Former Azerbaijani presidential advisor Vafa Quluzada continued his U.S. speaking tour this week by delivering a warning about what he called a new Russian imperialism in the Caucasus. Citing the current conflict in Chechnya, Quluzade said Azerbaijan and Georgia face the greatest threat to sovereignty. RFE/RL correspondent Beatrice Hogan reports.
New York, 18 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Vafa Quluzade says that unless the United States plays a more active role in bringing about peace in the Caucasus, it could lose a vital influence in the oil-rich region.
Quluzada, former foreign policy advisor to three Azerbaijani presidents, made his remarks to a group of regional specialists at a forum (on Wednesday) sponsored by the Central Eurasian Project of the Open Society Institute in New York.
His comments follow a meeting earlier this week in Washington between Quluzade's former boss, President Haidar Aliev, and U.S. President Bill Clinton. Aliyev requested greater international involvement by the United States, Russia and France to settle the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
But Quluzada repeated comments he made during an address at Harvard University last week, contending that Russia has a vested interest in the continuation of that dispute and would likely block any peace resolutions.
"It's not in Russian interests now to achieve peace in the region. If peace will be signed now between Armenia and Azberbaijan, it means that Russia will lose its influence with both countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Now both countries are dependent on Russia -- Armenia for support, military supplies, and Armenia is intimidated that Azerbaijan is an enemy and Turkey an enemy."
A spokesman at the Russian Embassy in Washington, Mikhail Shurgalin, denied this interpretation. Shurgalin said that Moscow recently hosted a summit where Aliyev and President Robert Kocharian of Armenia discussed the conflict -- and that both leaders praised Russia's efforts. Shurgalin also said that Russia has served as a co-chair of the Minsk Group, the official negotiating body for the conflict.
Quluzada says a more alarming indicator of Russian designs in the Caucasus is its conflict in Chechnya. He said the military campaign reflects Russia's imperial designs in the Caucasus and threatens the sovereignty of all the independent states in the region, especially that of Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Soon after the first Chechen War concluded with the Khasav-Yurt accord in 1996, Quluzada asserted that Russia began to lay the groundwork for its current campaign.
"This time, after Khasav-Yurt, the Russian Federation was not preparing for peace. Russian Federation was preparing for war. And they made a very smart ideological work before the war. First of all they depicted all Chechen people as terrorists. Russia is a big, great state. Russia has huge means of propaganda. That's why every day in media, in newspaper (were reports) that Chechens are kidnappers, Chechens are torturing people, Chechens are criminals."
Russian spokesman Shurgalin responds that the current Chechen conflict does not meet the internationally accepted definition of a war because the action is contained within the boundaries of a single country. Rather Russia calls its campaign an "anti-terrorist operation."
However it is defined, Quluzada says the conflict in the North Caucasus threatens the sovereignty of states in the South Caucasus. In addition to the Russian rockets that landed on the territory of Georgia and Azerbaijan, he says that Russian border patrols have stymied the free passage of people, goods and communication between the Caucasus countries.
Moreover, Quluzade says the conflict has energized pro-Russian elements in Azerbaijan, whom he says harbor hopes of having their power restored.
He said the situation warrants a more proactive Western stance on Chechnya and the Caucasus. Until now, he says Western countries have steered clear of involvement in the internal affairs of the Russian Federation. But if Western countries wait too long on the sidelines, says Quluzada, they could lose their influence in the energy-rich Caucasus as Russia retakes control of the region.
"If our sovereignty will be under the threat, if our stability will be under the threat, it means that the interests of the United States [and] Europe will be under threat. That's why all events in our region are becoming a problem of Russian-American relations. And I think that both Russia and America might think very seriously about it."
But the Russian embassy spokesman, Shurgalin, says Russia's official position is very clear: it wants stability and peace in the Caucasus. As for critics, Shurgalin says they either do not understand simple facts or they deliberately distort them.
Guluzade resigned last October as Aliev's foreign policy aide after a long career in Azerbaijan government affairs. He is currently affiliated with the Caspian Geopolicy Research Foundation, an independent research institute.