New documents provide a unique insight into how the talks in post-war Nagorno-Karabach during Ann Linde's time as chair of the OSCE took place. Among other things, they show that an increased allocation of resources to bring about a peace agreement was not a priority.
Av Rasmus Canbäck 2 juni, 2022
This is a translated text from the original article in Swedish. Some of the quotes have first been translated into Swedish from English, and then translated back again. For every quote there is a link referring to its original source. The text is primarily written for a Swedish audience.
This is a continuation of the two reviews published in May by Blankspot about the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s collaboration with ISDP, a research institute that receives money from Azerbaijan. This collaboration occurred while Foreign Minister Ann Linde served as chair of the OSCE in 2021 and was responsible for initiating peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Blankspot has read the available portions of public documents that map the initial peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Approximately 75-80% of the documents are classified, and other parts of them were redacted after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ secrecy review. Despite this, the documents show active talks and the presence of Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde in the initial peace talks between the warring parties.
At this same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave money to the research institute ISDP, which has far-reaching relations with Azerbaijan.
In the dossier order made to the Foreign Ministry’s registrar, Blankspot requested all correspondence with accompanying appendices between the Foreign Ministry’s officials for the presidency of the OSCE and Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as correspondence with the Minsk Group’s presidency countries (Russia, France and USA).
The OSCE Minority Group bears the formal responsibility of the UN Security Council to assist with peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Blankspot has received 6 documents in response:
1. An e-mail conversation with the US delegation of the Minsk Group dated November 2, 2020, one week prior to the signing of the ceasefire statement.
2. A briefing for Ann Linde from the Minsk Group dated November 12, 2020, three days after the ceasefire.
3. A briefing from the Swedish Ambassador in Azerbaijan to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated November 25, 2020. This was prior to the Swedish Presidency of the OSCE.
4. A summary of Ann Linde’s visit to Azerbaijan on March 14-15, 2021 when peace talks were to be initiated by the OSCE.
5. A summary of Ann Linde’s visit to Armenia on March 16, 2021 with the same purpose as 4 (but in Armenia).
6. A summary of Ann Linde’s talks with the Armenian and Azerbaijani Ambassadors to continue peace talks from 13 May 2021.
In short, the documents show trust issues between the warring parties and the OSCE, as well as different views on important issues such as the status of the Armenian prisoners of war. The data also show that the OSCE considers Russia’s presence in Nagorno-Karabakh to be in line with previous 2009 peace talks (Madrid Principles).
Furthermore, the documents serve as a timeline of how the initial peace negotiations under the OSCE developed.
- This is the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh
- Nagorno-Karabakh is one of several long-lasting conflict areas in the Caucasus. Suppressed ethnic strife flared up in connection with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Azerbaijan and Armenia ended up in war over Nagorno-Karabakh, whereupon a ceasefire was concluded in 1994. (Facts: Landguiden).
- According to the UN mandate, the Minsk Group under the OSCE is responsible for the peace negotiations. The closest thing to a peace agreement is the common Madrid principles of 2009, which have been signed but not ratified. The principles are based on the Helsinki Convention with regard to a people’s right to self-determination and the territorial integrity of a country. (Facts: The Minsk Group).
- Since the war in 2020, there has been a fragile ceasefire guraded by about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers with a five-year mandate, which has been agreed to between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. The troops’ task is to protect the Armenian population in the region, which is de facto autonomous from Azerbaijan. (Facts: BBC).
- Ahead of Sweden’s presidency of the OSCE in 2021, Foreign Minister Ann Linde declared that Nagorno-Karabakh was one of the most prioritized areas during her year as president of OSCE. The start of peace talks after the war was a key issue. (Facts: Regeringskansliet).
The first document, which is from the final stages of the war on 2 November 2020, states that Sweden was beginning talks with the Minsk Group co-chairs (France, Russia and the USA) and the OSCE Presidency’s personal representative Andrzej Karsprzyk. The latter acted as Ann Linde’s closest advisor during the presidency.
In the correspondence, it appears the US co-chair, Andrew Schofer, wanted to ensure that Ann Linde during the Swedish Presidency would keep the same line as the Minsk Group had up until that point. They also addressed the developments of the war.
Among other things, the question of a Scandinavian peacekeeping force was raised instead of a Russian one. The American co-chair of the Minsk group emphasized that Russia planned to deploy its own peacekeeping troops. The United States preferred to find alternatives, or at least to have the ability to offer ones in the long run.
It also appears that the United States was disappointed that the three previous attempts at ceasefire made during the course of the war were so quickly broken. The US delegate states that it perceives Armenia wants an immediate ceasefire to conduct humanitarian operations, while the Azerbaijani side does not want a ceasefire until a package deal with “substantial talks” is in place. The continuation is confidential.
The US delegate also called it “ridiculous” to continue talks on ceasefire when the warring parties had not followed those they had already agreed upon.
Furthermore, it appears that both warring parties wanted to increase the budget for the OSCE’s efforts in the peace talks to enable more confidence-building measures. Sweden’s representative declined the request.
Finally, Karsprzyk criticizes both sides for being unafraid of the fact that the war jeopardizes the “existence of the OSCE”.
On November 12, three days after the ceasefire agreement was signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan with Russia’s help, Ann Linde requested a briefing from the Minsk Group.
The American co-chair states in the briefing that it is not useful to initiate peace talks between the parties until they are “genuinely” prepared to take that step. It is also noted surprisingly that the parties have several common points, though those points are confidential.
The document notes that the Russian peacekeeping troops are in line with the OSCE-negotiated Madrid Principles of 2009. One of the clauses was that Nagorno-Karabakh would be guarded by international troops until a referendum on the status of the region took place.
The document states that the idea of a Scandinavian peacekeeping force is abandoned. This is mainly due to the fact that Ann Linde points out that “Sweden is not neutral, it is non-aligned”. In addition, she adds “we would need to carefully consider any future inquiries – a process that requires time”.
It is emphasized that Ann Linde’s role as chair of the OSCE is to coordinate the implementation of field presence with the participating states and to initiate peace talks.
The e-mail conversations from November 25, in which Sweden’s ambassador to Azerbaijan Christian Kamill, describes his preparatory meetings, are almost entirely confidential. The only thing that is clear is that he has had meetings with Mehriban Aliyeva’s assistant, who is both President Ilham Aliyev’s wife and also Vice President. It indicates that Azerbaijan is curious about what Sweden’s positioning will be during its upcoming OSCE Presidency.
The statements from Azerbaijan on 14-15 March and Armenia on 16 March are fuller. Previous documentation showed that the OSCE did not intend to meet with the parties if they were not genuinely interested in talks, and Ann Linde’s trips to the countries resulted in the first time such talks took place at the top level since the war.
Ann Linde met the top leaders and foreign ministers in both countries.
The meeting with Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan had a “good mood”, writes Ambassador Christian Kamill. Much of the text is confidential, but Ann Linde emphasizes that the Minsk group’s format is suitable for “facilitating” peace efforts.
Furthermore, Ann Linde addressed the treatment of prisoners of war, which has been one of the most imflammatory issues of the post-war period.
Shortly after the war, Armenia handed over all prisoners of war it held to Azerbaijan, while up to 200 Armenians remained in Azerbaijani captivity. Several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have accused Azerbaijan of failing to comply with the rules governing prisoners of war. At the meeting with Ilham Aliyev, Ann Linde emphasizes the importance of their being returned in accordance with international law.
The documents further state that at a subsequent press conference the next day with Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, Ann Linde raised the issue again, but that Bayramov took the floor and claimed that the Armenians were captured after November 10 thus are not considered prisoners of war by Azerbaijan.
How Ilham Aliyev discussed the issue when he spoke to Ann Linde is confidential. However, it became known in a video recording of a conversation between the Aliyev couple and the Erdogan couple of Turkey that the prisoners of war were considered a good bargaining chip against Armenia.
Since then, a couple of exchanges have taken place for prisoners of war have taken place in exchange for Armenia providing mine maps to Azerbaijan. There are still about thirty left who have been convicted in Azerbaijani civil court. That is, they were not convicted as prisoners of war.
Ann Linde has since, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, called the prisoners of war “prisoners”. However, the Red Cross has pointed out that the status of the prisoners needs to be resolved between Azerbaijan and Armenia and that they are ready to ensure a safe handover. The difference between the status of “prisoner” and “prisoner of war” is whether the detainee is covered by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.
The documents from the meetings on 16 March in Armenia show that Ann Linde, in addition to meetings with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and then-Foreign Minister Ara Aivizian, also had a brief informal – and undocumented – meeting with representatives from Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital Stepanakert.
In the conversation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the importance of adding more resources to the peace talks was emphasized, which was also already up on 02 November 2020 and was then rejected by the Swedish delegation. Aivizian also stressed the fear of a full-scale war resuming that could lead to a new genocide of Armenians. This is in view of the fact that Armenia borders Turkey which assisted Azerbaijan during the 2020 war.
During the conversatsion with Pashinyan, Pashinyan again raised the issue of prisoners of war, and also stated his expectation that Sweden’s presidency of the OSCE would contribute to a final conflict resolution where Nagorno-Karabakh’s status is taken into account.
Aivizian also raised concerns that Armenian cultural heritage is being threatened by Azerbaijan in the large areas taken over by Baku.
These fears were shown to have been come true in February 2022, as reported on by Blankspot. This is despite the fact that the issue was raised at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Azerbaijan also raised the issue of the destruction of sites of Azerbaijani cultural heritage destruction during its meetings.
Finally, Ann Linde emphasized that a final peace agreement was not a Swedish priority during the Presidency of the OSCE, but rather to state that the agreement on ceasefire was followed.
This is what it says in the documentation:
Sweden’s priorities within the presidency were mentioned. The ceasefire agreement was only such, not a final peace agreement. Here, the OSCE could contribute with further conflict resolution efforts ”.
In the last document from 13 May 2021, it appears that Linde called for respective meetings with both the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers. The reason is the reports of Armenia’s accusations against Azerbaijan of having invaded the Armenian province of Syunik on 12 May.
While the Armenian Foreign Minister emphasizes the importance of the world community distancing itself from Azerbaijan’s actions, the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister claims that the boundaries are not clear after the 2020 war.
Blankspot contacts the Ministry for Foreign Affairs with the question of the priorities during the presidency. The writings that the budget did not change despite the war, and that Linde during her visit to Armenia announced that ceasefire is a priority over a peace agreement are mentioned in the email to Ann Linde’s press secretary.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs answers the following:
“Sweden and the EU welcomed the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan as it put an end to the fighting. However, the ceasefire was only a first step towards a peace agreement. During the Swedish Presidency, the work for the parties to take further steps towards a peace agreement was a high priority. It was hard work shortly after an armed conflict with many dead and with great human suffering. The Minsk Group and the Presidency’s personal representative have made efforts to move the process forward.”
A lot has happened since May 2021, and although the Minsk Group under the OSCE is the formal mediation effort, talks have taken place elsewhere.
In the autumn of 2021, a number of bilateral talks were held between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Russia, but they did not lead to a closer solution.
On the other hand, talks in the spring of 2022, led by Council of Europe President Charles Michel, have led the parties to agree on a number of overarching principles. Among other things, they aim to review the boundaries in the region and to continue the peace talks.
In Azerbaijan, the leadership has interpreted that the principles include transferring control of the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh to them, while in Armenia it is not considered that the issue has been resolved. The de facto government of Nagorno-Karabakh has distanced itself from both parties and wants to represent itself.
Ilham Aliyev has threatened a new war if the principles are not followed.
In the summer of 2021, a by-election was called in Armenia as a result of the loss in the war of 2020. Despite dissatisfaction with Pashinyan’s government, it nevertheless won the election by an overwhelming margin.
As we approach summer 2022, demonstrations are again ongoing in Yerevan as the opposition perceives the Armenian government is about to make major concessions to Azerbaijan.
As a result of Russia’s escalation of the conflict and later the war of aggression in Ukraine, statements from the Minsk Group and the OSCE on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have fallen silent, as the other co-chairs are unwilling to work with Russia.
At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to cooperate with the research institute ISDP, which receives money from Azerbaijan and which pays tribute to its President Ilham Aliyev.
Blankspot has appealed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ assessment of confidentiality for the disclosed documents.
Read the first part of the investigation here
Read the second part of the investigation here
After his first article on the ISDP, Rasmus Canbäck was subjected to harassment from state representatives in Azerbaijan, which the newspaper Journalisten reported on ”Swedish journalist blacklisted by Azerbaijan” Read the article here.
About the author: Rasmus Canbäck is up to date with the book ”Every day I die slowly” about the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Over the past year, he has conducted a series of investigations for Blankspot about Sweden’s links to Azerbaijan, including that the regime organizes invitation trips for journalists. It garnered much attention last winter.