The war in Dagestan may be pushing Russia to change its policy in the southern Caucasus and other regions of ethnic conflict. In a recent visit to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov condemned “separatism and extremism” and very carefully stressed the principle of territorial integrity. “Self-determination,” said Ivanov in Azerbaijan, “may be pursued only within the political framework of existing states.” That is very different from the notion of the “common state,” an amorphous, ambiguous doctrine of dual sovereignty that former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had pushed as a solution for the Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the Transdniester conflict in Moldova. In contrast to Primakov’s approach, Ivanov’s formula would require continued Azerbaijani sovereignty in Karabakh, Georgian sovereignty in Abkhazia and Ajaria, Russian sovereignty in Chechnya and Dagestan, and presumably Yugoslav sovereignty in Kosovo.

Ivanov’s remark was no slip of the tongue. In Armenia, he proposed to palliate Azerbaijan’s sovereignty with “firm [Russian] security guarantees” for Karabakh’s almost entirely Armenian population and a land corridor to link Karabakh to Armenia proper. Despite these assurances, some Armenian observers drew the conclusion that Armenia should strengthen ties to the West and intensify bilateral negotiations with Azerbaijan on Karabakh’s future.