During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Karabakh "Impasse" Advantageous for Armenian and Azeri Presidents

BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom, May 26, 2001

Text of report by the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta on 25 May.

Today all the main events in the Transcaucasian region are taking place under the dominant idea of the "Russian factor". This circumstance is accounted for, above all, not only by the manifest strengthening of the military-political salient in Russia's foreign policy in respect of the Southern Caucasus, but also by the so-called events factor - such as the meeting of CIS defence ministers held recently in Baku and the summit of the Collective Security Treaty member states currently taking place in Yerevan.

To a certain extent, there is also the impact of the lack of more or less close personal relations between representatives of the region's political elite and key members of George Bush's new administration, as well as incompatibility of political mentalities of the Transcaucasian politicians and the extremely pushy, and even somewhat crude, aims of the present US administration.

Also characteristic in this light is the fact that the last visit by the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, the United States, and France) to the region of the Karabakh conflict took place under the manifest leadership of Russian co-chairman Nikolay Gribkov, while the intermediaries' tour itself looked more like a confrontation "in the spirit of full mutual understanding and the unity of positions".

Just as "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" had predicted, the post-Key West optimism evaporated very quickly, and the Karabakh settlement, as the majority of experts admit, has ended in another impasse. Thus, it is already admitted almost on an official level that the "decisive" meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan with international intermediaries in Geneva, previously scheduled for 15 June, may either be postponed until the end of summer or the beginning of autumn, or may even not take place at all.

This is, naturally, a serious blow to the authority of the US side, which has acted as the main initiator and patron of the next Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Switzerland, whose potential success must have been based on the "extremely positive results" of the last meeting between [Armenian President Robert] Kocharyan and [Azeri President Heydar] Aliyev in Florida.

Admittedly, it should be pointed out that the US representative's marked optimism did, in itself, become an important factor in just such a development of the situation, for he alluded in a certain sense to "the inevitability of compromises". Naturally, what the latter implies, above all, is significant territorial and geopolitical concessions on both the Azeri and the Armenian side, which both Aliyev and Kocharyan simply cannot afford to make.

It is interesting that this circumstance also found a worthy place in the overall system of optimistic statements by Cary Cavano, US co-chairman of the Minsk Group. According to him, there is only one obstacle remaining in the way of establishing an all-embracing and lasting peace in the region of the Karabakh conflict, namely "the lack of readiness to make mutual concessions on the part of the peoples of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh".

On this plane, the Russian side proved a tad more open and objective. First, Nikolay Gribkov emphasized that "the Karabakh problem is so complex that we should be prepared for anything." Second, he made it perfectly clear that, in addition to the manifest internal obstacles to a settlement, there are also very serious geopolitical obstacles.

The Russian co-chairman specially pointed out that "it will hardly be possible to achieve a real solution to the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh without taking the interests of Iran into account," but, at the same time, he refused to answer a question from Armenian journalists about the acceptability to Moscow of the Karabakh settlement option which provides for the Armenian-Iranian border to be controlled by an international peacekeeping contingent. "At the request of both presidents we are unable to comment on any questions concerning possible ways to settle the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh-Karabakh," Nikolay Gribkov pointed out.

Meanwhile, according to "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" information, one of the main causes of the failure of the settlement scenario drawn up by the Americans was precisely the Iranian factor, accounted for, in particular, by Tehran's growing displeasure at Azerbaijan's increasing claims on Azeri-populated Iranian territories and at the clear threat of the activation of centrifugal trends there in the event of a territorial link being established between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan.

It is obvious that such a scenario for the development of the situation can hardly have been disregarded either by the sides actually involved in the conflict, or by all the external forces which today have been drawn directly into the Karabakh settlement. It should be assumed that each of these sides has its own view on the further scenario for the development of the situation, given the impasse which has formed and which, however paradoxical this may seem at first sight, has constituted another foreign policy victory for the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Many people in Yerevan today are already inclined to admit that Robert Kocharyan's plan really has worked. Armenia has appeared before the international community as a side which does all it can to welcome, and is prepared for, the establishment of peace and stability in the region, which had once again proved unattainable in view of "the harsh remarks and tough stance of the president of Azerbaijan," who described as "shameful" the settlement option proposed according to the "virtual independence of Nagorno-Karabakh" scheme.

Having sharply criticized the international intermediaries' activities, Heydar Aliyev in turn appeared before the Azeri public as a principled defender of the national interests of Azerbaijan, which, incidentally, "will not sign a peace agreement which does not reflect Baku's legitimate demands". Having disarmed the opposition, the president of Azerbaijan, so Baku experts believe, has demonstrated once again that he intends to be at the head of any means to resolve the conflict - both peaceful and military.

A situation seems to be taking shape in the region of the Karabakh standoff which is analogous with the one which arose after the two Paris meetings of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The threat of the resumption of military operations is once again becoming topical, which means that the positions of all the external forces which regard the Karabakh conflict as the main lever for strengthening their positions in the Transcaucasian region are being strengthened still further.

Source: Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Moscow, in Russian 25 May 01

/BBC Monitoring/ © BBC.

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