Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 166

Igor Ivanov’s just-completed visit to Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia–his first visit to those countries as foreign minister of Russia–seems to have signaled a number of tactical adjustments in Russian policy. The visit’s aftermath confirms that impression. The adjustments appear designed to recoup some of Moscow’s lost leverage over Azerbaijan, maintain influence in Armenia and arm-twist Georgia into a more compliant behavior.

Ivanov went out of his way to earn goodwill in Azerbaijan. He officially abandoned the principle of a “common state” as the basis for the eventual political status of Karabakh and for the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Russia’s Foreign Ministry had promoted the “common state” for the past three years as the recipe for settling the Karabakh, Abkhaz and Transdniester conflicts. Azerbaijan resisted it all along, even after the ill-thought-out adoption by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of that scheme in its 1998 proposals for settling the Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan’s success in disposing of the “common state” should take some pressure off Georgia, and might enable Moldova to reverse–in practice if not in words–its meek acceptance of that principle, which is designed not for settling conflicts but for ensuring that they simmer under Russian arbitration.

Ivanov, moreover, seemed at pains to underscore Russia’s adherence to the principle of the territorial integrity of existing states, as against the national self-determination principle which implies secession. In remarks likely to alarm Armenia and Karabakh, Ivanov went as far as to state that “self-determination may only be pursued within the political framework of existing states”–an OSCE principle which Moscow has long flouted in practice in the South Caucasus. He also condemned “separatism and extremism”–terms usually reserved by Moscow for its armed opponents in the North Caucasus, and by Baku and Tbilisi for the breakaway Karabakh and Abkhazia. Moscow had until now preferred to equivocate by paying lip service to territorial integrity while underwriting de facto the secessions of Karabakh and Abkhazia from Azerbaijan and Georgia, respectively. In his public remarks, Ivanov merely hinted at the reasons behind Moscow’s shift of emphasis: It is necessitated by the situation in the Dagestan and Chechen republics and by Moscow’s support for Serbia’s territorial integrity in Kosovo. This shift with respect to the South Caucasus recalls Moscow’s verbal adjustment in 1995-96 during the Russian-Chechen war, when Russia in its own interest underscored the territorial integrity principle, only to revert to equivocation and double standards after that crisis had passed.

Azerbaijan’s President Haidar Aliev, his senior foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade and Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov hailed Moscow’s shift of gears. According to Guluzade, Russia seems finally to realize that its one-sided support for Armenia has boomeranged against Moscow in Azerbaijan and contributed to weakening Moscow’s influence in the South Caucasus in general. On other matters of concern to Baku, however, Ivanov used the familiar evasion and stonewalling tactics [see below] (Turan, ANS TV, Itar-Tass, September 6-7).