Russian President Vladimir Putin won a standing ovation when he told Azerbaijan’s parliament last week that the eventual solution to the conflict with Armenia should not differentiate between the victors and vanquished, and that it should proceed from the territorial integrity of states and the inviolability of their borders. Those suggestions clash with Yerevan’s and Karabakh’s insistence on a solution which would proceed from the fact of their military victory and the principle of national self-determination. Putin, moreover, made some offers of assistance to Azerbaijan’s military in the hope of drawing that country into regional security arrangements under Russian leadership.
Yet Putin’s unprecedented overtures to Azerbaijan have hardly unsettled the Armenian side. Defense Minister Serge Sarkisian commented that normalization and improvement of Moscow-Baku relations would enhance Azerbaijan’s confidence in Russia and, as a result, contribute to the solution of the Karabakh conflict. Meanwhile, the Russian-Armenian ties remain “on the highest possible level,” Sarkisian noted–“uniquely close” in both political and military terms. He cited the agreement he signed with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev in Moscow last month, on creating a joint group of forces in Armenia, as a corollary to the Russian-Armenian “strategic relationship.” Sarkisian, a Karabakh native like President Robert Kocharian, is the president’s closest political ally in Yerevan and also maintains close links with the Russian military and intelligence agencies.
Foreign Affairs Minister Vardan Oskanian seconded Sarkisian’s argument that Putin’s fence-mending effort in Baku “is not at the expense of Russian-Armenian relations.” Any rapprochement between Moscow and Baku could help reduce “regional polarization” by inducing Azerbaijan to adopt Armenia’s policy of “complementarity,” Oskanian stated, using two code words for which there is no agreed definition in the region and beyond. In Yerevan’s view, “polarization” arises from Azerbaijan’s (and Georgia’s) pro-Western course while “complementarity” enables Armenia to align militarily with Moscow and receive economic aid from Washington at the same time.
According to Oskanian, Putin’s endorsement of territorial integrity and inviolability of borders “is not [intended as] a precondition to settling the Karabakh problem,” but rather is necessitated by Russia’s Chechen problem. Oskanian underscored Yerevan’s familiar position that the Karabakh conflict requires adjusting those two principles to that of self-determination, and that the Chechnya conflict differs from that in Karabakh or Abkhazia. Oskanian’s observations reflect, first, the awareness that Moscow uses different standards with regard to Russia’s territorial integrity and that of Azerbaijan or Georgia, and, second, that Armenia is well placed to preserve the post-1994 status quo with Russian support.
Oskanian did evidence a degree of concern over Putin’s offers of assistance to the Azerbaijani military. Citing Azerbaijan’s willingness to cooperate with NATO, Oskanian questioned aloud Baku’s “sincerity” toward Moscow. From Baku’s perspective, however, Russian military support to Armenia has created an insuperable and still growing disproportion of forces in the region.
The Azerbaijani leaders demanded of Putin–as they had earlier demanded of Yeltsin–explanation regarding the billion-dollar worth of Russian arms delivered to Armenia clandestinely in 1994-97, as well as the aviation, air defense and armor forces added to the Russian forces in Armenia in 1999 and 2000. Putin replied publicly in Baku that the post-1994 deliveries have been investigated without conclusive results, and that the arms transferred in the last two years are destined for the Russian military in Armenia, not for the Armenian forces. Those explanations are tenuous. In the past Baku has dismissed them.
Putin, moreover, made short shrift of Baku’s concern that some of those arsenals are deployed in areas seized by Armenian forces from Azerbaijan, where they escape international verification. The Russian president closed the subject by telling Azerbaijan’s leaders publicly: “These are our explanations. One can accept them or not.” That concluding remark gave Azerbaijan a foretaste of what partnership with Moscow can entail, if entered into from a position of weakness and if it has to be pursued in competition with a rival country that also bids for Moscow’s favors (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Armenpress, Armenian Television, January 11-16; see the Monitor, October 13, 2000, January 5, 11, 16).
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