Minsk Group’s effectiveness in doubt as Lavrov says US, France refuse to work with Russia

Sergey Lavrov

By Mark Dovich

At a Friday meeting in Moscow with his Armenian counterpart, Ararat Mirzoyan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the United States and France for “attempts to exclude Russia from the OSCE Minsk Group,” which he termed “irresponsible.”

“The United States and France are ready to sacrifice the interests of a settlement in the region,” Lavrov added.

The Minsk Group was formed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in the 1990s and is meant to encourage peaceful resolution of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. France, Russia, and the United States co-chair the group.

Lavrov’s statement came two weeks after Jalina Porter, the spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, pointedly avoided answering a reporter who asked her if the Minsk Group is “still around.”

“The United States, as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, remains deeply committed to working with the sides to achieve a long-term political settlement of the conflict,” Porter said.

The apparent breakdown at the Minsk Group comes as tensions between the United States and Europe, on one side, and Russia, on the other side, have escalated dramatically since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine began in February.

Meanwhile, Russia and the European Union have, separately, been stepping in to fill the vacuum left by the Minsk Group, with Moscow and Brussels both hosting key meetings of Armenian and Azerbaijani officials since the 2020 war in and around Karabakh.

But it seems that the Armenian and Azerbaijani governments have not always been happy to work just with Russia or the EU.

Russia alone brokered the November 2020 ceasefire that ended the war, and the peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh is exclusively Russian — and a month later, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev publicly expressed regret that the “Minsk Group did not play any role in resolution of the conflict.”

On Tuesday, European Council President Charles Michel hosted Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for a meeting, which ended in an apparent agreement by both sides to begin preparing a peace treaty and to set up a joint commission to delimit their border.

Notably, though, Michel’s lengthy statement released after the meeting did not even mention the term “Karabakh,” angering many in Armenia, who fear that Pashinyan is preparing to accept Azerbaijani control over the region.

Last October, Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, put forward the idea of creating a new format to resolve outstanding issues in the region, called “3+3.” The initiative would bring together the three countries of the South Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) and their three neighbors (Iran, Russia, and Turkey).

But the 3+3 format has failed to take off, largely due to opposition from Georgia, which has said it will “not consider the possibility of participating in any formats that include Russia until it…recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia.”

Friday’s meeting between the Russian and Armenian foreign ministers also saw the two sides pledge to “further develop” ties.

Mirzoyan, the head of Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, added that he is “confident that the effective activity of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh…will contribute to the observance of the ceasefire regime and the prevention of provocations in Nagorno Karabakh.”

In picture: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov takes his seat at the beginning of the 24th OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna, on December 07, 2017. (Photo credit should read VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP via Getty Images)