Armenia Forced To Choose Between Washington And Moscow

Armenia needs to resolve its regional problems and build a Caucasus-wide security system or it will be forced to make the difficult choice between local alliance with the United States - or with Russia.

Armenia Forced To Choose Between Washington And Moscow

Armenia needs to resolve its regional problems and build a Caucasus-wide security system or it will be forced to make the difficult choice between local alliance with the United States - or with Russia.

Thursday, 23 December, 1999

Worsening relations between the United States and Russia may once again force countries caught in between to chose sides and abandon attempts at running a balanced and neutral foreign policy,

So said Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian this week, as he renewed calls first made at last month's OSCE summit in Istanbul to establish a regional security system involving Russia, Turkey and Iran as well as the three Southern Caucasus states.

Oskanian made his latest comments following recent trips to both Moscow and Tehran where he spelt out Armenia's latest ideas on the plans first floated by Azeri Heydar Aliev who had suggested America's involvement alongside Russia's and a tri-partite pact for the Southern Caucasus.

Oskanian who pointedly left America out of the proposed new security system, denied his country was looking to support Russia's and Iran's ambitions to establish a new political north-south pole.

"As a matter of fact, we are trying to renounce poles and that is why we offer all the nations of the region to get involved in the safety system," he declared. He denied too his speech was designed to snub and limit NATO's role in the region, pointing to the involvement of Turkey which, he said, would defend the interests of NATO.

On the contrary, Oskanian added: "It is no longer a secret that Georgian and Azerbaijani Defense Ministers declared that decision has matured in their countries about the necessity of a faster entry in NATO".

Not all Armenian politicians are enamoured with the latest initiatives that seek in the first instance to group the Southern Caucasus states together.

Aram Sarkisian (no relation to the Prime Minister), the leader of the Democratic Party of Armenia, and, until recently, presidential adviser on foreign policy issues, believes that while the West likes to view the region as a united geopolitical union, this is not acceptable for Armenia which has historical and economic interests in Russia which are not fully appreciated.

While now more Western leaning, President Aliev of Azerbaijan, who does identify a southern Caucasus identity, nevertheless suggests a stronger degree of self-reliance:

"The countries of Southern Caucasus must enter the 21st century free from all conflicts and confrontations, and accept their own Pact on Security and Peace, without taking into consideration the ambitions of other countries." Aliev believes that there is a condition sine qua non: all military units of foreign countries must be removed from all countries in the region.

Authorities of Karabakh have their own opinion. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Karabakh Naira Melkumian told IWPR that "the regional security system offered by Robert Kocharian assumes a creative approach. It takes into account the existing realities, while the pact offered by Heydar Aliev fixes prospective realities.

"First of all, we must create an effective security system in the whole region of Big Caucasus. As early as one year ago Nagorno Karabakh offered to create a sub-regional security system, which is impossible without the participation of Iran and Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. Iran and Karabakh are the very elements, which really affect the whole region and are parts of military-political balance of forces in the region," Melkumian said.

According to the Deputy Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Araz Azimov, the geographically united region must become politically integrated as well.

"If we speak of factors breaking that integrity, then in the first place we will inevitably come to the military-strategic alliance of Armenia and Russia. It has a clear orientation, but not against either CIS or Iran. This alliance more likely can be characterised as "anti-NATO, anti-Turkish and probably as anti-Azerbaijani and to some extent also anti-Georgian", believes Azimov.

Having Russia in mind, Azimov told the Caspian news agency that, ironically, the only guarantee of regional security would be the absence of a unilateral guarantor.

"That is why President Heydar Aliyev suggested to work out a plan which would establish the main bases of intergovernmental relations and the principles of conflict management between the states in the region. On this basis one can expect a tendency for economic cooperation between the states. Nowadays it is impossible to talk about any cooperation in the region," stressed the Azerbaijani diplomat.

This Armenia-centered system suggested by Kocharian is impossible, according to Azimov. Azerbaijan offers a triple system of security. Naturally, Iran also could make its contribution, at least by its positive demeanour."

For its part, Armenia can expect support only from Russia. The majority of Armenian experts agree that the Kocharian's offer most likely has received an approval from Moscow, or else Armenia would not dare to get involved in a great geopolitical game, where its chances are certainly doomed to fail.

Interestingly enough, none of the countries invited - or disinvited - to join the region security system has so far made any public statement on the matter. At this stage, it is difficult to say whether or not the two superpowers are treating the issue seriously, and in the case of Turkey and Iran - whether they are waiting for Washington or Moscow to speak first.

Ara Tadevosian is director of the independent MediaMax news agency in Yerevan.

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