Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Interviewed by APA on South Caucasus issues

Below is an interview with me published by APA, one of Azerbaijan's leading news agencies:

Washington. Isabel Levine -APA. APA Washington DC correspondent’s interview with Alex Jackson, an independent analyst on security, political and economic issues in the Caspian region

- Three years have passed since the last war in the South Caucasus and many local analysts still question the stability in the region and if there is any possibility of destabilization?

- The situation in the South Caucasus remains fragile and uncertain: the underlying problems facing the region have not been addressed. The situation between Russia and Georgia remains tense, although for political reasons neither side is willing to risk a new war. The tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan is also a serious issue. However, despite the lack of progress on a political settlement, the chances of a new war are still very unlikely. So although neither of the region’s conflict situations are likely to flare up, their root causes have not been addressed and they remain a threat to long-term stability and peace.

- What are your expectations on the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiation process developments?

- The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is very difficult to predict. The situation has endured for seventeen years without a return to significant fighting, and this is unlikely to occur unless either Armenia or Azerbaijan take a political decision to abandon the peace process. This is not a likely scenario. However, the lack of progress in negotiations is concerning. It seems that both sides are discussing very precise details of the peace settlement, which has exposed the tension between the concepts of self-determination and territorial integrity.

Patience among mediators is growing thin but neither they, nor Baku nor Yerevan, has enough incentive to walk away from the negotiations and demand a new negotiating format. For now the status quo remains the most likely situation.

- Another thought on agenda after the Georgian war - should the South Caucasus countries look for stability and protection in NATO integration?

- The Russia-Georgia war showed the limits of NATO’s interest in the South Caucasus. The Alliance has no interest in granting membership to the three states of the region whilst they continue to face a number of complex security issues, and whilst their armed forces and political systems are not in line with NATO standards. In any case the three states have different approaches to NATO: Georgia has formally applied for membership, Azerbaijan is equivocal, and Armenia has little or no interest in membership.

However, each country will continue cooperation and integration with NATO - as well as building good relationships with important Euro-Atlantic nations, co-operation with NATO enables the South Caucasian states to improve and modernize their military forces and doctrines.

- Is there a way for Russian and the US to cooperate in the South Caucasus and preserve the stability in the region?

- Whether or not Russia and the US cooperate in the Caucasus depends on two sets of factors. Firstly, strictly regional factors - for instance, tension over US support for Georgia before, during and after the Russia-Georgia war; or US support for energy pipelines leading through the region which avoid Russian territory. At the moment there is limited tension over these issues, as the US does not view the Caucasus as a priority area.

The second set of factors is the wider parameters of the relationship between Washington and Moscow. During periods when this relationship is very tense, it is natural that their interaction in the Caucasus is also tense. Although there are fears that the ’reset’ between them is collapsing, relations between them are still cordial, so co-operation continues. For instance, both the US and Russia share very similar views on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and work together quite closely on it.

- More generally, do you see any major changes in the South Caucasus coming?

- It seems unlikely that there will be any major changes in the region this year. The most likely changes to occur would be a renewal of the Armenia-Turkey thaw: however, despite hopes that Turkey’s government would pay more attention to the issue after its election victory in June, this has not occurred. The Armenian government cannot afford to spend political capital on it as election season approaches.

Indeed, the dialogue between the Armenian government and the opposition, and the possibility of early elections, is another key trend to watch. Although it seems that the opposition is too weak and fractured to challenge the ruling party, Armenian politics is very fluid, so this could change quickly.

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