Turkey has joined the effort to forestall the spread of the war in Chechnya to the south Caucasus. President Suleyman Demirel, visiting Azerbaijan and Georgia in the first part of January, joined Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze in proposing a South Caucasus Stability Pact, to include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, Turkey and probably Iran, as well as the United States, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe. Demirel’s proposal follows a similar idea sketched out by President Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan at the OSCE summit in Istanbul last November.
Russia, with rising intensity but no evidence, accuses Azerbaijan and especially Georgia of cooperating with Chechen rebels, providing safe haven, arms and recruits for the guerrillas. One Georgian official described Moscow’s verbal attacks as a “softening-up artillery barrage” before demands for concessions. Russia seeks permanent military bases in Georgia and increased political influence throughout the region, including a role in the settlement of ethnic disputes, the location of pipelines, and relations with NATO, the World Trade Organization and other Western institutions.
The South Caucasus Stability Pact is a marker, a warning to Russia that Georgia and Azerbaijan have powerful friends in the region. But it is not a live diplomatic initiative. One key player, Armenia, is not in the game. Since the assassination of Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian last October, Armenia has moved closer to Russia and further from negotiations with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Karabakh. Until that dispute is on a path to settlement, South Caucasus stability is a dream, not a pact.