Thu, 21 Jan 2021

The leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia are meeting in Moscow in the first such summit since last year's war in the Caucasus.

The three sides have plenty to discuss, as the November 10 ceasefire agreement that ended the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, signed under Russian brokerage, has already been tested by several complications: the precise border between the territory controlled by the two sides remains unclear, prisoners continue held by each side, and there are sporadic clashes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to meet individually with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, and the three were also to meet as a group.

Ahead of the January 11 meetings, the Kremlin's press service reported that they would "devote special attention to aiding residents in the region who have suffered from military activities, as well as the unblocking and development of trade-economic and transportation ties."

Aliyev and Pashinyan enter the meeting from very different domestic circumstances. Aliyev is riding high after the decisive military victory, which saw Azerbaijan regain control of a significant amount of the territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it had lost to Armenians during the first war between the two sides in the 1990s.

Pashinyan, meanwhile, is fighting for his political life, and ahead of the meeting his many opponents sought to take advantage. Many claimed (with no basis) that he would be meeting with Aliyev to arrange new territorial concessions, and he will no doubt be forced to consider his domestic weakness as he negotiates with his two counterparts.

On the morning that Pashinyan flew to Moscow, protesters attempted to block the road to the airport to prevent him from being able to leave, though they didn't succeed.

Vazgen Manukyan, whom a coalition of opposition parties have put forward as a candidate to replace Pashinyan, announced that the prime minister "does not represent Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh" and that "any decision that runs contrary to the interests of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh will be recognized as illegitimate and will be canceled" following Pashinyan's departure.

Pashinyan's spokesperson Mane Gevorgyan wrote on Facebook that there would be no territorial issues discussed, but that there could be agreements on economic issues or on exchanging prisoners of war or other captives. She said that a variety of trade issues would be discussed related to the "unblocking and development of trade-economic and transportation ties."

Gevorgyan wrote that that included plans to open a corridor through southern Armenia to connect Azerbaijan's mainland with its exclave of Nakhchivan, which was stipulated in the November 10 agreement, but also other potential issues like Armenia being able to transit through Nakhchivan to Iran and to use the existing railroad through Nakhchivan that, in Soviet times, used to connect Yerevan with southern Armenia.

Aliyev will have a much freer hand in the negotiations, and his focus is likely to be on limiting what Baku has seen as a sympathy toward Armenians on the part of the Russian peacekeeping contingent that is enforcing the ceasefire agreement. "Sanctions should be stipulated for a peacekeeping mission if it goes beyond its mandate," government-friendly political analyst Qabil Huseynli told the website JAMNews.

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