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Volume 806: debated on Wednesday 30 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of violence in the Nagorno-Karabakh region; and what representations they have made to the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan about that violence.

My Lords, the UK is deeply concerned by the conflict along the line of contact in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, especially by the reports of civilians being targeted. The Minister for European Neighbourhood spoke to the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister, Mr Bayramov, and the Armenian Foreign Minister, Mr Mnatsakanyan, on 28 September. Our message has been clear: we are calling for a ceasefire, an end to the hostilities and a return to the negotiation table.

My Lords, since the 1994 ceasefire, we have had the OSCE Minsk Group—headed by France, Russia and the US—and a framework agreement was established. Yesterday, I spoke to Matthew Bryza, the US ambassador who led the framework talks. He felt that the United States had pulled back from mediation efforts. What has the UK done to encourage the US Administration to renew their efforts as part of the Minsk Group, and what have we done within NATO to seek the de-escalation of tensions in the region?

As the noble Lord says, the US co-chairs the Minsk Group. It continues to engage directly with Armenia and Azerbaijan as part of that role. It also issued a joint statement on 27 September, condemning the use of force and calling for a return to negotiations. From the UK perspective, we will continue to work with the US, including through the OSCE and at the UN Security Council. On NATO, both Armenia and Azerbaijan play an important role in the Partnership for Peace, which works to create trust and peace.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this long-expected war in the Caucasus is a danger for a wider conflagration that is complicated by Russia and Turkey supporting different sides and the attentions of the US elsewhere just now? Will the Government do more than make their usual statements and calling in ambassadors, and work actively as a high priority with like-minded countries to achieve an immediate ceasefire to avert a widening conflict?

My Lords, we continue to urge all parties to avoid external interference and rhetoric, which may of course exacerbate the situation in the wider region. We continue to work with our allies in the Security Council, where yesterday a meeting was held at which members voiced support for the call by the Secretary-General to stop the fighting immediately and expressed their full support for the central role of the Minsk Group.

Are the Government aware of reports that a Turkish security company has been recruiting Syrian fighters from Idlib to fight in Azerbaijan? Does the Minister see this as a very dangerous development?

My Lords, we are not able to confirm the media reporting of the recruitment of Syrian troops. We remain concerned about the recent ceasefire violations and of course deeply regret the loss of life. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.

My Lords, do the Government consider that Russia’s co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group peace process conflicts with its geopolitical interests in Armenia, including its basing of armed forces there and its supply of hydrocarbons to the country?

My Lords, Russia of course has long historical links with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. We do not consider that the co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group conflicts with its political interests. A peaceful settlement to the conflict should be in Russia’s interest and we continue to support the Russians in their role as co-chairs.

My Lords, I know from Armenian friends how tragic this is and I understand the potential for this conflict to increase regional instability, and I am therefore pleased with the steps that the Government are taking. However, what discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with the Turkish Government and what pressure do they believe that our Government and the international community can bring to bear to prevent Turkey’s further intervention in this conflict?

The noble Lord rightly highlights the situation in which many civilians find themselves in this conflict, which is why we are keen to do everything we can to de-escalate it. On relations with Turkey, on 28 September, the Prime Minister spoke to President Erdoğan. They agreed on the importance of a return to dialogue. As I have said, we will do all that we can to urge the parties to avoid any external interference.

My Lords, war crimes do not justify further war crimes. The talks have been going on since the early 1990s, so is it not time that we had a new round of peace talks with the parties? I call on the British Government to be one of those leading parties at a round table with NATO and with women from the locality who are on the ground. There can be no peace without women. It is really important that we start the talks afresh.

My Lords, I agree completely with the noble Baroness on the importance of including women in the peace talks. As she will know, when women are involved, we see longer-lasting peace. The international community is fully behind the Minsk process, which we think is the correct mechanism to bring the parties to the table and to see some progress on this.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the allegations that an Armenian aircraft, an Su-25, has been shot down by a Turkish F16 aircraft? Will the Government undertake to investigate whether these allegations are well founded?

My Lords, we are aware of the media reporting and are urgently looking into the situation. I am afraid that I have no further information on that allegation at this time, but these are incredibly worrying reports which underline the desperate need for de-escalation.

Does the Minister agree with the interventions made by Pope Francis and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that call on all parties in the conflict to take concrete steps to resolve this latest clash? Specifically, have Her Majesty’s Government offered to be part of that mediating process? I ask this because we need to find new partners who can offer that mediation if we are to find a way through after so many years of deadlock.

My Lords, we support calls from all the parties to help to de-escalate this process. We are working very closely within the OSCE to support the Minsk Group process and we will continue to do so.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s calls for de-escalation. As my noble friend is aware, Nagorno-Karabakh is a part of Azerbaijan as recognised by international law. What representations have been made by our ambassador at the United Nations in relation to UN meetings as well as bilateral meetings between our ambassador, the Azeri ambassador and the Armenian ambassador?

My Lords, the UK supports the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Azerbaijan while underlining the importance of the UN and OSCE principles that govern relations between member states. We also support the OSCE Minsk Group process and the basic principle that sits beneath it, which includes a return of the occupied territories and the acceptance of a free expression of will on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. A meeting was held yesterday of the Security Council, where our representative expressed concern about the reports of large-scale military actions and underlined our full support for the central role of the Minsk Group co-chairs. We continue to engage diplomatically in the UK with the Minister for the European Neighbourhood, and in both countries.

Given the fact that it was Russia that brought about an end to the war in 1994 and brokered a truce in 2016, what representations have Her Majesty’s Government made to the Russians, and in particular asking them to put pressure on Turkey to stop siphoning Syrian mercenaries into Nagorno-Karabakh?

My Lords, as the noble and right reverend Lord highlights, the Russians have a key part to play in bringing about peace in their role as co-chair of the Minsk Group and we continue to work with them at the OSCE.

My Lords, the OSCE was created to help to ensure stability and peace across the European continent following the end of the Cold War, yet today we have frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, the annexation of part of Ukraine, the continuing problems in Belarus and now a resurgence of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan. What can be done to reform the OSCE to make it more relevant to the 21st century and ensure that it is much more effective in dealing with these situations?

As the noble Lord will know well, the conflicts and issues that he has raised are incredibly complex and very different in their nature and history; there is no easy answer to them. The UK fully supports efforts under the OSCE to find peaceful and lasting solutions to these issues and we will continue to work with the organisation to make sure that it becomes ever more effective.