The former ambassador of the USA to Azerbaijan, former co-chair of OSCE Minsk Group Matthew Bryza’s interview with APA.
– I would like to hear your general evaluation of the situation in the Azerbaijan-Armenia borderline to the Tovuz region. How do you evaluate the current situation in this region
– It is the tensest situation probably ever in the border since 1994 since the ceasefire. I don't know how accurately I could compare the seriousness of the violence compared to April of 2016. This is really something else. İ mean heavy weapons have been used – tanks, artillery grenade launchers, drone strikes. I think that neither side has really enduring interest however in a larger-scale conflict. As you know in Baku the situation is quite tense because of COVID-19. People are not happy. I mean the performance of the government was good in the beginning. And the as human nature, as its happening in the USA right? Once people let their guard down and lose their discipline this virus comes to worrying back. İ understand that Azerbaijanis are upset about being cooked up inside. İ feel worry weather they have emotion my play into the response to shelling Tovuz regional villages. Armenia similarly - they never gotta ahead of the coronavirus as the Azerbaijani government did. A lot of dissatisfaction there. İ think prime minister Pashinian – his political position is weak. İ mean both sides are blaming the other for having provoked violence. But I know certainly is that the overwhelming thought in Azerbaijan is that Armenia provoked it. I don't have the answer, I don't have the access to intelligence information anymore. But that is why it is quite important that the Minsk Group co-chairs came out with a clear statement. first, they investigate then they come out in maybe say you know to point a finger somebody that they believe may have provoked it. That is a hard thing to do as a mediator I know from my experience but they need to do something to de-escalate the tension that goes beyond say we call on all sides to show restraint.
– Mr. Brayza some Armenian experts say that Azerbaijani side provoked the hostilities because this side is not satisfied with the status quo of the occupied regions. On the other hand, Azeri experts say that since no region is close to the pipeline projects and the other projects which are of crucial importance for Azerbaijan’s economy, and therefore Azerbaijan has no interest to provoke hostilities in this region. In general, Whose interest might be the escalation in this region?
– As I said a moment ago I don't have any access to any information I could show definitively who did first but I am highly suspicious that DUMA’s deputy chairman of the CIS community Constantin Zatulin said just 6 days before the fighting resumed that he said on July 6 as we know that the fighting started in July 12 – when he said out of the blue – he said “ whoever might use military force against Armenia should keep in mind that is Russia’s ally, it is the member of the CSTO, Russia will use its forces based in Armenian Gyumri to defend its ally. That was a strange statement. One could say well maybe he thought that Azerbaijan was going to provoke some activity but he also said incredibly provocative and the political side on the legal side when he said “essentially I don't know to whom Karabakh rightfully belongs – prime minister Pashinian tells its Armenian, Azerbaijanis tel me its Azerbaijan’s – I don't know the answer. So that is hugely provocative. Because Russia's official policy is in force that the Nagorno Karabakh and the 7 surrounding regions are part of Azerbaijan that is the fact he said this. Makes me feel a provocation was in the works. İ am just using logic. Obviously you could put into to figure out who he may even provoke then.
– Some experts say that Armenia with these hostilities try to draw 3d parties to the conflict. İs it possible what do you think?
– Well I do think it is possible. That was never my experience when I was co-chair by the way. When I was Minsk Group co-chair for those 3 years the negotiations were largely in good faith.they were open. We could tell the one side or the other how was playing trick immediately say no no no you cannot do that. İf you wanna get this concession you gotta offer something. And the fact that Russia was quite constructive. We had many meetings not just with my fellow co-chairs from Russia ambassador Yuri Mirzakov but foreign minister Lavrov as well. And even president Medvedev. They were creative, they were helpful, they help to keep the tension low. So this is unusual for me as and it seems like prime minister Pashinian has reversed the course over the last few months right?
Now essentially said all those that peace of an agreement that was negotiated so that painstakingly when the Russian side has been constructive along with France and us we don't want to look at the formula any more of the so-called Madrid document. Let's do something totally new. Let's start over. Let's erase the page. İf you gonna do that if that is your approach to throw out concessions that Azerbaijan had made to obtain concessions from Armenia that is a dangerous diplomatic game to play. Therefore I can understand he might feel a need for some outside support to prevent a negative reaction by Azerbaijan.
You mentioned CSTO’s possible involvement in this conflict as Russian officials mentioned. İs it possible CSTO to be inv=ovle in this conflict especially the escalation in the Tovuz region because it is out of the Nagorno Karabak region and it might be assessed kind of Armenia, is it possible CSTO to come.
To be honest, I doubt it. Because I don't think that Russia wants there to be a largescale military clash between two countries where it's fighting to maintain its influence. İ am certain that Azerbaijan does not want a fullscale clash it would have so much to lose in terms of great economic growth, over the past decade and a half. And I am quite sure that the Armenian side wants a full-scale conflict either know that Azerbaijan's military is so much stronger. Pashinians political position is quite weak now as I was saying before. And the COVID virus is causing really big problems in Armenia. So it might be useful for the prime minister of Armenia to be able to divert the attention away from the COZVIAD crisis. But a conflict at the level to justify CSTO military involvement I actually doubt it. İ think Russian overall approach is to keep we say to keep the pot bubbling but not have it boil over.
– On the other hand, is it possible that Pashinian checks the reaction of CSTO?
– Of course, I would like him would check, but he would you know I mean what it means to check the reaction of CSTO is really check the reaction of Moscow. – Vladimir Putin and the people around him. İ no longer keep track of internal Russian politics enough to have a feel who around president Vladimir Putin might have to provoke something like this. İ actually don't believe president Putin would want to see a serious military clash between Azerbaijan and Armenia. My guess he would think that it's already gone too far - İ don't know that - but my guest he would think that its already gone to far.but you know – Moscow politics are very complex right now and he may be most powerful but he is not all-powerful.
– Previously Armenian leadership said it maybe new territories will be seized in relation to Azerbaijan. Could this incident be related to this rhetoric?
– İt could be. But such seizure of territories are meaningless. They are purely symbolic politicly. Who cares if you see if they see some hills in the Tovuz region. İt has no impact on the overall balance. So achieving something like that is a mere political gesture to strengthen – it would be I mean – to strengthen prime minister Pashinian. Again when he is facing all the other internal political challenges.
Maybe they want to compare that we seized new hills despite we lost the Lala tapa
Yes? Exactly, at the end of the day even though the Azerbwauijan military performed well in 2016 there is really no impact. Resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and returning all 7 surrounding territories to Azerbaijan. That is gonna have to happen on a negotiation table. War is the continuation of politics by other means. I don't like when people says there is no military solution to a conflict. I am guilty of having said that one time in the context of Nagorno Karabakh. There is always a political solution to any political conflict but military operations can shape diplomacy in politics quite dramatically. Just take a look at Syria. Where Russian military support for Assad has kept in power. But in the case of Nagorno Karabakh, I don't think there is any prospect for the military operations at the level that would require to shape the politics so dramatically. That we would see some resolution of the conflict to the overwhelming desire of one side versus the other. I just don't think that likely or even possible at this point.
– During the last escalation, Armenian troops shelled many civil infrastructures of Azerbaijan and as a result, Azerbaijani villager Azir Azizov killed. And it is not the first time you probably remember the case of 2-year-old Zahra and her grandmother's case. What can you say in this regard?
It is horrible. It is impossible for me to understand why anyone in any military operation which shells civilians. Something that Russia. Has been doing very actively with Syria, know in Idlib province. You know in a case of shelling Azerbaijani civil areas that could only condemn. Of course, the Armenian side is gonna say well the Azerbaijani side has done the similar things – shelling civilians that must be condemned. And can be considered a war crime if it's intentionally shelling of civilians that is technically war crime. I don’t know what the situation was tactically on the ground. My guess is that the Armenian side would say well we thought there was Azerbaijani soldier were fired on us who are mixed it=n to the village- I mean it's always one side or the other say. But I of course like any feeling human being utterly condemn the targeting civilians in any military circumstance.
– As a co-chair of the Minsk Group how do you evaluate the group's activity in this situation, is it adequate you think?
It is not possible for the Minsk group to make progress when one side decided to throw out everything that had been negotiated over the course of the last decade and a half. Those Madrid principles so-called Madrid document was something that began to be negotiated in 2003 -that is 17 years work and it was agreed in principle. By the Leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan back in January 2009 but not finalized. They said we agreed with the basic concept. But there were still some important points we needed to finalize. And the last year when the Pashinyan met with Aliyev he was making very positive noises about finalizing agreement preparing the population for peace strengthen the ceasefire line and suddenly flipped earlier this year. He changed and said let's throw it out/ in that situation there is nothing that mediators can do if one party has decided I am giving up everything my country have agreed before. What mediator can fix there? You have to have will by both sides of the conflict to come to a mutual consensus.
– President of OSCE PA Georgi Tsereteli mentioned that the mandate of the Minsk group does not allow it to monitor the situation on the ground and to define the part which violated the peace agreement. İt was like a proposal to increase the competencies of the Minsk Group. What do you think would be helpful for the conflict resolution if it happened?
– I don't know. İ mean why not? But I mean first certain İf somebody is arguing – Giorgi is not necessarily arguing, he is saying that competencies should be extended but somebody is arguing that the Minsk group co-chair does not have the right to comment on what happened I think that is wrong. İf I was Minsk group co-chair I would be commenting on this right now. İf I thought I had information about what happened and if I thought that I knew a way how to tone down the tension I would definitely comment regardless of what specifically is in the mandate. Because that nowhere I am calling from my former mandate there is a prohibition against commenting. İt was just a requirement to comment on the violence on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border/ so yes it would be a useful gesture to formally extend the competencies of the OSCE Minsk Group, but I think they could comment now anyway
– To sum up- what do you think should be done at this stage for the resolution of the conflict
The main thing is the Minsk Group should investigate what has happened. İf he needs broader competencies – okay. And then call il as it ceased. You know since one side or the other provoked – tk=he Minsk Group co-chairs are skilled diplomats. They will figure out a way to say that without insulting somebody and impose a political cost for provocation. And then use all this tension and desire on both sides I think is to avoid full-scale conflict – use that to the advantage of the negotiating proses and re-energize discussions. And I think the responsibility really falls on Russian shoulder now. İf their ally Mr. Zatuli call it has decided to abandon the previously negotiated path then its the Russian co-chairs I mean the President of Russia responsibility to get Armenia back on side and back in a good faith of negotiations