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Armenia and Azerbaijan Hold Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Talks

The two countries’ leaders meet in Brussels amid fears that large-scale conflict could soon return to the region.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Thousands of opposition supporters rally in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on April 5 to denounce the government's handling of a territorial dispute with arch-foe Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Thousands of opposition supporters rally in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on April 5 to denounce the government's handling of a territorial dispute with arch-foe Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Thousands of opposition supporters rally in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on April 5 to denounce the government's handling of a territorial dispute with arch-foe Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. KAREN MINASYAN/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at fresh talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latest from Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Pashinyan and Aliyev Meet in Brussels

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at fresh talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latest from Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Pashinyan and Aliyev Meet in Brussels

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev meet Wednesday in Brussels for talks mediated by EU Council President Charles Michel amid fears of fresh conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Although Russia is not part of Wednesday’s talks, President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine looms large. Russian peacekeeping forces have been deployed in Nagorno-Karabakh as part of a Russian-brokered peace deal since the 2020 conflict ended in Azerbaijan’s favor. Whether they stay there depends on how the war in Ukraine progresses, as does Moscow’s interest in restoring peace should a renewed Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict break out.

Armenia has reason to worry about the future, despite Russia’s historically strong support. Moscow’s failure to intervene on Armenia’s behalf in 2020, despite a defense pact, illustrates the shifting allegiances in the South Caucasus. On Feb. 22, the day after Putin publicly recognized the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, Aliyev was in Moscow signing a deal to increase military and diplomatic cooperation.

Recent incidents on the ground have raised tensions between the two sides. In March, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of violating a cease-fire agreement when Azerbaijani troops captured the town of Farukh, a strategically important village in Nagorno-Karabakh in an area usually patrolled by Russian forces. Azerbaijan rejected the accusation, saying the town was part of its internationally recognized territory.

Armenia’s security council has since accused Azerbaijan of “preparing the ground for fresh provocations and an offensive on Nagorno-Karabakh.”

During Wednesday’s talks, Pashinyan and Aliyev are expected to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh as well as other pressing bilateral issues. Despite their differences, both leaders have sounded positive notes coming into the meeting. Lilit Makunts, Armenia’s ambassador to the United States, said via e-mail that she expects a “constructive” meeting and that her government is both “keen and has political will to achieve peace and stability.”

“In this context leaders may also touch base upon the issues of a possible comprehensive peace agreement,” Makunts added.

Khazar Ibrahim, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the United States, also intimated that a nascent peace deal was forming. “We all need peace,” Ibrahim told Foreign Policy. “We expect practical steps in the direction of having a real peace deal.”

Regardless of the outcome, the fact that the two leaders are meeting at all is significant, especially since a formal framework for negotiations has yet to open. It also highlights the interest the European Union has taken in the issue and follows a similar meeting at the end of 2021.

“With the situation in Ukraine right now, it’s really very important that we have EU officials at such a senior level to get involved bringing these sides together,” said Olesya Vartanyan, a senior analyst for the South Caucasus region at the International Crisis Group. Vartanyan noted the frequency of engagement as a further positive sign: “It’s not just one event they had in December one day—it’s something that is becoming more of a process.”

The EU’s involvement is also timely, given Russia’s preoccupation with the war in Ukraine. Russia’s economically precarious situation risks diluting the power it once had to mediate in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a development that calls for more interlocutors, Vartanyan said. “If Russia really becomes weaker and not able to pay attention to the South Caucasus, then I’m afraid we are left with a huge problem.”

Whether the EU can present itself as a neutral party is also up for debate. If one looks at its recent aid package to the six EU Eastern Partnership nations, the balance clearly seems in favor of Armenia, with the $3.1 billion doled out last July contrasting with the $152 million given to Azerbaijan. (Ukraine, another member of the partnership, received $2 billion.) However, relations could soon shift in Azerbaijan’s favor, especially as European countries look for replacements for Russian gas.

In Armenia, there is a sense among opposition groups that another capitulation is on the horizon. As Joshua Kucera explores in Eurasianet, that feeling stems from a subtle change in rhetoric from Armenia’s leaders, who seem resigned to Azerbaijan gaining full control over ethnic Armenian areas in Nagorno-Karabakh currently under the protection of Russian peacekeepers.


What We’re Following Today

Iraq’s parliament vote. Iraqi lawmakers have until Wednesday to choose a new president or raise the specter of fresh elections. Iraq’s parliament has repeatedly been unable to agree on a presidential candidate since October 2021 elections, with three successive votes failing for lack of a quorum, stemming from a boycott from a major Shiite bloc. The April 6 deadline is an extension set by Iraq’s federal court after politicians failed to choose a new national leader within the timeline set out by the country’s constitution. Lawmakers are currently 47 days past the original deadline.

Zelensky ramps up pressure. Speaking before the U.N. Security Council via video link on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once again accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine, following reports of widespread atrocities in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the reports from Bucha were “more than credible” and placed the blame further up Russia’s chain of command, calling the events “not the random act of a rogue unit” but a “deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape, to commit atrocities.”

On Wednesday, European leaders will consider more sanctions in response to Bucha, including a ban on Russian coal imports.


Keep an Eye On

Kuwait’s government quits. Kuwait’s government resigned on Tuesday. Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah took the decision before a no-confidence vote in his leadership scheduled for this week. It is the third time in 18 months that Kuwait’s government resigned and comes after its defense and interior ministers quit earlier this year. 

AUKUS developments. The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia added hypersonic weapons development to the AUKUS portfolio in a Tuesday announcement. The three nations agreed to begin “new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as to expand information sharing and to deepen cooperation on defense innovation.” Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, criticized the announcement, saying it would “lead the other parts of the world into a crisis” like that in Ukraine.


Odds and Ends

The U.S. Congress already has an approval rating 22 points lower than U.S. President Joe Biden, and now it seems the animal kingdom has also decided to voice its displeasure. On Tuesday, U.S. Capitol Police caught a fox on the Capitol grounds following a string of attacks and biting incidents. Rep. Ami Bera of California was one of those bitten by a fox and received medical treatment as a precautionary measure.

Police are not yet sure how many foxes may be behind the attacks and have advised the public to avoid them and call animal control.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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