During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Azeri Paper Eyes Karabakh Peace Process Ahead of Bush-Putin Summit

BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom, May 23, 2001

Text of E. Abulfatov report by Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo on 23 May entitled "Moscow is dragging Baku under its wing"
To what extent can the White House allow the Kremlin such a luxury?
The latest visit by the OSCE Minsk Group cochairmen to the region can already be called significant by its accomplishments. However, an assessment of the recent events has practically dispelled all illusions on a speedy settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. While in Khankandi [Stepanakert], Russian Cochairman Nikolay Gribkov said that "in the course of the 1992 Helsinki conference, Nagorno-Karabakh was described as an interested party. For this reason, regardless of whether somebody wants this or not, Nagorno-Karabakh should be involved directly in the negotiating process." At the same time, Gribkov refused to give a specific time for involving the "third side" in the conflict settlement process.

In fact, the Russian cochairman continued the idea of his US colleague [Carey Cavanaugh], who already spoke in Key West about the expediency of involving the Karabakh separatist regime in the talks. However, the fact that "rapprochement" between the US and Russian positions on this issue is occurring with a lot friction because of a lack of coordination on a number of issues is evident in Gribkov's and Cavanaugh's statements. Gribkov's present position was rather unexpected and Cavanaugh suddenly had to deny his own utterances both on the date of the next meeting [between Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev and Armenian President Robert Kocharyan] and the time frame for the settlement. Thus, Gribkov even took the initiative from Cavanaugh for a certain period of time, which might mean that Moscow intends to considerably intensify its role, not only within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Intensification of the struggle
Gribkov's statement that if Baku wishes, "Russia is ready to deploy its military bases on Azerbaijani territory" can clarify these processes. Thus, Gribkov dispelled the illusion that the USA and Russia are engaged in joint activities for a settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, and emphasized Moscow's aspiration for individual priority in Azerbaijan.

One can assume in this connection that major developments are expected before the meeting between the US and Russian presidents in Slovenia on 16-17 June. Moscow's activation will probably reach a certain level already on 24-25 May in Yerevan where a meeting between [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and Kocharyan will take place during the work of the CIS Collective Security Council.

After an appropriate platform has been prepared in Yerevan, the main stage in the "determination" of bilateral Baku-Moscow relations might start already on 1 June during a summit of CIS heads of state in Minsk, where Aliyev and Putin are expected to meet. It cannot be ruled out that Putin will try to "reach agreement" with Azerbaijan on his "role" in the region just before the meeting with [US President George] Bush.

Moscow might promise its assistance in the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in return for some possible "concessions" from Baku.

Maybe that was why Gribkov started a preparatory sounding to demonstrate that it is impossible to reach a settlement to the conflict in the near future within the framework of the Minsk Group. By thwarting the talks within the framework of the Minsk Group, Moscow is probably hoping that Baku will adopt a pro-Russian policy due to the current circumstances, i.e. it will fully enter Russia's sphere of influence.

However, one should note that, in fact, the aforementioned distribution of forces in the region is already impossible despite the Kremlin's attempts. Washington has its own strategic interests in Azerbaijan, and attempts to oust the former are absolutely hopeless. That is why sooner or later Moscow and Washington will be compelled to recognize the need for mutual cooperation, if they intend to further maintain their positions in Azerbaijan.

Washington's position
In fact, there are many indicators that neither Moscow nor Washington are currently ready for such cooperation. It cannot be ruled out that following the Bush-Putin meeting in Slovenia the final "division" of spheres of influence between the superpowers will not take place either.

A leading German newspaper recently published a secret telegram from the US president to the German leader. The newspaper's management refused to name the source of the information. The telegram consists of 10 pages. It says that it is expedient to toughen economic policy towards Moscow, and it links such a proposal to pressure on the free press in Russia and human rights violations.

Proceeding from such moods of the White House administration and certain disagreements on key issues in the world, it is difficult to believe that any progress can be achieved at the 16 June meeting between Bush and Putin, including the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. A proviso should be made that the situation in the occupied Azerbaijani territories will become one of the many topics of discussion between the two presidents. For this reason, it cannot be ruled out that Bush and Putin will most probably have a familiarization meeting in Slovenia, and linking this summit to peace in the South Caucasus might create another illusion.

Bush and Putin might this time be limited only to a demonstration of their countries' levers of influence in these or other regions for achieving specific agreements in the future. At the same time, the USA has a strong trump card, as the repayment of foreign debts will become a topical issue for Russia next year. Therefore, if Moscow has its own levers of pressure on Azerbaijan through Armenia, then Washington can also influence the Kremlin through Russia's financial problems.

For this reason, the change of date of the Geneva meeting, could really have positive results for Azerbaijan. In any case, there is time to weigh Moscow's proposals and the results of the Putin-Bush meetings and define Azerbaijan's further strategy. After all, it is the definition of priorities towards Moscow or Washington on which the further fate of a peaceful settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict depends. Otherwise, in the absence of agreements between the USA and Russia, the process of the conflict settlement within the framework the Minsk Group will simply acquire a formal nature with a subsequent complete preservation of the explosive situation.

Or the struggle between Moscow and Washington for Azerbaijan might have unpredictable consequences, and such processes might become irreversible for the country...[ellipsis as given]

Source: Zerkalo, Baku, in Russian 23 May 01 pp 1,3
/BBC Monitoring/ © BBC.
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