Meet the Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan sitting on a geopolitical volcano

Azerbaijan’s 24-hour reconquest of Karabakh 5 months in the past extinguished a 30-year outdated Armenian-backed republic that broke away from Azerbaijan in a brutal and bloody six-year struggle in the 1990s.

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled in what the European Parliament condemned as ethnic cleaning, and Mr Pashinyan was compelled to face down indignant protesters in Yerevan who accused him of abandoning the area.

It additionally closed the central dispute in a battle that has blighted Armenia and Azerbaijan since their independence.

For a whereas, each leaders appeared eager to grab the alternative to make peace.

At separate conferences with Emmanuel Macron in Prague and Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Mr Pashinyan and Mr Aliyev agreed to resign the use of pressure, respect each other’s territorial integrity and utilizing the Almaty declaration, the doc that noticed the Soviet Union’s republics declare independence, as the foundation for border delimitation.

By the finish of October 2023, “the architecture and principles for a peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been agreed upon. And at the end of last year, it seemed to us that we were very close, finally, to a final text of agreement,” he mentioned.

But on Jan 10, Mr Aliyev appeared to stroll again these commitments, warning in a rambling interview with native media that he would take army motion if Armenia tried to rearm.

He additionally mentioned he wouldn’t take away Azeri troops from a number of areas they’ve occupied inside the Armenian border, and rejected utilizing late Soviet maps for a peace deal “precisely because our historical lands had already been given to them”.

Azeri officers strongly deny planning a new struggle or harbouring territorial claims in opposition to Armenia, and have blamed delays in the peace course of on Armenian intransigence.

In Yerevan, the remarks sounded very very similar to the pretext for a land seize.

“One may not say that these assessments are groundless,” Mr Pashinyan mentioned when requested if he feared such a plot. “I publicly have mentioned that is a blow to the peace course of.

“When these occasions are seen aspect by aspect, there are some analysts in Armenia who assume that every one of this means that Azerbaijan is step-by-step refusing and strolling away from the agreements reached amongst us and worldwide platforms.

“But as long as Azerbaijan has not declared that it’s withdrawing its signature from the Sochi and Prague declarations, then it’s very clear that Armenia and Azerbaijan recognise one another’s territorial integrity based mostly on the 1991 Almaty declaration, and any assertion that contradicts this logic shouldn’t be legit.”

That is a lengthy winded means of claiming Mr Aliyev should maintain his phrase. Does he belief Mr Aliyev to really achieve this?

“I put my trust in God. And I think that every country that respects itself must follow the commitments it has undertaken.”

Much of the rigidity focuses on Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani enclave bordering Turkey, Iran and Armenia.

Baku needs to create a highway and rail link to Nakhchivan alongside Armenia’s 25-mile border with Iran completely underneath the “neutral” management of Russian border guards.

Armenia, which has promised to supply entry between Nakhchivan and mainland Azerbaijan, fears a lure that will pressure it to relinquish management of its southern border.

Mr Pashinyan has made a counter provide based mostly on a basic reopening of all transport corridors in the area. So far, Mr Aliyev has dismissed the proposal as unworkable.

The peace course of right here has implications for dozens of small nations in the new age of great-power confrontation.

Before the 2020 struggle, Armenia assumed that its membership of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation would maintain it protected.

But Russia didn’t come to Armenia’s support in 2020, and Russian peacekeepers additionally didn’t cease Azerbaijan blockading a highway into Karabakh in the aftermath. They stood apart once more when it launched its closing assault on the space in September 2023.

Mr Pashinyan insists Russia stays a valued safety associate however he has barely hid a sense of betrayal.

He has publicly mentioned the nation can now not completely rely on Russia and may forge safety relationships with the United States and France as effectively.

The realignment has drawn stern rebukes from Moscow.

In October 2023 the Russian state information company TASS even quoted an nameless official evaluating Mr Pashinyan to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (Mr Pashinyan mentioned he had not seen that report and wouldn’t remark on nameless threats).

‘We are not Russia’s ally’

He insists that doesn’t imply making a selection between Russia and the West, regardless of the fallout of the struggle in Ukraine.

“Look, when the Ukraine struggle had simply began I used to be interviewed by CNN and I mentioned, in the Ukraine scenario, we’re not Russia’s ally. And that’s the actuality. But I wish to additionally let you know that with the US or France or different companions, our safety cooperation shouldn’t be focused in opposition to our different safety sector associate.

“Now, our companions could have considerations about the relationship with them, or how the relationship with them may affect their safety agendas. And that’s a problem we’re attempting to handle by utmost transparently talking with our companions about their shared agendas,” he mentioned.

Nato membership, an apparent purple line for Russia, “is not a question we have discussed or are discussing”.

He additionally suggests Armenia could rethink its membership of the CSTO. “There are some discussions in Armenia as to whether or to what extent the alliance-based strategy is consistent with Armenia’s longer term interests,” he mentioned.

Particularly contentious is the Armenian parliament’s ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which lastly got here into pressure on Feb 1.

Russia referred to as the transfer an “unfriendly” step and it’s not exhausting to see why: the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin over struggle crimes allegedly dedicated in Ukraine.

Mr Pashinyan declined to say whether or not Armenian police would act on the warrant if Putin occurred to go to.

The determination to affix the Rome Statute “serves to improve the level of security of Armenia. As to the legal subtleties. I cannot at the moment carry out legal analysis because that’s the job of the lawyers,” he mentioned.

“Let me break a secret to you. After 2018 Armenia has had intensive democratic reforms. And I don’t determine whom to arrest and whom to not arrest.

“And as I mentioned, Armenia as a accountable state should stay dedicated to all of her worldwide commitments, together with the commitments that it has in the relationship with the Russian Federation and commitments that the nation has in worldwide relations,” he mentioned.

But on this period of realpolitik, Armenia has painfully few playing cards to play.

Moscow could also be the regional tremendous energy and conventional ally however is militarily overstretched in Ukraine and diplomatically remoted overseas to prioritise implementing its CSTO commitments.

More essential to Putin is his relationship with Turkey’s Recep Tayip Erdogan, Azerbaijan’s key backer and in addition the solely Nato chief in a place to trigger him critical hassle on the Black Sea.

Turkey’s international minister mentioned final week that Mr Putin was anticipated to go to Turkey quickly to debate the Ukraine grain initiative. It could be his first go to to a Nato nation since he launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years in the past.

But the West can be preoccupied, and Washington and Brussels worth their ties to Mr Aliyev and Mr Erdogan.

In July 2022,  in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union signed as much as purchase extra fuel from Azerbaijan. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, praised Mr Aliyev’s authorities as a “reliable” and “crucial” associate.

Mr Alieyev has additionally made himself helpful in the grand standoff with Iran – so helpful that Israeli corporations reportedly equipped a lot of the weapons utilized in the closing blitz on Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023.

It is an unenviable place for any chief to be in.

It provides Mr Pashinyan a distinctive perspective on the period of great-power confrontation and he has a warning for the remainder of the world.

Critical safety issues

“I don’t want to give the impression the government of Armenia does not grasp how critical its own security problems are,” he mentioned.

“We’re living in a world where no one can say what will happen tomorrow morning. If anyone were to think that in the global world they are more relaxed, or they should be any more relaxed than the government of the Republic of Armenia or the citizens of Armenia, they would be significantly wrong,” he warns.

“I’m saying this with full seriousness. In the last two years, and currently, the international community is discussing whether or not there will be a nuclear war,” he provides.

“My place is such that I’ve interactions with a number of potential sides to such a nuclear struggle. I believe I do know what a critical matter it’s.

“In that sense, no less than, Armenia is considerably safer and safer, as a result of I don’t assume anybody is intending a nuclear strike on Armenia.”

Which brings us to his primary pitch: it’s in everybody’s pursuits, no matter the place they stand on the world’s different grand confrontations, to make the peace course of in the South Caucasus work.

“I understand how exhausting it’s, I understand how tough it’s and what difficulties have to be overcome. And I’ll do my greatest for peace to be established in our area. And I’ll do this share of the work that considerations us. I’m hopeful that the different nations in our area will do the similar.

“For a few of our companions, we’ve got some confidence that they’ll do this and for others, there isn’t a lot confidence, however the core objective of our international coverage is that.”

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