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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Russia Seeks Fellowship

Dmitry Medvedev and Ilham Aliev // Moscow tries to restore its peacekeeping reputation in the region
Sep. 16, 2008 - Kommersant by Nikolay Filchenko - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will hold talks today with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in the Meindorf residence outside Moscow. Moscow was the initiator of this summit meeting. Kommersant has learned that Russia will propose a package of peace initiatives for a settlement of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict to Aliyev and try at the same time to guarantee that Baku will steer clear of Western political and energy games. Divide and Conquer The meeting between the presidents had been discussed since the beginning of the month. On September 3, they spoke by telephone, also at Russia’s initiative. Natalia Timakova, the Russian president’s press secretary, told Kommersant then that the two leaders had reached an agreement in principle on high-level negotiations. Last week, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov visited Moscow and Medvedev and Aliyev spoke again on Sunday to agree on the agenda for today’s meeting. A Kremlin source called the close contact between the countries logical, considering Azerbaijan’s role in the region. Sources in the presidential administration say that the time for negotiations between Medvedev and Aliyev had come even earlier. Medvedev has met with Armenian President Serge Sargsyan twice this month, on September 2 at presidential residence in Sochi and three days later at the Moscow summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which Azerbaijan is not a member of. Relations between Baku and Erevan will receive particular attention in today’s Russian-Azerbaijani talks, and specifically within the context of a settlement in the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. In the final declaration of the CSTO summit, it is noted that the allies are “concerned with the growing military potential and escalation of tensions in the Caucasus region.” Many observers, including those in Baku, think that phrase should be interpreted as a warning to Azerbaijan, where the need to retake “territories occupied by Armenia” is voiced from time to time. Source in the Russian Foreign Ministry close to today’s negotiations say openly that Moscow would like a firm guarantee from Baku that it will not consider military means to solve the Karabakh problem either before or after the October presidential elections there. Moscow, which, along with France and the United States, took part in searching for a settlement to the Karabakh conflict as part of the OSCE Minsk group, plans to propose its own plan to Azerbaijan and Armenia. The first point of that plan is the organization of a meeting between Aliyev and Sargsyan in Russia with the participation of Medvedev. Kommersant has learned from sources near the Armenian president that Sargsyan has already approved that idea. Today Medvedev has to obtain Aliyev’s consent. To interest the Azerbaijani president in a meeting with the other two presidents, Moscow will propose a discussion of a sensitive question for Baku, that is, jurisdiction over the Lacha corridor, which connects Nagorny Karabakh with Armenia. Specifically, they are to conciliate a operation along the route to allow the safe movement of people and cargo along it without transferring it to the jurisdiction of Erevan or Stepanakert. A Weak Link – Besides peacekeeping initiatives, Medvedev has other important topics that demand urgent discussion with Aliyev. After Russia’s military operations against Georgia, Azerbaijan has been the subject of increased attention from the West. High-ranking guests from Washington are becoming common in Baku, and Aliyev even received U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney this month. Baku was the energy capital of the region last week when it hosted the international business forum “The Gas and Oil Potential of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan: Energy, Economy, Ecology. Partnership Strategy.” First Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Yagub Eyubov assured attendees there that his country is prepared to offer its infrastructure for deliveries of Central Asian hydrocarbons to the West. Bypassing Russia, of course. Immediately after Aliyev’s Moscow talks, U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, who is cochairman of the OSCE Minsk group, will visit the Azerbaijani capital. The West’s intensive attention to Azerbaijan does not make Russia happy, and even more so since Azerbaijan is allied with Georgia, which has severed diplomatic relations with Russia, through the GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) organization. Therefore, Russia is extremely interested in seeing to it that Azerbaijan follow through on any impulses to strengthen military ties with the West. The U.S. already offered last year to create a training camp on the Caspian like the ones in Georgia. A Kommersant source who manages Azerbaijani affairs at the Russian Foreign Ministry said that one of the key topics in today’s talks between the two presidents will be a written ban on the presence in the Caspian region of outside armed forces. Ideally, Moscow would like principles for activities in the Caspian to be outlined in a convention. That convention is already being drafted. Russia is prepared to expand its military partnership with Azerbaijan as compensation and to fulfill its obligations to deliver armored military equipment, parts for it and firearms. Energy partnership is a traditional topic of talks between the Russian and Azerbaijani presidents. A source in the Kremlin mentioned with satisfaction that, after operational lapses in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline during the conflict in Georgia, Azerbaijan has applied to increase the transport of its oil through the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline. An unsettled question is the volume of Gazprom’s maximum gas purchases during the development of the second line at the Shah Deniz gas field. That is sure to be a difficult conversation, considering that Baku quite willingly responded to the West’s proposal that it participate in the Nabucco project, the implementation of which has taken on new impetus since the Russian-Georgian war.

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