Heiko Langner: “It is better to put bets on the ‘Moscow card’ in resolution of the Karabakh conflict

Heiko Langner: “It is better to put bets on the ‘Moscow card’ in resolution of the Karabakh conflict

Interview by Orkhan Sattarov, the head of the European Bureau of Vestnik Kavkaza

 

A few days ago, the California State Senate passed a resolution recognizing the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. The resolution project was presented in January and actively promoted by senators Mike Gatto, Kevin de Leon and Tom Berryhill. Many experts believe that the document does not correspond to the U.S. approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and was passed under pressure from powerful lobbyists in the state. Heiko Langner, a German expert in Berlin, expressed his opinion about the developments.

 

- Mr. Langner, how would you comment on the decision of the California Senate? Does it undermine the peacekeeping role of the U.S. in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement?

- It is not the first such resolution passed by one American state or another. Before the decision of the California Senate, there had been similar decrees of the House of Representatives or senates of such states as Maine, Louisiana and Rhode Island. This is first of all associated with the successful campaign of the pro-Armenian lobby groups that not only representatives of the Armenian diaspora belong to. You should bear in mind that the U.S., despite or due to internal social differences, often bases its policy on Christian identity or missionary work. Even a superpower needs some ideological justification for its own policy, whether it is Christian values, democracy or human rights. Christian solidarity as an ideological motive plays an important role in passing such resolutions.

In this particular case, I suppose that the main role was played by the influence of the Armenian diaspora. Over 40% of Americans of Armenian origin live in California, mainly in Los Angeles. The Armenian diaspora settled there is undeniably the most important economic factor, so it has colossal opportunities to affect Californian policy.

The passing of the resolution, according to American laws, cannot be repealed (its rationality, in political terms, is a different question). For the U.S. foreign policy, however, such resolutions had had almost no value until recently. American foreign policy is defined by the administration in Washington, not states. Diplomatic recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state by the administration of Barack Obama is not expected. Just as it is not expected in Russia, though Armenia, as a military ally of Russia, would certainly want it.

The geostrategic interests of both world states, Russia and the U.S., in the two South Caucasus republics are so great that they will not pick one of the sides of the conflict. At the same time, this does not stop Moscow and Washington from secretly or explicitly providing financial or military aid to one or even both sides of the conflict, without recognizing the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. For example, it is well-known that Russia, despite its military alliance with Armenia, is far ahead in supplying Azerbaijan with weapons. That is how the policy of the superpowers has been functioning so far.

- Although the U.S. co-chairs the OSCE Minsk Group, it is the only country in the world that provides direct financial aid to the unrecognized regime in Nagorno-Karabakh. Besides, the Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, according to which Azerbaijan is considered the aggressor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is still in force. What are the reasons for such a position of the U.S. and how can American policy be characterized in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

- It is a fair and important question. The passing of Section 907, in its time, was to a decisive extent conditioned by the major political influence of the Armenian diaspora in the U.S. The section is a sanction instrument aimed against countries that have not found favour with Washington for some reason. But that does not explain why the section has not been repealed. It should have been repealed in 1993, when the Armenian armed formations in Nagorno-Karabakh started taking over the 7 surrounding districts of the enclave and systematically driving out the Azerbaijani population and supporting the Armenian Armed Forces. An onlooker should have figured by that moment that the Armenian side had fully switched from defensive to offensive, although it had not always been defending before.

But Section 907 could not stop the economic development of Azerbaijan or the modernization of its army. Its practical consequences have never been especially essential. At the same time, the existence of the section demonstrates the absolute inefficiency of the U.S. as a mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

For many years, the U.S. has practically subjected Azerbaijan to sanctions. It was happening despite the fact that, being mediators in the conflict, the Americans, of course, were also supposed to represent Azerbaijani interests so as to back a compromise decision. U.S. policy in the South Caucasus is hypocritical and this can clearly be seen in its double standards. For example, Washington has been providing state financial assistance to the de facto unrecognized regime in Nagorno-Karabakh, in addition to the financial assistance to Armenia allowed by international law. This should be interpreted as tendentious support for the Armenian side of the conflict. Thus, the U.S. sends a political message: “Although we do not recognize you officially, we help you directly.” The Kremlin has never dared do that yet. In other words, the U.S. is not an impartial mediator.

Besides, the U.S. and Russia, formally being equal co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, have been pursuing contrary interests, not since the start of the Ukrainian conflict, but earlier. Moscow and Washington have strong geopolitical differences in the South Caucasus Region. Consequently, a fair question appears: how can the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group mediate in resolving the conflict if they are dissociated on the issue?

In my opinion, bets should be put on the ‘Moscow card’ in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russia is the ‘first among equals’ in the trio of co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, to which France belongs as well. Considering the balance of interests, the Kremlin has an equidistant policy regarding both sides of the conflict. This creates better prerequisites for a hopeful compromise decision.

- The unrecognized Karabakh authorities declared plans to settle about 200 Yazidi Kurd families, that fled Iraq from the terrorists of the Islamic State, in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding occupied districts. How do such plans correspond to international law, and does Azerbaijan have any means to prevent their realization?

- The strategy is not new. The de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh settled Armenian refugees, though a small group, from Syria some time ago. At this moment, 35 Armenian families from Syria (about 130 people in total) live on the occupied territories, mainly in the ‘corridor districts’ of Kalbajar and Lachin. To be just, it must be noted that the Republic of Armenia has not assisted in settling foreign refugees in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts. Maybe the Karabakh regime is acting on its own in the issue.

Plans to settle Yazidi Kurds from Iraq are not a coincidence. Before the start of the Karabakh war, the Yazidi and Muslim Kurds had mostly lived in Kalbajar and Lachin. In the earlier Soviet period, the region had been called ‘Red Kurdistan’ and had had the status of a separate administrative unit as part of the Azerbaijani SSR for some time. After the fall of the USSR and the Armenian occupation of the territories, the Yazidi Kurds (the ones that wanted) managed to stay. Since Kurds have often been discriminated against in Muslim states or, as in Iraq today, terrorized and being exterminated by ISIS, the de facto regime in Nagorno-Karabakh, following the logic ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ obviously considers them natural allies and a demographic resource. The unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh regime hopes to gain support in its efforts to achieve diplomatic recognition by the international community, trying to position itself as a responsible actor offering refuge to groups of people in humanitarian crisis. The Karabakh regime has everything spinning about the issue of its recognition.

Mass international support for the citizens of Iraq is needed, but the districts occupied by Armenians are an inappropriate and unsafe territory for refugees. There are better opportunities for that. Besides, the unauthorized settling of refugees by the Nagorno-Karabakh regime is a fundamental violation of international law. According to the fourth Geneva Convention, occupying forces are not allow to make any changes that would complicate or prevent the return of former residents to their places. An active settlement policy is the case described in the convention. The correct and first addressee for settlement of the problem is certainly the OSCE Minsk Group. Moreover, the UN could have assisted with it. Finally, the issue could have been resolved within the framework of a confidential talk between Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin, especially considering the full mutual understanding and respect between the two presidents. It should be recalled that the launch of the airport near Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh has not yet happened. It would have been a threat to the peace process. Moscow does not need new active military trouble spots.

Interview by Orkhan Sattarov, the head of the European Bureau of Vestnik KavkazaA few days ago, the California State Senate passed a resolution recognizing the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. The resolution project was presented in January and actively promoted by senators Mike Gatto, Kevin de Leon and Tom Berryhill. Many experts believe that the document does not correspond to the U.S. approach to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and was passed under pressure from powerful lobbyists in the state. Heiko Langner, a German expert in Berlin, expressed his opinion about the developments.- Mr. Langner, how would you comment on the decision of the California Senate? Does it undermine the peacekeeping role of the U.S. in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement?- It is not the first such resolution passed by one American state or another. Before the decision of the California Senate, there had been similar decrees of the House of Representatives or senates of such states as Maine, Louisiana and Rhode Island. This is first of all associated with the successful campaign of the pro-Armenian lobby groups that not only representatives of the Armenian diaspora belong to. You should bear in mind that the U.S., despite or due to internal social differences, often bases its policy on Christian identity or missionary work. Even a superpower needs some ideological justification for its own policy, whether it is Christian values, democracy or human rights. Christian solidarity as an ideological motive plays an important role in passing such resolutions.In this particular case, I suppose that the main role was played by the influence of the Armenian diaspora. Over 40% of Americans of Armenian origin live in California, mainly in Los Angeles. The Armenian diaspora settled there is undeniably the most important economic factor, so it has colossal opportunities to affect Californian policy.The passing of the resolution, according to American laws, cannot be repealed (its rationality, in political terms, is a different question). For the U.S. foreign policy, however, such resolutions had had almost no value until recently. American foreign policy is defined by the administration in Washington, not states. Diplomatic recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent state by the administration of Barack Obama is not expected. Just as it is not expected in Russia, though Armenia, as a military ally of Russia, would certainly want it.The geostrategic interests of both world states, Russia and the U.S., in the two South Caucasus republics are so great that they will not pick one of the sides of the conflict. At the same time, this does not stop Moscow and Washington from secretly or explicitly providing financial or military aid to one or even both sides of the conflict, without recognizing the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh. For example, it is well-known that Russia, despite its military alliance with Armenia, is far ahead in supplying Azerbaijan with weapons. That is how the policy of the superpowers has been functioning so far.- Although the U.S. co-chairs the OSCE Minsk Group, it is the only country in the world that provides direct financial aid to the unrecognized regime in Nagorno-Karabakh. Besides, the Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, according to which Azerbaijan is considered the aggressor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is still in force. What are the reasons for such a position of the U.S. and how can American policy be characterized in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?- It is a fair and important question. The passing of Section 907, in its time, was to a decisive extent conditioned by the major political influence of the Armenian diaspora in the U.S. The section is a sanction instrument aimed against countries that have not found favour with Washington for some reason. But that does not explain why the section has not been repealed. It should have been repealed in 1993, when the Armenian armed formations in Nagorno-Karabakh started taking over the 7 surrounding districts of the enclave and systematically driving out the Azerbaijani population and supporting the Armenian Armed Forces. An onlooker should have figured by that moment that the Armenian side had fully switched from defensive to offensive, although it had not always been defending before.But Section 907 could not stop the economic development of Azerbaijan or the modernization of its army. Its practical consequences have never been especially essential. At the same time, the existence of the section demonstrates the absolute inefficiency of the U.S. as a mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.For many years, the U.S. has practically subjected Azerbaijan to sanctions. It was happening despite the fact that, being mediators in the conflict, the Americans, of course, were also supposed to represent Azerbaijani interests so as to back a compromise decision. U.S. policy in the South Caucasus is hypocritical and this can clearly be seen in its double standards. For example, Washington has been providing state financial assistance to the de facto unrecognized regime in Nagorno-Karabakh, in addition to the financial assistance to Armenia allowed by international law. This should be interpreted as tendentious support for the Armenian side of the conflict. Thus, the U.S. sends a political message: “Although we do not recognize you officially, we help you directly.” The Kremlin has never dared do that yet. In other words, the U.S. is not an impartial mediator.Besides, the U.S. and Russia, formally being equal co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, have been pursuing contrary interests, not since the start of the Ukrainian conflict, but earlier. Moscow and Washington have strong geopolitical differences in the South Caucasus Region. Consequently, a fair question appears: how can the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group mediate in resolving the conflict if they are dissociated on the issue?In my opinion, bets should be put on the ‘Moscow card’ in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Russia is the ‘first among equals’ in the trio of co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, to which France belongs as well. Considering the balance of interests, the Kremlin has an equidistant policy regarding both sides of the conflict. This creates better prerequisites for a hopeful compromise decision.- The unrecognized Karabakh authorities declared plans to settle about 200 Yazidi Kurd families, that fled Iraq from the terrorists of the Islamic State, in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding occupied districts. How do such plans correspond to international law, and does Azerbaijan have any means to prevent their realization?- The strategy is not new. The de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh settled Armenian refugees, though a small group, from Syria some time ago. At this moment, 35 Armenian families from Syria (about 130 people in total) live on the occupied territories, mainly in the ‘corridor districts’ of Kalbajar and Lachin. To be just, it must be noted that the Republic of Armenia has not assisted in settling foreign refugees in Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding districts. Maybe the Karabakh regime is acting on its own in the issue.Plans to settle Yazidi Kurds from Iraq are not a coincidence. Before the start of the Karabakh war, the Yazidi and Muslim Kurds had mostly lived in Kalbajar and Lachin. In the earlier Soviet period, the region had been called ‘Red Kurdistan’ and had had the status of a separate administrative unit as part of the Azerbaijani SSR for some time. After the fall of the USSR and the Armenian occupation of the territories, the Yazidi Kurds (the ones that wanted) managed to stay. Since Kurds have often been discriminated against in Muslim states or, as in Iraq today, terrorized and being exterminated by ISIS, the de facto regime in Nagorno-Karabakh, following the logic ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ obviously considers them natural allies and a demographic resource. The unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh regime hopes to gain support in its efforts to achieve diplomatic recognition by the international community, trying to position itself as a responsible actor offering refuge to groups of people in humanitarian crisis. The Karabakh regime has everything spinning about the issue of its recognition.Mass international support for the citizens of Iraq is needed, but the districts occupied by Armenians are an inappropriate and unsafe territory for refugees. There are better opportunities for that. Besides, the unauthorized settling of refugees by the Nagorno-Karabakh regime is a fundamental violation of international law. According to the fourth Geneva Convention, occupying forces are not allow to make any changes that would complicate or prevent the return of former residents to their places. An active settlement policy is the case described in the convention. The correct and first addressee for settlement of the problem is certainly the OSCE Minsk Group. Moreover, the UN could have assisted with it. Finally, the issue could have been resolved within the framework of a confidential talk between Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Putin, especially considering the full mutual understanding and respect between the two presidents. It should be recalled that the launch of the airport near Khojaly in Nagorno-Karabakh has not yet happened. It would have been a threat to the peace process. Moscow does not need new active military trouble spo

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