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US silence on Armenia-Azerbaijan battle displays worldwide disengagement

US silence on Armenia-Azerbaijan battle displays worldwide disengagement

Photograph: Antonio Bat/EPA

Headlines final week that the presidents of Russia and France have been collectively calling for a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh have been “heartbreaking” to Carey Cavanaugh, a former US ambassador charged with serving to to resolve the battle between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Partly it was as a result of they meant the century-old dispute had flared up once more, killing greater than 400 individuals up to now, together with greater than a dozen civilians. But it was additionally as a result of the US – which, together with France and Russia, varieties the OSCE Minsk Group, a troika that has labored to finish the battle since 1993 – was lacking from the assertion.

Related: Why are Armenia and Azerbaijan fighting and what are the implications?

“The US wasn’t coordinated into that discussion,” mentioned Cavanaugh, the previous US consultant to the Minsk Group.

He is amongst observers of the Caucasus who see on this week’s occasions the newest instance of US diplomatic disengagement from theatres around the globe, amid wider fears of a hollowing out of the US state department under Donald Trump.

“The Americans have withdrawn from this issue,” mentioned Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow specialising within the Caucasus with Carnegie Europe. “If Trump has heard of Azerbaijan, it’s because it’s a place he wanted to build a Trump tower in.”

The Trump administration has been largely silent concerning the battle. Secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, solely commented on it when requested about it in an interview this week, and he was non-committal.

“Our view is that this has been a longstanding conflict between these two countries in this particular piece of real estate,” Pompeo instructed Fox News. “We’re discouraging internationalization of this. We think outsiders ought to stay out. We’re urging a ceasefire. We want them both to back up. We’ve spoken to the leadership in each of the two countries, asking them to do just that.”

Under the Trump administration, the US has taken a again seat on many main worldwide points, in comparison with earlier administrations, notably when it impacts the Russian sphere of affect. Trump has constantly prevented statements that might irritate Vladimir Putin. US allies, just like the UK and Lithuania, have not too long ago tried to influence the state division to be extra aggressive in its response to the suppression of protests in Belarus and the poisoning of Russian opposition chief, Alexei Navalny.

America’s lack of curiosity in Nagorno-Karabakh was first flagged in August 2017 when the US appointed its new consultant to the Minsk Group, Andrew Schofer, however didn’t grant him ambassador standing – placing him at a decrease rank than his French and Russian counterparts.

In a finely balanced, advanced regional dispute, that call risked delegitimising diplomatic efforts, mentioned Cavanaugh. “Maintaining that equality was important, because it gives Armenia and Azerbaijan a sense of balance in the process. You don’t have to worry that Russia is being unduly influential [in the Group], or the United States either.”

US embassies in Azerbaijan and Armenia each issued journey advisories to their residents, warning of attainable heightened violence in Nagorno-Karabakh. Their fears – borne out 48 hours later – weren’t echoed by Washington. “The US state department wasn’t issuing a statement saying we’re worried about the conflict,” de Waal says, describing it as “missing in action”.

It was not till Thursday – 5 days because the conflict erupted – {that a} full Minsk Group assertion was issued condemning the preventing.

It in contrast starkly with US diplomatic exercise the final time the 2 nations clashed in a four-day conflict in 2016. “In that case we saw the secretary of state calling both leaders,” says Olesya Vartanyan, from the International Crisis Group.

“Secretary [John] Kerry took part in the first summit of the Azerbaijan and Armenian presidents along with his counterparts from France and Russia. And his presence definitely played a role, because they were able to agree on some measures to pacify the situation and prevent new escalations,” she says.

“Since this president [Trump], the curiosity on this battle has primarily disappeared, and what we’ve seen is way much less shuttle diplomacy happening. The guys who used to characterize the US earlier than would go the area and converse to the leaders and generally civil society to study their views, see what might be accomplished, they usually have been arising with totally different proposals. Not all of it labored, nevertheless it helped.

“Because when these two sides (Armenia and Azerbaijan) are left on their very own, what we’ve seen up to now and not too long ago is there’s a greater risk for tensions, new clashes and escalations.”

A spokesman for the US state division mentioned in a press release that Washington’s place on the battle had not modified and that either side wanted to stop hostilities instantly and work with the Minsk Group members to return to substantive negotiations.

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