Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts later this week to discuss the latest upsurge in deadly ceasefire violations in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed on Monday.
“At the end of this week, our president is due to hold separate meetings in Sochi with the president of Armenia and then with the president of Azerbaijan,” Lavrov told the Itar-Tass news agency. “When they all find themselves in the same place and at the same time they will probably not avoid a conversation on Nagorno-Karabakh. Just how that will be organized depends on us.”
“We will certainly be talking to our partners from Armenia and Azerbaijan about what can be done by us, by the [Russian, U.S. and French] co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to help boost confidence and lower confrontation risks,” he said.
It was thus not clear whether Presidents Serzh Sarkisian and Ilham Aliyev will talk face to face in Putin’s presence in Sochi.
The planned conduct of an Aliyev-Sarkisian meeting was announced by Armenian Prime Minister Hovik on Saturday. “The presidents will meet in Sochi on August 8-9 and we hope that agreements important to us will be reached at that meeting,” he told reporters.
The Minsk Group co-chairs did not announce the upcoming Sochi talks as of Monday evening. The three mediators as well as the OSCE chairperson-in-office, Swiss Foreign Minister, Didier Burkhalter, issued a joint statement on Saturday expressing “deep concern” over recent days’ fighting near Karabakh that left at least 14 Azerbaijani and 5 Armenian soldiers dead.
They urged Sarkisian and Aliyev to “take immediate action to defuse tensions” and “resume as soon as possible negotiations on peaceful settlement of the conflict.” “Retaliation and further violence will only make it more difficult to continue efforts to bring about a lasting peace,” added the statement.
Aliyev and Sarkisian most recently met in Vienna last November, reviving hopes for a breakthrough in the protracted Karabakh peace process. The U.S., Russian and French mediators hoped that they will hold follow-up talks early this year. However, the summit was scuttled by increased truce violations along the Karabakh “line of contact” and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. Each conflicting side has blamed the other for the violence.
According to Lavrov, the conflicting parties still disagree on “several issues” relating to the Basic Principles of a Karabakh settlement put forward by the three mediating powers. He expressed hope that they will manage to iron out their differences over the proposed framework peace deal.
“Doing that is not easy,” cautioned the chief Russian diplomat. “There have been numerous attempts to that effect. Every time it looked as though we have approached an important milestone, that an agreement is on the horizon, but something hampered it. I will therefore not make forecasts.”
Putin’s predecessor Dmitry Medvedev hosted about a dozen Armenian-Azerbaijani summits during his 2008-2012 presidency. One of those summits, held in the Russian city of Kazan in 2011, nearly yielded a breakthrough.
By contrast, Putin appears to have shown far less interest in the Karabakh peace process. The Sochi talks will mark his first personal involvement in that process since his return to the Kremlin in 2012.