BAKU: Azerbaijan ‘Should Rely On Itself’ In Resolving Karabakh Confl

Nov 14 2011

News.Az interviews Maksym Maiorov, an expert at the Nomos Centre for
the study of the Black Sea region, based in Stavropol, Ukraine.

How would you describe the current military and political situation
in the South Caucasus which is full of unresolved conflicts? Is it
highly explosive?

These conflicts have long been viewed as “frozen”, but the events of
2008 showed that a return to a “hot phase” is quite possible. Though
in fact since the early 1990s the military and political situation in
the South Caucasus has never been calm: the contact line in Karabakh
is in fact a front line where people die all the time. The same can
be said of the entire section of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. It
is another matter whether new hostilities are possible and what can
influence this. Unlike when these conflicts erupted, today everything
is bound more closely to the broad format of international relations.

This means that direct parties to the conflict cannot ignore the
geopolitical interests of the leading regional players and even in
the case of escalation the initiative may come from big, neighbouring
states, which we already saw three years ago. In this light, we
should rather speak of the conflicts’ manageability than of their

Some unexpected developments may happen, for example, the internal
sociopolitical situation in the South Caucasus countries may worsen to
the extent that war is perceived as the only chance for governments
to retain power, or power may be seized by populists who do not feel
constrained by international obligations.

Russia is often accused of having an interest in preserving conflicts
in the South Caucasus. Meanwhile, over the past two to three years
Moscow has been playing a very active mediatory role in the Karabakh
settlement. What do you think prompted this activeness?

Russia’s activeness is dictated by the growing competition from other
peacekeepers and by the desire to rehabilitate itself after the, to
put it mildly, incorrect behaviour in Georgia in 2008. Moscow still
perceives the South Caucasus as its sphere of exceptional interests.

However, unlike its desires, every year Russia finds it more and more
difficult to preserve its influence, since Western countries and broad
international cooperation promise more significant benefits to the
Caucasian states: these are energy projects, economic modernization
overall, technology, social standards and so on. Russia is merely
unable to offer a worthy alternative to this all. Therefore, only
mediation in conflicts and support for undemocratic regimes remain
Moscow’s factors of influence in the region. Is Russia interested in
the final resolution of these conflicts?

The EU also takes an active position on the Karabakh settlement. Do
you think the EU’s interests and activity in this respect (including
as part of Eastern Partnership initiatives and so on) supplement or
contradict the interests and activity of Russia?

As I have already said, the peacekeeping initiatives of Russia and
West are competitive despite the overall format of the Minsk Group.

Unfortunately for Azerbaijan, this competition does not mean that in
counterbalance to Moscow Brussels is sincerely striving for the fair
resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

Mediation in the Karabakh settlement for the governments of the
European countries and EU leadership is not a priority but an
opportunity to test out their foreign policy capabilities, an optional
load in the mission of preserving stability in the remote periphery and
testing ground for new energy transportation projects. If Azerbaijan
wishes to use the advantages of European diplomacy, it should seize
the initiative and promote its interesting proposals in Europe rather
than wait for the EU to reach its decisions of Solomon.

What is the potential of other players – Iran and Turkey – to solve
this conflict, given their willingness to help the conflict parties

Azerbaijan should primarily rely on itself in the process of resolving
the Karabakh conflict rather than on its close and distant neighbours.

The best way out would be to personally convince the Armenian side
that Azerbaijan is right, however difficult it may seem. All mediators
pursue their own goals which often run counter to fine declarations.

We have already seen the recent attempts by Turkey to assume the role
of a guardian in the South Caucasus. I know that the Azerbaijani side
was concerned when the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations
including the opening of the border was discussed. In terms of Turkish
national interests it was probably an attractive idea to become “a
big brother” to all these states, including Armenia, even putting at
risk its strategic relations with Azerbaijan. Certainly, the greater
part of Turkish society expressed their solidarity with Azerbaijanis,
but can we expect Ankara to play along with Baku all the time?

Iran’s peacekeeping initiatives should also be viewed within the
context of their own domestic problems. Tehran is trying to fight
the implications of their not irreproachable international reputation.

Events in Libya showed the implications a bad international reputation
may have. The issue is whether Iranian mediation is worth Azerbaijan
putting relations at risk with Western countries?

Will Azerbaijan use its recently obtained status as a non-permanent
member of the UN Security Council to attract the attention of the
superpowers to Karabakh, if not to revive the four resolutions of
the UN Security Council?

Of course, the UN Security Council is a good area for Azerbaijan
to draw world attention to Karabakh. It is very important to
understand the real value of this instrument – its advantages and
its limitations. In short, the opportunity is the ability to raise a
topic at a high level, find new supporters and allies. All the same,
it should be understood that the composition of permanent members of
the UN Security Council and the Minsk Group co-chairs coincide which
is why it is impossible to expect that these countries will take more
notice of Azerbaijan all of a sudden.

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