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Power imbalance: Why did Aliyev refuse to meet in Granada?

October 04 2023, 23:00

The balance of power is the first thing that should be analyzed before entering into negotiations, since the final compromise largely depends on it. Compromise is an exchange of concessions, which involves parties giving up some part of their interests.

An exchange can be either equal or unequal, and, accordingly, a compromise can be mutually beneficial or one-sidedly beneficial. When it is initially obvious that one of the parties before the start of negotiations is in a deliberately weaker position, then the weaker seeks to stimulate the creation of some kind of coalition opposing the stronger.

In relation to the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, an important factor in establishing a balance of power was the very existence of the Republic of Artsakh. Artsakh was part of the structure that strengthened Armenia’s position at the negotiating table. Even after the war of 2020, the issue of the status of Artsakh remained on the agenda, and no matter how cynical it may sound, negotiations could be held regarding its future fate, with Armenia being protected as well.

For the first time since the 2020 war, the balance of power fundamentally changed on October 6, 2022 in Prague, when Nikol Pashinyan recognized Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan without defining clear guarantees for the population of Artsakh. It was after Prague that Baku demanded control over Kashen Mine, and subsequently blocked the Lachin corridor, setting up its own checkpoint there and imposing a total blockade of Artsakh.

For the second time, the balance of power fundamentally changed after the fall of Artsakh, with the fifth President of Artsakh signing a decree on the dissolution of Artsakh. This, in turn, allowed Baku not only to get Artsakh, but also – by appointing its own person to the “position” of Artsakh’s negotiator – to voice the need to withdraw the peacekeeping forces from Artsakh, since “the reintegration of the Armenians of Artsakh will be completed.”

The fall of Artsakh also reduced the possibility of maneuver for official Yerevan in negotiations with Baku. Baku has already received everything that Yerevan could win at the negotiating table (the status of Artsakh, joint use of fields, etc.), and also destroyed the coalition – they agreed to the destruction of Artsakh, and also with their own hands brought relations with Russia to the level of hostility.

The balance of power has changed, which is why Ilham Aliyev refused to meet with Nikol Pashinyan on October 5 in Granada, Spain. Now Azerbaijan, finding itself in a better position, will insist on new concessions from Armenia (one of Baku’s demands was voiced by Ankara, which appealed to the IAEA to close the Metsamor nuclear power plant). Only if these demands are met will it agree to continue negotiations. Moreover, Baku, as in 2020 and in the fall of 2023, expects an even greater deterioration in relations between Yerevan and Moscow. Baku understands better than Armenia the importance of Armenian-Russian relations in ensuring the RA security.

There are a number of important details regarding French and Turkish participation in the negotiations. Official Baku stated that “the destructive conduct of France, as well as the disagreement of Paris and Berlin to hold a meeting in Turkiye” made the meeting impossible.

In fact, we learned that the meeting could not have been five-party (Armenia, Azerbaijan, EU, France and Germany), but six-party with the participation of Turkiye, although the Armenian public was not informed about this.

There is another detail regarding Turkiye’s potential participation in the negotiations: on August 9, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that Turkiye could play a “productive” role in the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. At the same time, Miller said that he “does not want to talk about Russia when it comes to official Yerevan and Baku.”

“I don’t want to speak with respect to Russia when it comes to Armenia and Azerbaijan. I want to speak with respect to those two countries who are directly related – who are direct parties in this dispute. We believe, despite any comments from other countries who are not a party to this matter, that an agreement remains within reach,” the US official said.

Let us leave aside the fact that the State Department represented by Miller does not simply deny Russia the right to be a mediator in the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, but proposes to replace Moscow with Ankara at the negotiating table. Note that the words of the State Department spokesperson should be considered as a continuation of the ideas expressed in May 2023 by the US Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations, Louis Bono, that “the parties could work to jointly ensure security in the region.”

Thus, on the one hand, the Armenian people may be pleased with the French assessments of the current situation, but they provide official Baku with justification for disrupting the negotiation process.

Unfortunately, the meaning of the term “mediator in the negotiation process” is not fully understood in our society. The mediator should not, and cannot, impose this or that decision on the parties. They should be impartial, otherwise they turn from a mediator into a “party to the conflict.”

The balance of power continues to change. Moreover, it is changing not in favor of Armenia, with all that this entails.