Who Can Prevent a New War in the South Caucasus?

Russia Wants to Remain the Main Mediator in the Region

November 9, 2022, marks two years since the signing of the trilateral ceasefire statement which put an end to the 2020 Artsakh War. The trilateral statement, signed by Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Russian President Vladimir Putin, also resulted in the deployment of a Russian peacekeeping mission in Artsakh with an initial five-year term. Two years on, Armenia is now also facing serious threats.

On October 31, 2022, Pashinyan and Aliyev met in Sochi under Russian President Putin’s mediation –– the first time Russia initiated a talk around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the state level since the invasion of Ukraine. It is clear that the recent mediation of Brussels and Washington made Armenia’s “strategic partner” insecure. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented on the West’s mediation effort several times, saying that “the true goals of Washington and Brussels are by no means the development of compromise and balanced solutions, but self-promotion and squeezing Russia out of the Transcaucasus.” Thus, with the Sochi meeting, Putin aimed to demonstrate that he remains the chief mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Nonetheless, the outcome of the meeting seemed to demonstrate Russia’s weakened leverage over Armenia and Azerbaijan. After talks lasting several hours in both bilateral and trilateral formats, a joint statement was adopted. The third point noted “the key contribution of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in ensuring security in the area of its deployment” and “emphasized the importance of its efforts aimed at stabilizing the situation in the region.” The fact that “Nagorno-Karabakh” was not even cited as the area of Russian peacekeeping operations shows the weakening of Russian influence in the region, since they couldn’t clearly mention where their peacekeepers are deployed. In comparison, the previous trilateral statement of November 26, 2021, explicitly mentions the “Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone”, as did other prior statements.

During a press conference after the Sochi meeting, Putin tried to provide explanations why many issues were not tackled in the joint statement. He said, “as for the issues that could not be agreed upon, is it possible to talk about them? I can, but I shouldn’t. Because if they have not been settled yet, then, in my opinion, there is no need to focus the attention of the press and the public on them. And we just need to calmly seek compromise behind closed doors. These issues are very sensitive for both sides. And I shouldn’t open them without the approval of the partners.” Russia’s dissatisfaction with the outcome of the talks became obvious when Sergey Kopirkin, Russia’s Ambassador to Armenia said, “The issue of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status is one that should be left to future generations, when conditions acceptable to all will be formed for a fair solution.” The fact that the Russian ambassador signaled that a final resolution is not even conceivable right now illustrates that Russia is not intereste