HOW TO MAINTAIN SOUTH CAUCASUS?
Time to Finalize Relations with Allies and Partners
About the author: Vladimir Petrovich Stupishin is the first Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Russia to Armenia.
"Nezavisimaya Gazeta" (Independent Newspaper) is concerned about the further existence of "those states in the post-Soviet territory which have not been acknowledged yet" since they may become the focus of NATO's efforts" in a situation when "Russia is not able to block the way of the West towards taking control of the post-Soviet territories. …Russia lacks serious impetuses for counterbalancing these emerging endencies" (cf. "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" of March 2, 2002).
Undoubtedly, the existence of these states, firstly, Abkhazia and Karabagh, is put at risk. Nevertheless, Russia lacks impetuses for resisting the advancement of the USA and its allies in the post-Soviet territories which, in turn, harms the national interests of Russia. This is the case when even political statements may serve as impetuses. To this point Russia has been supportive for "mini-empires" and agreed to the groundless demonstration of their "rights" to the territories of the neighboring nations which in fact did not belong to them not so long ago.
Statements made at the top official level in favor of the sovereignty of the minority nations could put on reasonable tracks the negotiations on the new organization of the relations between the former Soviet republics and their former autonomous units. However, Moscow holds back from such statements although its time for Russia to choose between those who really are its allies or simply partners and those who have far-reaching intentions. Also, Moscow should freely assist those states which have the same interests as Russia does.
This is critical in a situation when third parties try to create dissonance between Russia and its strategic allies. In this aspect the pro-Azerbaijani lobby is particularly active in attempting to thrust a wedge between Russia and Armenia. Meanwhile, the Turkey-orientated Azerbaijan claims that it is Russia's "bearing point in Caucasus".
On the other hand, Azerbaijan tries to startle Russia by the NATO bases in Apsheron and a new war against Nagorno Karabagh unless the latter does not reject its independence in exchange of the fictitious self-governance within Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan attempts to scare Russia and delude us, relying on our short memory. Quite unexpectedly Moutalibov remembered about the "Khojali Tragedy when in February, 1992 hundreds of peaceful people were killed as the result of the joint operation of the Armenian armed forces and the 366th Russia Infantry Regiment in the territory of Nagorno Karabagh". Did not Moutalibov personally admit in 1992 that the "Khojali tragedy" was, in essence, a provocation perpetrated not by the Armenians, but the people of Elchibey against Moutalibov himself (cf.: Moutalibov's interview in "Nezavisimaya Gazeta", April 4, 1992)?
Moutalbov referred to the old deceptive propaganda blown up by Elchibey for inseminating discord between Armenia and Russia. The successful development of the Armenian-Russian relations will not be in favor of the present authorities in Baku or the opposition, or anyone here, in Russia who are fed from the hands of the Azerbaijani lobby. They all push Moscow towards supporting Azerbaijan in implementing its plans on annexation of Karabagh.
For this purpose, in addition to other means, Azerbaijan speculates with the thesis about the so-called "pro-western" orientation of the present Armenian leaders. Meanwhile, Yerevan merely seeks for diversifying its foreign relations which is the only reasonable way for Armenia to survive. Moreover, what it needs is neither pro-American nor pro-Russian, but pro-Armenian policy. And if Russia intends to maintain its positions in Transcaucasus, it must regard the foreign relations of its ally Armenia with understanding, particularly in such situations when Russia itself is not able to assist Armenia. For example, the humanitarian aid provided by the USA in the course of the last 10 years which amounts to hundreds of million dollars. Can Russia undertake this responsibility itself?
Nevertheless, Russia has other impetuses for strengthening its position in Transcaucasus, for example, the cooperation in the military sphere, including air defense and borders. In Transcaucasus such cooperation exists only with Armenia. Another impetus is the ownership of industrial and scientific assets which is critical for holding economic and social positions in any country. The above-mentioned issue is currently being discussed between Russia and Armenia. The protection of Armenia involves the defense of the borders and could more effectively contribute to the solution of the Karabagh problem without any regard to the Turkish-Azerbaijani pressure which is evidently in contradiction with our interests because of the far-going Pan-Turkish intentions.
The Russian president announced in Yerevan in September, 2001 that "Russia's policy in the region will be targeted at ensuring Armenia's sound defense", and the resolution of the Karabagh problem should derive from the established status-quo: "Russia should be cautious for not destroying the balance which has been created between Armenia and Azerbaijan". To me, this position which is in line with Russia's interests.
In general, it is time for Russia to stop trusting Azerbaijan in a situation when Baku swears to Moscow about friendship forever and acts as a loyal vassal of Turkey and a champion of Pan-Turkism. As soon as Russia goes to a compromise and gives up Karabagh, the Turkey-orientated Azerbaijan will no longer need Russia's support.
This does not mean termination of our relations with Azerbaijan and application of any sanctions against it. There are around 3 million Azerbaijanis in Russia, and some of them have received Russian citizenship. In addition, Azerbaijan is our neighbor and Russia should treat it as a friendly neighboring state even if the latter fails to act in the same way. We should trade and cooperate in all possible areas, and promote cultural exchange between Russia and Azerbaijan. At the same time Russia should not oversee the real intentions of Azerbaijan especially when these intentions are in contradiction with the interests of Russia.
Armenia has been our strategic partner since the very start of our relations and we need to treat Armenia accordingly. In this aspect I mean both Armenia and Karabagh because without Karabagh we would not have an independent and friendly Armenia. In turn, without the latter Russia would not have any bearing points in Transcaucasus. It follows that Russia should take Karabagh under its protection, and comprehensively assist in strengthening its security in its historical territory the borders of which were distorted by the Russian Bolsheviks and need to be rehabilitated. The unity of NKR deserves to be respected just as the territorial unity of other states.
To me, the fair resolution of the Karabagh conflict assumes that Azerbaijan should refuse from the authentic Armenian territories. The crucial problem of refugees can be addressed by accommodating them in those areas where they reside now. It is senseless to hope that the Armenians can return to Baku, Gyanja, Sumgayit, Artsvashen, Getashen, etc. In this case why only the issue of the Azerbaijani refugees is raised at the discussions around the Karabagh conflict?
In my opinion, the optimal solution of the Karabagh problem is the legitimization of the status-quo on the borders stretching along the confrontation line, as defined in the cease-fire agreement of 1994. Today all other alternatives are simply unrealistic other than the war on which Azerbiajan relies although it will not be of any benefit neither for the Armenian nor the Azerbaijani peoples.