The three co-chairmen of the OSCE’s mediating group on Karabakh–Yuri Yukalov of Russia, Georges Vaugier of France and Donald Kaiser of the United States–resumed their mediation effort this week after a long hiatus necessitated by the change of regime in Armenia and the presidential election in Azerbaijan. The group arrived with a new set of proposals which markedly change its previous approach, depart from OSCE documents, veer some way toward the Armenian position and may reflect a Russian-French alignment against the United States within the mediating group.
The new proposals discard the stage-by-stage approach in favor of a package settlement. This means that the withdrawal of Karabakh-Armenian troops from Azerbaijan proper and the political status of Karabakh would be negotiated simultaneously and in conjunction. Armenia and Karabakh favor the package approach because it would enable them to use the occupied land in Azerbaijan proper as a bargaining asset in extracting virtual independence for Karabakh. Azerbaijan favors the stage-by-stage approach–starting with the return of occupied areas in Azerbaijan proper–in order to reduce Armenian leverage in the follow-up stage, which would focus on Karabakh’s political status.
An even more significant innovation centers on the goal of creating a “common state” of Azerbaijan and Karabakh. This scheme replaces the mediators’ previous aim–enshrined in OSCE documents–of securing maximum autonomy for Karabakh within Azerbaijan. The “common state” concept is a brainchild of Yevgeny Primakov and Boris Pastukhov. Pastukhov was until recently Russia’s foreign minister and first deputy foreign minister. However, it was the French co-chairman who took the lead in presenting this concept to Azerbaijan during the mediators’ tour this week, with the Russian co-chairman initially in a supporting role, and the American co-chairman significantly silent.
Meeting with the mediators on November 9, President Haidar Aliev reaffirmed Azerbaijan’s adherence to the existing OSCE documents on the Karabakh settlement, thereby turning down the mediators’ changes. More trenchantly, Aliev’s senior foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade announced that “we regard these proposals very negatively.” Another Azerbaijani official termed the proposal “absurd” and a reflection of “an identity crisis in the mediating group.” Baku particularly objected to the “common state” concept as apt to give rise to contradictory interpretations: “one can construe it any way one wants.”
It was at that point that the Russian mediator acknowledged Moscow’s paternity of the scheme in defending it. Speaking from Yerevan, where the mediators presented the proposals to President Robert Kocharian, Yukalov argued that the “common state” concept was “nothing new,” as Russia has introduced it in two other negotiations it mediates: those between Moldova and Transdniester and those between Georgia and Abkhazia. “The sides would agree to form a common state.” (Turan, Assa-Irada, Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Azg, AFP, Russian agencies, November 9-11).
The experience of those two negotiations illustrates the dangers inherent in that concept. Earlier this year, with Primakov’s and Pastukhov’s direct contribution, Moscow introduced the “common state” concept both in the documents on Moldova-Transdniester settlement and in the Georgia-Abkhazia talks. The two breakaway regions interpret this principle as entitling them to separate statehood first, and to negotiating the “common state” afterward as coequal parties. Chisinau and Tbilisi for their part interpret the concept as precluding full separation of the two regions, though entitling them to full autonomy within a single state. This has deepened the stalemate, postponed the resolution of conflicts, and maximized Russia’s leverage upon all parties as arbiter. Whether Armenia and Karabakh would willingly accept negotiations on that basis is far from certain. Acceptance could leave them, as well, open to manipulation in Moscow’s own interests in the region.
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