The thorny path of negotiation around the peaceful resolution to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh started in 1992, almost twenty years ago. Despite the introduction of the OSCE Minsk Process at the OSCE Budapest Summit (the OSCE Minsk Group itself was created to find a political solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1992) in 1994 and the creation of the triple co-chairmanship in 1997 (including Russia, France, and the US), no tangible results have been achieved in the conflict resolution process so far.
Nevertheless, during these years the negotiation process itself has had its ups and downs and the last two years provide an excellent example of this striking discrepancy. If 2009 was considered by politicians, representatives of international organizations, and the expert community as quite successful from the perspective of intensification of the negotiation process and the introduction of a number of concurrent initiatives by regional and non-regional actors, contrary to all expectations 2010 has not yet brought any positive change and the parties have not finalized their agreement on basic principles for a settlement to this conflict in order to reach a comprehensive peace agreement.
There is a certain perception that “peace settlements that enjoy high level of third-party assistance and support during the entire course of the peacemaking and peacebuilding process are arguably more likely to succeed than those that do not” (Hampson, 1996, p. 13). In this context, while concentrating on the current status of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict let’s analyze the mediation efforts and local dynamics of this particular conflict.
On the one hand, the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group have been closely engaged in shuttle diplomacy between the conflicting parties in 2009/2010, and the Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries, including Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and US Deputy Secretary of State of James Steinberg, intervened in this process as necessary.
Two Joint Statements on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict were issued by the leaders of the OSCE Minsk Group's co-chair countries — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, US President Barack Obama, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy — at the l’Aquila Summit of the Eight in Italy on July 10, 2009 and the Muskoka G8 Summit in Canada on June 26, 2010. In both documents, the presidents affirmed their commitment to support the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan as they finalize the basic principles for a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which consists of six elements. They include a call for inter alia return of the occupied territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control; an interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh guaranteeing security and self-governance; a corridor linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh; the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh to be determined in the future by a legally-binding expression of will; the right of all internally displaced persons and refugees to return to their homes; and international security guarantees, including a peacekeeping operation.

The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan were also urged to resolve the few differences remaining between them and complete the work on the updated version of the basic principles to enable the drafting of a peace agreement to begin.

On the other hand, by President Medvedev’s initiative Russia's mediation efforts were intensified after the Moscow Declaration was signed in November 2008 by the Russian, Azerbaijani, and Armenian presidents. As a result, six trilateral meetings took place over the past two years. Two of them were held in 2010 – on January 25 in Sochi and on June 17 in St. Petersburg. The parties agreed on the wording of the preamble of the basic principles during the Sochi meeting, shortly after which Azerbaijan accepted the updated version of the basic principles with a few reservations. However, Armenia has not expressed either a "yes" or "no" response on this document so far.

On June 17, 2010, the second meeting was held in St. Petersburg within the framework of the 14th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. According to a statement issued by President Medvedev's office, “the three leaders discussed the main problems in reaching a settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Discussions on a draft text setting out the main provisions for a settlement resulted in rapprochement on a number of disputed points.”

A month later, on July 17, 2010, the Heads of Delegation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries met on the margins of the OSCE Informal Ministerial with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Elmar Mammadyarov and the Foreign Minister of Armenia Edward Nalbandian in Almaty, Kazakhstan. However after this meeting, the joint statement in the “3+2” format of five foreign ministers became impossible as the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers did not agree on the Joint Statement and it was issued on behalf of the ministers of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries.

Thus, in this Joint Statement it was “reiterated that the elements articulated by Presidents Medvedev, Sarkozy, and Obama on July 10, 2009 at L'Aquila and repeated at Muskoka on June 26, 2010 must be the foundation of any fair and lasting settlement to the conflict. These proposed elements have been conceived as an integrated whole, and any attempt to select some elements over others would make it impossible to achieve a balanced solution. Foreign Minister Kouchner and Deputy Secretary Steinberg expressed appreciation for the efforts of President Medvedev and Foreign Minister Lavrov to bridge the differences between the parties, taking into consideration the positions discussed during the meetings in Sochi on January 25, 2010 and in St. Petersburg on June 17, 2010.” It was also underlined in this statement that “the efforts made so far by the parties to the conflict have not been sufficient to overcome their differences,” and “a greater spirit of compromise to reach agreement on a common basis for continuing the negotiations” is needed.

One of such issues, for example, seems to be that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs proposed a five-year deadline for the return of Kelbajar and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan’s administrative control. According to Mammadyarov as reported by News.Az, this issue was discussed in St. Petersburg as well as supposedly in Almaty. Baku accepted this proposal; however the Armenian side dismissed it later on, making the condition that the return of these two districts could be realized only if Azerbaijan agreed to accept the results of a referendum on the status of Karabakh. Summarizing this situation, Mammadyarov said at a press conference held in Baku that "we find it difficult to hold talks when Yerevan again raises decisions that have already been coordinated on these two districts.”

Thus, some differences still exist between the conflicting parties that make the negotiation process inconclusive, putting serious obstacles in the way of achieving a long-awaited breakthrough. It is also laying a foundation for a downbeat prognosis on the possible future rapprochement between Armenian and Azerbaijani positions at the negotiation table. At the same time, according to Lavrov, one of the reasons it seems that there are no visible results on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is that the work is carried out confidentially. But as a participant in this work, he also indicated that there are results, which are not visible to a wide audience. The parties have almost reached a compromise formulation on a significant part of the text; however, there are two to three concrete problems, which require further efforts. By underlining that upon the completion of the work on the basic principles as a political document, it will be necessary to develop a legal document — a peace agreement, which “would require much greater penetration into the details, but the devil lies in the details.”

In this context, information on the activation of mediation efforts in the months leading up to the OSCE Summit in Astana on December 1-2, 2010 could be considered a positive sign. The statement released on September 6 of this year by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, summarized their activities in this period. It envisaged discussion on additional actions necessary to strengthen the cease-fire, promotion of a spirit of compromise by all parties, and finalization of modalities for further action during the meetings to be held in Baku, Yerevan, and Nagorno-Karabakh on September 6-10. “During the third full week of September, the co-chairs will travel to Washington, D.C. and then to New York to work with the sides on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly,” the statement read.

Visits by the co-chairs to the region have also been planned to conduct a field assessment mission together with a team of high-level advisors and experts, including representatives from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others, to observe the humanitarian situation in the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh between late September and mid October. It will be the first international mission in these territories since the OSCE fact-finding mission in early 2005. “Shortly thereafter, the co-chairs will brief the OSCE Minsk Group in Vienna on their findings. Then the co-chairs will present their annual activity report to the OSCE Permanent Council and actively prepare the OSCE Summit in Astana with the sides,” the Minsk Group statement released on September 6 read.

Therefore, if these wide-ranging mediation efforts will be successfully combined with the positive local dynamics, perhaps it will be possible to solve the few remaining issues and complete the basic principles for a peace agreement before the OSCE Summit in Astana in 2010.