Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday (18 January) spoke extensively on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and developments following the 10 November trilateral agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia that ended the Karabakh War.
The future status of Nagorno-Karabakh and the role of the Minsk Group
Lavrov dismissed suggestions that Nagorno-Karabakh be annexed to Russia and said that the status issue needs to be resolved between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Lavrov was speaking at the annual marathon new year press conference where he reviewed the work of his ministry in 2020.
He said the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh should be resolved between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russia is ready to help in finding a solution that will contribute to ensuring peace and stability in the region. Lavrov indicated that there will be a role for the OSCE Minsk Group in resolving the status problem, clarifying some confusion that had existed since November about the possible demise of the Group and its three co-chair, Russia, France and the United States.
"As for the exotic proposal to include Nagorno-Karabakh in the Russian Federation. You know, as I understand it, the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognized by anyone, including the Republic of Armenia. We have no such thoughts. We proceed from the fact that all issues of this region should be resolved between the countries located here, primarily between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We will be ready to help the search and finding such a solution that will ensure peace, stability, security in this region, "the Russian Foreign Minister said.
He added that the status of Nagorno-Karabakh was deliberately not mentioned in the joint statement of the three leaders. "The territory on which the Russian peacekeepers are deployed is the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent. It is from this that we proceed in our contacts with Yerevan and Baku. Now such nuances are being worked out, I would say the details related to the organization of transport communication, supplying the zone of responsibility of peacekeepers , rendering humanitarian assistance to the people who returned there. Already 50 thousand Armenians have returned there from Armenia, "he explained.
The minister emphasized that "the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs will also deal with the issue of the status of the region." "They have now resumed their contacts with the parties, they are going to go to the region again," he added.
"Exactly because the problem of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is so contradictory, if we take the positions of Yerevan and Baku, and it was decided by the three leaders to bypass this issue and leave it for later, for the future," Lavrov said.
The minister also stated that there are no secret supplements to the trilateral statement of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
"[The agreement of] November 9, I believe, is being implemented quite effectively, this is an assessment of both President Aliyev and Prime Minister Pashinyan. With the exception of the prisoners of war question, which, I repeat, in its current form, arose in early December - a month after the agreements were signed. Everything else there, in my opinion, is being done quite effectively, the issue of the mandate of the peacekeepers is being resolved. It should, of course, be the subject of a trilateral agreement, this was discussed in Moscow at the meeting on January 11. There are no secret attachments, and I don’t see what topics can be in such attachments.
The diplomat added that the discussion of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh will become possible in the future, and this topic has yet to be returned, but at the moment it would be premature.
"I really hope that now emotions will be relegated to the background. By the way, this is exactly why now is not the best time to put forward the topic of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh as a priority, it remains for the future," he said.
"And we will have to return to the status. The main thing is that the status should subsequently be concrete, calm legal discussions between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the basis of the good-neighbourliness that we all need to restore in the region," Lavrov summed up.
Connection between Armenia and Karabakh
Lavrov stated that he sees no reason to obstruct contacts between Armenian officials and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The minister noted that in addition to the agreement on the Lachin corridor, which will have a new route, "a reliable, permanent connection will be laid between the western regions of the main territory of Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, and this is an agreement confirmed by the heads of state."
"If we agree, and everyone agrees with this, that there should be a connection between the Armenians of Karabakh and the Armenians of Armenia, then I see no reason why it is necessary to hinder contacts at this level," the Russian Foreign Minister said.
He recalled that "Armenian officials are involved in providing humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh, which does not cause any negative emotions in Baku, and it would be strange if it were otherwise." At the same time, according to Lavrov, "the fact that these Armenian officials make quite politicized statements in Karabakh probably causes tension."
"I believe it would be better to avoid this. We have already witnessed how emotional statements made from Karabakh or about Karabakh, how a word becomes a material force, in this case, words from different sides have become a very negative material force," - explained the minister. He added that Moscow is now paying special attention to "establishing contacts between the leaderships of Azerbaijan and Armenia, creating an atmosphere of trust."
Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed that the question of cutting off Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia never arose. He recalled that the agreements between Moscow, Baku and Yerevan contain the agreement of the parties to ensure communication between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh through the Lachin corridor, which will be under the control of Russian peacekeepers. "No one has ever denied Armenia's connection with Karabakh, throughout all the decades of negotiations there has never been a question of cutting off Armenia and Karabakh from each other. And that is why the Lachin corridor as a concept was not rejected by anyone, and it is still the subject of agreement between the parties, including the consent of our Azerbaijani neighbours" Lavrov said.
Presence of Russian peacekeepers and exchange of prisoners
Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh will ensure the interests of both Azerbaijan and Armenia, Lavrov said.
"I guarantee you one hundred percent that the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers is a form that will ensure the interests of both the Azerbaijani and Armenian sides," Lavrov said.
The minister also added that Russia is seeking an exchange of prisoners of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the principle of "everyone for everyone", the Russian military, together with colleagues from these countries, are checking the lists of those detained in the Hadrut region of Nagorno-Karabakh. doo.
"As for the prisoners of war. This was really discussed, this is part of the agreements that were signed on the night of November 9-10. And also, when the President of Azerbaijan [Ilham Aliyev] and the Prime Minister of Armenia [Nikol Pashinyan] arrived in Moscow on January 11 [2021 These people, abandoned in this [Hadrut] region after the announcement of a ceasefire and all hostilities, should be considered a separate issue, and not as falling under the November 9 (agreement). We, nevertheless, both President Putin and I are in contact with our colleagues, we are still promoting the need to consider this issue (exchange of prisoners of war) in order to close it, guided by the principle of "all for all," he said. According to Lavrov, "now our military [are] in contact with the military of Armenia, these lists of names are being verified with the Azerbaijani military in order to understand where these people may be."
As it turned out later in one of the conversations with Armenian Foreign Minister Ara Avazyan, there were much more prisoners of war than 62, as previously thought, Lavrov pointed out. "The topic exists, of course, and if it were not for our peacekeepers, it would probably be more difficult to solve. But the peacekeepers are doing this. The commander of the peacekeeping contingent, General [Rustam] Muradov [is] in contact with his Azerbaijani and Armenian colleagues," he said Lavrov.
The minister pointed out that while drawing up the lists for the exchange of prisoners of war, "the Armenians had the greatest problems." "Azerbaijan gave such lists, and they were insignificant. Those who were mentioned in the Azerbaijani lists were not immediately returned, but there were no more situations with the missing, with prisoners, with persons held by Azerbaijan.
From the Armenian side, [there were] exchanges of those who were participants in the events that ended on November 9. But now the main issue is one that arose in early December in the Hadrut region, when at the end of November a large group of Armenian servicemen <...> was directed there ", - he explained.