During Key West Talks
For the Resolution of the Karabakh Conflict

Azeri Paper Sceptical About Mediators' New Karabakh Proposal

Zerkalo, in Russian
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 22:51:19 -0700 (PDT)

12 May 01

The Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo has said that if the new Minsk Group proposal for resolving the Karabakh conflict turns out to be what was outlined recently by Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan, then there is no way it could be accepted by Azerbaijan. The paper described the proposal as "nonsensical" and a minor reworking of two previous proposals. It said that recent Azerbaijani military exercises demonstrated Baku's readiness to resolve the conflict by force, and alarmed Armenia and Russia. However, the paper said that Russia might not feel inclined to get involved in a renewed Karabakh war on the Armenian side, given that this would bring it into conflict with the USA and could also be a repeat of Russia's military problems in Chechnya. The following is text of E. Abulfatov report by Azerbaijani newspaper Zerkalo on 12-May entitled "Prospects for peace in the Caucasus":

The Minsk Group is probably going to get into a mess again Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan has again leaked information about the confidential OSCE Minsk Group talks to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Oskanyan actually confirmed all the media reports about the content of the new plan to peacefully resolve the conflict which is being prepared by the Minsk Group cochairmen. It emerges from what Oskanyan said that under the new plan, Nagorno-Karabakh remains nominally within Azerbaijan, but has all attributes of statehood. In addition to an anthem, coat of arms and flag, the plan is to preserve all the branches of power in Karabakh, i.e. executive, legislative and judicial. All economic and foreign policy problems are Karabakh's prerogative. Lacin [Lachin], together with a corridor, comes under the control of the Armenians in exchange for a corridor linking Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, and this corridor also remains under Armenia's full control. In addition, security issues also remain under the jurisdiction of Karabakh's power-wielding structures. However, citizens of Karabakh, who are not considered foreigners in Armenia, can participate in parliamentary and presidential elections in Azerbaijan.
Thus, in foisting the Minsk Group's new plan on Azerbaijan, another attempt is being made to plant elements of potential instability any time this becomes advantageous for interested forces.

Apart from other good things, Karabakh would be able to spoil elections both for the legislative and executive authorities in Azerbaijan any time it wished. The absence of any Azerbaijani armed forces in Karabakh would become a serious danger for the Azerbaijanis who return home after a peace agreement is signed. Armenians would be able to commit any massacres they wish under various pretexts and with impunity; and Azerbaijani structures would be able to come to Karabakh only if they gained permission from the separatists to do so. In general, without going into all the points in this clearly nonsensical plan, it is safe to say that if the Minsk Group submits this settlement plan in Geneva, it will confirm once again the meaninglessness of further efforts within this organization. The cochairmen have not gone to any trouble, and have just copied with minor amendments the other two plans to make it look like a stage-by-stage plan.

In general, the Minsk Group's attempt to unite two concepts which cannot be united (Azerbaijan wants territorial integrity while Armenia wants sovereignty for Karabakh) was doomed from the very start because, from the first days when they started working, the cochairmen moved in the wrong direction. If the cochairmen had started their work with a study of the history and objective reasons for the conflict, they could have submitted a detailed report on their research to an extraordinary full conference of the OSCE. Finding out the true cause of the conflict, the cochairmen could have resolved the problem by getting the international community to apply severe pressure to Armenia, possibly sanctions or even an international force to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. However, this was not done and no attempts are being made to redirect the Minsk Group's activity in this way, so we have to rely only on ourselves.

Existence of an alternative
The situation might change in precisely this way. The Azerbaijani leadership has repeatedly declared that they will not sign any documents running counter to national interests. Addressing WWII veterans on 9 May, Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev said that "everybody involved in the occupation of Azerbaijani territories would be punished..." [ellipses as given] He stressed that although the separatists were celebrating the seizure of Susa today, everything would soon change and refugees would return to their homes.

Frankly, we should not have expected anything else. Azerbaijan has to resolve the problem of the invaders in any way it can to avoid this process dragging on for many decades. The prospect of it dragging on is also not acceptable to the Azerbaijani authorities because, in terms of the succession, the new leadership would be doomed to a difficult domestic and foreign policy if it inherited this problem.

Leaving this problem unsettled, or resolving it in a way which runs counter to national interests, could become a factor in the hands of any force interested in creating instability. This, in turn, is fraught with danger both for the authorities and the country as a whole.

Therefore, it can be assumed that if the plan mentioned by Oskanyan is submitted by the Minsk Group in Geneva in June, Baku is unlikely to agree to sign a peace agreement which could wreck the country.

However, it cannot be ruled out that another political game will be played, as was the case with the first two plans from the Minsk Group. In such a case, even if Baku officials approved the plan formally, they could put off signing it until it was submitted for national discussion, knowing that the public would not accept any defeatist peace. Armenia could also show its obstinacy and not accept Karabakh even nominally staying within Azerbaijan. Incidentally, all Armenian politicians are talking about this.

If the Geneva talks are a fiasco, another stage of the settlement will come, i.e. an alternative way of resolving the conflict. This turn of the events can be traced from the beginning of the Key West talks. At precisely that time Azerbaijan started large-scale manoeuvres, the second stage of which continued on 1 May this year. All sorts of troops, including aviation, were involved in the manoeuvres. They could serve as a demonstration of active preparations for a military operation to restore the country's territorial integrity. The previous manoeuvres showed the separatists' impotence as Azerbaijani aircraft flew freely over Karabakh. For this precise reason the Russian and Armenian air defence systems were put on alert in Armenia. Consequently, Yerevan and Moscow are already thinking about the possibility of Azerbaijan carrying out a military operation.

Interests of the leading powers
Therefore, Moscow made it clear that to preserve its influence in the Caucasus it could again be on the Armenian side if hostilities resume. However, this begs the question - Is Moscow ready to get bogged down in Azerbaijan, after two failed campaigns in Chechnya, and to aggravate its already tense relations with Washington. The USA is consistently demonstrating its desire to consolidate its hold on the South Caucasus and restrict as far as possible the scope of the Kremlin. If Azerbaijan manages to enlist the support of the White House, this could serve as a restraining factor on Moscow, which is not ready or able to be in open confrontation with the USA. Therefore, Baku intends to conclude a military union with Ankara to strengthen its pro-western line and create parity in the region. Ankara carries out US policy in the region and its military rapprochement with Baku has most probably been agreed with the White House.

Appreciating in full their responsibility for this current situation, both Moscow and Washington can still exert pressure on Yerevan to prevent hostilities. It should be appreciated that if a military operation is launched, a new conflict could begin in the region and spread very rapidly if the great powers, in their battle for spheres of influence, do not stop using uncivilized methods. In this situation it is very important to define whether the Kremlin will exercise the option which is destined to fail, as one should not forget that the South Caucasus is adjacent to the North Caucasus, which remains Russia's unsettled problem even after two Chechen campaigns.

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