Russian-Azerbaijani Approach: Strategic Impulse or an Immediate Game?

By Andrey Areshev

The end of the “five-days war” and Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence gave a new powerful impulse for the discussion of the Caucasian region future. International summits, conferences, official visits and informal consultations go on almost non-stop. And sometimes it is pretty difficult tell progress from “diplomatic tourism”.

The Prague Summit of the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan brought no sensations, in spite of expressive semi-hints of the representatives of “para-Karabakh” diplomatic group. Hardly will be resultative the meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan planned in the beginning of June in the framework of Economic Summit in Saint Petersburg.

Many statements, made after May 6th , don’t prove that the Parties agreed on their positions on Nagorno-Karabakh conflict regulation, it’s rather on the contrary. And the question, whether they are able to do that is still open regarding the co-chair of Minsk.

The tendency of Armenian-Turkish approach, joint statement about the intention to adopt a “roadmap ” and to move forward to normalize bilateral relations – is another factor influencing the balance of forces in the region substantially. “Primarily, in the beginning of the process, Armenian and Turkish Parties agreed that there will be no preliminary conditions”, - reminds Russian co-chair of the Minsk OSCE Group Y. Merzliakov. Turkish Government can ground its latest diplomatic moves on various considerations, however this determination to normalize relations with Yerevan without preliminary conditions demonstrates more realistic approach of Ankara to South Caucasus problems resolution.


> Caucasus Map
Naturally, in time, after boarders opening and establishment of diplomatic relations with Armenia, Turkey can return to its former rigid position possessing already additional means of pressure. Reaction of Azerbaijan on changes of foreign policy course of Ankara within Karabakh issue had to be explained by the demand of Turkish Prime Minister R. Erdogan and demonstrated that contradictions between Baku and Ankara weren’t at all a performance. There were even threats to block gas supplies to Turkey, but hardly will official Baku make such radical steps. The hints that great flexibility of Turkey within Karabakh issue possibly can be explained by the pressure from Russia and the USA, are not that convincing as Turkey is a pretty independent entity of international politics. The following month will show how the populistic rhetoric of R. Erdogan affects the real process of re-establishment of relations with Armenia.

It’s beyond doubts that all South Caucasian problems to be solved will be considered by American strategists only in the context of strengthening of the USA within South Caucasus. The positions of Washington within the region have weakened significantly after the defeat of Mikhail Saakashvili in August 2008 and Iran activation, accomplishing a number of joint communication projects with Armenia and Azerbaijan. And it’s absolutely no wonder, that “Armenian-Turkish” direction would be chosen as a potential “break-through” direction that also doesn’t face objections of Moscow and will be prospective for Afghan transit and the influence on regions of Russia and Iran bordering South Caucasus.

The way from Kars to Baku through Armenia and Nakhchivan already exists, while the railway connecting Turkey and Azerbaijan through Georgian Akhalkalaki should be constructed. However, unsettled Karabakh conflict impedes the fulfillment of these plans and the situation here is very complicated – primarily due the character and the nature of the conflict.


> Nagorno Karabakh Map

In recent years Russian-Azerbaijani relations have had a definite positive tendency, Leaders of the countries lead regular political dialogues at the summit level, and the fact of Armenian membership in CSTO doesn’t at all impede the intensification of cooperation of Moscow and Baku within different spheres. The increased interest to Karabakh problem settlement has been revealed by some influential Russian Mass Media and sometimes in a very specific way. Armenian–Turkish “warming” is somehow connected with leveling of the factor of close interrelations of Moscow and Yerevan within military-political sphere and Russian favor of the position of official Baku on Karabakh problem. At the same time it’s not considered that Armenian-Turkish talks in Geneva were led with an approval of Russia, and RAO “RZhD” would hardly take into concession Armenian railway without knowing about potential changes suggesting restart of the way from Gyumri to Kars.

Araz Azimov In addition relations of official Baku with the USA and NATO, despite of some latest demonstrative disagreements, are the same partner relations as with Moscow, what is absolutely natural regarding multiple vector approach of all Post-Soviet states. “We greatly appreciate the fact that NATO supports territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. However, new risks can demand from NATO not only to state that but also to play an intermediary role in the process of Armenian-Azerbaijani, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict regulation”, - claimed the deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Araz Azimov on May 5th during the conference “NATO – Azerbaijan: Looking into Future Analyzing the Past”. Together with Turkey Azerbaijan participated within joint maneuvers “Common Bow / Common Spearman 2009”, held by North-Atlantic Alliance within the territory of Georgia. In the end of April the Commander of the US transportation command Duncan McNabb, who examined Azerbaijani road-transport complex, according to information agencies.

Turkish Ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs H.Chetin has an optimistic view on the prospects of the cooperation of Azerbaijan and the Alliance, including the sphere of “energy security assurance”. In former Soviet military bases in Kyurdamir, Nasosny and Galla from the spring of 2006 there have been located so-called “temporary dislocated mobile forces” the stuff of which is variously estimated from 750 to 1300 soldiers and officers, and this quantity can be doubled. This group serves for “strategic missions” and in Georgia its main function is to “secure” the Azerbaijani-Georgian way of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. The informational politics of influential editions is also significant as they create primary positive or negative image of a definite state.

The calls for more active attraction of Russia to the process of Karabakh conflict settlement are not surprising, however nuances are very important. They don’t let to answer firmly: are these calls the part of a strategy to establish long-term Russian-Azerbaijani relations, or they are more instrumental and should solve a single problem on preferential conditions for one of the Parties to the conflict.

It’s impossible to omit that in latest months Karabakh problem has been dominating in public speeches of Azerbaijani Government, and the conflict resolution in accordance with the interests of official Baku is the main priority of its foreign policy course.

The prospects of signing the legally binding agreement, excluding military actions, are still minimal, and many provisions of Maiendorf Declaration signed in the end of 2008 in Moscow were violated.

So what is meant by “active attraction” of Moscow into Karabakh problem regulation? Thorough analysis of some statements shows that nothing new beyond Mathew Bryza’s claims is not proposed for Russian diplomacy. It’s for example about unilateral disarmament of Karabakh armed units, removal of defense fortifications (that will inevitably result into Armenian people exodus), about boosting of unwilling migrants return, and everything without any serious guarantees (which could include for example gradual demilitarization of the conflict zone). Sometimes the ideas about urgent entourage include the engagement of Nagorny Karabakh as a Party into negotiations process, but only in exchange for the beginning of talks on the future of the territories of “safety pool”.

Russian-Georgian war incited a strong counteraction reaction of West, and Russia with its approach to Transnistria and Karabakh issues demonstrates that Abkhazia and South Ossetia were an induced exclusion and are not a precedent, that it doesn’t exert no “Imperial pressure” on its neighbors. But they absolutely forget the fact that a long-term Russian blockade of Abkhazia established then under the pressure of “strategic partners” headed by E. Shevarnadze has turned the position of the official Tbilisi in direct opposition to “strategic partnership”.

Above described logic of Karabakh regulation (if it would be taken to action) absolutely differs from the one that was finally implied in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

> Map Of Georgia
In case with former Georgian autonomies the main issue about status was settled, meanwhile nothing alike is observed within Karabakh situation. Many issues that brake propaganda result from the determination of future status of Nagorny Karabakh, and the solution of this problem is still laid off for indefinite period.

If Stepanakert is deprived of the right for independent voting within the issues of great importance, it will be extremely difficult, even impossible to reach a diplomatic-political breakthrough. In the conditions of absence of mutually agreed and recognized status of Nagorny Karabakh, the location along its boarders of any “foreign” peacekeeping forces will inevitably bring to an acute and practically simultaneous violation of status quo. Even within present situation the dynamics of ceasefire violation incites anxiety. In 2006 Azerbaijan made 580 shots, Karabakh – 116, in 2007 – 1445 and 431 respectively, in 2008 - 3480 and 728, and from the beginning of 2009 - 1098 and 1865. The results of acute and simultaneous violation of military balance are evident...

If Karabakh conflict is settled on dominating conditions for one of the Parties, it can lead to very significant changes within whole South Caucasus, which can result into further changes of borders. There is also a variant suggesting that this region (except for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, at least until the time comes) that serves as a “key” to Central Asia will be eventually included into the area of military-political and economic domination of the USA.

The question is still open: whether this prospect corresponds to the plans of Russian energy corporations within Post-Soviet area and to prospective projects of Iran, to the establishment of regional collective security system or to Russia security within North Caucasus.

The attempts to lead talks with Nagorny Karabakh (the only objective of which are military strategic concessions without firm guarantees of security, which is possible only in case of demilitarization of the region, at least partial and gradual with unconditional ban of hostile propaganda), will hardly be of any success. The ideas of “autonomy” that are expressed by self-contradicting Mathew Bryza discredit significantly Minsk process, that is already perceived as a parody on peacekeeping.

The Karabakh knot can’t be broken by a few documents without serious guarantees. Any “principles” remain plain abstraction until they are filled with definite content. The intention to “reformat” the established balance of forces by military actions will lead to another humanitarian disaster and in this case the attacking Party will hardly be able to achieve its objectives using a plan acceptable for it.

The answer on question about the cost of the service performed and whether there is a place within a “big policy” to such feelings as philanthropy is also obvious. South Caucasian conflicts should be regulated considering views of all the Parties, including also the population of conflict zones. Establishment of beliefs that were developed for example within Dortmund Conference can have definite prospects. However, if it’s impossible to reach compromise decisions, it’s necessary to raise a question about another “freezing” of the conflict at least for several years, that shouldn’t be spent in vain as the time after 2001 and the failure of Ки-Уэстских agreements.

Translated from IAC MSU