President Vladimir Putin hosted his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in the Russian city of Sochi on Friday to discuss a series of issues, including prospects for improving relations between Baku and Yerevan.
President Putin said the tripartite meeting was a deep analysis of the current situation and focused on a number of “key issues” that the sides agreed to proceed with.
“The first of them is the creation of mechanisms – we agreed to do this by the end of this year – for the demarcation and delimitation of the border between the two states. I do hope this happens as soon as possible. There are no obstacles to the creation of these mechanisms,” President Putin stated.
“The second thing I would like to draw your attention to is that there is a very important sensitive point related to humanitarian issues, and here we have also made significant progress. And finally, the third issue is that we talked in great detail about economic issues, the development of economic ties and, above all, as a first step, we talked about the unblocking of transport corridors – this applies to the railway and to automobile communications.”
President Putin added that the decisions made trilaterally in the Sochi meeting will be announced in the gathering of the deputy prime ministers from the three countries in Moscow next week. The deputies will reportedly sum up the results of the year-long discussions of a working group that was established according to the decisions of the first trilateral meeting of the leaders in Moscow on January 11, 2021. The aim of the group is to make grounds for the unblocking of all economic and transport communications in the region.
The political and economic situation in South Caucasus ushered in an all-new era after a 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the latter’s Karabakh region last year. Azerbaijan's Karabakh (Garabagh) region fell under Armenia’s occupation in the early 1990s during a bloody war that lasted until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1994. As a result, Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing policy carried out by Armenia.
On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries intensified after Armenia’s forces deployed in the occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During the counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10 by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.
The restoration of Azerbaijan’s control over a larger portion of its 1,007-kilometer border with Armenia as a result of the war unearthed new realities on the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border. The post-war border protection works of the Azerbaijani army faced hostile backlash from the Armenian side since May 2021. Yerevan blamed the Azerbaijani forces for the so-called “encroaching” on Armenia’s sovereign territory. Armenia's military conducted numerous provocations against the Azerbaijani army, fueling serious complications on the frontier.
Baku has been publicly calling for delimitation and demarcation of the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border to finally resolve the uneasiness on the state frontiers.
“The border between Armenia and Azerbaijan has not been delimited yet. Therefore, we have repeatedly stated publicly that we are ready to start the delimitation process without delay. Moreover, we have also publicly offered the Armenian side to start work on a peace agreement to end the confrontation, to recognize the territorial integrity, the sovereignty of each other and live in the future as neighbors and learn to live as neighbors again,” President Aliyev said in the trilateral meeting in Sochi.
President Aliyev voiced also “maximum constructivism” exerted by Azerbaijan in eliminating the consequences of the war and in unblocking communications during 2021.
“I believe that this topic is one of the most important, of those that have not yet been fulfilled, because the provisions of the Trilateral Statement, which was adopted and signed in November last year, have practically all been fulfilled,” he said.
Government officials in Azerbaijan are convinced that restoration of regional transportation links, including the Zangazur corridor, could foster peace and cooperation, and bring new opportunities in the region. The corridor should pass a 43-kilometer portion of the territory of modern-day Armenia and ultimately connect with Azerbaijan’s railway and highway grids in Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani exclave surrounded by Armenia, Iran, and Turkey.
Independent analysis suggests that the Zangazur corridor will not only restore the shortest connection between Azerbaijan’s mainland and its exclave of Nakhchivan but will also form an important link in the East-West and North-South transport corridors. Turkey will be able to speed up its exports to Central Asia by a shorter route. The launch of the multi-modal corridor is said to benefit all regional countries and contribute to the Eurasian trade and transport communications that incorporate the regional economies with a nominal GDP of $1.1 trillion. The Central Asian exports will go on an uninterrupted overland route toward Turkey and Europe should the corridor comes online.
Moreover, Russian and Turkish railway grids will be interconnected with the opening of regional transport connections. Armenia will have a railway connection with Russia, which was interrupted in the war in Georgia’s Abkhazia region 30 years ago, and with Iran by connecting to Azerbaijan’s railway grid in Nakhchivan. This could help Tehran and Yerevan save up to $3 billion in the construction of a new railway. In addition, Chinese authorities have lauded the Zangazur corridor as a significant contributor to the implementation of Beijing’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
However, Armenia’s PM Pashinyan and other top officials have been persistently rejecting negotiations on opening the corridor. PM Pashinyan had earlier said that the topic of the corridor was closed for Armenia. Authorities of the country have publicly politicized the transport corridor’s opening as they claim it could put the sovereignty of Armenia over the transport route in jeopardy.