By Mark Dovich
French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Russia of taking steps to purposefully sabotage ongoing peace negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, prompting outrage in Moscow and Baku.
In an interview with French television Wednesday, Macron said, “The Russians have used this conflict…and played Azerbaijan’s game with Turkish complicity and came back to weaken Armenia, which was once a country it (Russia) was close to.”
“You see what’s happening? It’s an effort by Russia to destabilize. It wants to create disorder in the Caucasus to destabilize all of us,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded Friday, saying he was “surprised” by Macron’s remarks.
“I think that, in these statements, there is no understanding of the course of the conflict itself,” Putin said. “Therefore, they (Macron’s remarks) sounded incorrect, I would even say distorted, and therefore they are unacceptable.”
“Russia has always sincerely sought to resolve any conflicts, including issues related to Karabakh and around it,” he added.
Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, was more combative, hitting back at Macron’s remarks as “outrageous and absolutely unacceptable.”
“Such attacks…are evidence of attempts to transfer the logic of confrontation from Ukraine to other parts of the post-Soviet space, including the South Caucasus,” she said. “The absurd fabrications of the French president speak of Paris’ disinterest in establishing lasting peace in the region and call into question his country’s ability to play a constructive role there.”
The weeks since Azerbaijan’s unprecedented assault on Armenia last month have seen a flurry of high-level contacts between Armenia and Azerbaijan and deepening diplomatic engagement by Western countries, particularly France and the United States.
Meanwhile, Russia, the region’s traditional security guarantor, has appeared preoccupied by its war against Ukraine, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russian-led military alliance, pointedly declined to assist Armenia after last month’s clashes, despite treaty obligations.
Russia now seems to be trying to reassert its mediating role, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov holding a meeting Friday with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, while Putin invited the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders for another round of talks “in Russia, at any time, at any place.”
Days earlier, Lavrov announced the CSTO was ready to dispatch a monitoring mission to the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, shortly on the heels of the European Union’s formal decision to send its own civilian mission to the region.
The EU’s decision prompted Moscow to accuse Brussels of interference and attempting “to oust our country’s mediation efforts.”
Zakharova seemed to hint at Russia’s desire to reclaim its position in the region in her response to Macron, saying, “Unlike France…Russia has contributed in practical terms to the settlement of the conflict…It is Russia that launched work on the comprehensive normalization of relations between Baku and Yerevan.”
“Paris’ attempts to drive a wedge into Russia’s relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia…are doomed to failure and will lead only to the further depreciation of France’s authority in the region,” she concluded.
Baku has also expressed outrage over Macron’s remarks, with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry calling them “completely one-sided” and “unacceptable,” adding that they “seriously cast doubt on the neutrality and impartiality of his mediation efforts.”