Azerbaijan and Armenia show a hard line, and do not abandon their positions. In this sense, war seems like a logical extension. Do you think the great powers will allow the resumption of the war?
First, using the term “great powers” suggests a degree of omnipotence ascribed to some powerful countries that such countries do not usually exercise. To be a “great” power does not mean you can do what you want to whomever you want, whenever you want.
Although it may sound strange that this has to be pointed out, but it is necessary to do so to consider the cull sense of the meaning of that expression: in order to consider some states “great” there have to be other states that are not so great in relation to which the great ones are considered great. So the great ones have some kind of dependence on the small ones. It also happens that those not-so-great ones, or even clearly small ones, have some kind of dynamics of their own; after all, to be a state you have to have people, and people do take their lives, their present and future seriously, even in small states. This happens even if such factors are not included in the calculations that the great ones make in terms of their interests and the place they allot to the not-so-great ones. That, by the way, is one of the essential reasons why empires do not last and why history is not so simple.
So much has happened in history because of the actions of not-so-great powers.
Therefore it is quite possible for Azerbaijan, that is not a great power as far as we know, to negotiate with Russia, or even the US, to initiate a war against the Armenian side, convincing one or the other or both that such a war, if successful, might produce a result by and large beneficial to one or the other or to both, while resolving Azerbaijan’s problem. The idea would be that in view of what Azerbaijan considers its legitimate interests—interests it could not secure with the militarization of the conflict it started in the spring of 1991– and considering the impasse in the negotiations, Azerbaijan may determine that it has no choice but to resume the war; the minimal purpose of such a war would be to bring some change to the situation on the ground in its favor and thus compel the Armenian parties to the conflict—Armenia and Karabakh—to make concessions which they have not been willing to make up to this time.
If there is a local war, will that encourage the parties to negotiate and force them to accept international mediation?
A. Obviously my answer to this question is, yes. Azerbaijan can initiate a resumption of hostilities even if it does not have the blessing of one or more great powers; it may just think that it has no choice and the great powers would not be opposed to it.
A corollary of my logic presented above is the following: The Great powers such as the US and Russia are mired in so many issues that sometimes they are relieved if a lesser power can offer a simple solution to a difficult and nagging problem, especially if they can claim not be involved but have an input in the process. They might agree even if the proposed move is a risky one, and it is not the great powers that are assuming the risk.
By and large, there is always the temptation for one party or another to resort to war to change the status quo on the ground, if negotiations are not producing a result that are acceptable to all parties to a conflict.
In this particular case the Armenian side—Armenia and Karabakh—have no interest in changing the situation on the ground through war. If any party to the conflict, it will be Azerbaijan that might want to restart military hostilities.
But here there are two very important factors to be considered. First, despite all “objective’ calculations, one never knows how a war will end. History is full of surprises. In our own case, one should look very carefully at the general offensive that Azerbaijan undertook at the end of 1993, when President Heydar Aliyev had assumed full authority in Azerbaijan and somehow they convinced him that the occupied territories or even more could be recaptured through war: in other words, war as a tactical move—possibly of strategic consequence as well– to reshape the ground in the way you would want it to look for ever; and war as a way to obviate negotiations and compromises. That offensive in 1993 did not produce the result President Aliyev and so many others—including in Moscow, Washington, and Brussels—expected. That story has yet to be written. But we know that those horrible months between December 1993 and April 1994 produced the largest number of casualties in the armies of all parties concerned, some 80% of all dead soldiers on all sides while resulting in very minimal change on the line of contact that had been established in the summer of 1993. The resumption of military operations in late 1993 by Azerbaijan—just as the joint Azerbaijani-Soviet operations in April-May 1991—were based on assessments of the “objective” resources each side commanded. We must all learn the lessons of the logic and outcome of the history of both the initiation and resumption of military hostilities in 1991 and 1993, respectively. The outcome of wars does not always depend on numbers, statistics, and inventories of weaponry.
The second problem is that wars have their own logic. One may start hostilities having in mind a nice little short tactical war, which will, in and by itself, produce all the changes on the ground that the initiator wishes to achieve. History does not testify to the success of such tactically based strategies. This is a region where a mini-Cold War has continued and where regional and international players have invested much in terms of their interests—economic, geopolitical and otherwise. One party in the conflict may calculate a certain outcome based on the limited factors it considers; but regional and international players—states or others—have their own spread sheet and one cannot exclude the possibility that such a war might attract countries not directly involved in the conflict.
How true is the assertion that Russia is not interested in resolving the situation and uses it to maintain its influence in South Caucasus? In the event of settlement of the conflict will Russia will be forced out of the region by the US, EU of Turkey?
A. Regarding the first question, This has been a very vexing issue, vexing because it continues to be raised, as if future developments in the region depend on that question being asked in that form. It is vexing to me because on so many occasions I, at least, have pointed out that the question is not a good one; it assumes that for Russian influence to be exerted in the South Caucasus, Russia needs a conflict or two.
There is no reason to make such an assumption. After all, the history of the region in the last two centuries indicates that when Russia was the dominant power in the region—Tsarist or Soviet—there was peace, i.e., conflicts were resolved. The resolution of a conflict does not mean that the conflict has been resolved justly. It just means that a resolution has been imposed by force by one party over the other or by an external force on both parties. Here, too, the imposition of peace is no guarantee that it was a just peace.
Historically speaking, therefore, Russia has been supportive of peace in the region rather than conflict.
Nonetheless, we must take the argument a step further and ask the right question: When has Russia maintained peace in our region in the last two centuries? That same history tells us that peace has been installed and maintained when the terms of that peace secured Russian/Soviet management of the conflict space in the post-conflict period. That means, at the least, a peace that requires and depends on Russian presence in the region. And that has been achieved under one ideology or another: Tsarist imperialism as spreader of enlightenment or Soviet rule, guarantor of the rights of workers and peasants. In other words, we must assume that Russia would like peace and stability in the region, but under some conditions.
We should be asking, then, a different question: Whose peace will it be: An “American” peace or a Russian one? Pax Americana or Pax Russica?
The question, as formulated above, is a better guide to an understanding of the process of negotiations and the question of the dynamics within the Minsk Group co-chairmanship.
(Regarding the second part) Your question assumes that there can be a solution to the conflict that does not have the approval of Russia. All indications are that this will not happen. I can imagine a resolution of the conflict that will limit Russia’s presence in the region, but that can happen only if such a resolution kept the US, NATO, Turkey and Iran out of the region as well in terms of geo-political domination by any. That can happen only if the parties are mature enough to undertake direct negotiations, respect the vital interests of each other party and make the necessary compromises on other issues.
After all, there are two basic realities: Armenians in Armenia and Karabakh are “condemned’ to live as neighbors with Azerbaijan, and vise versa; secondly, in view of that inescapable reality, who would know better what are the elements of a settlement that are absolutely but minimally necessary and what is negotiable for each side than the parties to the conflict themselves? The conflict is complex enough in and by itself; why complicate it by bringing in the great powers whose interests could be accommodated in other ways.
But instead of moving in that direction, the parties have behaved as if they are guests in someone else’s house, and someone else should prepare the coffee and offer it to them. Therefore at the present I do not see that option.
In fact, the US and France, two of the three co-chairmen of the Minsk Group, (two of our great powers) have been retreating from an aggressive policy in the region. The third member, Russia cannot afford to retreat from the region; the region sits in its backyard, and is not likely to move elsewhere.
Isn’t it obvious that Russia has taken the initiative in these negotiations—still maintained as a Minsk Group process; and one senses almost the relief on the part of France and the US that President Medvedev may be able to bring the parties to agree to a common text; they will accept any text that does not shut them completely out of the region. Russia knows that it has time to wait and it will wait until the others are completely worn out and will accept what would be a Russian peace, something that would have been blasphemy a decade ago.
All of this says little as to how the conflict is resolved and as to whether the resolution will be just. In the absence of direct negotiations between the parties, we will probably end up with a Russian imposed peace—no other country has the means to impose its own—which, once more, does not necessarily mean that it will be a just peace or a peace that all parties to the conflict will find satisfactory.
But it is difficult to imagine that peace, as foreseen above, will signal the replacement of the presence in the region of Russia with the US, EU and Turkey, especially if it is Russia that has managed the peace process at the end.
What do these three entities—US, EU, and Turkey– have in their tool boxes that will make it possible for them to replace what Russia has available in its tool box? Is it President Obama’s inspired and inspiring vision reduced to zero by the dogmatic and senseless opposition within the US to anything he wants to do and the reduced resources available to him? Is it Europe’s ever-increasing internal economic, financial, and structural crises, which even a Sarkozy-Merkel love affair cannot handle?
Or would it be Turkey with its grand vision of becoming a world player, as represented by the otherwise perceptive, astute and intellectually ambitious Minister of Foreign Affairs, who believes that abstracted intellectual constructs based on an idealized version of Ottoman history can survive the mundane problems of the lands and people of the former Ottoman Empire? Turkey faces the same demons today as it did decades ago.