What was the implication of the Moscow Declaration for the parties to the conflict?

It was said by some analysts that the Declaration could be viewed as an Armenian victory, because of the key points described below.

Firstly, by signing the Moscow declaration, the parties agreed on the common idea of resolving the conflict in a peaceful manner, based on internationally accepted norms and principles, and decisions and documents adopted within that framework as at that date. Meanwhile, they also pledged to create security and stability in the region. It was argued that this statement meant that the war option for settling the conflict, as stated several times by Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, in view of the failure of the OSCE Minsk Group to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, was no longer legal. Furthermore, the presidents agreed that the negotiation process should continue under the supervision of the Minsk Group, using the so-called Madrid Principles as a basis for conflict settlement, which meant that the mediation efforts of Turkey, Azerbaijan’s political and strategic ally, to present an alternative peace proposal for settling the dispute were avoided.[1]

The presidents also expressed their intention that “achievement of the peaceful settlement shall be accompanied by legally binding international guarantees”. Armenia was concerned that if it withdrew its military from the seven occupied regions according to the Madrid Principles, Azerbaijan might then block the view that the final status of the Nagorno-Karabakh should be determined via referendum. Armenia was therefore against withdrawing its troops before the final status was determined. However, with this declaration Armenia was hoping that Azerbaijan would be obliged to act according to “legally binding international guarantees” if it withdrew its military forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan situated outside Nagorno-Karabakh.[2]

Generally, it was stated that Azerbaijan agreed with provisions that were unfavorable to its national interests, probably because of the Russo-Georgian conflict of 2008. As Robert Śmigielski said, “the country did not manage to include in the document a reference to respect for the territorial integrity of states, it committed itself not to use force, and it all but consented to a final loss of Karabakh via the referendum”.[3]

However, Azerbaijan maintained that the Moscow Declaration gave Azerbaijan a chance to resolve the conflict on the basis of its territorial integrity. From the Baku viewpoint, there is no single document adopted by any international organizations or regional institutions during all these years that has not recognized the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Thus, all the documents adopted by the OSCE, UN, Council of Europe, OIC and other institutions since the start of conflict have emphasized a commitment for solving the dispute on the basis of the Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Therefore, the condition stated in the Moscow Declaration that the conflict should be settled according to the principles and norms of international law, and decisions and declarations, is a privilege for Azerbaijan. Furthermore, the Declaration reaffirmed the fact that the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is not part of the conflict and negotiation process as per the Moscow Declaration signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan. This showed the international community that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is not an intra-state conflict between Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijan, but an inter-state conflict between two neighboring South Caucasus states, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and that it was Armenia that had occupied 20 percent territory of Azerbaijan and displaced hundreds of thousands of civilian Azerbaijanis from their historical places of residence. It was also stated in the first paragraph of the Declaration that the political settlement of the conflict would be conducted “through the continuation of a direct dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia”. In this respect, former Armenian president Levon Ter-Petrosyan said that the Declaration “for once and for all buried Nagorno-Karabakh as a party of the conflict”.[4]

Accordingly, after signing the Moscow Declaration, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev immediately said that the Declaration did not exclude the war option for settling the conflict. He said that “nobody [could] find any commitment in the document, prohibiting Azerbaijan to resolve the conflict in the military way”.[5]

Consequently, the Declaration was serving the interests of Russia rather than of the parties to the conflict. It should be noted that it was the first document signed by the presidents of the Azerbaijan Republic and the Republic of Armenia since the cease-fire agreement in May 1994, initiated unilaterally by Russia without the participation of other Minsk Group co-chair countries, whereby Russia was again trying to monopolize the “peace process” in its sphere of influence.[6] It was also considered to be an unquestionable media success and good PR for Moscow, since it presented the world with the idea that Russia was really in favor of resolving the conflicts in the South Caucasus. Besides, Russia also wanted to restore its prestige in the eyes of Western countries as a regional peacemaker, which had been damaged as a result of the Five Day War between Russia and Georgia in August 2008.[7]

[1] Fuller, Liz, “‘Moscow Declaration’ A Victory for Armenia”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 3 November 2008; http://www.rferl.org/content/Moscow_Declaration_A_Victory_For_Armenia/1337592.html. Accessed on October 3, 2020.

[2] Fuller, “‘Moscow Declaration’ A Victory for Armenia”.

[3] Śmigielski, Robert, “Prospects for Nagorno-Karabakh Settlement Following the Russia–Georgia Conflict”, The Polish Institute of International Affairs BULLETIN, Vol. 10, No. 10, 2009, p. 20.

[4] Ismailzade, Fariz, “Moscow Declaration on Nagorno-Karabakh: A View from Baku”, Turkish Policy Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 70-71.

[5] Ismailzade, “Moscow Declaration on Nagorno-Karabakh”, p. 73.

[6] Abbasov, Shahin, “Azerbaijan: Reaction in Baku Muted to Moscow Declaration on Nagorno-Karabakh”, EURASIANET.org, 3 November 2008; https://eurasianet.org/azerbaijan-reaction-in-baku-muted-to-moscow-declaration-on-nagorno-karabakh. Accessed on October 3, 2020.

[7] Ismailzade, “Moscow Declaration on Nagorno-Karabakh”, pp. 69-70.