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Russian Official Warns Of Karabakh Conflict Escalation


Russia -- Building of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 03Feb2007

Russia -- Building of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 03Feb2007

A continued lack of further progress in Armenian-Azerbaijani peace talks could increase the likelihood of another full-scale armed conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official warned on Friday.


In an interview with the Azerbaijani APA news agency, Andrei Kelin, head of a ministry department on former Soviet states, also spoke out against Turkey’s involvement in international efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict.

Kelin said that the conflicting parties still have “fundamental difference” on some of the key basic principles of a Karabakh settled favored by Russia, the United States and France. He declined to elaborate on those principles, saying only that “there are really not many of them” and that both sides should display a “political will” to overcome these disagreements.

“If we don’t do that, then the situation will probably continue to escalate,” Kelin said. “It is already quite tense, skirmishes on the line of contact are not subsiding, there are more and more [armed] incidents, and both sides are beefing up forces. Therefore, there are fears that sooner or later this escalation will develop into something more large-scale.”

The European Union’s special envoy to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, issued a similar warning during a recent visit to the conflict zone. Speaking to Reuters, Semneby said intensified skirmishes there risk spiraling out of control and called for the strengthening of the ceasefire between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces.

The U.S., Russian and French mediators acting under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group regularly urge the parties to respect the Russian-mediated truce that stopped the first Karabakh war in 1994. Nonetheless, truce violations along the “line of contact” around Karabakh appear to have become more frequent in recent months.

Armenia and Azerbaijan claim to largely agree with the proposed basic principles of a Karabakh settlement, while making diametrically opposite interpretations of their essence. Baku says it will never accept the loss of Karabakh, while Yerevan rules out any settlement that would place the Armenian-populated territory back under Azerbaijani rule.

The three Minsk Group co-chairs held on Wednesday separate meetings with the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers in New York to discuss their next steps to be taken ahead of the OSCE’s December summit in Kazakhstan. Whether or not they hope to achieve more progress in the stalled peace process in time for the summit is not yet clear.

Interviewed by several Azerbaijani media outlets late last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wants the parties to sign an interim framework agreement that would leave out the “two or three issues” that have not yet been agreed upon. He said both Washington and Paris support this idea.

Lavrov did not specify whether this is what Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed to his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts during their trilateral talks in Saint Petersburg last June. The Armenian side reacted positively to Medvedev’s undisclosed proposal, whereas Baku rejected it as unacceptable.

In remarks that will be welcomed by Armenian officials, Kelin also made clear that Moscow is against Turkish involvement in the co-chairs’ activities. “Turkey has attempted to actively participate in this endeavor lately,” the Russian Foreign Ministry official told APA. “We consider that counterproductive because we have a unique situation in which the positions of the USA, France and Russia converge and … this allows us to guarantee that future agreements will not collapse. And France and the USA support us on this.”

Turkey has stepped up its interest in the Karabakh conflict over the past year as part of its efforts to allay Azerbaijan’s concerns over its rapprochement with Armenia. Ankara now makes the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations conditional on the conflict’s resolution.

Armenia rejects this linkage and remains strongly opposed to any Turkish role in the Karabakh peace process.
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