By Rauf MIRKADYROV
Political observer of Zerkalo newspaper
The past year of 2011 is a time of unrealized hopes; meanwhile the current 2012 is the year of alarming expectations.
Why should 2011 be most probably treated as a year of unrealized hopes? By many reasons: first, unfortunately, the “reset” policy in the U.S.– Russian relations has been abruptly stopped, although such a result could be predicted. Second, the hopes for recovery of the global economy also have not come true.
Third, the Arab spring started: being a generally positive process, unfortunately, it may have deeply negative consequences for the whole world and the region, in particular. Fourth, despite all efforts of such states asRussia,Turkey andBrazil, the conflict related toIran’s nuclear program, has not been resolved any way. Fifth, the settlement of the Karabakh problem also has not been shifted from the deadlock anyhow. And finally, the recent events have shown qualitative changes are developing inRussia. In principle, being also a positive process, however, they can introduce some unpredictable element into the foreign policy of our northern neighbor, which is a very serious threat.
Now, coming to the alarming expectations, which are quite numerous, it is necessary to point out that they are mostly derivative of the unrealized hopes. Let us discuss two of them: the Armenian-Azerbaijani problem and the impact of the possible escalation of the conflict related to the Iranian nuclear program. With every new day this conflict really tends to reach its “hot phase.”
Naturally, we will start with our mutual pain. During their last meeting the Presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia issued a statement, containing something like an appeal or a consent that maximalist positions should be avoided. But I am deeply convinced that neither Ilham Aliyev’s, nor Serj Sargsyan’s position can be treated as maximalist. The positions of these leaders fully reflect the existing realities. To put it simply, their positions are on the edge of the permissible compromise, taking into account the current foreign and internal political realities. And neither of them is ready to “jump over his own head.”
As early as on the eve of the Sochi meeting, Sabina Freiser, director of European programs of the International Crisis Group, said: “…The best option for resolution of the Karabakh conflict is what is proposed by the OSCE Minsk Group, i.e. granting Karabakh an interim status and providing it with security guarantees. Nagorno Karabakh has lived for many years in isolation from the outside world and the only link with it is Armenia. Nagorno Karabakh has a government, developing economy; so granting an interim status would enable to establish relations of Nagorno Karabakh with the international community and attract investments.”
Remarkably, official Baku’s position is to some extent in harmony with Sabina Freiser’s option to settle the conflict. In case of liberation of the territories around Nagorno Karabakh, Baku is not only ready to accomodate itself with the Nagorno Karabakh de-facto status, but even go further. The readiness to agree with granting an interim status to Nagorno Karabakh, and for an indefinite period of time, actually would become a “semi-recognition” of Nagorno Karabakh not only by the international community, but also Azerbaijan’s central authorities, which means that official Baku not only abandons the restoration of sovereignty over this part of the country, but is also ready to have horizontal relations with it in many spheres. So it is not reasonable to treat official Baku’s current approach as maximalist.
At the same time it would be fair to note that official Yerevan’s approach, unlike that of Armenian Dashnaks,’ is also not maximalist. The official Yerevan speaks about readiness to withdraw from almost all regions around Nagorno Karabakh, but under the conditions of determination of the final status for that territory, within precisely specified period of time.
Both Presidents are balancing on the brink of possibility, meanwhile the mediators are unable to push them beyond that brink, having in mind just their own competing geopolitical interests in the region.
Now coming to the Iranian issue, it is necessary to stress that the lack of progress in the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict deprives the South Caucasian countries from implementation of any the mutual, coordinated policy in case of the extreme aggravation of the given problem. As soon as it significantly increases the threats for all of them, i.e. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the question arises regarding the readiness of the countries of the region are for the worst possible scenario.
Let as start from Armenia. Armenia should do everything possible to prevent destabilization in Iran, as far as the consequences will be extremely negative and catastrophic for Armenia. Former Armenian Defense Minister Vahan Shirkhanyan spoke about it at his press-conference of Februray 10, according to REGNUM news agency.
Official Yerevan almost openly says that if the conflict escalates, it is going to keep a “positive neutrality,” which means using all channels that it has to establish a dialog between the parties to the conflict in order to avoid the military scenario. However, it is unlikely that anybody in the world needs official Yerevan’s or Baku’s mediation efforts.
In case if the conflicts escalates up to the “hot phase,” Moscow’s position will be decisive for Yerevan’s policy. If Russia suddenly decided to provide a direct and open support to Iran, which seems improbable to most of Russian analysts, then Armenia would have nothing to do but to join. It is the fate of an “outpost” that obliges.
But what is worst for Armenia is that, according to most Russian analysts, even in case if Russia openly supported Iran, Moscow would be unable to seriously impact the developments. That is Russia would not let herself openly wage war against the West. And this is the key factor that predetermines the outcome of the military operation against Iran. But if Russia keeps the policy of, let say, “extremely disappointed neutrality,” it would be good enough for Armenia. The presence of the Russian bases to some extent guarantees inviolability of the Armenian territory.
So there is no threat of a rocket attack from Iran.
However, a real refugee problem, Azerbaijani refugees, exists and it can drastically change the situation in the Karabakh conflict. No less serious economic problems may also arise due to the closing of now the Iranian route that provides the connection with the outside world for Armenia at present. As for the Georgian route, which is not reliable even now, its destiny will be absolutely unclear.
However, in any case, this variant with all its negatives, lets Armenia preserve stable relations with the West and Iran.
The problem for Georgia and Azerbaijan is the following: no matter how they would wish it, they would be unable to keep “active neutrality,” even if they would not allow the West to use their territory during the operation against Iran. In any case Iran will try to inflict as much damage as possible to the strategic interests of the West, as a whole, and the United States in particular, in the region. At first glance, Iran should first attack the objects on the Israeli and Turkish territory. But both Israel and Turkey have quite efficient anti-aircraft defense systems, and inaddition, in case of the armed conflict with Iran NATO forces and resources will be immediately operated to defend the security of these two countries.
From the view of security it is Azerbaijan and Georgia that are “a weak link in the chain” of the region, where objects that the West considers strategically important are situated. The oil and gas fields in the Caspian, as well as the pipelines most probably would be targeted by the Iranian attack. Neither Azerbaijan, nor Georgia possess forces or resources sufficient to prevent such attacks on their own. In addition, it is necessary to take into consideration that such Iranian attacks on communication lines and energy objects on the Georgian and Azerbaijani territory are in line with Moscow’s interests. The latter has already been angry with expert of the Caspian energy resources to European markets bypassing Russia.
There is another threat. In the current conditions, including taking into account the domestic political problems, Russia can use the situation and, as they say, “stake its all,” trying to establish itself in the South Caucasus. As far as the West will hardly get the consent of the Security Council for the imilitary intervention against Iran due to the Russian and Chinese vetos, there would be a need in action bypassing the UN Security Council. Such a scebario would just legitimize the possible counteractions by Russia, also bypassing the Security Council. Quite probably Russia can take the hostilities near its borders as a real threat to its own security and security of its allies, and as a result, try to bring its troops into the South Caucasian countries as a whole or send them to Armenia, marching through the Georgian or Azerbaijani territories. Naturally, neither Georgia, nor Azerbaijan have any forces or resources to resist such an aggression.
So, whatever Baku and Tbilisi would say, the situation with their security in case if the military actions against Iran start, is bad as it could be. In addition, the strike can be expected from two sides: both from the South and the North.