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Russia Steps Up Efforts On Nagorno-Karabakh

Russia's Dmitry Medvedev (right) has invited Armenia's Serzh Sarkisian (right) and Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev to meet in Moscow.
(RFE/RL) -- Russia has stepped up its efforts to find a solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and at the same time increase its leverage in the South Caucasus region.

The Kremlin has announced that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet in Moscow to discuss the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in talks mediated by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The talks between Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, which aim to jump-start the peace process, are scheduled for November 2, according to a statement released on October 29.

RFE/RL Caucasus analyst Liz Fuller describes the Russian initiative as an effort, in the aftermath of the war in Georgia, to show that Russia is "not necessarily [just] an instigator of conflicts" in the Caucasus, but can also work to resolve them.

"Russia wants to seize an opportunity to rehabilitate itself by trying to demonstrate that Russian peacekeepers still can play a positive role somewhere in the former Soviet Union," Fuller says.

Negotiations on resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are coordinated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by France, Russia, and the United States.

Fuller adds that Moscow could use the opportunity, within the Minsk Group framework, to have Russian peacekeepers play a large role in any postconflict arrangement, thus increasing the Kremlin's leverage and influence in the region.

"The basic outline for the Minsk Group proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict are clear. But one of the things that hasn't been resolved is international peacekeepers for the Lachin Corridor, which links Karabakh with Armenia proper," Fuller notes. "What I think, or what I suspect Medvedev might be about to propose to Sarkisian and Aliyev is that these international peacekeepers could be largely or wholly Russian."

Fuller and other analysts say Moscow is keen to maintain influence in Armenia, its main ally in the Caucasus, after Russia's brief war with Western-leaning Georgia in August raised tensions throughout the region.

Nagorno-Karabakh has also been the subject of heightened international diplomacy in recent weeks. During a visit to Yerevan on October 17, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said a breakthrough in the 20-year-old conflict was now "possible."

And in September, Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Armenia. Turkey is a close ally of Azerbaijan, and does not have diplomatic relations with Armenia. Gul's visit sparked speculation that a normalization of relations between Ankara and Yerevan was in the works, and that this in turn could facilitate a resolution on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh has been under the control of ethnic-Armenian forces since a six-year conflict killed about 30,000 people and displaced another million before a truce was reached in 1994. Sporadic clashes have continued, and international efforts to settle the conflict have thus far failed.

with agency reports