Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 7

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 declared with heavy emphasis that “territorial integrity must be the iron rule” in resolving those conflicts. The three presidents publicly 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. The presidents criticized the “double standard” which leaves Russia free to wage a war for 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, a forum mandated to facilitate the negotiations between the Tbilisi government and the Sukhumi authorities. Under the UN Secretary General’s umbrella, the Council includes Russia, 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 virtual monopoly as a mediator, Russia remains the sole “peacekeeping” power with troops on the ground and is therefore able disproportionately to influence the negotiating process. Georgia has long asked Ukraine to contribute peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia–not to replace the Russian troops, but to supplement them–and implicitly to dilute their influence. Kyiv is willing to provide a peacekeeping unit, but only as part of a UN-authorized 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 call for a South Caucasus Stability Pact, recently aired by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel in conjunction with Shevardnadze and Aliev. Those proposals underscore the participation of the United States and the European Union in such a pact. An Armenian proposal is vague on that point, while Russia and Iran seek to limit the Western participation in any such pact.