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Three presidential meetings: Putin to “feel out” status quo in South Caucasus

Photo: kremlin.ru

The coming week stands apart by a busy schedule of the Russian president with the leaders of Iran and Turkey. On August 8, Putin is planned to visit Baku, where an Azerbaijan-Russia-Iran summit is to take place. Next day, the Russian president is to receive the Turkish president in Saint Petersburg. On August 10, the Armenian president is to come to Moscow on a work visit. It is easy to suppose that the Caucasian region is expecting new processes that may result in transformation of the years-long status quo.

Progress in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement might play the principal role in this connection. It looks like the long confrontation of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan will be the subject that to some extent will be present on the agenda. However, undoubtedly, there will be no “Karabakh breakthrough.” Thus, it will play down a possibility of significant changes in the long-standing intergovernmental configurations.

The presidents’ meeting in Baku will be mostly devoted to the economic section of the relations between the three countries and Caspian issues. Probably, they will not manage to abandon the Karabakh subject, as the Azerbaijani leadership will snatch the opportunity to present its conditions for the conflict settlement.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Saint Petersburg will be mostly about bringing the Moscow-Ankara relations out of the crisis that has stopped being that acute. Erdogan’s excuses presented in a personal letter to Vladimir Putin, their recent phone talks have shown good results and opened the way for the meeting of the two presidents. Meanwhile, Erdogan, just like his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, will snatch an opportunity to remind of the Turkish position around the Nagorno-Karabakh.

Such “reminders” of Baku and Ankara on the Karabakh conflict were mostly suppressed by the Russian leader even before the talks in Baku and Saint Petersburg. In an interview to Azertac state news agency Putin said Moscow’s approach was unchanged: there can be no forced decision on the Karabakh conflict, there must a compromise that suits all the parties. So, the Kremlin is trying to tune in the Azerbaijani and Turkish negotiation partners for discussion of issues outside the sensitive Karabakh issue. And if Baku and Ankara still cannot refrain from the subject, Moscow is ready to listen to them, but not more.

Yerevan’s concerns about some possible agreements behind its back have no reasons. Russia does not take part in secret deals, it is not its way of promoting its interests. It takes prompt actions in securing its national interests on its own, just the way a nuclear power with a status of UN Security Council constant member should do. But the Karabakh issue does not lie in the series of unilateral steps. The peace enforcement under Moscow's aegis is fraught with danger of deteriorating of its relations both with Baku and Yerevan.

As for the Karabakh conflict, there were general frameworks and contents of the stages of its settlement were developed. Nothing new will be added to the outcomes of the meeting in Vienna on May 16 and in Saint Petersburg on June 20. Attempts of the Turkish leadership to make Ankara or Istanbul involved in the consultations of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs using its status of the MG member do not pose any threat to Armenian interests. Moscow shares Armenia’s views that the better help from Ankara in the Karabakh conflict settlement will be its maximum distance from the issue.

Invitation to Serzh Sargsyan to visit Moscow on August 10 lies in a more extensive logics of the processes in the territory from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. They will hardly manage to focus only on bilateral issues or exchanging views on the Karabakh settlement.

Recently, Moscow has received new reasons to examine its own positions in the region, in particular, after the turbulence of the fortnight in Yerevan.

The riot of Armenian veterans of the first Karabakh war was settled to the benefit of the government. At the same time, the local conflict with the Sasna Tsrer armed group has shown boldly that the Armenian politicians at power are very vulnerable. It turns out that Serzh Sargsyan cannot find a common language even with his companions in arms in the first Karabakh war, needless to say of the year-long social discontent and catastrophically low real rating of the political leadership.

Possible, President Sargsyan will decide to resort to a well-known practice of the Armenian authorities in maneuvering between the world powers. Until recently, Yerevan was a very skillful player on Moscow's concerns over the West's plans to organize new “color revolutions” in the post-Soviet territory. In their contacts with American and European partners, Armenian politicians do not mind complaining about Russia’s “too heavy hand” from which they would be eager to get free, but have failed so far. As one can see, the key word here is “so far.”

Presenting the Sasna Tsrer riot and other large-scale manifestations of civil unrest as they have to do with “color revolutions” is a very convenient maneuvering tool for the leadership. Although, they do comprehend that they cannot overdose using the tool, otherwise, “associates” in the USA and Europe might turn their back to the western-minded parts in Sargsyan's team.

Putin wants to listen to a version of what happened from the first hand in Armenia. It looks like the Russian embassy in Yerevan has already reported in detail about the events in Yerevan. But diplomatic or other reports cannot substitute direct communications between the leaders.

It is hard to expect from Sargsyan painful acknowledgements that the Armenian security services failed. Moreover, one cannot expect that top leadership of Armenia will resort to self-criticism. Well, the Kremlin does not need this. The scope of Russia’s views on events in Armenia and abroad does not lie within Yerevan’s hints of intrigues of “some Western circles.” Moscow knows well of details the US, NATO and EU attitudes towards Russia, in the Black-Sea and Caucasian region as well.

Russia has no other option in achieving two strategic tasks than to form partner, even relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran. The first one is to prevent from a new war in the region. The second one is to build soft and hard political and economic regional alliances that leave no room for the turbulence provoked by the West.

Any riot, no matter what color it has, is fraught with danger for national governments. It is their key task to rule out revolutionary way of changing the political landscape. Any large-scale unfreezing in Nagorno-Karabakh is not in interests of the current government in Armenia. It will continue maneuvering in the international scene, switch attention of domestic and foreign audiences to “unexpected,” but controllable exacerbation in the Karabakh conflict zone.

Moscow has no illusions regarding Armenian leadership’s argumentation based on the assumption of “the West’s intrigues.” Evidently, it has no illusions regarding new incidents like the Sasna Tsrer riot happening. Russia is helping Armenia like it can. No one will fully support the South-Caucasian republic, no matter how strongly some Armenian politicians want it. Neither will anyone settle issues that they are supposed to settle after another protest action. Any government must find a common language with the people. Any government that thinks itself to be civilized and wants to be re-elected in the next election cycle.

Vyacheslav Mikhailov for EADaily

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