17.10.2017 Author: Henry Kamens

OSCE’S Minsk Group: Often Flippant Agenda and New American Co-Chair


The OSCE Minsk Group has a new American co-chair. Andrew Schofer will serve as the OSCE Minsk Group’s new US co-chair, the interim US Co-Chair, Ambassador Richard Hoagland, stated in Washington D.C. Shaffer come highly recommended as a senior American diplomat, who recently has served as US chargé d’affaires at several international organizations.

But perhaps too highly recommended, and that in itself indicates that we can expect more of the same in the Armenian-Azerbaijan standoff over Nagorno-Karabakh. One only has to look at open sources, like US State Department press releases to get a fuller understand of where such people have been and what we can expect in the future.

And as Richard Hoagland shared with the regional media, that the current US administration does not have a new outlook on this matter, and that can be interpreted – as we are committed to maintaining the status quo and hold open options as how to use this unresolved conflict to serve US self-interests at such time as it suits us. Nonetheless, it will be interesting what, if anything will change, in the simmering Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, as the policy appears to be the same and will remain the same, at least under the Trump Administration.

The three co-chairs of the OSCE Minisk Group, Russia, France, and the US recently issued a joint statement indicating that the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents will meet in the nearest future. This follows a recent meeting with the foreign ministers recently, I believe at the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly in New York.

The history of this conflict is well documented, even in Embassy Cables, Azerbaijan claims that is ready to move forward in the Minsk Group Process, but that international pressure would be needed if Armenia was to move forward but claims that Armenia wants to walk away from the process.

As Aliyev is quoted by American diplomats in the above noted cable, “I told the co-chairs that Armenia wants to delay as long as possible and escape at the end.” He said that Azerbaijan was prepared to do its part to propel the talks forward, [a position that Armenia would beg to differ].

“Now we will try to be even more flexible.” Nonetheless, as to the creditability of the statements of peace and cooperation, Aliyev outlined several steps to persuade Armenia to agree to the Minsk Group Basic Principles: — the three co-chair countries should consolidate their efforts at a senior-level, the three co-chair countries should send a strong message that the independence of NK is not under review. The United States recommended that in the event that new proposals are not accepted, there should be consequences in terms of international isolation.

Aliyev said that he believes that Putin has his own separate opinion about the desirability of an NK resolution. “I have no evidence, but I can feel this,” Aliyev is quoted by the US State Department.

But nothing is really on the agenda for change

The outgoing American co-chair, Richard Hoagland (who was once upon a time slated to be ambassador to Armenia, but was blocked by Armenian-American advocacy because of his refusal to use the word “genocide”; the Armenian government in Yerevan welcomed him, the Armenian National Committee of America in Washington did not), delivered a farewell speech in which he outlined the same basic points for a settlement, the Madrid Principles: withdrawal of armed forces, return of some territories, return of refugees, peacekeepers, an interim regime with an unclear referendum on status at some unspecified future date. Armenian nationalists decry those principles. But they are the bases for negotiations. Nothing gets decided until everything gets decided, however.

Let us not forget that Hoagland’s predecessor lost his job for having taking the position that thee as in fact an Armenian Genocide. One of the things that we must not forget about the for GW Bush Administration is how it caved into to dictators, especially those in oil rich countries and whose strategic position helped the financial bottom line of his supporters.

As I say, though, nothing has changed in US policy, and it is business as usual. There can be no reasonable expectation of any breakthrough anytime soon. In terms of Armenia and the NK conflict, the biggest jolt since 1994 was the April War last year. There were fears that such events would be a regular process, every summer. Matters are further complicated with the cozy relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel, and how Israel gets a large amount of its strategic supply of oil based on these links and off the books shipments of oil from Georgian ports, and some of that oil is also supplied by Turkey, and it takes little imagination to know where that comes from.

Sordid history

Let us not forget that others that have come before, for instance, U.S Ambassador James Warlick, a career diplomat with the US State Department, who previously stepped down on as co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, and who was said to have been active in “mediating talks” between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh was highly suspect from the start. He become a partner in one of Russia’s largest and most prestigious law firms, Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners. An earlier press release claimed that “He will be responsible for working with U.S. and international clients, development of strategic client relationships, legislation, and public policy.

Ambassador James Warlick, a career U.S. diplomat with more than three decades of experience, who has spent his last three years representing the U.S. as a peacemaker in the Caucasus, now joins a leading Russian law firm thought to be associated with the America’s main troublemaker — Vladimir Putin. Now is that not a political statement in itself, a change in policy!

So it now appears that there will be more of the same, as most of the press found on the subject is the official line and nothing really new. More insight, albeit not full truth can be found in some pro Armenian links, in terms of self determining and the repeated rhetoric of some of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group.

One thing is certain, the simmering conflict is actually frozen because of two mutually incompatible principles are used in an attempt to resolve it: the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan versus the right of self-determination for those who lived in the Armenian enclave of Karabakh, in Azerbaijan proper, as supported under the Treaty of Kars.

Differing Standpoint Dependencies

Let us not forget the policy as put forth by Hoagland who has reiterated time and again the standard line “how the Nagorno Karabakh issue is different from the conflicts in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Dniestra, etc.

So it is wait and see, however, for what, by all indications the policy is clear: the US supports Azerbaijan for political and economic reasons, wants to cater to the Armenian and Israeli lobby in the US, and we can expect more of the same.

In the final analysis, might is right, and it serves many interests, especially in Armenia and Azerbaijan to maintain the status quo. It provides a diversion from real issues, like endemic corruption, distracts the people and provides a convenient scapegoat as why things are not really improving for the populace.

As for the US, its role as one of the co-chairs, the policy stays the same for the sake of political expediency, and let them sort it out, as long as they don’t drag in the major powers. However, now that Russia and Turkey are collaborating in fighting terrorism in Syria, and how this will diminish the US positions in the region, it is high time for the international community to take a closer look as to how NK could be a spoiler in US and Russian relations, even a venue for a potential “false flag” kind of operation, one which could throw the entire region into turmoil.

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.