MOSCOW, January 13. /TASS/. Russia has never said the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement must be confined to the return of seven districts of the region to Azerbaijan without taking care of its status, the Russian co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, special ambassador Igor Popov said in the wake of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s article Origins of the 44-Day War.
"Claims to the effect Russia called for returning seven districts ‘in exchange for nothing’ and forgetting about its status have nothing to do with the reality," the diplomat said.
Popov said that in his article Pashinyan most likely used the term "Russian proposals" in relation to the multi-stage settlement plan. Its latest version was handed over to the conflicting parties in June 2019.
"That plan, largely identical to the Kazan document, is based on the fundamental principles of the Karabakh settlement, such as the return of five districts to Azerbaijan in the first phase and another two in the second phase. It should be stressed that the handover was firmly linked with the determination of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status," he explained.
The diplomat also stressed that among other elements of the first stage reflecting Armenia’s interests was the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s rights that would guarantee full-scale activity of its population, participation of Nagorno-Karabakh’s representatives in OSCE sessions, the lifting of the blockade, the opening of borders and the bilateral pledge not to use force.
About the question of the territories’ status Popov said it should be remembered that among the proposals that remained on the negotiating table in recent years there were the determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh "by means of holding (within the dates agreed by the sides and under the aegis of the UN or the OSCE) popular voting that would express in a free way the will of Nagorno-Karabakh’s population and be legally binding in accordance with the rules and norms of international law." The diplomat stressed that the question or questions to be put to the vote would be formulated with no restrictions set and that any outcome of the voting was to be respected by the sides.
"Incidentally, it was proposed that the width and status of the Lachin corridor would be considered only in the second phase following the return of the Kelbajar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan," he added.
Popov stressed that neither the Armenian side nor the Azerbaijani one rejected this proposal. Although complete accord remained unachieved, negotiations had continued on a regular basis up to 2018, when Yerevan came out with new approaches.