Yes, but it will require accepting that the Minsk Group has failed and a new structure is crucial to mediate between the sides.
Since the eruption of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latter has made significant advances on the ground to liberate its internationally recognised territories occupied by Armenia.
Armed drones have enabled Azerbaijan to turn the tide on the battlefield in its favour by pushing Armenia into an unsustainable war of attrition.
Listing only visually confirmed Armenian losses; they have lost 104 tanks, 44 fighting vehicles, 99 artillery, one ballistic missile, 20 surface-to-air missile systems, seven radars and 259 trucks, vehicles and jeeps. The numbers are far higher than what Azerbaijan has suffered (e.g. 23 tanks, 18 fighting vehicles and 13 trucks, vehicles and jeeps for comparison). Accepting the military superiority of Azerbaijan, is a path to de-esclation possible?
Yes, it is, but this requires an acceptance of ground realities and strong political will.
The Minsk Group was formed in 1992 and in its own words states: “Following the Budapest Summit decision, on 23 March 1995, the Chairperson-in-Office mandated the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group to provide an appropriate framework for conflict resolution in the way of assuring the negotiation process; to obtain conclusion by the Parties of an agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict in order to permit the convening of the Minsk Conference; and to promote the peace process by deploying OSCE multinational peacekeeping forces. The Minsk Process can be considered to be successfully concluded if these objectives are fully met.”
The group is headed by a co-chairmanship consisting of France, Russia and the United States. The Minsk Group also includes Belarus, Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Turkey as fellow members. However, the Minsk Group has so far proved to be a failure.
It's been 25 years since that statement and no progress has been made on any of the three points. Moreover, over the years the co-chairs' reputations have taken a hit as Vladimir Kazimirov of Russia and Jacques Faure of France have become close associates of Armenia soon after their retirement from their position as mediators. Not only the co-chairs but also France, Russia and the US have lost their claims to being mediators.
As soon as the conflict escalated, and Azerbaijan went for a military solution to the conflict, all of the three states sided with Armenia and did not even question the illegal occupation.
The rhetorical support to Armenia and even the arms supplied by Russia show that the Minsk Group is not a mediating body, but a mechanism to ensure the continuation of the status quo.
With the loss of its role as a neutral mediator, the Minsk Group has become obsolete. The only way forward for a political settlement and the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territory is the formation of a new structure.
Instead of fake neutrality, the new structure should be honest about its composition. Mediators should be clear on their political position. Only actors with real influence and power should be at the table.
A new mechanism made up of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, Turkey and the United States could be a new way forward. While Russia is a strategic ally to Armenia, Turkey is a strategic ally to Azerbaijan. The United States leans towards Armenia, but due to the US’ capacity and international role, its participation should be ensured.
France, the current co-chair of the Minsk Group has not only proven to take sides and ignore United Nations resolutions, but also has become a meaningless actor in the conflict in the Caucasus - France has no leverage. France should be replaced by Turkey within a new format to replace the failed Minsk Group.
The new format could provide Azerbaijan with the needed trust to accept a political process instead of going for a military solution. Accepting that the Minsk Group has been a failure - and a greater role for Turkey - may be enough to convince Azerbaijan that they will not have to wait another 30 years in the hopes of regaining territory peacefully.
On the other side, Armenia would be against such an arrangement, but Armenia has fewer options. If Armenia rejects the formation of a new mechanism, it will have little option other than to face Azerbaijan on the battlefield.
At the moment the military confrontation is clearly in favour of Azerbaijan and it will not take much until Armenia’s military capacity shrinks to militias waging guerilla warfare. Azerbaijan has gained air-superiority, Armenia has lost a huge cache of its military equipment and no military intervention by Russia is on the horizon as the battle rages in Azerbaijani territory.
Armenia has no option but to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh, either by force or through a political settlement. Therefore, it is not Armenia but Azerbaijan that needs to be convinced to enter a political process.
In order to convince Azerbaijan to not go for a military solution, a new mechanism needs to be established which includes Turkey and excludes France.
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