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Russia’s attempted mediation

Wednesday, November 5
On November 2 Moscow hosted a trilateral summit. The Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia signed a declaration on regulating the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh. Sarkisian, Aliev and Medvedev confirmed with their signatures that the conflict will be settled in a peaceful way and that contacts between Baku and Yerevan will continue at the highest level. However no preconditions or basic terms of engagement for these contacts have been made clear so far.

Russia has taken the initiative to establish its own “order” in the South Caucasus. After “establishing its order” in Georgia through occupying almost one third of our sovereign country, Karabakh’s turn comes. It is obvious that the Kremlin is pursuing its own interests by setting the rules of the game, acting as if it is a guarantor of peace and behaving almost in compliance with the Turkish-brokered Caucasus Platform, thus leaving the West and the US in an anomalous, practically offside position.

Some Georgian political analysts suggest that Moscow is taking an interest in Karabakh in order to promote new transit routes in the South Caucasus under Russian guardianship. This will create a new geopolitical and geoeconomic situation in the region. Cutting the Karabakh knot to the mutual satisfaction of both sides will stimulate the opening of a direct Turkish-Armenian rail connection, and most probably the next venture will be pipelines, for instance NABUCCO, which could be diverted through Armenia as an alternative to Georgia. Thus Moscow’s ally will receive its reward for being a devoted partner, and Tbilisi, which has already been punished for its stubborn drive towards democracy and Western values, will lose its piece of the cake.

However there is another possible scenario. The West wants to promote the NABUCCO project in order to create an alternative to Russian-controlled transit routes. The project has no other purpose. It is possible that any Russian attempts to gain greater economic control will be thwarted by the successful development of an alternative energy pipeline. If so, it is probable that a Russia in reduced circumstances will be a party requesting mediation in disputes rather than providing it, hence its interest in placing itself ‘above’ its squabbling neighbours, in its own eyes at least, while it still can.

As for the trilateral summit direct results, the only positive outcome is that it was agreed that no military confrontations would take place. Armenia regards this as a victory, because over the last several years Azerbaijan has increased its military potential several fold with the inflow of oil dollars, and military moves to retake Karabakh were not excluded by the country’s leadership.

Neither of the leaders however have changed their positions. Azerbaijan insists that the conflict should be resolved according to the principle of the territorial integrity of the country. That means that Armenia should free other Azerbaijan territories it has occupied and Karabakh’s status should be determined only after Azeri refugees return home. In Armenia however they are not happy that representatives of the self-declared Karabakh state were not present at the Moscow summit. They remain suspicious that Moscow could force Yerevan to make serious concessions, thereby undermining any claim it has to a territory substantially occupied by its own people.

There are many challenges for all the players in this region. One is to be either become a skilful player or to stay out of the game altogether. Time will tell whether there is a single leader anywhere in the Caucasus with the wisdom to resolve problems for the benefit of all, and enhance rather than damage their own interests by doing so.