Caucasian endspiel. The 20th anniversary of the OSCE Minsk Group, which managed to achieve shaky but still truce success in Nagorny Karabakh, is celebrated in Baku moderately. There is no firm peace: in sporadic fire-fights several dozens of people are killed annually. And local experts consider that after the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin the hopes for stability in the region of South Caucasus reduced.
On March 15th, Robert Sedrakovich (Kocharyan) unexpectedly came from Yerevan to visit Vladimir Vladimirovich. Being the President almost all zero years, in June 2009 – and as they say with Putin’s protection – he landed with gold parachute into the chair of an independent director of the Joint Stock Financial Corporation “Sistema”. In Armenia since recently out-of-party Kocharyan has been considered a political pensioner: relations with the leaders of the ruling party in the Republic “Flourishing Armenia” (PPA) are bad, even up to that he wasn’t invited to the party summit in March. And suddenly - an unexpected visit to Moscow to the newly elected President of Russia (only to congratulate?), almost two-hours talk face-to-face and no official comments. What did they discuss so long, if the current issues of bilateral relations literally a week beforehand were raised during the summit of governments within the frameworks of the meeting of Putin with his Armenian colleague Tigran Sargsyan?
In Yerevan the visit of Kocharyan to Moscow was commented surprisingly scantily even by independent Mass Media. But in Baku it incited quite a great interest.
By a Big Pie
According to European diplomatic sources in Baku, Putin was interested in the prospects of return of Kocharyan into big policy after the parliamentary elections in May 6th. And this interest was not a plain curiosity. Moscow is not satisfied with the quality of contacts with the current Armenian government.
But Kocharyan for Putin is the one to help Russia to get back to carve-up of a big Caucasian pie, from which after the war with Georgia it was distanced. Yet in 2007 in course of his presidency Kocharyan personally agreed with the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on construction of a railway from Iran to Armenia.
Involvement into participation in the project with preliminary cost of 2 billion dollars was initially expressed also by RZHD, after several rounds of talks Yerevan and Moscow chapped hands. But in 2008 the term of Kocharyan’s presidency ended. And in the end that year the project suspended. The reason announced in Moscow and Yerevan: “rapidly worsened international situation around Iran”. Less announced: after the leave of Kocharyan as well as the war of Russian with Georgia the new Armenian Government unexpectedly suggested China to take part in the project.
“Chinese understood immediately: This is pure political project, its economic productivity is small – thus they started to linger with the reply.
Moscow got angry with Yerevan, former trust was lost,” – dwells a diplomat – the interlocutor of The New Times. Now Putin again wants to get back to the idea of “small political project” at South Caucasus. First of all to eliminate the threat of a wide-scale military conflict by its southern borders due to Iranian nuclear program.
Secondly, Moscow is jealous about Baku and Tbilisi, which in the end of the year successfully finalize together with Turkey a joint railway project, a road Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, of the total amount of almost $600 mln. And by the way no “complicated situation” in the region impeded this.
However in order to become again a full-value player in Caucasus, sole friendship of Russia and Armenia is not enough, as Baku political analyst Rafik Mamedov considers: “Moscow has to establish real partner relations with Baku and Tbilisi, that stuck in Karabakh, Abkhaz and South Ossetia dead-ends. And it’s quite a big question whether Putin is able to do this”.
Not the One in Tandem
“No matter what WikiLeaks floods President Aliyev established warm relations with the President Medvedev, there won’t be the ones with Putin”, - assures The New Times a Baku analyst Nidgat Samedoglu.
(According to the diplomatic dispatches, published by WikiLeaks the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev in a private conversation disparagingly called Medvedev to be Putin’s puppet.)
Although he immediately admitted that by Medvedev despite ten three-party meetings Russia-Armenia-Azerbaijan within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group, promotion within regulation of Karabakh issue failed completely. “Medvedev had a sincere wish to do something, but no real options”, - says the analyst hinting at that the vector of real policy of Russia in Transcaucasia was defined by another member of the tandem-in-power.
“Putin didn’t like Baku policy a lot, - explains the analyst of the fund Eurasia James Manning working in Baku – including close contacts with NATO in the sphere of military construction (in 2011 they achieved an agreement on re-equipment of Azerbaijani army in accordance with NATO samples), unwillingness of Aliyev to coordinate with Moscow the positions in export market of hydrocarbons, and finally his friendship with Tbilisi, the crown of which was the March visit of Mikheil Saakashvili in Baku”. But Aliyev also paid his debt. Azerbaijan didn’t coordinate the schedule of the 11th meeting on Karabakh, and instead notified Moscow about the oncoming increase of tariff for the rent of Gabala Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) station – the only military object of Russia within the territory of the republic.
By this immediately in 40 times – from $7 mln to $300 mln annually * *The term of 10-years treaty of RADAR rent expires this year, all formalities on the conditions of its extension should be finalized by June 9th. And this all happened only a week before the elections in Russia.
Module is the Decisive
Moscow is ready to pay for the RADAR rent not more than $15-20 annually.
“Inadequate increase of the price is a coded signal for Putin and unwillingness of Baku to extend the rent treaty itself”, - suggests military expert Khafiz Mamedov. The case is that Moscow would like to extend not only the term of the treaty (for 25 years), but simultaneously to change its format: new “module” RADAR shall gain the status of the military base of the Russian Federation within Azerbaijani territory, becoming the property of Russia.
“Today Moscow shares information on the RADAR with Baku, in new conditions it won’t have to do this, - explains Mamedov. – So why do we need this station then?”
According to the expert, in Baku they realize: Russian plans towards Gabala – is the reply for NATO location of EuroPRO RADAR in Turkey.
It is expected that the RADAR shall be located and commissioned till the end of this year. “Replying on NATO and Turkey plans with the hands of Azerbaijan – strategic ally of Ankara in the region, Moscow offputs us, - notes Khafiz Mamedov. – Do they realize it in the Kremlin?”
If Azerbaijan doesn’t sign the new treaty with Russia on Gabalin RADAR, which most likely happens, bilateral relations shall collapse, forecasts the expert. Putin will have nothing else to do but to construct RADAR in Armenia. And for this once again he’ll need his own reliable person – Robert Kocharyan.
On March 7th, the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili held a speech in the Azerbaijani Parliament. Tbilisi and Baku as he underlined develop strategic partnership, but their union will not be against anyone. “It’s 2012 and everybody should understand that all attempts to revive the Soviet Union are fated to fail, - said Saakashvili. – People won’t refuse of freedom, independence and choice of independent way. Russia shall acknowledge this and understand that it’s better to have strong neighbors than unstable vassals, better to have partners but no enemies”. The audience replied with ovation. And although some deputies during the interview for Russian Mass Media criticized Saakashvili for the “attempts to involve Azerbaijan into its problems with Russia”, at the background of wide smiles and firm shaking hands between top officials this looked a bit lame. Saakashvili said in the Parliament of Azerbaijan those things that Baku wanted to hear, assured is the head of informational agencies Turan Mekhman Aliyev: “Ilham Aliyev can’t allow himself such public evaluations of Russian politicians within South Caucasus. Saakashvili did it for him.”
Gabala RADAR Station is a immovable Radio Detection and Ranging station of Daryal type. It was one of eight main station of the USSR anti-missile complex, commissioned in 1985. Regarding technical parameters Gabala RADAR station is able to control the territory in radius of 6 thousand km. This station gives an opportunity to monitor in general Near East, including Iran, Turkey, India, as well as certain part of Indian Ocean and Australian mainland. The station is able to detect the trajectory of missiles with nuclear warheads of intermediate range from the moment of their launching.
Alexander Iskandryan, director of the Institute of Caucasus (Yerevan): “The whole discussion that policy of Russia within South Caucasus gains some pro-Armenian angle, is a part of informational war, which is carried by Baku along foreign and domestic frontlines. Azerbaijan lost the war (in Karabakh), and it needs to justify somehow its territorial losses, and this generated the talks that a big Russian uncle stands behind Armenia.
In general the Minsk Group is always criticized and as a rule by non-competent people. Like, the Minsk Group didn’t manage to restore peace… But any person, who is at least a bit familiar to the situation in the region, realizes: absolute peace is not possible now in Karabakh, two fresh are the wounds, too strong are the insults. They can only maintain relative peace, in which generally Russia succeeds. There is no war in the region, representatives of Armenian and Azerbaijani political elites from time to time hold negotiations and we can hardly expect anything more in the near prospect”.
Alexander Rondli, President of Georgian Fund of Strategic and International Studies: “The Kremlin in reality benefits from stability in the region, it needs this semi-war instability, tension for Moscow could as earlier maintain the influence on the parties to Karabakh conflict. If the parties reach an understanding, peacekeepers and mediators shall become useless, Russian will have to figure out something new to restore its lost power.”
Translated by EuroDialogueXXI from The New Times