Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 56

The talks in Tbilisi and Baku evidenced a firm consensus among Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan in support of the principle of territorial integrity of states and against “separatism.” Kuchma, using the strongest language, declared that “territorial integrity must be the iron rule” in resolving those conflicts. In their public utterances, the three presidents alluded to Russian hardliners–under the familiar euphemism “certain forces interested in destabilization”–as responsible for fanning the conflicts in Abkhazia, Karabakh and Transdniester and frustrating the efforts to resolve those conflicts. And they criticized the “double standard” which leaves Russia free to “wage war for her territorial integrity” in Chechnya after having encouraged secessions in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Kuchma, moreover, scathingly noted the irrelevancy of the CIS as a conflict resolution mechanism: “What sort of commonwealth are we, if we can’t resolve even one cardinal issue, such as separatism? How much is such a Commonwealth worth?”

With regard to Abkhazia, the Ukrainian president offered to host a second meeting in Yalta of the Coordinating Council, which is mandated to facilitate the negotiations between the Tbilisi government and the Sukhumi authorities. The council includes Russia, the UN secretary general’s envoy, the “Friends of Georgia” group of Western countries, and Ukraine as a new member of the Friends’ group. Although the creation of the council ended Moscow’s quasi-monopoly as a mediator, Russia remains the sole “peacekeeping” power with troops on the ground and is therefore able disproportionately to influence the political process. Georgia has long asked Ukraine to contribute peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia, not replacing the Russian troops, but serving alongside them–and implicitly diluting their influence. Kyiv is willing to provide a peacekeeping unit, provided that other countries also join the operation and form a multinational contingent.

With regard to Karabakh, Kuchma called for a solution which would “unconditionally observe Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity” as well as ensure the return of Azeri refugees. Obviously much moved by his visit to a refugee camp, the Ukrainian president remarked that “the world has closed its eyes to the humanitarian catastrophe in Azerbaijan,” “every seventh citizen of which has become a refugee.” The vast majority of those refugees originate from Azerbaijani districts occupied by Armenian troops outside Karabakh proper. “I am profoundly convinced that Armenia does not gain anything from this, but only loses,” Kuchma remarked on Azerbaijani television.

In both Tbilisi and Baku, the three presidents endorsed the proposals for a South Caucasus Stability Pact recently aired by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel in conjunction with Shevardnadze and Aliev (see the Monitor, November 19, 24, 1999, January 18 and Fortnight in Review, December 3, 1999, January 21). Those proposals underscore the participation of the United States and other Western powers, as well as the European Union collectively, in such a pact. An Armenian proposal is vague on that point, while Russia and Iran seek to limit Western participation in any such pact (Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Space TV, AzadInform, UNIAN, DINAU, March 16-17).