The US president’s administration has recently shown signs of engaging more deeply with Azerbaijan and toward counterbalancing growing Russian influence in the region as a whole, Azerbaijani Ambassador to Washington Elin Suleymanov said in an interview with The Washington Times.
Suleymanov stressed that far more US attention will be needed to prevent a wider regional security meltdown and suggested the Obama administration missed a rare chance to exert real influence between Turkey, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan following the early-April clash.
On the night of April 2, 2016, all the frontier positions of Azerbaijan were subjected to heavy fire from the Armenian side, which used large-caliber weapons, mortars and grenade launchers. The armed clashes resulted in deaths and injuries among the Azerbaijani population. Azerbaijan responded with a counter-attack, which led to liberation of several strategic heights and settlements. Military operations were stopped on the line of contact between Azerbaijani and Armenian armies on Apr. 5 at 12:00 (UTC/GMT + 4 hours) with the consent of the sides, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry earlier said. Ignoring the agreement, the Armenian side again started violating the ceasefire.
Suleymanov added that it was Russian President Vladimir Putin – not President Obama – who has exploited the situation, portraying himself as a peacemaker and summoning Armenian and Azerbaijani military officials to Moscow to restore a ceasefire over Nagorno-Karabakh.
“It is obvious today that Russia’s profile as a major diplomatic power in the region has risen significantly over the last two weeks,” the ambassador said. “Russia is a very decisive player. We’ve seen it. And over the last two weeks, we’ve seen Russia being even more engaged than before.”
The ambassador noted that Azerbaijani officials have “for a long time called for a more engaged US policy in the region”.
“If the US engages in that peacemaking effort, along with Russia, that would be good,” he said. “For peace to hold and to last, I think what we want to have is a stronger engagement from all the players, including the US and France.”
The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. As a result of the ensuing war, in 1992 Armenian armed forces occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts. The 1994 ceasefire agreement was followed by peace negotiations. Armenia has not yet implemented four UN Security Council resolutions on withdrawal of its armed forces from the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts.