‘The status quo works to Russia’s advantage’ – analyst

news.az, Azerbaijan
May 22 2010

‘The status quo works to Russia’s advantage’ ` analyst
Sat 22 May 2010 | 05:03 GMT Text size:

Thomas Ambrosio News.Az interviews Thomas Ambrosio, an associate
professor of political science at North Dakota State University.

They say that the West already lost the fight with Russia over CIS
area (Ukraine, Moldova Kirgizia and Georgia in particular). How would
you comment on this opinion and what about Azerbaijan? Do you expect
increase of Russian activity here?

I would agree with your characterization. It appears that the Obama
administration’s strategy vis-a-vis Russia is based on acquiescing to
a de facto sphere of influence for Moscow within the former Soviet
Union. Of course, they would not say this, but the ‘reset’ offer
seemed to imply that the US would take no steps in the region which
could be taken by the Kremlin to negatively affect their interests.
With the focus on multilateralism and a consensus-based foreign
policy, this is the inevitable outcome, given Russian interests,
capacity, and policy. Specifically in regard to Azerbaijan, this
overarching tendency is reinforced with a desire by the Obama
administration to reverse the policies of its predecessor — to be the
un-Bush, so to speak. Since Azerbaijan was a crucial component of the
Bush administration’s foreign policy toward the former USSR, the
alliance was bound to be downgraded. This, of course, allows for more
Russian activity.

Moscow says that it CIS countries to decide to be a member of EU and
NATO or not. Do you think that Russia might agree with membership of
Azerbaijan or even Georgia in NATO?

I can not imagine a scenario, given the current political
constellation in Moscow, in which Russia would look positively on the
expansion of NATO into the Caucasus. Moreover, I do not see any
scenario in which NATO would offer security guarantees to these
countries. The EU might be another matter, but even then, the EU’s
serious problems preclude any expansion for the foreseeable future.

It seems that US forgot the Karabakh settlement and has changed it for
support Armenia by various means (economic assistance, pushing
Armenian-Turkish border issue etc). Is it happen because of influence
of Armenian lobby or there are any other reasons?

I do not believe that this it is due to the Armenian-American lobby.
Instead, the Armenia-Turkey rapprochement that the Obama
administration has pushed for (which is now, for all intents and
purposes a dead letter) was part of a larger strategy of engagement
with the Muslim world. By seeking an easy diplomatic ‘win’ with an
Ankara-Yerevan normalization of relations, it was hoped that (a)it
would make the Obama’s attempt to ‘reset’ with the Muslim world that
much easier, since a major sticking-point in relations with Turkey
(the genocide issue) would be eliminated; and, (b)it would have a
positive spillover effect in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, I believe
that the Obama administration underestimated the willingness of Turkey
to normalize relations with Armenia in the absence of positive
movement on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. The Turkish leadership made
this point clear before and after they signed the Protocols — a
message that was consistent, clear, and unwavering. Although the
issue was not mentioned in the Protocols, everyone had to know that
this was hanging over the Ankara-Yerevan agreement.*

Do you think that Russia may use the `Georgian scenario’ in Karabakh,
other conflict zone in the South Caucasus?

It is possible if Baku decided to use force to ‘resolve’ the Karabakh
question. Right now, the status quo works to Russia’s advantage: by
having 1/7th of its territory occupied, Azerbaijan remains unsettled
and, by being isolated and living under the threat of the Azeri army,
the Armenians remain dependent upon Russia.

Russia and Turkey has been developing a close collaboration,
especially during the last 2 years. What is your opinion, may this
collaboration be fruitful for the stability in the South Caucasus

This might have positive effects within the South Caucasus,
especially if Turkey could pressure Azerbaijan to make concessions on
Nagorno-Karabakh and Russia could pressure Armenia. However, this may
be the case only some time down the line. Right now, the issues of
energy pipelines is the focus and a grand bargain on South Caucasus
politics seems unlikely

Turkey wishes to be a mediator in the Karabakh conflict. Do you
believe that Armenia might agree with this and what kind of role can
Turkey play in the peace process?

I can not imagine a situation in which Yerevan would allow Turkey to
be a mediator in Nagorno-Karabakh. I know that this has been floated,
but it seems like a non-starter, especially given the suspension of
the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement. In order to be a mediator, a
country must be trusted at some basic level by all sides to a dispute.
Certainly this can not be said of Turkey from the Armenian

Iran recently expressed a wish to be involved in the Karabakh
settlement. What do you think about such proposal from Iran, which is
a great regional state but has it own big problems?

Tehran almost got the two sides to sign an agreement in the early
stages of the conflict. However, the key to a ‘frozen’ conflict such
as this is not how many mediators are involved, even if we assume that
they all have good intentions. Instead, it centers around the
intractable positions of both sides, how they view their interests and
the likely endpoint of any negotiations, and, ultimately, whether they
have a true interest in peace. Thus far, with a decade-and-a-half of
negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh, we have seen no substantive progress
on the fundamental issues dividing the Armenians and the Azeris.
Before every summit (of which, there have been many), the optimists
hint that a settlement is at hand: "This is the one!" After the
summit, they always say that it was a good discussion and that some
ill-defined ‘progress’ was made. However, the dynamics between the
two sides remains the same. Frozen conflicts are frozen for a reason.
The prospect of breaking out of that logic and moving away from the
entrenched positions of the disputed parties is a herculean task. We
do not see that happening now.

Aliyah Fridman