YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Moscow finds encouraging recent direct contacts between Armenia and Azerbaijan and is ready to step up efforts to end the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh together with other mediators. The commen’s–made during Ivanov’s official visit to Armenia–were echoed on Friday by a senior US diplomat who also discussed the decade-long territorial dispute with Armenian leaders in Yerevan.
Ivanov told reporters on Friday that the meetings in July and August between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have a "great significance" for the peace process. "Russia welcomes the beginning of the dialogue between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan," he said. He said Moscow will try to back up that dialogue between the two hostile countries and will discuss with the Armenian government ways of doing that within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE’s Minsk Group–co-chaired by Russia–the US and France–spearheads international efforts to find a peace formula for Karabakh.
In an unprecedented step–Presidents Robert Kocharian of Armenia and Haydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan met in Geneva twice in just over a month. The two men have said they are satisfied with the talks–with Kocharian calling them another step forward in the resolution of one the bloodiest ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet Union. But they have not specified whether a major progress has been made on any of the sticking points.
The optimism of the two leaders was shared by Carey Cavanaugh–the newly appointed US chief negotiator on Karabakh. "I think that the direct talks between [Aliyev and Kocharian] have shown a commitment on both sides that they really want to find a solution," Cavanaugh declared after talks with Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian. "The United States and the Minsk Group and other countries are prepared to do what they can to help with that solution," he said. "People have grown frustrated over the long period of time that this [conflict] hasn’t been solved…We have seen recent signs that make people optimistic."
The US envoy denied speculation that the Geneva talks were arranged by Washington–which wants a greater role in the peace process. He refused to comment on the fate of the Minsk Group’s most recent peace proposals on Karabakh put forward last November. The plan is based on the idea of a "common state" between Azerbaijan and the Armenian-populated Karabakh which broke away from Baku’s rule in the late 1980s and has since been de-facto independent. The plan was on the whole accepted by Armenia and the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic but rejected by Azerbaijan. The mediators have proposed minor amendmen’s in the document but have so far not succeeded in accommodating Baku.
According to Russia’s Ivanov–" we continue the search [for peace]." Officials in the Armenian foreign ministry claim that the main principles underlying the "common state" idea will be kept intact. The proposed peace deal reportedly envisages that Azerbaijan and Karabakh will be equal entities under a loose state structure. Both Ivanov and Cavanaugh arrived in Yerevan from Baku after separate talks with Azerbaijan’s leadership. The US diplomat was due to meet senior Karabakh officials later in the day.
Also high on agenda of Ivanov’s talks in Yerevan were relations between Russia and Armenia. The Russian minister said the two sides are "satisfied with their development" and agreed on "concrete steps on how to move them further forward." The bilateral ties are particularly close in the military sphere–with the Russia’s having a military base in Armenia – an important element in Yerevan’s national security doctrine.
Ivanov said he also raised with the Armenian government the issue of "security and stability in the Big Caucasus," including Armenia–Azerbaijan and Georgia and Russia’s restive North Caucasus. He added: "The existing problems there threaten security and stability of all regional states…It is necessary to have close cooperation of all those countries for jointly combating extremism–separatism and terrorism."
During a 40-minute lecture at Yerevan State University–Ivanov claimed that Russia has a genuine interest in the settlement of all ethnic conflicts in the South Caucasus which he said threaten stability of southern Russian regions. In a speech on Russian foreign policy doctrine that amounted to the rejection of a "single-polar world order," Ivanov criticized NATO’s new security charter and the Alliance’s "intent attention" to Armenia–Azerbaijan and Georgia. He categorically rejected the idea of applying the "Kosovo variant" to settle the conflict over Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia–floated by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in the wake of the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia.
He said while supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the Karabakh conflict–Moscow favors firm security guarantees for the disputed region’s population–Karabakh’s "unfettered overland connection with Armenia" and its leaders’ participation in OSCE-sponsored peace talks.