In January 2022 Thomas E. Graham, former Senior Director for Russian Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, expressed an opinion that the settlement of conflicts in the Caucasus should be included in the process of a comprehensive discussion of European security problems.
Mediamax talked to Thomas Graham on February 23, a day before Russia started its invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview with Russian Kommersant Daily in January 2022 you offered to include the settlement of the conflicts in the Caucasus in the process of comprehensive discussion of European security issues. Given that Armenia is a member of the CSTO, Georgia is seeking NATO membership, and Azerbaijan is increasing military cooperation with Turkey, how realistic is it to expect the countries of the region to be able to formulate common security approaches?
The question is whether Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia would want to participate in a broader European security arrangement, as they have in the past. Participation would require accepting the principles on which the new arrangement would be based, which in my proposal would include principles for the resolution of frozen conflicts. Moreover, NATO countries, Turkey, and CSTO member states in Europe would be part of this broader settlement. So the fact that the three Caucasian states are looking to different partnerships for security does not preclude their participating in a common security approach that is agreed among NATO members, the CSTO members, and Turkey.
Do you agree with the opinion that after Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 war the alignment of forces in the South Caucasus has drastically changed, and, particularly, Turkey has gained an opportunity to directly act in the region and violated Russia’s hegemony?
Turkey provided critical support to Azerbaijan in the conflict with Armenia and continues to play a role in the region. Nothing suggests that Ankara plans to retreat from what it considers to be a region of vital interest. That means that Russia is longer the hegemon in the Caucasus.
During the 2020 war and after it, Vladimir Putin avoided the possible Russian-Turkish confrontation in the South Caucasus region and, as some think, even “sacrificed Armenia for it.” Can the aggravation of relations between Russia and Turkey on other “fronts,” for instance over Ukraine, affect their interaction in the South Caucasus?
The growing confrontation over Ukraine will impact the entire Russian-Turkish relationship. I would expect it to complicate efforts to manage bilateral relations in all other areas where the two countries’ interests are at odds, including Libya, Syria, and the South Caucasus. A comprehensive European security settlement would help reduce the negative consequences of competition between outside powers for the South Caucasus states by moving that competition from the military sphere to the political, economic, and social spheres.
In the interview with Kommersant you also said that referendums could become an important part of the conflict settlement process. “They would make it possible to reliably understand what the people living in the disputed territories want. Next, it is necessary to work out a number of political and technical agreements, in accordance with which, the issues between the main and the separating part will be regulated,” you said. The referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh has been one of the key components of the different proposals made by international mediators to Armenia and Azerbaijan over the past 2 decades. If Azerbaijan refused the idea of a referendum before the war, what would motivate it to agree to it after the war, in which it not only has regained all the regions around Nagorno-Karabakh, but also took control of part of the region itself?
Once again, participation in the broader European security settlement would require Azerbaijan to honor core principles. If the settlement included the proposal I have made on resolving frozen conflicts, Baku would have to accept a referendum or it would find itself outside the broader settlement. That would leave it in a much more vulnerable position, as far as Azerbaijan’s security is concerned. So Baku would have a tough choice to make. But the price of admission to the European security system would be accepting a referendum in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Ara Tadevosyan talked to Thomas Graham