Russia urged the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to “reduce military risks” and resume peace talks as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov headed to Yerevan on Thursday.
Lavrov will meet with President Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian on Friday more than two weeks after Moscow helped to stop the worst fighting around Karabakh since 1994. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sought to cement the shaky ceasefire when he visited Yerevan and Baku in the following days. Lavrov also met with Azerbaijani leaders in Baku in early April.
The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said both sides should now “show restraint” and strive for the “restoration of stability” in the conflict zone. “We strongly believe that the parties need to resume the negotiation process aimed at achieving a lasting and peaceful settlement,” the RIA Novosti news agency quoted her as saying. They should also step up efforts to “lower military risks,” she added.
Reports in the Russian press claimed this week that Lavrov will present the Armenian side with far-reaching peace proposals similar to the Basic Principles of Karabakh peace jointly drafted by the U.S., Russian and French co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.
Zakharova seemed to deny those reports. “Sergey Lavrov never arrives anywhere empty-handed,” he told a news briefing in Moscow. “But I think it’s wrong to say that it’s a plan, program, draft or document.”
“We are talking about certain proposals, discussions of various ideas relating to the settlement,” she added without elaborating.
Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian likewise denied the existence of a separate Russian peace plan on Karabakh. He insisted that the framework agreement put forward by the U.S., Russian and French mediators remains the basis for Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations.
“Lavrov is not coming here to get an answer,” Kocharian told reporters hours before the Russian minister’s arrival in Yerevan.
Lavrov’s visit comes amid intense Armenian media speculation that Moscow may be seeking to force the Armenian side to make additional concessions to Azerbaijan.
Kocharian ruled out the possibility of such concessions. He also made clear that peace talks with Baku cannot take place amid renewed truce violations in Karabakh. “A ceasefire must be guaranteed because it’s impossible to negotiate when they shoot,” he said.
“I exclude any unilateral [Armenian] concessions,” said Aghvan Vartanian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), President Sarkisian’s junior coalition partner. “I think that the Armenian authorities would never do such a thing regardless of where pressure on them comes from: Europe, the United States or Russia.”
Alexander Arzumanian, an opposition politician and former foreign minister, agreed. “I don’t think that any [Armenian] government would be ready for concessions putting Karabakh’s population at risk,” Arzumanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). That would be tantamount to a political “suicide,” he said.
The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said on Thursday that Baku remains committed to a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict that would restore “Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.”