Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimean Events Re-Ordering Relations and Conflicts across Post-Soviet Space

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 26 – Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea has not only opened a new divide between Moscow and the West. It has re-ordered relations among the former Soviet republics and that in turn has raised questions about the way such changes will affect the future of many unresolved conflicts there.

            In an article for “Vestnik Kavkaza,” Viktoriya Panfilova of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” discusses some of these changes and speculates about their impact on conflicts, including on such high profile ones as that between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the future of Nagorno-Karabakh (

            Panfilova notes that Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, as “the most consistent allies of the Russian Federation on the post-Soviet space,” all have supported Moscow’s actions, but she argues that in addition to alliance loyalty, each has been guided by its own interests and calculations.

            For Kazakhstan, she says, Crimea has allowed Astana to show that it understands “who plays first violin on the post-Soviet space” and to use this situation for further rapprochement with Russia and to gain Russian support for its own goals, including regional leadership in Central Asia.

            For Mensk, Panfilova continues, the Maidan was so disturbing that it has supported Moscow because Alyaksandr Lukashenka fears that the days of his regime may be numbered and that for the time being at least the only resource on which he can rely besides his own authoritarianism is Russian power.

            And for Yerevan, support for Moscow’s position reflected the fact that that country is deprived of any real room for “political maneuvering” because of its continuing  involvement in the Karabakh dispute and because its leaders believe that supporting Moscow ensures that the Russian side will continue to support Armenia on Karabakh.

            In Karabakh itself, Panfilova notes, “optimism about the recognition of Crimea as a sovereign state and its inclusion in the Russian Federation was not concealed,” nor was a feeling that upcoming referenda in Scotland and Catalonia will also work to the advantage of the Armenian population there.

            Baku political scientist Ilgar Velizade says that the hopes of the Karabakh Armenians are “without foundation” and insists that “Crimean events will not have any direct influence on the development of political processes around Nagorno-Karabakh because they are defined by other factors.” Indeed, both Baku and Yerevan have been careful to stress how unlike the Karabakh conflict is to anything else.

            Velizade says that this lack of impact of the Crimean events on the Karabakh dispute will be demonstrated by the upcoming meeting, which he says will not be cancelled, between the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

            “Nevertheless,” Panfilova says, “one important event in these days in the context of the Crimean events has taken place: Armenia’s recognition of the results of the [Crimean] referendum has elicited sharp criticism from the American ambassador” to Armenia. He said Washington very much regrets Armenia’s decision on Crimea.

              “Whether this criticism of the US ambassador means that Armenia may be deprived of the support of the West on the issues of the resolution of the Karabakh dispute will become clear in the near future,” Panfilova says. But whatever happens, it is certain that Yerevan cannot count on “the unqualified assistance of Moscow” either.

            Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it crystal clear that Moscow believes that there must be a compromise on Karabakh, and influential Eurasian analyst Aleksandr Dugin has spoken about “the impermissibility” of any effort to drag Russia into a new conflict in the southern Caucasus.

            Such statements should be sufficient to give Yerevan pause in the assumptions of some there that Crimea will open the way to a resolution of the Karabakh dispute favorable to itself, Panfilova concludes, but the assumptions of some that it might be are likely to have a life of their own and thus introduce new complexities in negotiations toward a solution.

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