Atlantic Council Patriciu Eurasia Center;
Thomas de Waal,
E. Wayne Merry,
Date: Monday, October 1st, 2012
ROSS WILSON: We’re pleased today to focus on one of the longest-lasting and most painful conflicts in the former Soviet Union and in the Caucasus. The fighting and continued stalemate over Nagorno-Karabakh have been drivers of hardship and misery in the South Caucasus since at least 1988. The conflict is an unwelcome cloud over the future of Azerbaijan. It has in substantial measure isolated or led to the isolation of Armenia from its two neighbors and could again engulf these countries and the region in a destructive war whose consequences for the Caucasus are perhaps hard to predict but would certainly not be good.
Today’s conversation, as I noted, will be a little bit different than the usual one about Nagorno-Karabakh. These usually began in other Washington think tank events that I’ve been part of with a review of the complicated history and geography and politics that divide Azerbaijan and Armenia over this region. They work through the fighting that ravaged both countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s and then through the inconclusive Minsk Group-mediated negotiations that followed. And they conclude with a usually depressing review of the recent negotiations toward a settlement that have all, for one reason or another, fell just short of success.
Here we want to set aside just a little bit some of those local specifics and examine instead the role, position and views of Russia on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Soviet legacy in the South Caucasus still weighs heavily in many ways. Some argue that the Karabakh conflict itself stems at least in part from the Stalin-era map drawing and politics that aimed to pit ethnic groups against one another for Moscow’s benefit. That of course – that Soviet legacy of course reflects – affects present-day Russia in its approach to a position in the Caucasus.
Post-Soviet Russia has served, along with the United States and France, as a co-chair in the Minsk Group Karabakh peace process. Russian President Medvedev and Foreign Minister Lavrov in some ways led the Minsk Group in 2009 to 2011 by working very hard with the parties toward achieving agreement on so-called basic principles of an agreed settlement that could then form the basis of a more specific treaty to establish long-term peace and aim toward a mutually acceptable arrangement on the status of Karabakh itself.
In recent years and really over the last 20 or more, Russia’s interest and role in Nagorno-Karabakh have been a source of speculation. It’s our hope today that we might move away from the easy parlor game of speculation of speculation and have a more informed and concrete conversation about this.
Among key questions that I hope we can address today are the following: What are Russia’s aims in Nagorno-Karabakh and on Nagorno-Karabakh? And how do these fit into the broader foreign and security policy agenda that Moscow has in the South Caucasus? How does Moscow see and calibrate its approach on Nagorno-Karabakh as functions of its relationships with Baku and Yerevan? How have Russia’s aims evolved over time? What agenda were President Medvedev and Foreign Minister (sic) Putin pursuing? How effectively did they pursue it? Or what went wrong? And how much was their work coordinated with the other co-chairs? Is Iran a significant factor affecting Russia’s strategies vis-à-vis Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan? And if so, why?
To look at these and other pertinent issues, the council is very pleased to welcome three distinguished experts on the Caucasus and on Nagorno-Karabakh and three close long-time friends of both the Atlantic Council’s and of mine.
Tom de Waal, in my opinion, is Washington’s pre-eminent expert on Nagorno-Karabakh and one of its most influential writers and observers on the Caucasus as a whole. He has served since 2009 as associate – senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment’s Eurasia Program where he specializes in this region. He’s the author of what I think is the definitive book on the Karabakh conflict, “Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War,” which I believe came out recently in a new and updated edition.
THOMAS DE WAAL: Not yet.
MR. WILSON: Not yet. It will soon. Next year. So be looking for that.
Sergey Markedonov is a visiting fellow at the CSIS Russia and Eurasia program and a prominent expert in Washington on NK and the Caucasus and on Russia’s – Russian policy there.
Wayne Merry served as an American diplomat many years ago with me and in Moscow as well in assignments in East Berlin, Athens, New York and Tunis over the course of 26 years in the U.S. Foreign Service. He’s presently a senior fellow for Europe and Eurasia at the American Foreign Policy Council, and he traveled to the region earlier this year.
Today’s event is on the record. Our format will be relatively simple. Tom de Waal will begin the conversation, followed by Sergey and then – and then Wayne Merry, after which we will have a discussion that – questions and answers. I’ll have some, but I’m sure many of you will have questions as well.
So with no further ado, let me turn it over to Tom de Waal.
MR. DE WAAL: Thanks very much, Ross. Thanks for inviting me. And I certainly agree that this is a fascinating issue which deserves to be explored in a whole session. We hear some rather clichéd remarks on the issue of Russia in the Karabakh conflict. So I think I hopefully will shed a bit more light on this issue over the next hour and a half.
I suppose – might – (audio glitch) – make – going to make a central statement is that Russia is both an indispensable player in the resolution of this conflict, but one who is not trusted either. And this is – and possibly this paradox is something which plays out – has played out over the last 20 years, although I would also – I also want to make the case that Russia’s attitude to this conflict, role in this conflict, is changing. Russia is both a player and a mediator. Russia simultaneously has a military relationship with both countries and is also negotiating peace with them. This conflict won’t be solved without Russia, and yet I think this conflict will not be solved exclusively by Russia either.
So let me just, Ross, kindly mention my book, which will be updated next year. My personal title for it is “Even Blacker Garden,” I’m afraid – (laughter) – because things have only got worse over the last 10 years. So let me review some of – some of my – of the historical narrative about Russia in this region, and Russia starting with Moscow in the late Soviet period.
There’s an Azerbaijani narrative that Moscow has consistently supported the Armenian side. I would say Moscow has more supported the Armenian side, but I think the whole picture of the last 20-plus years is very mixed of different Russian actors at different times supporting both sides in this – in this conflict. You know, we go right away back to when this conflict broke out in February 1988, and Moscow’s position was very firmly on the Azerbaijani side supporting Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Soviet Azerbaijan. At the same time Andrei Sakharov and others, the Russian intelligentsia, more strongly supporting the Armenian side.
And that narrative then played itself out in the late Soviet period, in which, as it were, the kind of – the hawks in Moscow were more on the side of Baku and the doves on the side of Yerevan. You had at one point Ligachev going to Baku with one message and Alexander Yakovlev to Yerevan with another message. And then that, I think, reached its kind of peak in 1991 when the kind of hardline military establishment in Moscow supported Operation Ring, a(n) operation in and around Karabakh, which was basically to enforce Azerbaijani rule, involving the deportation of Armenian villagers. At the same time Russian parliamentarians were there on the ground trying to support the Armenians and trying to subvert Operation Ring.
When we – turning to independent Russia, we – obviously, we see breakdown across the board, across the Soviet space. And so it becomes more difficult to talk about a unified – even more difficult, shall we say, to talk about a unified Russian attitude because there were so many Russian players. And researching my book, I came to the conclusion that in the summer of 1992 you actually had elements of the former Soviet Fourth Army helping Rahim Gaziyev, the Azerbaijani defense minister. And funnily enough, just a few days ago he’s confirmed this in an interview, very conveniently for us, he – just a few days ago – an interview marking the death of Pavel Grachev. So the Russian Fourth Army, or what was left of it, supporting Azerbaijani side, and then other Russians actually helping the Armenian side. So an offensive in Karabakh, very successful on the Azerbaijani side, in June 1992 repulsed by Russians, the Russians actually fighting on both sides in the summer of 1992.
Later on definitely, particularly after the fall of the Popular Front government, Russians providing more help to the Armenian side. And yet Levon Ter-Petrossian told me that Yelstin was – I think his words were “very strict” in the amount of weapons he would supply to the Armenian side. He didn’t want to see the Armenian side be defeated, but he also didn’t want to supply them with too many weapons. So Russia playing both sides in that conflict if, I think, ultimately more in the Armenian side.
But another interesting fact from the cease-fire – negotiated, as you know, by Vladimir Kazimirov, the Russia envoy – it was a Russian plan in two parts: one, to have a cease-fire; and then, second, to have a Russian peacekeeping force on the ground. Only the first part worked. And if you look at the book of Tatul Hakobyan called “Green and Black,” he – we all knew that the Azerbaijanis didn’t want a Russian peacekeeping force in 1994. Interestingly, Hakobyan also gives evidence that the Armenian – the Karabakh Armenians also didn’t want a Russian peacekeeping force either. And so both sides were, as it were, tacitly colluding to keep the Russians from imposing a Pax Russica in 1994, which is one reason why we’ve ended up with this strange cease-fire, which is a long cease-fire line of a hundred-plus miles and no peacekeepers on the grounds.
Since then Russian strategy has evolved. And I would say that if in the ’90s there were many reasons for Russia to manipulate the conflict and want to kind of keep it – keep the status quo, I think Russia has, at least since Key West in 2000, had a much more constructive attitude. I think the military was the main Russian foreign policy agent in the Caucasus in the ’90s. That’s obviously no longer – no longer true from the late ’90s, the foreign ministry and other actors playing a more important role.
And then we see the initiative by Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Lavrov which, I think, was genuine. There is no way that it could not be genuine to invest all that time and effort, 10-plus meetings, between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
When I’ve asked senior Azerbaijanis about what they thought was behind the Medvedev-Lavrov initiative, they’ve said – and I don’t think this is just self-importance – Russia recognizes that we’re a much more player important player nowadays. Russia – and if you recognize that Azerbaijan is an important player, you have to work – if you want to win the trust of Azerbaijan, you have to work harder on the – to resolve the Karabakh conflict. We saw that in the French treaty signed in 2008 between Presidents Medvedev and Aliyev.
And I think we see also – and again the Azerbaijani government doesn’t – likes to play up its more pro-Western orientation, but let’s – you know, let’s also pay attention to the fact that Azerbaijan still has very strong relationship with Russia. And, you know, that comes through the president’s family, the president’s wife’s family, the son-in-law, the singer businessman, Mr. Agalarov, who’s, you know, as much Russian as he is Azerbaijani.
And a couple of other reasons why I think Russia really does want to have this conflict solved: One, it’s the kind of communication – it opens up communications to – right the way to Turkey, to the Persian Gulf through the Caucasus if this conflict is solved, and, I think, most importantly, the fear of another war breaking out, which is obviously very palpable.
But clearly, there are questions about Russian motives. And I think one question that we will – we shall return to is the question, does Russia want to dominate a peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh.
And secondly, there – I think there are also questions about whether this was President Medvedev’s personal initiative, something that he took on for personal glory and got – and got dragged into, and whether, now that we have Vladimir Putin back in the – in the Kremlin, there’s a different sort of attitude. I think there is certainly evidence that that is the case. I’m told that in September 2004 President Putin wanted to have a meeting with Presidents Kocharian and Aliyev, that they kept him waiting, that he arrived at the meeting late, already in a bad mood, and then they started arguing in his presence, and that put him off the idea of mediating between the presidents over Karabakh. That’s the story I’ve been told. We do know that since 2006 the relationship with Ilham Aliyev has been poor when Putin was asking Azerbaijanis to restrict gas supplies to Georgia, and they told him no.
We also know – and I think this is something which isn’t sufficiently picked up in Washington, that the relationship with Serzh Sarkissian is – and Putin is also poor. That dates back to June 2009 when President Sarkissian gave Mikhail Saakashvili a medal of honor in Yerevan. It was a very pointed gesture that the important – about the importance of a relationship with Georgia. And I think since then the relationship between the Armenian leader and Vladimir Putin has not been of the best.
There is also – I would also draw your attention – you can watch it on YouTube – to a rather bizarre moment in February of 2007 when Putin was asked at one of his marathon press – Kremlin press conferences about Karabakh. And he started quite well, saying that, you know, it’s up to the parties to make their own decision. And then he veered off into a very strange monologue about Agdamski Portvein (ph). For those of you who don’t know about Agdamski Portvein (ph), it’s a kind of sickly, very sweet and cheap red wine, which was a popular drink, for – particularly for alcoholics in the Soviet era, made in Agdam in Azerbaijan, Agdam now under Armenian occupation. And Vladimir Putin started saying, in a rather flippant way, that wouldn’t it be great if we could restore the Agdam Portvein (ph) production, which suggested that he doesn’t really have – that conflict resolution in Karabakh is not, you know, his highest priority, shall we say.
So just a few words in – from – in conclusion from me. I think we’re seeing actually Russia losing influence in both Armenia and Azerbaijan progressively. Azerbaijan, I think that’s been evident for some years. But I think there’s quite strong anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia as well at the moment. I think Armenians reacted quite badly when the White House reacted instantly to the Safarov case, and it took the Russians three days to react. I think that was noted in Yerevan. And there is also suspicion amongst the leadership in Yerevan that the Russians are plotting with Robert Kocharian in some unspecified way. That may play out in the next presidential elections.
I’ll stop there, but I – just to – if I do have a thesis on Karabakh, it’s that – it’s that it’s not a chessboard. I always say that it’s not a chessboard. I say that the – if it’s a chessboard, the pawns are pushing the kings and queens around in the Caucasus. And I think this has generally been true of the Karabakh conflict, that if it was up to the outsiders, this conflict would have been solved long ago. It’s really the locals’ resistance to resolution and to change which is the main reason it’s not being solved. And that paradox (clearly exists ?) with asking the question whether we want to see – would welcome more geopolitics rather than less in the – in the Karabakh conflict, a concerted push by three co-chair countries to use some of the instruments of pressure that they haven’t used up until now.
MR. WILSON: Thank you. It’s a very good – very good opener.
SERGEY MARKEDONOV: Yeah. Thank you.
First of all, let me thank Ross for having me here as a contributor. It’s a great honor for me to speak in the company of such distinguished expert – experts.
Tom made detailed, very detailed historical observation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Russia’s engagement in it. This is why let me concentrate more on recent tendencies. And I wish to start on registration of differences between engagement of Russia in the Nagorno-Karabakh process from the conflicts in Georgia.
I think there are three principal differences in the Russian position in this conflict. The first one, Russia is not engaged in a relationship with Nagorno-Karabakh de facto state. Even in the – in one of the first decrees of Vladimir Putin, signed just the same day where his inauguration took place, he mentioned Abkhazia and South Ossetia as entities – independent entities and Transnistria as a part of the conflict, engaged in the conflict resolution. Nagorno and Karabakh was not mentioned, completely.
The second point, Russian engagement in the resolution process is supported both by Armenia and Azerbaijan, for very different reasons, but both countries have a wide spectrum of topics for cooperation of Russia outside of Nagorno-Karabakh agenda. Armenia is practically the only military ally of Russia in the Caucasus. It’s a CSTO member. As for Azerbaijan, don’t forget that Russia shares with this republic Dagestani part of this border. It’s one of the most turbulent region inside Russia. And Russia is interested to cooperate on Azerbaijan on this direction.
Gabala Radar Station – some days ago source who is very, very close to negotiation process said to RIA Novosti that two sides are very close to begin. And Russia is interested in making this begin. It could help us to explain why a Russian reaction on Safarov case was not so loud – (inaudible) – the Western reaction, by the way, it could be compared.
And third point, last but not least, the Russian engagement, even special engagement in the peacekeeping process, is supported by the West, unlike situation in Georgia. Even in 2008 even Matt Bryza greeted Russian activity for preparation in providing Meindorf conference. It was 2008 – Russo-Georgian war and so on, so on. And then the West, both France and U.S., two co-chairmen of the Minsk Group, supported another additional format of negotiations. I mean here three-side format, between three presidents, Medvedev, Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan. And even Vladimir Putin is not against this format. But it’s necessary to understand many restrictions on the Russian side.
But before description of those restrictions, let me estimate briefly the effectiveness of Russian special engagement since 2008 to Kazan meeting in 2011. On the one side, this engagement was not really effective because no breakthrough. There were no breakthrough before 2008, and after also. But first time after cease-fire agreement, signed in May 1994, two presidents, president of Armenia and Azerbaijan, shared signatures after one document. Even in May 1994, presidents didn’t meet to put their signatures on the cease-fire agreement. In Meindorf, 2008, it took place. In Sochi and Astrakhan, sides made very, very minor compromises – I am not overestimated them – but compromises concerning humanitarian aspects of the conflict. In my mind, it’s (maximum ?), but no breakthrough.
I think Russia has many, many limitations and restrictions to promote the conflict resolution. First of all, the conflict resolution doesn’t depend on Russia’s will or Washington’s will. First of all, it depends on the interests and motivations of two sides. (Inaudible) – Armenia – both Armenia and Azerbaijan are not ready to real peacekeeping. Speaking about peacekeeping, I am not here – I am not meaning here victory of one side, loss-win strategy. I mean here a win-win strategy, compromises, from both sides. For this scenario, both sides are not ready. It’s not guilty of Russia or the West. It’s reality with which Russia really deals. And Russia would not resolve this conflict without interest and engagement of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The second point: In 2008 Russia recognized independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and lost its influence resources in the relationship with Georgia. In this situation, final choice between Armenia and Azerbaijan would be a real challenge for Russia. This is why Russia provides policy of (scales ?), trying to have windows for maneuver with Azerbaijan and with Armenia. On the one side, as I said, common border with Dagestan; on another side CSTO, Eurasian military-political integration, which is important not only for Russia but personally for Vladimir Putin. And this is why it forces Russia to provide checks and balances policy, no final choice.
I understand that both Baku and Yerevan are interested in this final choice, not only in Russia’s final choice but in the West final choice. Both Russia and the West aren’t ready to make such final choice. And in this situation, status quo as an option, as the best option, is supported by the West, maybe not openly. Openly, yes, representatives of the West, Hillary Clinton and representatives of European Union countries, especially France, repeat like mantra that status quo is not so good; it provokes possibility for a new war and so on, so on. But in reality, no real proposals, interesting offers which would be shared by two sides. In this way, I don’t see real differences between Russian attitude and the West attitude. And Nagorno-Karabakh, unlike Georgia, could be considered as a platform for cooperation in the Caucasus, in the South Caucasus. It’s very different from situation in Georgia.
This is why, making final conclusions, I could not overestimate the resources of Russia or such rather artificial theories that Russia is not interested to have a peaceful relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Why not? This situation would be much better for Russia, especially taking into account situation around Georgia.
Now I would stop – (chuckles) – my introduction, and then I would ready – I would be ready to answer any questions. Thanks.
MR. WILSON: Very good, Sergey. Thank you very much.
WAYNE MERRY: Thank you, Ross. Always nice to be back at the Atlantic Council, where I was once a program director in the council’s somewhat more threadbare years. It’s nice to see the positive impact that money has here.
I’d like to start by asking what seems to me a puzzling question: Why has Russia not attempted to exclude the Western powers from an active engagement in Nagorno-Karabakh? One could logically occupy that Moscow would seek to do precisely that. I mean, this area is with its near abroad, within an area that has been of – where there’s been droit de regard not just in Soviet times but in imperial times. It’s an area of great sensitivity, involving the Caspian and the Black Sea regions. One could logically assume that Moscow would be – have been very hostile to the kind of multilateral approach which has marked Karabakh for almost 20 years.
Indeed, in the early part of the conflict, in 1994, the Russian government at that time was quite prepared to accept American participation in a peacekeeping force which would have put active American ground forces for a long term as part of a multilateral force in the region, and with a senior American role in the management of a force that would have included Russians. Now, since that time they’ve been an active part of the Minsk Group, the co-chairs, and have not sought to sabotage initiatives either from, say, the Americans at Key West or the French initiatives. And all of my information is that the Kazan initiatives were very full coordinated with both Washington and Paris.
I would argue that what seems to be contradictory, almost counterintuitive, is explained by Russia’s objectives and what I would say is the dilemma of Russian policy towards Karabakh. Russia overtly, at least in the medium term, has sought the preservation of the status quo. And that is not just because it fears a renewal of conflict, but it fears having to make choices between Armenia and Azerbaijan that would compromise Russian interests.
There’s no question that Russia is closer to Armenia. It has a treaty-based security alliance. It has long-term connections that are cultural and political and historical and variety of other things, and some significant economic ties. This does not, however, mean that Russia does not value its relationship with Azerbaijan and that with – and it certainly does not want to compromise a relationship with Baku, which has been very difficult and very – sometimes very tortured in the last 20 years.
I think the one thing that Russia does not want is to be in a situation where it essentially has to honor its commitments to Armenia at the expense of significant losses in its relationships with Azerbaijan. It would like to maintain a degree of balance and success in that. I think in Moscow, people are very well-aware that in the patron-client relationship they have with Armenia that you get this kind of situation that Tom referred to of the pawns pushing the kings or, as it’s sometimes said, the danger that the Armenian tail will wag the Russian dog. I think this is particularly a danger in a conflict – in an open conflict situation. That’s something that Russia would seek to avoid.
A consequence of that is that Russia has welcomed the multilateral Minsk Group process as a vehicle, a mechanism to essentially spread out the liabilities of the problem so that it does not end up essentially holding the hot potato of Karabakh by itself. Now, while I would argue that this has been an entirely reasonable policy for Russia in past years, I think it no longer is viable, for two important reasons.
The first is that I think the Minsk Group process was perfectly appropriate in a postwar environment. But as some of you from my previous writings and public statements, I think that Karabakh is now a prewar situation, and I think that creates a very different dynamic not just for the Minsk Group as a mechanism but for Russian interests. And I think the failure at Kazan demonstrates a turning point not just in the viability of the Minsk Group but in the viability of existing Russian policy, this effort to preserve the status quo. I think the potential for a renewal of armed conflict not just over Karabakh but between the two republics, Armenia and Azerbaijan, is becoming increasingly real. I’m not predicting that it’s imminent or inevitable, but I’m certainly not the only person who thinks that the prospects for another war in the Central Caucasus are increasing.
I think it’s – one must face the reality that neither the United States nor France is likely to be particularly effective in being able to prevent or limit a renewal of conflict. France and the Europeans are obviously very focused on their internal European problems. The United States is up to its eyeballs in international problems. I doubt very much that anyone in Washington would want more than a rhetorical political American engagement in response to a new open conflict in the Caucasus.
This would mean that Russia would be faced with the responsibility, as a regional great power, to try to exercise not only political suasion but even more active instruments of influence both on its client state Armenia and on its other neighbor Azerbaijan. It’s almost impossible for Russia to do that without suffering significant damage to its own interests vis-à-vis both of those countries. And I think this is something that Russia would very much like to avoid but, I fear, no longer is able to do so.
The second reason that Turkey’s (sic) policy is going to have to change is because of the increasing role of another regional great power, and that is Turkey. Twenty years ago, at the time of the Karabakh war, Turkey’s role was largely peripheral. That’s no longer true. At that time Turkey’s foreign policy towards its immediate neighborhood was Kemalist, which is very conservative, very risk-averse. Today Turkey is a much more activist power not only in the Middle East, in the Black Sea Region, in the Aegean, but increasingly in the Caucasus.
And one has to expect that in a real crisis situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan that Turkey will play a very influential role, in fact, I think, almost certainly a more important role either than France or the United States. They now have a patron-client relationship with Azerbaijan, in which I think it’s all too apparent that the problem of the tail wagging the dog is a danger for Ankara’s policy and interests. And obviously, Turkey has a very, very delicate situation in its relationship or semirelationship with Armenia, in which a renewed conflict in the Caucus could stand to significantly damage Turkish interests.
Therefore, the two regional great powers have parallel, not identical, not similar but somewhat overlapping and parallel concerns about the problems of renewed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I don’t speak, in this regard, about the third regional great power, Iran, partly because I think the poisonous character of its relationship with Baku essentially rules it out as a positive contributor either to conflict avoidance or conflict resolution. But what I do think is true is that Moscow and Ankara both are potentially facing a situation in which they are going to have to be much more activist, much less passive, much more engaged in the problems of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, or they could be faced with a crisis which would compromise their interests and willy-nilly drag them into situations which could be very compromising to their interests and very risky.
Now, each of them has a patron-client relationship. Each of them has borders with one or more of the two participants. Each of them is a weapons supplier to one or the other of the adversaries. This is a situation in which a conflict – in which a conflict, an active conflict, which, again, would not just be about Karabakh but would be between Armenia and Azerbaijan at a number of points on their common frontier, could easily spill over into other parts of the Central Caucasus and compromise the interests – and of necessity, each of the two client states will try to engage its respective patron to the maximum it can to its own benefit in this conflict.
Now, I think it’s beyond imagination that Turkey and Russia would actually come to blows with each other over this situation, but it is certainly true that Turkey and Russia could stand to benefit by a higher degree of coordination and mutual understanding of what their parallel interests are than they have shown heretofore. I think there is simply a reality that Turkey is still fairly low on the learning curve about the realities of the Karabakh situation. The politics of Turkey vis-à-vis its cousins in Azerbaijan have made it very difficult for Turkey to look at this problem in a dispassionate way, and I think Moscow could actually play a significant role in helping education policymaking levels in Ankara about this problem because Turkey has significant potential benefits from a more positive resolution of this problem, particularly in the normalization of its relations with Armenia.
Now, it might sound here like I’m almost, as an American, advocating that the Russians and the Turks engage in great-power collusion in the Caucasus, almost to the exclusion of the United States. Let me say why I think that a more activist role by Moscow and Ankara is in American interests.
First, I think the prospects that Armenia and Azerbaijan are going to settle their differences by themselves is virtually zero. I think the prospects for much positive contribution from the existing multilateral prospect – mechanisms, the Minsk Group, is pretty low as well. I think the prospects for renewed armed conflict, a war, are increasingly high. I think a war in the Caucasus would, among other things, damage American interests. I think the United States and France will have very little capacity either to prevent or to limit that conflict if it happens.
Therefore, it’s desirable that somebody do it. And it seems to me that the two regional great powers, Turkey and Russia, are the logical, in fact, the only candidates to play a restraining role in this conflict, and it is therefore in the interests of the United States that they do so.
MR. WILSON: Great. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Wayne. I think that is a very good and useful way to start off this discussion.
Let me take the moderator’s prerogative just to ask a first question –Wayne has introduced this idea of a sort of – that the Karabakh conflict is settling in to a kind of prewar situation – and get the views of Tom and Sergey on that proposition. And maybe more importantly, in your opinion does Russia share that view? To the extent that Russia shares that view, is that something that makes Russia as anxious as Wayne would portray it to be, or would Russia see – would Russia see that it has other interests? And how would Russia – maybe third, how would Russia’s approach change to the extent that it sees a prewar situation as opposed to a cease-fire that needs to be managed and maintained?
MR. DE WAAL: I basically agree with Wayne. I’m slightly – I mean, it’s just a nuance, really – I’m slightly less worried about war, but I think the situation is moving certainly more towards war than peace. I think the pardoning of Ramil Safarov August 31st basically killed off the existing peace process, which I think was pretty much on life support anyway. No one has yet declared it dead, but I don’t see the Armenians sitting down at the table with Azerbaijan at the moment after the Safarov pardoning. And therefore, there is therefore a trend line more towards war than peace.
And I would agree with Wayne that Russia definitely doesn’t want – for many reasons doesn’t want conflict in the region. That would force Russia to honor its military alliance with Armenia, to take sides – (inaudible) – lose Azerbaijan, something that Russia could not tolerate.
Just – as Wayne mentioned Ankara, I was actually in Ankara a few weeks ago and I got a slightly more sanguine view from a Turkish official who I won’t name when – because he was talking about this issue – he said we can influence the Azerbaijanis on many issues, but Karabakh is one thing where they will not listen to us, they will only listen to themselves, and that makes sense. But he also said that he didn’t think Azerbaijan was ready for war, that he thought it was more bluster. And he said, and our military advisers come back from Azerbaijan and they say there’s no – that they may have weapons, but there’s certainly not a fighting spirit yet in the Azerbaijani army. So that’s a slightly – those of us who are afraid about – of a war, I think that’s a slightly more positive message.
MR. MARKEDONOV: Speaking about the official Russian position, we face a real lack of interpretation made by Kremlin. I didn’t hear any official statements concerning prewar conditions around Nagorno-Karabakh. But being generally pessimistic — me personally; I’m not an official representative of the Russian Federation, but as an expert — I could not share alarmist notes made by my distinguished colleagues, because a new war in Nagorno-Karabakh was predicted many times, after Key West or, for example, after failure of previous year Kazan meeting. Every time after failures of the next round of negotiations or after absence of predicted or expected breakthrough, the situation exists the same. No breakthroughs, status quo is preserved, but no new war.
I think we need to have more prerequisites on the ground for new war. First of all, it’s military domination of one side. We are facing the arms raising – conventional, of course, not nuclear – on the ground, but there is no domination of one side. I think that first – fast victory in this conflict is possible only due to blitzkrieg scenario, like Serbian Krajina of 1995. For Serbian Krajina, Azerbaijani side must have military superiority and absolute information superiority and support, (shadowed or clear?), of the most important international actors. Those conditions, those prerequisites don’t exist right now. Yes, we could see attempts to unfreeze the conflicts through engaged military component, military aspect or elements of maybe risky game, but it’s not prewar situation.
As for Safarov case, I think Armenian side could only dream about Safarov case, because it’s a brilliant argument to not be engaged in the negotiations. Safarov case was not started today or yesterday. It’s prolonged, protracted history, which is why no admiration from my personal side.
As for Russian position in the potential conflict, I see that some towers of the Kremlin would follow different positions because there are different groups of influence – oil, gas lobby, Armenian lobby and so on. I don’t believe – (inaudible) — in the force and potential of CSTO. CSTO now is a club of different interests. It has very, very, extremely strong Central Asian dominant. And I’m not sure that Tajikistan or Kazakhstan would be really engaged in the conflict on the Armenian side, taking into account Kazakhstani relationship with Azerbaijan, a growing Tajikistani-Azerbaijani relationship. Even Belarus. Even Belarus. Don’t forget that Belarus in 2008 didn’t support the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Nagorno-Karabakh case is much more controversial than situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
This is why situation on the one side is not so simple, but I think that maybe cross of different interests and necessity to keep balanced relationship within Kremlin would help to preserve status quo. Honestly speaking, not as a Russian but as an expert, I think that status quo is the worst scenario even you would have no other scenarios. Without jokes, keeping status quo, preserving the status quo is better if you wouldn’t have now compromise between two sides engaged in the conflict.
MR. MERRY: Ross, if I might just clarify one point, Sergey has described a scenario for resumption of war which is essentially based on a policy choice by one side or the other to initiate war. I think that’s rather – I agree that’s rather unlikely. I’m inclined to see a new conflict resulting from a deteriorating situation between the two republics along their borders in which there’s a failure of rational policy on one or both sides to control that deterioration and in which there would be an almost simultaneous eruption of violence on both sides. Among other things, I no longer share the view that a new war would only – could only come from the Azerbaijani side. I think it could come almost simultaneously at various points along the common frontiers by both sides. This would not – I’m not predicting rational choice; I’m predicting the failure of rationality.
MR. DE WAAL: The research – (inaudible).
MR. MERRY: 1914.
MR. WILSON: That’s encouraging.
MR. : Yes. (Laughter.)
MR. WILSON: Let me open it up to our audience for some questions. When I recognize you, a microphone will come. I would ask that you please identify yourself. Please state a question that our group can respond to. And remember the topic here is Russia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The focus is sort of the Russian aspects that relate to this terrible and long-lasting problem.
Back here, please.
Q: Thank you. Astan Karajan (ph) from Voice of America’s Armenian Service. Thank you. It’s one of the rare occasions where you have such a distinguished panel where people actually honestly spoke their mind on a lot of points, and that’s a pleasure to have this kind of afternoon.
I have a question which is – we’re not going to be able to basically keep the big elephant in the room, which is Safarov, which probably changed the dimension of the conflict the most since, I don’t know, maybe the cease-fire, even. You mentioned, Mr. Markedonov, that it was a present for Armenians, in a way, to do that because now the Armenians have a good reason to withdraw from the negotiations. And I agree with that. Why do you think Aliyev decided to do this?
And the question is for everyone. I mean, why do you think the Azerbaijani authorities went after the Safarov extradition?
MR. MARKEDONOV: Do we have to answer right now or –
MR. WILSON: Why don’t we – why don’t we answer this question, and let me just expand it a little bit, if one of you could speak a little bit more about the Russian reaction – the Russian reaction to the pardoning.
MR. MARKEDONOV: Now it’s time to answer. You know that Russian reaction was not so fluent. I touched on the Nikolay Bordyuzha statement. It’s not completely Russian official; it’s general-secretary of CSTO who blamed Azerbaijan and the decision of Ilham Aliyev. Why did he do this decision? Don’t forget that, first of all, Ilham Aliyev thought about domestic audience, not for his partners in the West, because due to some projects or programs of so-called energy alternatives, there are no such fluent reactions from the Western side, and no prerequisites for agitation, for worrying on this side.
The next year, presidential elections would be in Azerbaijan. I think this reason was very decisive because domestic dimension of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is very important for both societies. It’s the central element of post-Soviet identity of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is why I think this reason was decisive for Ilham Aliyev.
MR. WILSON: Tom or Wayne, anything you want to add on why this pardon was given?
MR. DE WAAL: Yeah. I’m at a bit of a loss. It certainly had something to do with domestic politics, but I think the international backlash has been far more damaging to Azerbaijan than any domestic benefits that the president would receive from this. And I would echo that this was certainly Dash Maksatun’s (ph) best day in years, the pardoning of Safarov.
The Russian reaction, again I do just reiterate, was this just slowness or whatever, but I think this went down badly in Armenia, the fact that it took Russia several days to react when there had already been statements out of Washington and out of Brussels. And I think this confirms a sort of slow but palpable estrangement between the authorities in Yerevan and those in Moscow. Clearly this relationship is one that will endure, but it’s not nearly as strong as it was a few years ago.
MR. MERRY: I’d like to relate the Safarov affair to Kazan because I see them as parallel. And what I found most disturbing in both cases was the evident premeditation of Baku’s policy. The Safarov affair was not a matter of the government in Azerbaijan having been presented with this guy returning from Budapest and they overreacted. This whole thing had been in preparation for many months and was clearly – whatever its domestic political component, was understood to have – would have a negative impact on the potential for a bilateral relationship with Yerevan.
I think the same is also true in a multilateral context at Kazan, where the Russian government, the Russian president, the Russian foreign minister had invested enormous amounts of their own time and prestige and essentially had the rug pulled out from under them at Kazan. I think that was not only really a quite extraordinary act for Azerbaijan to do to its neighboring great power Russia, but it essentially represented a premeditated decision to abandon any prospect for multilateral progress. So I tend to see those two things in parallel.
MR. WILSON: Here in the front.
Q: Thank you very much. I’m Darna Kovansa (ph) from the Embassy of Armenia. I would like also to thank the distinguished panel for very insightful presentations.
I have a question, actually, but I would like also to comment on the last discussed issue about the Safarov case and its possible implication on the negotiations. Actually as an Armenian diplomat and I haven’t heard anything coming from the Armenian side that Armenia will in any way exploit this issue on the negotiations table. And just to share with you very fresh news coming from New York, my minister earlier today delivered a statement at the UNGA saying that Armenia is remaining committed to the Minsk process, and even more, that the Minsk process views are in line with that of Armenia’s prospect and – position on the conflict resolution. Of course, Safarov case was a serious blow to trust between parties and to the people-to-people contacts, but I don’t like to have for the audience impression that it will somehow influence Armenia to change its position around the negotiating table.
My question will go to Mr. Merry regarding the Turkish possible involvement in the peace process. Don’t you think, Mr. Merry, that there is a contradiction between the Turkish involvement and the Minsk Group peace process as a whole? I haven’t heard you avert to a question of the prospects of a peace negotiated under the Minsk process. On the contrary, in the previous articles you supported the Minsk process. However, Turkey wholeheartedly backs only Azerbaijani position on the negotiations, on the peace prospect. That is quite different from what the co-chairs are proposing on the table, the basic principles.
And this is where the contradiction starts. I’m not talking about the Armenian-Turkish relations, which are very difficult, as you know, the genocide denial, borders, but there is an actual contradiction on the Nagorno-Karabakh field. Turkey backs only one position and not the whole peace process. How can it be worked out, or you are advocating for a change of the format?
MR. MERRY: Well, I might note that Turkey is part of the Minsk Group. It’s not one of the co-chairs, but the Minsk Group is substantially larger than just the three co-chairs. I think people tend to forget that.
What I was indicating was that in a renewed regional crisis, a new renewed series of small-scale conflicts potentially leading to an open war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that Turkey, as a country which borders both, a country which has a patron-client relationship with Azerbaijan, which has a difficult nonrelationship with Armenia, is definitely going to play an important role. It is therefore important that that role be a positive one. And it is therefore important, I think, that Turkish understanding and thinking about the nature of the conflict and the problem be more sophisticated than it has been shown to be in the past, and that its role as a regional great power be carefully coordinated with the other regional great power, Russia, so that the two of them can hopefully make a positive joint contribution rather than as regional great powers losing control.
Now, if I thought that other external powers were likely to be able to do a better job, I would advocate it, but I think it is highly improbable that either the Europeans or the Americans, given everything else that they’ve got to deal with for the foreseeable future, are likely to be able to do so. I mean, for example, the United States has positive relations with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it has no actual commitments to either. And exactly what would we do in a conflict situation? We are not a weapons supplier to either. We could not do the kinds of things we did in the 1973 Middle East war of exercising suasion on Israel. Exactly, other than strong words, what would the United States or France be able to do in a real crisis situation? Whereas I think both Moscow and Ankara are inevitably countries that, whether they wanted to or not, because they are regional powers, will be forced to react, and it is therefore important that that reaction be a positive one.
MR. WILSON: I think I would add, just to take my moderator’s priority, just to add a little bit to Wayne’s point, I think it would be important not to perceive Turkey or Turkish policy in the region in black and white, although it’s easy to do that and in particular it’s easy to do that from the point of view of Yerevan. It was clear in the aftermath of the Russia-Georgia war in 2008 that the Turks looked at what happened and they were horrified by it and, in particular, were – saw rising instability or this very sharp and obvious instability that the Russia-Georgia war represented as something threatening to their interests and in – and created a circumstance in which that for a period they looked at more creative avenues to involve – to involve Turkey constructively in Caucasus affairs.
One was the Turkey-Armenia normalization process, which had been – the negotiations had been going on for some time but, on the – on the Turkish side, got a significant kick in the pants by this – by this circumstance. Another was the resurfacing of the Caucasus – I’ve forgotten the exact name, but the Caucasus stability platform, which I think was seen in the United States as a somewhat ham-handed effort, but it was to provide a framework for a different kind of Turkish role.
The other point, I think, as events play out over the coming couple of years, you’ll see – we are likely to see a further change or evolution in Turkey’s role and its interests in Caucasus stability as Turkey becomes more and more dependent on Caspian gas. That will be a – quite a different situation from something that exist 10 or 20 or even one or two years ago. Currently very small volumes of Azeri gas reach Turkish markets. Within five or seven years, it would be very substantial volumes. It – and I think then the imperative for Turkish policy to find more constructive roles in preserving stability will go up really quite substantially and lead to some different – certainly leads to a context in which Turkish policy may be quite different.
A question over here.
Q: Thank you, Ambassador. My name is Fahrad Ismalaban (ph) from Embassy of Azerbaijan. I will also certainly have a question to ask, but before asking question, I would ask ambassador’s indulgence to say a few words about – a few comments on the – what has been said previously.
Actually, I didn’t felt any – in the presentation of the – of the panelists, any – much of urgency of solving this conflict. And – but from point of view Azerbaijan IDP situation – (inaudible). They are victims of the occupation. They are waiting to return back for more than 20 years. And then when actually they – (sorry to say ?) that we need to listen to expert presentation and sometimes from (the best encounters ?). And the situation is described, and position of the countries are described in the same terms. And then the people in Azerbaijan don’t feel that really this negotiation made between the country of occupiers and the country of sufferers and that at this point it creates more frustration.
And even the reaction to the so-called Safarov case didn’t get – actually, people in Azerbaijan didn’t get this reaction – overreaction to this matter because the issue was dead in 2004, and then it’s only the – for several years the – and then when the – this – (inaudible) – in history are played up in Yerevan, it serves to prove the audience – this audience statements made in 2003 by former President Kocharian saying this, the Azerbaijanis are – and Armenians are ethnically incompatible and that they can’t live in the – in the same country or on the side by side. And we believe that this policy at the end will complicate the peace and will not bring the peace and probably will bring new elements to the conflict because in Azerbaijan, never at any point this conflict was seen through the point of ethnicity. This was a – clearly a territorial conflict and one country taking another country’s territory. And this was the – but unfortunately, this – all this – (inaudible) – played up the Ramil Safarov case will not probably help the – this peace. And I can’t really – also, I agree with the – with Tom de Waal saying that this also a blow to the negotiations, which probably aren’t existing for several months, actually. This is some comments.
But also, the – you know, the reaction also is not the – now Armenia and Yerevan – actually, it’s trying to announce to – imminent flight from Yerevan to Khojali airport. And then they try to prepare, you know, to send in something – (inaudible) – international community. For a time we wouldn’t hear any reaction from the countries. And then would they wait for this flight to try to enter Azerbaijan’s space and then to something happen? What would reaction of the experts to this announcement? Is it a real provocation to start the war or was give the reason to start the war? Thank you very much.
MR. WILSON: Thank you. Just to answer one part of what you – of the comments that you’ve made, the purpose of this event was not really to look at the conflict per se, not to look at the particular painful issues that you have referred to. Our Armenian colleagues could – they have their own painful narrative as well. It was, rather, to look at Russian policy in this region and on this conflict, how that has changed over time. So the purpose was just a little bit different.
At least from what I heard, I thought Wayne Merry in particular talked about the urgency of this conflict in raising the specter of a sort of prewar situation and the urgency of trying to find ways to head that off.
I don’t know, do any of the rest of you want to comment on other points that were made there?
MR. MARKEDONOV: (Off mic) – and purpose of our event today was to consider to analyze the position of Russia. Of course, every ethnic political conflicts, be conflicts in Georgia or Nagorno-Karabakh, have such elements like refugees, IDPs and so on. It’s impossible to imagine any ethno-political conflict without such elements. But we analyze the position of Russia.
As for airport, you raise the question of airport opening in Stepanakert, close to Khojali, the place which is connected in their opinion of Azeris like tragedy and so on. But this question is multidimensional, in my mind. On the one hand, yes, we could speak that it’s kind of quasi-recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh and so on. But on the other side, we could speak about engagement of this territory. Is it possible to discuss the fate of territory, its perspectives, without people living on the ground? I am not sure.
Yes, now negotiations are done between – are provided between Azerbaijan and Armenia. But the future status would concern not people from Yerevan, Dilijan or Abovian. It would touch people living in Stepanakert, Mardakert, Gadruten (ph) and so on, so on. OK, we could ignore their opinion of Nagorno-Karabakh. We could ignore this entity, considering it like nonexistent. But would it be productive? Because without people living on the ground, it’s impossible to resolve the conflict itself because the conflict, the core of this conflict is disputed area and population living on this area, in my mind. It’s necessary to understand – it’s not bad; it’s not good.
MR. MERRY: On the airport, let me address an issue that’s not directly – not related to Russia but is related to the future of Azerbaijani policy, which is with the opening of this airport, there are going to be a lot more people from the outside world going to Karabakh. And it’s – this full page in The New York Times’ travel section on Sunday a week ago is emblematic of that. The recent visit by two former astronauts, one American, one Swiss, to some space-related event in Stepanakert is representative of that. When you had to go in through the Lachin corridor, I can tell you it’s kind of a long schlep to get into Karabakh. But with the airport open, Karabakh is going to become a tourist destination.
And this creates a choice for Azerbaijan. If you just automatically publicly declare persona non grata everybody that goes in, you get some gratification; you accomplish nothing. For example, in the case of the two astronauts, what Azerbaijan should have done is to immediately invite them to Azerbaijan, to show them your side, to let them meet with some of the IDPs, to let them see your side of the line, to let them see the new Baku. You should have reached out and engaged them, not basically told them that they were not welcome, something of which they were no doubt entirely unaware when they went to Stepanakert. The opening of the airport – this is going to be a recurrent issue for Azerbaijan. You can either make this into a potential benefit for yourself by engaging people, or you can simply take the view that anyone who goes on a tourist holiday because they read something in the Sunday New York Times travel section is therefore a leper. That’s not to your advantage.
MR. WILSON: Here in the front.
Q: Alex van Oss, Foreign Service Institute. The word “suasion” has come up a number of times. And getting back to Russia, what forms of “suasion” could Russia take that are being footed, and what other forms might they take that are more delicate and sophisticated? This is all speculative, I realize.
MR. : (Chuckles.)
MR. DE WAAL: I mean, Russia, obviously, does have influence in Armenia. But I think it pretty much used up – you know, we’re told that Russia pretty much twisted the arm of Serzh Sarkissian before, the Kazan meeting. He basically signed up to that agreement, what was on the table. He gave himself a let-out clause that had to be approved by the – what he agreed had to be approved by the Armenians of Karabakh. But, you know, Russia does have a certain amount of influence with the Armenian side.
But I think this is one issue where both Armenia and Azerbaijan, you know, push back. They – it’s – they regard this as one hundred percent in their national interest to maintain a position on this issue. And it’s only ever going to be 5 (percent) or 10 percent or whatever in interests of Turkey or Russia or the United States to apply pressure. And I think that’s why local resistance has always been stronger than external pressure. That I think would only change if it’s not just Russia but Russia, the United States, the Europeans, maybe Turkey, all pushing at the same time, and that’s obviously something we haven’t yet seen.
MR. MARKEDONOV: And speaking about Russian influence and pressure, as well as external pressure as a whole, we have lost that updated Madrid Principles themselves are very contradictory. They don’t contain concrete mechanisms of realization, of step one, step two. The first step, liberation of five districts – what about 12 districts – (inaudible)? No clarifications. What about referendum? Would it be compulsory or recommendation? Many, many questions. (Precise ?), but no mechanisms, no real clear steps how to realize those brilliant ideas contradictory to each other.
We really believed that signatures under updated Madrid Principles would be the end of the story. No. It would be start of the new story. What about interpretation of these signatures? Presidents of both Armenia and Azerbaijan thinks first of all about their future – (inaudible) – after the signature and their homes. In their situation, that could – they could ignore any pressures from outside, both Russian and the West. The document (basement ?) for the future peace is very, very contradictory, and many points are unclear – seven points, but most of them are unclear, and here – first of all mechanisms of realization. It’s necessary to take it into account, first of all.
MR. MERRY: Well, I think for any great power to actually exercise suasion is a dicey business. I mean, look how much difficulty the United States has getting people in Iraq or Afghanistan to do what we want.
I think this actually illustrates my point, is that for Russia actually to use the significant influence it has in both Armenia and Azerbaijan will come at a significant cost. I mean, great powers like to have influence without actually having to use the resources. You know, the last thing Armenia would want to have is for the Russians sort of to have technical difficulties in delivering military supplies or spare parts. But these things can be done. But it will cause some damage to the relationship. Anything that Moscow would do with Baku that would be effective will have some lasting damage on the relationship and therefore would be not – you know, a net negative to Moscow’s interest. I think this is why Russia would like not to be in a situation where it has to do that kind of thing.
MR. WILSON: We’re getting to the end. Let me just take here – take a couple of different questions. If we could please make it a question more than a comment. Over here, please.
Q: Thank you. Adil Baguirov from the U.S. Azeris Network. I’ve got three short questions.
Number one, why is Russia opposed to the conflict mediation moving to the U.N. Security Council from the OSCE Minsk Group? Number two, why do you think Azerbaijan is not joining the CSTO or rejoining it? And number three, why didn’t we hear from Russia or any other big power, co-chairs, anything in 2001, for example, when the French court released a terrorist, Varoujan Garabedian, and he was taking (sic) to Armenia where he was promptly given citizenship. The mayor of Yerevan provided him an apartment and salary and a bunch of other benefits and really glorified a guy who was born in Syria, not even in Armenia. He was a convicted terrorist who killed eight people, including two U.S. citizens – and several other such examples of – Melkonian and, you know, many other convicted terrorists who killed civilians as opposed to military targets. Thank you.
MR. WILSON: Three good questions. Back in the back here, there was someone – yes.
Q: Hi. Will Englund, with The Washington Post. Just following up on something that Mr. Markedonov has said a little bit earlier. There has been a lot of talk today about – some talk today about tails wagging dogs. And of course, Nagorno-Karabakh itself is kind of a tail that wags the Armenian dog. And I’m wondering in – if we’re entering a period of increased danger of something irrational happening. Has Russia been too reliant on Yerevan as the – as the authority, as the director of the – what you might call the larger Armenian side?
MR. WILSON: OK.
MR. DE WAAL: There’s – are we going to take one more, or –
MR. WILSON: I think we’re about out of time, but maybe here in the back. But last – the last question, then we’ll wrap it up.
Q: Thank you very much. This is – (inaudible). I’m from the Turkish embassy, and I have a very small comment and – (inaudible) – small question.
I would like to – I think I have the right here to underline that Turkey has a constructive and positive approach concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and – because it’s our immediate neighborhood, and as Mr. Merry has mentioned, we are a member of the Minsk Group, although we are not part of the three co-chairs. So we know it is very – it is very difficult and complicated. It’s a very difficult problem.
But it is unfortunate to hear that representatives of Armenia would be against any kind of positive initiative that may come from Turkey just because it’s coming from Turkey, just because it’s coming from a country that is not part of the co-chairs. I have difficulty in understanding this approach of Armenia because we all know that any positive step in Nagorno-Karabakh issue can contribute to other problems in our neighborhood, in our region, including Turkish-Armenian bilateral relations. So this is my comment.
And my question concerns Russia. As Mr. Merry mentions, Turkey and Russia can play a role. Yes, it can – we can – we can think about that. But I wonder how Russia and other co-chairs would be – would think about that and would stay – would they welcome it, or they just say we don’t want any other player in this area, we are OK? Thank you.
MR. WILSON: Gentlemen. Maybe Tom go first, then Sergey.
MR. DE WAAL: Sure. Adil’s questions – I think it’s not just Russia. The – all the three co-chairs seem to be opposed to moving to the U.N., maybe not on principle, but simply that really, the – changing the format I don’t think changes the substance of the problem. You would just sort of – changing the frame – the picture frame, but you’re not changing the picture. I think if anyone thought it could make a significant difference, they probably would favor it.
Why does Azerbaijan not join the CSTO? I think you can probably answer that just as well as we can. It’s – you know, Azerbaijan has a different geopolitical orientation.
The Garabedian case is an interesting one. I certainly have started reading up on it myself since people have been mentioning it. And it’s just – I think – and, you know, I think it’s – it was certainly an outrageous thing to do to give this man citizenship. I suppose he did serve full 17 years in a – in a – in a French jail and was released. But still, it was a very provocative gesture. I suppose it was done with much less fanfare; it was done more quietly. But it certainly deserved some condemnation the way he was treated. And I’m happy to add – (chuckles) – you know, my criticism of that. But certainly, two wrongs don’t make a right. The idea that you can sort of say, the Armenian side behaved badly, therefore, we’re going to behave badly too, it doesn’t stand up as an argument.
And I would – to Will’s – I’d also like to comment on Will’s question. I think we have an interesting election in Karabakh this summer, when – which the opposition candidate, Vitaly Balasanyan, got, I think, 32 percent of the vote. That was a pretty impressive vote in a post-Soviet territory like Karabakh, and that does suggest that we shouldn’t take for granted the fact that the Karabakh Armenians will automatically do what Yerevan says.
MR. WILSON: Sergey.
MR. MARKEDONOV: OK. Now it’s my turn. The answer on the first question would be very simple. Russia is not interested to lose its monopoly, as well as USA and France. I think that engagement of U.N. would mean inflation of OSCE Minsk Group in the conflict resolution, which is why not only Russia but USA and France are not so lucky from the U.N. engagement. And maybe this thing would be not so politically correct, but I’m not sure that some other reasons besides populist would be really discussed in the framework of U.N., you know.
As for the second question, we spoke that Russia tries to provide balanced, nuanced or – (inaudible) – policy in the Caucasus. Azerbaijan also. I know that in 2005 Azerbaijan really discussed the joining CSTO. Ilham Aliyev publicly said that he studied the documents – (inaudible) – some years before, studied documents. Why? Context of 2004-2005, colored revolutions – (inaudible) – movement on the streets of Azerbaijan Azadlig, and so on and so on. In 2006 Azerbaijan was called as the Islamic ally of the United States. It was second country after Turkey which was named by this honorary title. And problems of CSTO were taken away. It’s a balance.
I think that geopolitical configuration over Azerbaijan is not so – is not completely definite. I could not completely agree with Tom thesis that Azerbaijan geopolitical configuration is rather different. Azerbaijan has restrictions in its movement, both to the Russian direction and to the Western direction, to the Western also, problems of democracy, elections and so on and so on. There are many (hooks ?) from the Western side which are not so appropriate in Azerbaijan. In contrast, Russia could recognize results of any elections before central committee of Azerbaijan, central electoral committee, would recognize them as legitimate. Remember experience of 2005 parliamentary elections. This is why Russia is also very good as a counterbalance because Russians in Gabala would be very effective for Azerbaijan because Russians in would be maybe guarantee from the Iranian engagement, which is very risky and dangerous for Azerbaijan. This is why maybe in a couple of months, we would discuss here or in other think tank of Washington – at CSIS, for example – prospects of prolongation of Russian-Azerbaijani cooperation for Gabala.
The question about tails and dogs. (Chuckles.) Of course, Russia relies on the official at Yerevan. It’s usual – it’s habitual for Russia to rely on official position, not only in Yerevan but in Azerbaijan. Russian authorities ignores many other factors. And this is why they are not really ready for new challenges. Before my contribution here, I analyzed the first results of the Georgian exit polls, very interesting. Georgian Dream_ maybe would be more successful. (When I was speaking ?), I predicted such results, and it was necessary to argue with somebody. But Russia now is not ready to this scenario. OK, if everybody instead of Saakashvili would be in Tbilisi, what Russia would really propose, what topics? This is why, yes, it’s necessary to be more attentive to different actors in Yerevan, in Baku, in Tbilisi. It’s a problem of the Russian foreign policy, I understand.
But – yeah, and last but not least, comment about the Turkish policy. It’s a very interesting and controversial topic. I think this problem is twofold in the Caucasus. We discussed readiness of another co-chairs for the Turkish engagement, readiness of Armenia. But what about readiness of Turkey itself? Nowadays Turkey is engaged more actively in the Middle East agenda, and it takes much more energy from the Turkish side. I’m not sure that Turkey itself really ready to be the fourth co-chair of the Minsk Group. I’m not sure.
And Karabakh conflict is very important for Turkey, but in the context of Armenian-Turkish relations, first of all. It’s impossible to abandon the principles of national egoism. OK, we have Turkey brothers in Azerbaijan, but first and foremost our national interests. As for the Armenian and Turkey dialogue, now it’s frozen, but it’s not completely stopped because we have request for this normalization both in the Turkish society and in Armenian society. Unlike situation five, six years ago, we have discourse of discussion between not only Turkish people and Armenians about the normalization, about the rapprochement, but between Turks and Turks, between Armenians and Armenians about the cost of this rapprochement, about the price of it, about tempos, about many, many other aspects.
And this request was – were not due to so-called soccer diplomacy. It was born in 1991 after the – (inaudible) – and sometimes this process was frozen and then was revitalized. Karabakh factor is a factor of not only Turkish foreign policy but domestic also. Don’t forget about some millions of Azeris in Turkey. It’s domestic factor. Those people are engaged in the elections, they vote, and it’s a very important factor. But first and foremost in the bilateral relations between Turkey and Armenia.
MR. WILSON: Wayne, briefly.
MR. MERRY: OK, three points. One of the reasons why the Minsk Group was created was because the U.N. Security Council didn’t want to touch Karabakh at all from the beginning. I’ve seen no indication that that has changed. In fact, in the fall of 1994 in New York, I personally set up a meeting between Levon Ter-Petrossian and Heydar Aliyev, and I can assure you that the people in the U.N. secretariat, the secretary-general’s office, were perfectly happy to stay far away from that and not have anything to do with it. I see no indication that anybody in New York wants to add Karabakh to their – to their docket.
A point about the Safarov case that is unique is that the crime took place in the context of a program in the Partnership for Peace. And this was a problem for NATO, for all the Partnership for Peace countries and for the country that was hosting the event, Hungary. I actually was partially involved in that because I was the person in the Pentagon who found the money for Armenia and Azerbaijan to send military officers to programs like that, and I argued in favor of doing that on the notion if you got the two people – military officers from the two sides together in a neutral venue, they might establish some kind of personal relationship. Well – (laughter) – the fact remains that the crime involved was one which violated a program of an important multilateral venture of the alliance, and so it offended a lot of people in that context.
And finally, the question from the representative of the Turkish embassy, well, I might note your Russian embassy colleague is here. You could just sort of set – you know, settle it right here. (Laughter.) But my point was not that Turkey should be a fourth co-chair of the Minsk Group, not at all. My point is that Turkey is an objective reality as a Caucasian regional great power with a much more activist and involved foreign policy, with a patron-client relationship with one of the two participants in this conflict and with a very important semirelationship with the other one, and in any crisis, Turkey is going to be important. As difficult as reality can be for people at Foggy Bottom or the Quai d’Orsay or Smolenskaya Ploshchad to deal with, they will deal with the reality of Turkey because it is a reality. Two of those countries are allies of Turkey, for crying out loud.
And while there are still some difficulties in the relationship between Moscow and Ankara, I think the Turkish-Russian relationship is actually one of the most positive aspects of the post-Cold War world. I see no reason to believe that a Turkish involvement that is seen as being more than just serving Azerbaijan is one that would not be welcome to the other participants, partly because it’s part of the – if it’s part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.
MR. WILSON: As a former American ambassador to Turkey, it’s interesting that the conversation that started about Russia ends up with Turkey. Seriously, I think this helped, for me at least, and, I hope, all of you in understanding a little bit more clearly what is Russia’s role, what is Russia seeking, how have things evolved, how – what are some of the interests that come more directly into play as far as Russia is concerned on issues of Nagorno-Karabakh and, for that matter, the broader Caucasus.
I want to thank all of you for being an excellent audience and having some good questions. I want to thank the Atlantic Council staff and, in particular, Anna Borshchevskaya, our assistant director of the Eurasia Center, for the arrangements here. And please join me in thanking our three panelists. (Applause.)