Russia's influence as mediator in South Caucasus is not limitless: analyst

Russia's influence as mediator in South Caucasus is not limitless: analyst

Azerbaijan, Baku, January 14 / Trend , E. Ostapenko /

Although Russia has the greatest potential for reaching an agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, its mediator possibilities are not unlimited, according to the Europe Program Director at International Crisis Group Sabine Freizer.

"Russia's ability to actually push through an agreement is perhaps the strongest among all international players, but remains limited, Sabine Freizer told Trend in a telephone conversation. - It is only when the two countries and the two societies are ready to accept these basic principles that there would be an agreemen".

During talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Jan. 13, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed hope that Russia would play a more active role in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that broke out in 1988 due to Armenia's territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Putin, in his turn, expressed his readiness to provide full support in this regard.

According to Freizer, it is highly encouraging that Turkey wants to bring stability and peace to the South Caucasus and it is trying to help resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. But Turkey first of all needs to understand that Russia does not have all the keys to the problem.

"The Moscow declaration of November 2008 was an example of the limitations of Russian influence, said Freizer. The Russian Leadership did step in and was successful in getting a signature from the two presidents, but this did not change anything on the ground or get the sides closer to a comprehensive agreement."

Russia along with France and the US is the co-chair state of the OSCE Minsk Group which is holding peace negotiations since the ceasefire agreement was signed in May, 1994. As the result of the conflict Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and 7 surrounding districts. Turkey cannot itself play a direct role in the negotiations as it is not one of the co-chair countries.

According to Freizer, Turkey is particularly trying to encourage Russia to work closer with Armenia to get Armenia to make additional compromises in the talks. Turkey would like to see more high level engagement from not only Russia, but also from the other players. It would like to see the United States and European Union more involved in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"I think it is good if there is more high level involvement from the OSCE countries including Russia, but again it needs to be accompanied by a broader debate in Azerbaijan and in Armenia about the basic principles, because it is only when the two countries and the two societies are ready to accept these basic principles that there would be an agreement," she said.

"So, the principles cannot be forced upon Armenia and Azerbaijan from Russia or from the US, the societies also need to agree to them themselves," Freizer said.

The proposals of the Minsk Group, officially submitted to the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the OSCE Madrid summit in November 2007, are the base of today's talks. These proposals, known as the "basic principles", resulted from several meetings of foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan since 2004 in Prague, called "Prague process".

These proposals envisage determining the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh through nationwide voting at the last stage of the peace process, after all other measures of trust are taken, including avoiding use of force, the gradual withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied territories, return of internally displaced persons to their homes and the resumption of trade and communications.

According to Freizer, the progress on the Karabakh issue is extremely important for Turkey because of the promises it has made to Azerbaijan not to open its border with Armenia until withdrawal from occupied territories begins. Yet it also committed to Armenia to open the border in the two protocols signed last October.

Protocols for restoration of relations were agreed by the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia in October last year in Zurich. On January 12, Armenia's Constitutional Court recognized the Armenian-Turkish and gave them to the Parliament.

"Now because of the linkage that Turkey - but not Armenia - is making between the protocols and Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara needs progress on Nagorno-Karabakh," Freizer said.

If Turkey doesn't pass the protocols in Parliament in the coming months, but Armenia does, it will look like Turkey betrayed its commitments. According to Freizer, this will undermine its whole foreign policy goal to play a bigger role in securing peace and stability in the South Caucasus.

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