March 27, 2014 13:17

Thomas de Waal Senior associate for the Caucasus with the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace

The repercussions of the Russian takeover of Crimea continue to
cascade across the post-Soviet space.

President Vladimir Putin's move has re-opened the Pandora's Box of
sovereignty disputes that spread conflict across the region in the
1990s. In the Caucasus, the protagonists are now re-assessing what
this means for the unresolved conflicts of that era.

The spokesman for the president of Abkhazia has said that there
is no question of joining the Russian Federation. Others in
Abkhazia-specifically Russians and some Armenians - may disagree.

It is not a good moment to stir up Nagorny Karabakh, the oldest and
biggest of the conflicts.The spring thaw in the mountains often causes
breaches in the ceasefire-and, sad to say, two Armenian soldiers have
been reported killed in the past week.

Over the years Russia has had several agendas and changing roles in
Karabakh, from active meddling during the conflict and negotiating
the 1994 ceasefire to a long period of fairly harmonious cooperation
with the other two mediators in the OSCE Minsk Group, France and the
United States, since 1998.

Has this changed? The Minsk Group will probably survive-indeed the
French and U.S. co-chairs just traveled to Moscow. But its ability to
deliver a peace settlement now looks even more diminished and Vladimir
Putin's calculus on Karabakh is likely to be different from what it
was a few months ago, as it is on everything else in his "near abroad."

As soon as the Crimea crisis struck, both Armenia and Azerbaijan
immediately hardened their positions on the conflict. Armenian
President Serzh Sargsyan called Putin and gave him a half measure
of support-although even that was enough for Ukraine to recall its
ambassador from Yerevan. Sargsyan supported the first half of the
maneuver, the Crimean referendum, but said nothing about Russia's
right of annexation.

By doing so he reaffirmed Armenia's position on Karabakh - that the
Karabakh Armenians have a right of secession by referendum.

It is no secret that Azerbaijan sympathizes with Ukraine in this
crisis. But it has mostly keep silent, not wanting to offend Russia
without good reason. President Ilham Aliyev did however issue an
unusually aggressive speech on the Karabakh issue on the occasion of
the Novruz holiday, saying that not just Karabakh but also parts of
Armenia were "ancient Azerbaijani land."

The two presidents were both at the Hague nuclear summit this week.

They met the mediators but not each other. If they had more strategic
vision, they could see the Crimea crisis as an opportunity to reach
out to each other and try to resolve their differences over Karabakh
together, rather than allow themselves to be manipulated by a new
agenda set by outside powers. But there is so little trust between
Armenia and Azerbaijan, and so little evidence of any willingness to
build any, that it is much more likely that Crimea will end up being
one more barrier to peace.

Thomas de Waal is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace. This commentary was written for Carnegie Moscow

From: A. Papazian