The recently appointed foreign minister of Armenia, Ararat Mirzoyan, was in Moscow yesterday (31 August) for meetings with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. The heads of Russian and Armenian diplomacy reportedly discussed the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, including issues related to Armenian citizens that remain in Azerbaijani custody and recent tensions on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, as well as general Russian-Armenian bilateral co-operation. On the second point, Lavrov said that the Armenians detained by Azerbaijan did not fall under the 10 November 2020 ceasefire agreement as they were captured afterwards, but that Russia was urging Azerbaijan to return them all, without conditions, to create trust.
In a joint press conference, Lavrov welcomed Mirzoyan, highlighting the over-a-dozen telephone conversations and three meetings between their countries’ leaders this year, as well as the ongoing work of the trilateral working group – made up of the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia – as demonstrations of Armenia-Russia relations “developing rhythmically”.
On Nagorno-Karabakh, the Russian foreign minister said that the men had examined in detail the process to implement the trilateral agreements made in November 2020 and January 2021, saying that they had agreed not to lessen the attention paid to the elimination of mutual irritants between Yerevan and Baku – including the Armenians remaining in Azerbaijani detention and the transfer of maps of minefields of the areas that returned to Azerbaijani control last year. Lavrov also stated that the men had reaffirmed the relevance of further activities of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
For his part, Mirzoyan said that the main emphasis of their discussions was on the year 2020: “The situation after the statement adopted by the leaders of Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan on November 9, 2020, as well as the discussion of issues related to the resumption of the peace process under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group.” The Armenian foreign minister highlighted Russia’s key role “in stopping the Azerbaijani aggression against the people of Nagorno Karabakh”, crediting the deployment of the Russian military contingent in the region with creating “preconditions for the restoration of normal life”. He expressed gratitude to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, for his joint efforts in this regard.
The Armenian top diplomat also thanked Russia for its efforts to implement the trilateral agreements, including the issue of Armenians detained by Azerbaijan, noting that it had already led to the release of some Armenians by Azerbaijan. However, he argued that Azerbaijan continued to violate the provisions of the statements, adding that by resorting to “obvious provocations”, Baku was “putting a serious blow to the already shaky situation in the region”. He then referred to the incursions by Azerbaijani troops into sovereign Armenian territory since 12 May was a clear violation of international law. Echoing the Armenian prime minister’s sentiments from last week (27 August), he stated that Armenia’s main strategy was to maintain peace and stability in its region.
Mirzoyan stated that Armenia’s opinion, that the issue of a political settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is still open, was in line with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. He also said that humanitarian access to the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Repuiblic (NKR) should not be politicised, and that there was an urgent need to protect a number of Armenian cultural and religious monuments that were now under the control of Azerbaijan.
Asked by a journalist about an alleged failure by Azerbaijan to fulfil the eighth provision of the November ceasefire agreement, to return prisoners of war on an all-for-all basis, Lavrov said that the statement only referred to those in captivity at the time, adding, “Now the Azerbaijanis are holding a significant part of the group of Armenian servicemen who were there at the end of November, after the Statement entered into force and an agreement was reached in it to end any hostile actions.” He, however, added that Putin was in contact with the Azerbaijani leadership, calling “on them to release everyone without any conditions”. “This would be a landmark measure of the very trust that is now lacking, and an important humanitarian step”, he added. He said that whilst it was not down to Russia, that it supported confidence-building measures at all levels, including the provision of maps of minefields by Armenia:
“We believe that such counter steps (not necessarily linking one with the other, but simply in good faith) can take a step towards a partner, a neighbor, with whom you will still have to live on the same land and breathe the same air. We will do our best to contribute to this.”
Responding to another question from the media about Baku's assertion that Armenia must recognise Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity (including Nagorno-Karabakh) as part of any peace agreement, Mirzoyan confirmed that no peace agreement was being negotiated, but if such negotiations start, they must be based on the principles already established by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
Whilst in Moscow, the Armenian foreign minister also met with the secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Stanislav Zas. The men discussed the various changes on regional and international levels that affected the organisation, as well as the urgent need for a "speedy resolution and deescalation of the situation [on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border]". They also more generally discussed Armenia’s forthcoming presidency of the CSTO, with Mirzoyan expressing Armenia’s intention to “develop and strengthen the potential of the organization”, and Zas assuring that the CSTO would make efforts to advance the priorities of the Armenian chairmanship.