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Russia: Yeltsin Advisor Says U.S. Presence In Transcaucasus No Threat

Prague, 25 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Azerbaijan's independent news agency TURAN this week featured an exclusive interview with Emil Payin, who for several years has advised Russian President Boris Yeltsin on regional conflicts and nationality affairs. Payin focuses in the interview on Russia's role in the Transcaucasus, and on regional factors that directly influence Azerbaijan.

Unlike some Russian observers, who argue that Russia is gradually being squeezed out of the Transcaucasus by the growing U.S. commercial presence - specifically in Azerbaijan - Payin says that "Russia's role in the Caucasian, Caspian and Caspian-Black Sea region is not diminishing - but constantly growing."

He says this process is unfolding against a consolidation of the positions of various groups within the Russian leadership, which he says now act "in concord." This consolidation, Payin says, is a new development. In 1993-1994, different groups in Moscow were pursuing diverging, even opposing policies in the region, he says.

Payin says unequivocally that "neither the United States nor any other state can replace Russia in the countries of the Transcaucasus," because of the geographical proximity of Russia, and the remoteness of the United States from the region. He predicts that this factor "will play a determining role" in Russia's future relations with the Transcaucasus states. He conceded that the interests of Russia and the West in the Transcaucasus do not always coincide, but said such differences "do not cause confrontation."

During their talks in Moscow Sep 23, Yeltsin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore discussed the U.S. policy toward the CIS. Yeltsin accused unspecified forces in the United States of "trying to nullify Russia's presence" in former Soviet republics, and of declaring parts of the CIS areas of vital U.S. interest. Gore denied that the United States was pursuing such policies. Gore said the United States is willing to work with Russia to achieved peace and stability in the CIS.

Discussing the planned, imminent export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil through the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline, Payin stresses that "the strategic interests of Russia cannot be dependent on the fast-changing political situation in any subject of the Russian Federation." Russia should, therefore, consider all alternative export possibilities to the existing pipeline, Payin reasons.

Commenting on the August 29 Russian-Armenian Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, Payin says Russia will not retreat from its policy of military cooperation with Armenia. He described the treaty as "the only military-political union that includes Russia."

On the subject of Russia-Azerbaijan relations, Payin says that Russia "cannot allow itself to have unfriendly relations with the largest Caucasus state." He argues that the role of oil in determining relations between the two countries is exaggerated. He says that the volume of oil production within the Russian Federation far exceeds what Russia will receive from participating in developing Caspian deposits.

"Azerbaijan is more important to Russia as a market than as an oil well." Payin said.

Payin also notes the potential role of the Transcaucasus as a bridge between Russia and Turkey, whose political and economic influence is "constantly growing." At the same time Payin warned that Russia would never condone either Georgia or Azerbaijan joining NATO. Such a move, he said, would be "a threat to our circulatory system."

Asked whether he thought that the Karabakh dispute could be resolved by applying the Bosnian model with the deployment in the region of NATO forces, Payin said he believes this is "hardly possible." But he said that direct talks between the Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijan's leadership might yield a solution. He said that engaging in such a dialogue does not mean that Baku officially recognizes the legitimacy of the Karabakh leadership.