President Serzh Sarkisian travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh on Wednesday just two days after meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev in Russia for talks positively assessed by both conflicting parties.
Sarkisian visited Armenian frontline positions together with Bako Sahakian, the Karabakh president, and General Levon Mnatsakanian, the commander of Karabakh’s Defense Army. He met with the army’s top brass later in the day.
The Armenian presidential press office said the meeting focused on “a broad range of issues related to army-building.” It gave no details.
The newly appointed secretary of Sarkisian’s National Security Council, Armen Gevorgian, was in Stepanakert on Tuesday, meeting with Sahakian. Sahakian’s office said they discussed Armenia’s and Karabakh’s “cooperation on issues pertaining to security.” No details were reported.
Sarkisian and Aliyev held trilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg just over a month after their previous encounter in Vienna that focused on the fallout from the April 2-5 heavy fighting around Karabakh.
In a joint statement with Putin, the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents said they reached an “understanding” on issues hampering a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. They did not elaborate, indicating instead that they will meet again in the months ahead.
The Saint Petersburg summit fueled media speculation that the two warring sides may have narrowed their differences on a framework peace accord jointly drafted by the United States, Russia and France. The so-called Basic Principles call for a gradual settlement that would start with Armenian withdrawal from districts around Karabakh proper and end in a referendum on the disputed territory’s status.
In remarks that could stoke that speculation, Aliyev’s chief foreign policy aide, Novruz Mammadov, claimed on Wednesday that the two leaders agreed “in principle” on a “phased” restoration of Azerbaijani control over seven districts that were fully or partly occupied by Karabakh Armenian forces during the 1991-1994 war. Karabakh’s status would be determined after the Armenian withdrawal, Mammadov told Azerbaijani television, according to the Trend news agency.
Official Yerevan was quick to deny those claims. “No agreement on the conflict’s resolution was reached at the Saint Petersburg summit,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said in written comments.
Nalbandian said the main focus of the negotiation process now is confidence-building measures that would prevent renewed ceasefire violations along “the line of contact” around Karabakh. Baku must honor its pledges to allow such measures, including international investigations of armed incidents, he said.
“This would help to create appropriate conditions for the resumption of negotiations on the conflict’s resolution,” added Nalbandian.