The US as Main Mediator in the South Caucasus Region Concerning Armenia in 2023

Throughout 2023 there has obviously been more intensified US engagement in the South Caucasus, and more active relations with Armenia. This has been the case starting from the 44-day war in 2020 unleashed by Azerbaijan. Since the end of the war Armenian authorities have been willing to establish diplomatic relations with two immediate neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, which fully aligns with the geopolitical interests of the United States.

The US strives for decreased Russian influence in the South Caucasus region and reconciliation of Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations would provide such an opportunity. Essentially, normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations has been a US foreign policy priority for the region since the 1990s. Accordingly, it comes as no surprise that the US has been much more active in the region for the last 3 years, given the new realities.

As the United States is seeking the improvement of Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, it was cautious about the processes that might hinder the negotiations. The closure of the Lachin corridor by Azerbaijan was such an example. The blockade of Artsakh by Azerbaijan started back in 2022, in December and continued through September 2023 when Azerbaijan resorted to force, conducting ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Armenian population. The first US reaction to the closure of the corridor came on the second day of the Artsakh blockade. However, those were just statements without any concrete steps. A month later, Antony Blinken had a phone call with the Armenian prime minister as well as the Azerbaijani president. In his phone call with President Ilham Aliyev, Blinken “underscored the need for free and open commercial and private transit through the Lachin corridor.”

In the following months, there were a number of other statements by members of Congress, especially those involved in the Armenian Congressional Caucus, who condemned Azerbaijani actions and called upon the US administration to support the Artsakh population and stop the provision of assistance to Azerbaijan.

Obviously, the State Department and Secretary Blinken also made a number of statements on the issue during 2023. However what’s important is that in those statements the US specifically expressed its willingness to facilitate negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Taking into account the situation around Artsakh after the 2020 war and the willingness of the Armenian authorities to establish diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey, the US has become significantly more active in regulating relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as between Armenia and Turkey. In a series of statements, the US administration expressed its willingness to support Azerbaijan and Armenia in the implementation of negotiations.

We can single out several tripartite and bilateral meetings and negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan organized by the United States last year. The first tripartite meeting that year between Blinken, Nikol Pashinyan and Aliyev took place on February 18 within the framework of the Munich Security Conference, during which Blinken noted that significant progress has been made in the last two months.

Another round of negotiations was held by the US side between May 1-4 at the level of foreign ministers. The negotiations between Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov were held at the George Shultz National Training Center for Foreign Affairs. The ministers had meetings with both Blinken and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. While summarizing the results of the meeting, Blinken made a remarkable statement that the parties are “really within reach of an agreement.”  This caused heated discussions that a peace agreement might be signed soon, but until now, at least, there is no signed contract that is known to the public.

The last negotiations of 2023 with US mediation took place between June 27-29. These negotiations between Mirzoyan and Bayramov took place again at the George Shultz National Training Center for Foreign Affairs. Blinken’s statements after this meeting were quite interesting as well: “I think there’s also a clear understanding on everyone’s part that the closer we get, the closer you get to reaching an agreement, in some cases the harder it gets, because by definition the most difficult issues are left for the end.  But I very much appreciate the spirit of candor, openness, directness that everyone has exhibited.  That is the way, ultimately, to reach understanding and, finally, to reach agreement.” It seemed that the final version of the contract would be ready soon.

Another round of the US-mediated negotiations were planned for the end of last year on November 20, but Azerbaijan refused to participate, in response to the statements made by the US Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien in the House of Representatives. In a statement, O’Brien noted that “We’ve made clear that nothing will be normal with Azerbaijan after the events of September 19 until we see progress on the peace track,” adding that Washington has canceled “high level visits” and stopped military and other aid to Azerbaijan. Armenian Ambassador-at-large Edmon Marukyan recently announced that Azerbaijan accepted the US proposal to hold a meeting of foreign ministers in the US in January 2024, expressing hope that Mirzoyan and Bayramov will finalize the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace treaty. The Armenian Foreign Ministry actually refuted Marukyan’s statement, stating that “if there is an agreement to meet, we make it public.” Baku, in its turn, claims that the two sides have not yet reached an agreement regarding the date and the venue of the next meeting of their foreign ministers.

The regulation of Armenian-Turkish relations remains no less important and relevant for the USA. Having these relations normalized, the United States can expand its influence in the South Caucasus region, reducing Russia’s grip. However, there is not much information available regarding US involvement in this issue in 2023. But it is known that the US keeps an eye on the issue: for example, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan raised the issue of the Armenia-Turkey negotiation process in one of his telephone conversations with Ibrahim Kalin, the chief advisor to the Turkish president. In addition, during her visit to Armenia, US Deputy Secretary of State Erika Olson met with the Special Representative for the normalization process between Armenia and Turkey Ruben Rubinyan, and according to official press information: “At the request of the guest, Ruben Rubinyan presented the details of the process of normalization of relations between Armenia and Turkey.” This speaks to the fact that the United States remains interested in the prospect of the normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations.

Despite the seemingly positive statements of Blinken on signing the peace treaty in the upcoming weeks or months, Azerbaijan resorted to force in September 2023 against the indigenous Artsakh population. Amid this humanitarian crisis, Samantha Power, the USAID director, visited Armenia and Azerbaijan, accompanied by US Department of State Acting Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim. During her visit Power announced $11.5 million in humanitarian assistance. In addition, Power personally conveyed President Joe Biden’s letter, wherein the president expressed his and his administration’s support to “Armenia’s pursuit of a dignified and durable regional peace that maintains Armenia’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and democracy.” Similar messages were reiterated by Power during her visits to Armenia and in Azerbaijan during her meeting with Aliyev. Some time later, there was information that Azerbaijan was going to invade Armenia proper. According to some sources, it was Blinken who said that during his meeting with the lawmakers (the news was later denied by the State Department). However, considering the messages Power conveyed and Biden’s letter, one can conclude that there was indeed a risk of invasion which was prevented at least for some time.

It is hard to say that the US efforts to normalize Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations were completely effective, but it is a fact that during the whole of 2023, the USA was the main mediator, initiator and actor in the South Caucasus. This was connected to the decline of Russia’s role and significance in the entire South Caucasus region due to the outcome of the Artsakh war, as well as the concentration of Moscow’s main resources in the Ukrainian war. Back in the previous decades, the USA had laid quite solid foundations for the settlement of conflicts in the South Caucasus and was waiting for the historical moment to pursue more proactive policy. It can be unequivocally stated that the USA, starting from 1992, has not had as active an involvement in the South Caucasus as it had in 2023.


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