Ambassador Richard Hoagland, the acting U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, renewed calls for confidence-building measures that have, for many years, been supported by Armenia and rejected by Azerbaijan.
Speaking with Armenian and Azerbaijani Services of the Voice of America on August 9, Hoagland observed that “at this point it will be difficult to ask for total demilitarization, […] so what we have to do is to look for those things that can help to reduce the possibility of some kind of military accident that then gets out of control.” Among steps short of “total demilitarization,” Hoagland identified removal of snipers and establishment of permanent observation missions.
Calls for withdrawal of snipers have been made by the Minsk Group for nearly a decade. Thus, on December 4, 2008 senior foreign ministry officials from France, Russia and the United States called for “pulling back of snipers from the Line of Contact” as a necessary initial confidence-building measure. Azerbaijani officials have since rejected the proposal, arguing instead for more pressure on Armenia to achieve concessions in talks. As a result, over the past decade, aside from the April 2016 escalation in fighting, most of the dozens in annual deaths on both sides of the line of contact have been caused by sniper fire.
In high-level talks following the April fighting, Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev and Armenia’s Serzh Sargsyan agreed to expanded OSCE observation missions, but Aliyev has since refused to implement the agreement. Earlier this year, Azerbaijan blocked funding for OSCE’s Yerevan office, citing its involvement in mine clearance efforts in Karabakh.
There has been no indication that Aliyev was about to change his policy or that cease-fire violators would face any penalties, as has been proposed by a former U.S. envoy Carey Cavanaugh earlier this year.