Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 62

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Drachevsky and Nikolai Gribov, the Russian co-chairman of the Minsk Group, met with leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Karabakh on March 24-28 in Baku and Yerevan. The Minsk Group members are those mediators appointed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to help resolve the Karabakh conflict. The Russian diplomats delivered to Baku the news that Moscow is prepared to remove the term “common state [of Azerbaijan and Karabakh]” from the Minsk Group’s proposals to settle the conflict, because Azerbaijan considers that term unacceptable.

The development must have come as a chilling surprise to Armenia, whose Foreign Ministry had only a few days earlier declared its confidence that the OSCE was about to pressure Azerbaijan into accepting a “common state” as the basis for a settlement. In Yerevan, the Russian diplomats emphasized a point which they had understated in Baku–namely, that the label “common state” is less important than the content of the ultimate settlement, whose terms might remain as currently proposed even in the absence of that controversial label. Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian and his counterpart from the unrecognized Karabakh, Naira Melkumian, now express less than confident hope that Moscow is not about to embark on substantive concessions to Azerbaijan.

The Russian diplomats, moreover, carried an offer from President Boris Yeltsin to host, in Moscow, a peace conference on Karabakh (Turan, Noyan-Tapan, March 26-29). Yeltsin’s offer seems designed to undercut the OSCE, claiming for Russia the role of arbiter in the negotiations–a role that Russia lost two years ago when the United States and France became co-chairmen of the OSCE’s mediating group.

Russia had, as recently as last November, managed to introduce its “common state” invention in the Minsk Group’s proposals, pleasing its allies in Yerevan and Stepanakert while infuriating Baku (see the Monitor, November 12- 13, 1998; Fortnight in Review, November 25, 1998). With Azerbaijan increasingly outspoken in its identification with Western interests and its resistance to Russian policies in the region, Moscow apparently attempted to gain a modicum of goodwill in Baku by backtracking on the “common state”–even, if necessary, at the expense of its Armenian allies.