minsk Group’s co-chairs, in the hopes of recouping at least some degree of their lost influence. However, the US and French co-chairs were reduced to telephoning Moscow for information on ongoing faits accomplis in the war, assembling from time to time as a trio with the Russian co-chair (including an October 25 meeting in Washington), and issuing “for the record” public statements by tripartite consensus.
The themes running through these statements included an immediate ceasefire without preconditions (i.e., Azerbaijan’s preconditions); “no alternative to a peaceful, negotiated solution” (i.e., not seriously challenging Armenia’s earlier conquest of Azerbaijani territory); resuming negotiations toward a solution to the conflict (a worthy but belated attempt by Washington and Paris to work themselves back into a process that Moscow had already taken away from them); a number of humanitarian considerations; and, tentatively, to consider the possibility of working out some ceasefire-monitoring proposals by the three co-chairs (Osce.org/minsk-group, Osce.org/chairmanship, September 27, 29, October 2, 13, 25, 30).
Notably, the co-chairs’ multiple statements (with one possible exception) avoided any reference to the Minsk Group’s own Basic Principles (authored by the co-chairs themselves) for solving the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. The reasons behind this omission seem obvious: Yerevan had repudiated the Basic Principles as unacceptable (see above); and the Kremlin was itself, during this war, developing the armistice agreement that was to depart from the Basic Principles (see Parts One and Two in EDM, November 25, December 1).
A joint presidential statement by Presidents Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron along with a joint ministerial statement by foreign ministry heads Sergei Lavrov, Michael Pompeo and Jean-Yves Le Drian were issued early in the war, on October 1 and 5, respectively, pro forma and without follow up (Osce.org/minsk-group, October 1, 5).
The fact that top-level US and French officials deemed it necessary to intervene signified, at least, their desire to raise the intensity of Washington’s and Paris’s involvement from the merely ambassadorial level. The Minsk Group’s co-chairs had been operating through their ambassadors since the format’s inception, in 1992, to date. From 2010 onward, however, Russia also became involved at the presidential and ministerial levels and on a permanent basis; while the US and French participation remained ambassadorial, bureaucratized, unpurposeful and ultimately dormant. This mismatch alone predetermined the Kremlin’s unilateral takeover of what had been an attempt at concert-of-powers mediation. That, in turn, carried a multilateral cover in the form of an OSCE mandate; but the OSCE cannot counter Russia’s monopolization of the process and, therefore, keeps silent about it (see below).
The Kremlin has firmly monopolized the mediator’s role between Armenia and Azerbaijan, brokered the November 10 armistice agreement, and unilaterally deployed “peacekeeping” troops to oversee the agreement’s implementation in the years ahead (see EDM, November 12, 13). Moscow will, nevertheless, keep the Minsk Group’s co-chairmanship alive, to the extent to which Washington and Paris are willing to provide a multilateral cover for Russia-driven decisions down the road. When the Minsk Group’s US and French co-chairs (Ambassadors Andrew Schofer and Stéphane Visconti, respectively) visited Moscow after the Karabakh armistice, to be briefed on the fait accompli, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov chided Washington and Paris for begrudging Russia’s own success and made clear that the co-chairmanship would continue operating on Russian-defined terms. These are acceptance (political endorsement) of the Russian-brokered armistice terms as well as support for post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Karabakh (TASS, November 19), points that Lavrov reiterated on his victory-lap visit to Yerevan and Baku (TASS, November 21).
Moscow has no wish to exclude Washington and Paris from the process. On the contrary, it welcomes their involvement, but only through the Minsk Group, not in their own right, and within the framework set by the Russian-brokered armistice. Accordingly, Moscow uses the courtesy talking point that the armistice draws on some of the Minsk co-chairs’ 2009 recommendations (dormant ever since—see Part Two in EDM, December 1). This compliment is partly fact-based but obscures Russia’s drastic departure from those recommendations with the deployment of its troops in Karabakh.
For their part, the United States and France regard the Minsk Group’s co-chairmanship as a means to work their way back into the process: for Washington to recoup some of its lost influence, and for Paris to seek a degree of influence where France heretofore had none. But this is a route to nowhere because the co-chairmanship is trilateral, Russian-US-French, and can only speak and act by internal consensus among its parties—a mirror image of the dysfunctional OSCE, which created the Minsk Group. Meanwhile, Russia is working bilaterally with Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively. Given Moscow’s faits accomplis on the ground, its political conditions (see above), and the co-chairmanship’s own structure, the only way for the US and France to operate in the Minsk Group is as travel companions to Russia-driven policies.