Armenia and Azerbaijan now fight each other as CSCE members
This week, for the first time, Azerbaijan used Grad rocket launchers to fire upon Stepanakert, and Commander in Chief of the CIS Armed Forces Yevgeny Shaposhnikov called them "weapons of mass destruction banned by the international convention." On February 20, the foreign ministers of new member countries of CSCE, Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as Russia announced their commitment to the CSCE principles in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to experts, progress at the negotiating table will not soon change the situation in the seat of war.
According to the press service of Nagorno-Karabakh Armed Forces, Stepanakert came under severe fire from Shushi on the eve of the ministerial meeting: 67 shells were fired from Grad rocket launchers (BM-21) in two volleys. 17 people were killed and 34 wounded.
The town center was destroyed. According to Azerbaijan's information, out of Nagorno-Karabakh's 54 settlements with Azerbaijani population, only two survived (Shushi and Khojaly) and the deportation of the Azerbaijanis from NKAO is underway.
Nevertheless, the ministerial meeting took place and the sides expressed satisfaction with its outcome. In the communiqué, the sides in fact gave international status to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, approving the idea of "involvement of efforts of CSCE and UN in the interest of settlement of the conflict."
Speaking to Kommersant, Mikhail Kamanin, a spokesman for Russian foreign minister, expressed hope that the "meeting marked the long-awaited beginning of the negotiation process." However, positions of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Karabakh conflict remain irreconcilable. According to Armenian foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian, "the problem would exist even without Armenia because it is a problem of Karabakh people's self-determination." Hovannisian believes that the tension may be eliminated first of all through direct negotiations between NKR and Azerbaijan and that experts from NKR must be included in the working group tasked with preparing negotiations.
Azerbaijani foreign minister Hussein-Aga Sadykhov stated for his part that commitment to the CSCE principles obliges Azerbaijan to respect the rights of ethnic minorities and negotiate
with the Armenian community of Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijan's ethnic minority. The principle of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity is the original principle.
The progress of diplomats did not change the correlation of forces in the seat of war: Commander in Chief of the CIS Armed Forces Yevgeny Shaposhnikov told Sadykhov that the motorized infantry regiment, which, according to Azerbaijani side's information, fights on the Armenian side, will not be withdrawn from Stepanakert. Local observers think that after the use of Grad rocket launchers the Armenians will most likely decide to storm Shushi.