The Russian, Armenian and Azerbaijani governments set up in January a trilateral working group to try to work out practical modalities of opening the Armenian-Azerbaijani border for commercial traffic. The task force co-headed by Overchuk and his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts has met regularly in Moscow since then.
A Russian-brokered ceasefire deal that stopped the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh last November commits Armenia to opening rail and road links between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave. Armenia should be able, for its part, to use Azerbaijani territory as a transit route for cargo shipments to and from Russia and Iran.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly claimed that the deal envisages a permanent land “corridor” that will connect Nakhichevan to the rest of Azerbaijan via Armenia’s Syunik province. He has threatened to forcibly open such a corridor if Yerevan continues to oppose its creation.
Armenian leaders have denounced Aliyev’s threats as territorial claims, saying that the truce accord only calls for transport links between the two South Caucasus states.
“We don’t have corridors [on the working group’s agenda,]” Overchuk told journalists while attending a Russian-Armenian business forum in Yerevan. He said that no such issue is being discussed by the trilateral group.
“We discuss the issue of economic unblocking. The parties have been exchanging views,” added Overchuk.
The group’s Armenian co-chair, Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian, said Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian officials have been exploring “possible infrastructure solutions” and a legal framework for customs and other border controls. He did not give any details.
“We are very interested in the opening of transport links because we see that as an opportunity to overcome the blockade in which Armenia has been more than 25 years,” Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian told Overchuk later in the day. He said he hopes that the ongoing talks will yield “concrete decisions.”