There is no space for U.S.-Russian competition in the ongoing negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, one senior diplomat has warned, as the two long-time rivals chart a path to peace amid deadly border tensions and significant regional turbulence.

“We should do it by ourselves,” Elin Suleymanov—Azerbaijan’s ambassador to the U.K., its former representative in the U.S., and one of Baku’s leading foreign policy spokespeople—told Newsweek in an interview at the country’s mission in London. “We need to learn to live together.”

“If America acts as an honest broker and provides a platform the way that Chancellor [Olaf] Scholz did, fantastic,” he added, referring to recent talks in Munich.

“If someone—including the United States but not just the United States—tries to pursue its own interests or confrontations with other states, be it Russia or anybody else, in manipulating the peace talks or peace agreement, that doesn’t help anybody, including the Armenians. And actually, it undermines the U.S.’ own position.”

Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh 2020
Russian peacekeepers man a checkpoint on a road outside the town of Stepanakert on November 26, 2020, after six weeks of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Russia retains influence in…


A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek that the U.S. “strongly supports efforts to reach a durable and dignified peace, and we stand ready to help facilitate this process.”

“Direct dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan is essential to resolving this longstanding conflict,” the spokesperson added. “We welcome any good-faith engagements that bring peace and stability to the people of the South Caucasus and that allow the two countries to continue direct dialogue, including bilaterally and with international partners, regardless of where those talks happen or who is hosting.”

“That being said, we have seen Russia’s repeated, devastating aggression against Ukraine, continued occupation of Georgia’s sovereign territory, and destabilizing activities regionally and around the globe. We cannot view Russia as a trustworthy or good-faith ally or partner in the South Caucasus or elsewhere.”

Great Power Rivals

Wedged between Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the South Caucasus region is tense and strategically important. The region is “undergoing a geopolitical transformation” amid the war on Ukraine and the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, wrote Emil Avdaliani for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in February. “The process could yield benefits for the West.”

Ties between Washington, D.C. and Baku have experienced some turbulence since the conclusion of the latest—and possibly last—clash over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory but since the Soviet collapse in 1991 controlled by the ethnic-Armenian Republic of Artsakh.

Suleymanov warned against U.S. overreach. “America has a lot of good in it,” the diplomat said, nodding to memorabilia from his University of Toledo alma mater hanging proudly on the wall of the office.

Baku’s September 2023 one-day offensive into the enclave collapsed the separatist republic after decades of conflict. Soon after, James O’Brien—the State Department’s assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs—said D.C. “made it clear to Azerbaijan that there cannot be business as usual in our bilateral relationship.”

“The United States has condemned Azerbaijani actions in Nagorno-Karabakh, canceled high-level bilateral meetings and engagements with Azerbaijan, and suspended plans for future events.”

Azerbaijan responded by withdrawing from planned peace talks to be held in Washington, D.C. in November, accusing the U.S. of a “one-sided approach.” O’Brien’s subsequent December visit to Baku helped ease those tensions, though some concerns remain in Azerbaijan.

Successfully mediating a historic peace deal would be a boon for any outside nation. That includes Russia, which retains significant influence over the region given its historical control and close proximity.

Indeed, Russia maintains military bases within Armenia—which is a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization—and its FSB-controlled border guards are present at the Zvartnots International Airport outside Yerevan, plus at several border crossings with Turkey and Iran.

“We should not look at it as if it was a competition between the Americans and Russians,” Suleymanov said. “Both of them can do something helpful. But it should not become part of a manipulation.”

“Russia is a major presence in the region. Russia is the largest country in the world and the largest neighbor one could possibly have. It has military presence in Armenia, it has specific business in Azerbaijan. And at the end of the day, much communication-wise and transportation-wise leads to Russia. So, Russia does have an interest in peace.”

“If Russia wants to act as a facilitator of peace, why not?”

Yerevan sees the situation somewhat differently, Varuzhan Nersesyan—Armenia’s ambassador to the U.K. and Ireland—told Newsweek in a separate interview.

“Mediators are necessary, and solid credible international mediators,” he said, noting the recent hosting of bilateral talks by Germany in February and a collective European Union effort in late 2023.

“Credible international mediators are necessary first of all, to help us to overcome the differences, and we believe in mediators’ ability to help us in this sense,” Nersesyan said. “And also, to bring an international perspective, the international community’s perspective. After all, we’re not we’re not signing this in a vacuum.”

Nikol Pashinyan, Olaf Scholz, Ilham Aliyev MSC
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (L), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (C) and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (R) pose for photos at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel during the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2024 in…

Ronald Wittek – Pool/Getty Images

“I think Azerbaijani policy to negotiate without mediators has a certain purpose, to make it easier to push its own position and not to rely on international law,” the diplomat added.

Asked how he considered the U.S. role, Nersesyan replied: “Absolutely supportive, and absolutely useful, their support is useful…U.S. mediation has been very helpful, especially under the Biden administration.”

“It was unfortunate that Azerbaijan refused to attend the latest round that was going to take place in Washington,” he added. “We’re looking forward to having a continuous American engagement in this because—as a global player—U.S. mediation has been very helpful in bridging differences and trying to bring durable solutions to the region.”

Deadly ‘Hiccups’

The two neighbors both stress their prioritization of a peace agreement. Recent meetings between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the Munich Security Conference, and between foreign ministers in Berlin, have raised hopes of a breakthrough.

But there remains a danger of further fighting. Last month, four Armenian soldiers were shot dead along the 621-mile border. Meanwhile, both sides are looking abroad for new weapons deals.

“There was a bit of a negative hiccup after the shootout at the border,” Suleymanov said. “We don’t fully understand what happened, or we don’t fully understand why there was a need for a sniper. Unfortunately, those things happen. This could be related to the fact that there was a long period of calm. Maybe somebody did not want this.”

“Azerbaijan, of course, has retaliated and will retaliate,” the ambassador added. “It’s a very tense situation. We will respond. The idea that someone can poke Azerbaijan and we will not respond is not realistic. But we have indicated that this is an isolated case.”

Nersesyan disputed the characterization. “Azerbaijan initiated, not a ‘hiccup,’ but a major attack against a position within the territory of the Republic of Armenia in response to a reported shooting from the Armenian side.”

“The Armenian Ministry of Defense announced publicly that it was going to conduct an investigation. Azerbaijan, without waiting for any conclusions of the Ministry of Defense, the next day shoots four soldiers on the Armenian side. Those kinds of things of course make major impediments.”

Azerbaijan soldier near Lachin Corridor 2023
An Azerbaijan soldier is pictured looking through binoculars in Lachin, close to the disputed Nagorno-Karabkh region, on September 26, 2023. Azerbaijan has established control over the area, but there are fears of further violence.


The Nagorno-Karabakh issue appears largely settled, but it is not the only territorial dispute. Azerbaijan still occupies some 85 square miles of internationally recognized territory, and has not heeded European or U.S. calls to withdraw.

Baku is also still pushing for direct land access to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic exclave, located southwest of Armenia and separated from Azerbaijan by a strip of Armenian territory some 25 miles wide. Tensions over this region have prompted Pashinyan to warn of imminent Azerbaijani invasion.

“We hear a lot about this impending Azerbaijani invasion; sometimes I feel that people want us to invade,” Suleymanov said. “We have no intention of invading. What we want, we said many times, we want a secure corridor to Nakhchivan.”

Baku has called for the so-called “Zangezur corridor” to bridge the gap, a route that would feed into larger transnational projects linking Europe to China. Baku wants the route under its own jurisdiction. Yerevan does not, and has proposed a route under its jurisdiction as part of the “Crossroads of Peace” concept. This issue could prove a significant sticking point.

“First of all, there is no such thing as the Zangezur corridor,” Nersesyan said. “It seems that the notion of the so-called Zangezur corridor is a pretext to attack Armenia.”