Washington, March 15 (RFE/RL) - After eight years of war,
Armenia and Azerbaijan appear more ready than ever before to come to
an agreement ending the conflict between the Azeri government and secessionist ethnic Armenians living in the Nagorno Karabakh enclave of Azerbaijan.
But neither side has yet signed on the dotted line, and there are many in all camps who will seek to shoot down any accord that might be announced in the coming
This qualifiedly optimistic conclusion reflects the intense and
obviously coordinated diplomatic activity there over the last several
days by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov and Special
Envoy Vladimir Kazimirov and by American Deputy Secretary of State
Strobe Talbott and a group of senior American officials. And it
reflects the public statements -- both cautious and optimistic -- of
officials in both Baku and Erevan.
But it also reflects several underlying realities that recently
appear to have become more salient.
Weary of a conflict that has left tens of thousands dead and forced
hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes and eager for the
economic benefits of peace and the free flow of oil, Armenia and
Azerbaijan appear set to agree to restore all pre-war borders in the
region, grant expanded autonomy within Azerbaijan to the largely
ethnically Armenian enclave of Karabakh, and allow for the unimpeded
flow of people, goods, and especially oil across the region.
To make this agreement stick -- and none of the parties will be
entirely satisfied -- the international community as represented by
the U.S. and Russia seems to be prepared to provide both carrots and
sticks. The carrots will include the lifting of U.S. imposed
restrictions on aid to Azerbaijan, money from the sale and transport
of oil, and expanded access to international markets and financial
sources. The sticks will include an internationally-blessed
peacekeeping force composed exclusively or almost exclusively of
War-weariness has not increased dramatically in recent months, and
the benefits to both Armenia and Azerbaijan of the free flow of oil
have long been obvious. What is new is the increased coordination of
the American and Russian negotiating positions. In the past, the two
had sparred with each other over the role of international
peacekeepers and even over what a peace in the region ought to look
like. Now, the positions of Moscow and Washington appear to have
converged largely because their respective immediate interests have.
Moscow's shift reflects three new factors:
First, Yeltsin clearly believes that the signing of a peace between
Armenia and Azerbaijan at a Kremlin version of the White House Rose
Garden ceremony bringing together Israel and the Palestinians will
bring him important domestic political dividiends.
Second, Yeltsin undoubtedly hopes that posing as a peacemaker in
Karabakh will help him win additional international support for his
campaign against Chechnya.
And third, the Russian oil and gas concerns -- Rossneft and Lukoil
--appear to have concluded that it is better to have a partial share
of real oil revenues -- something an accord on Karabakh might permit
-- rather than total control of only potential profits when oil is
not flowing at all.
Washington's move toward a common position arises from three
First, like Yeltsin, President Clinton is facing a reelection
campaign and the votes of the Armenian community in the U.S. are
Second, a peace settlement announced during the Clinton-Yeltsin
summit next month would go a long way to defuse criticism of the
Administration's policy toward Russia.
And third, American oil and gas concerns have applied pressure for
a settlement, pressure that has apparently led the U.S. to drop its
earlier objections to the return of Russian forces to the region.
While Russian troops may look like peacekeepers to some of the
participants in this conflict, their return to an area of intense
Russian strategic interest is likely to look very different to many
on the ground. But the voice of the oil companies seems to have been
decisive in the U.S. as well.
From the point of view of many in Moscow and Washington as well as
many in Erevan and Baku, such an agreement has a great deal to
recommend it. But to some in the region, any such accord will be
On the one hand, such an agreement would seem to restore the status
quo ante for Karabakh, despite the enormous losses on both sides and
the current victories by the ethnic Armenians in the field. As a result,
nationalists on both sides will do what they can to prevent any
agreement reached from coming into force unless the peacekeepers are
truly numerous and vigorous.
On the other, the enforcement provisions will bring Russian forces
back south. While there may be some fig leaf about an international
force, in fact, it is almost certainly going to be Russian. Both
Armenia and Azerbaijan have reasons to be concerned about such a
development, one that also will have broader geopolitical
Consequently, even if an accord is announced and is signed in Moscow
next month with Yeltsin and Clinton looking on, such an agreement
might unfortunately prove to be an armistice rather than a peace.