BAKU INTENDS TO RETURN KARABAGH WITH HELP OF MOSCOW
(Armen B. Khanbabyan)
Surprisingly, right after the New Year holidays and Christmas increase of the diplomatic activity was observed with respect of Nagorno-Karabagh problem. The recent situation, on the contrary, gave rise to opposite prognoses. It was expected that in the near future no progress was likely to take place.
The process of regulation of the problem, which at some time seemed to reach its boom has now retarded. The regular meetings between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia are in the past . The noisy boom exploded around the original plan of the co-chairmen of Minsk Group - Russia, the USA and France, which set forth the idea of establishing of the so-called joint state, where the territorial wholeness would be preserved along with the nearly complete equality of the main sides of the conflicts, i.e., Nagorno-Karabagh Republic and Republic of Azerbaijan. At the end of 2000 and beginning of 2001 "historical" talks (as it was believed at that time) were held in Quay West in America and Paris. It was understood that the old conflict would be finally resolved.
Alas, it was a premature optimism. As opposed to Yerevan and Stepanakert, Baku rejected the idea of a joint state. Later the Foreign Politics Agency of Azerbaijan disavowed all preliminary arrangements reached in America and France. The Azeri minister of foreign affairs Vilayat Guliyev announced that there were no "Parisian principles" for settling the Karabagh conflict which apparently caused confusion among the mediators. However, it is not likely that they changed their approaches. At any rate, President Jacques Shirak sent a message to Robert Kocharyan on the 19th of this January where, in particular, he expressed hope that the settlement of the problem could base on the principles developed by the leaders of the three aforementioned states in Paris.
The apparent slowdown of the peaceful process obliged the mediators to revise to a certain extent the possible mechanisms of transferring the dialogue from the stratum of non-obliging announcements of intend to concrete actions. According to Henri Kuni, the Ambassador of France to Armenia, the solution of the issue should be reached both in Yerevan and Baku, and the Minsk Group of OSCE merely may play the role of a catalyst in the process". This means that the responsibility for the future of the region and the perspective of the development of the South Caucasus states directly rests with the leaders of the above-mentioned states.
As usual, the carrot and stick policy was applied. There were talks about the major significance of the region in the international distribution of labor and the role of the region as the key element in numerous transport and energy projects, such as TRASECCA and INOGATE. It has been reasonably noted that the on-going confrontation seriously hinders the social-economic, political and cultural development of the newly established independent states while the establishment of sound peace would enhance the accelerated major progress in all above areas.
On the other hand, there is the growing risk that the peace-makers will be completely disappointed in the intention of the conflicting sides to achieve real compromise. According to Rudolf Perina, the American co-chairman of the Minsk Group, "the window of alternatives for the settlement of the conflict may be closed". At the same time, a working group for Karabagh was created in the Parliamentary Assembly of OSCE. Adrian Severin, the president of the Assembly stated that due to the said fact reconciliation and rehabilitation may be fostered". Jaime Gama, the present chairman of OSCE stated that "the organization considers Mountainous Karabagh to be one of the regions where OSCE will be more actively involved in peace-making and post-crisis regulation".
Nevertheless, the words of the American diplomat were duly impressive. In his comments on the statement of Perina President Kocharyan agreed that "the international community cannot focus constantly on this problem. There are numerous other conflicts in the world which need to be settled". On the other hand, the Armenian president also noted that "the process of regulation cannot advance at an invariable pace and it is impossible to always maintain the same level of effectiveness". In the discussions with OSCE official Yerevan will continue defending the legal aspect of Karabagh conflict, which, in essence, is based on the idea that Mountainous Karabagh will never become part of independent Azerbaijan". In its turn, Karabagh considers that the success of the peacemaking process directly depends on the participation of the representatives from Stepanakert in the negotiations. Traditionally, Baku is against such approach. Nevertheless, Karabagh states that it does not intend to follow any decisions taken by anybody without its participation.
In view of the above-stated there are no grounds for believing in any progress in the near future with respect of establishing sound peace. Therefore, the statement made by President Aliyev recently sounded rather extraordinary. In particular, he said that the problem could be finally settled this year. The optimism of the Azeri president might be based on the hope that the Russian diplomacy will become more influential within Minsk Group. According to some sources, the Karabagh problem was thoroughly discussed between Geydar Aliyev and Bladimir Putin during the visit of the Azeri leader to Moscow. Russia is interested in the successful establishment of peace, and the improving Russian-Azeri relations allow Baku to hope that the Kremlin will be supporting Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan positively strives for becoming Russia's main military and political ally in Transcaucasus, i.e., intends to be in the position which is currently "held" by Armenia. Naturally, this irritates Yerevan. Today Armenia suspects that at a certain moment Russia may think it appropriate to exhort pressure on Yerevan and Stepanakert and force them to go to compromises that the latter think are unrealistic. On the other hand, it is clear that the Armenian diplomacy will not be able to continuously resist the pressure of the mediators, particularly if such pressure is accompanied by the expansion of the assistance to Azerbaijan.