Conflict in the South Caucasus

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of North Texas]On: 30 November 2014, At: 12:18Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    Asian AffairsPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/raaf20

    Conflict in the SouthCaucasusSir Brian FallPublished online: 18 Jul 2006.

    To cite this article: Sir Brian Fall (2006) Conflict in the South Caucasus , AsianAffairs, 37:2, 198-209, DOI: 10.1080/03068370600677520

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  • CONFLICT IN THE SOUTH CAUCASUS

    SIR BRIAN FALL

    Sir Brian Fall, a former British Ambassador in Moscow, is the SpecialRepresentative of the British Government for the South Caucasus, but theviews expressed here should not be taken as necessarily expressing those of theBritish Government.

    This article is an expanded version of a speech delivered by the author in October2005, at a Rose-Roth seminar in Yerevan under the auspices of the NATOParliamentary Assembly.

    The European Union is currently negotiating Action Plans with thegovernments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as part of a EuropeanNeighbourhood Policy which it has rightly extended to include the countriesof the South Caucasus. This may seem a slightly odd background againstwhich to write about these countries in the journal of the Royal Society forAsian Affairs, but neither history nor geography would suggest that the wordneighbourhood in connection with the South Caucasus can sensibly be usedwith only links to Europe in mind.

    The idea of the South Caucasus as a crossroads is probably more indicative,both of the importance of the region and of its problems. Historically, in timesof peace and prosperity, trade routes along the east-west axis linked thecivilisations of the Mediterranean with those of Central Asia and China, withthe caravans of the Great Silk Road providing a stirring and glamorousexample. But the north-south axis was important too, linking the RussianEmpire to the Ottoman and the Persian. In more unsettled times, of whichthere were many, the lands occupied by present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan andGeorgia were buffeted by the empires to their north and south, with both alli-ances and frontiers changing with the fortunes of war and peace. The metaphorof a crossroads was never wholly out of place, but there were certainly timeswhen the roads were distinctly dangerous and alternatives much sought after.

    The crossroads today, and the people living around them, suffer from theimpact of the three unresolved conflicts which form the main subject of thisarticle. Two of them concern territory internationally recognised as formingpart of Georgia, where Abkhazia in the west, and South Ossetia in the north,have established varying degrees of de facto separation, and do not recognisethe legitimacy of rule from Tbilisi. The third conflict, that over Nagorno-Karabakh (NK), is seen internationally as one between Armenia andAzerbaijan, and currently includes the occupation of a substantial part ofAzerbaijan outside NK proper by Armenian and/or NK Armenian forcesdefending what they see as the right to self-determination of the mainly Arme-nian population of the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has broken away

    ISSN 0306-8374 print/ISSN 1477-1500 online/06/020198-12 # 2006 The Royal Society for Asian Affairshttp://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/03068370600677520

    Asian Affairs, vol. XXXVII, no. II, July 2006

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  • from Azerbaijan. In trade route terms, there is now no free passage from Abkha-zia into the rest of Georgia, or vice versa; traffic north-south through SouthOssetia is subject to severe dislocation; and borders between Armenia and Azer-baijan and, to an only slightly lesser extent, between Armenia and Turkey, areclosed. More importantly in human terms, there are the casualties of war: thedead and injured, the bereaved, the refugees and internally displaced persons(IDPs), and also the much larger groups who suffer actual or potential lossfrom continuing states of near-war or not-quite-peace.

    So what went wrong? The parties to these disputes will have differentanswers to that question, and so may policy-makers in some or all of thethird countries who have become involved in the search for solutions (or, asothers may see it, in giving encouragement and support to one or other of theconflicting parties).

    The decision of the British Government to appoint, albeit on a part-timebasis, a Special Representative for the South Caucasus, with terms of referencefocussed on the conflicts and on efforts to resolve them, was not based on an

    This map of the South Caucasus also shows the disputed areas of the unresolved conflicts,Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh

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  • assessment or assumption that British interests in the area differed at all signifi-cantly from those of our EU partners and NATO allies. The positive wish to seethe three newly-independent countries of the South Caucasus establish them-selves as peaceful, secure, prosperous and democratic members of the inter-national community is shared by all, just as we are all aware of the dangersof renewed conflict and weakened governance in a volatile region. Similarly,the importance of the region to international trade, and to the safe bringing tomarket of significant energy resources, is generally recognised and accepted.Britains interests are thus no different in kind from those of other Westerncountries, but they are arguably different in degree. Our position as a PermanentMember of the UN Security Council gives us special responsibilities for themaintenance of international peace and security; and a British company, BP,is playing a leading role in the development and marketing of Caspianenergy resources. It would be odd if the British government were not to wantto play an active role in seeking to resolve, and meantime to manage peacefully,these outstanding conflicts.

    In the case of Georgia, Britain, together with France, Germany, Russia andthe United States, is one of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General of theUnited Nations, which seeks to support him in the execution of his SecurityCouncil mandate in respect of Georgia/Abkhazia. We are also, as membersof the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), supportiveof international efforts to resolve the conflict over South Ossetia, and encour-aged to think that there may now be an increasing opportunity for the EU tobecome more actively involved. In the case of Armenia and Azerbaijan,and the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, negotiations are being facilitated bythe three Co-Chairmen (one each from France, Russia and the United States)of the Minsk Group, which acts under the institutional umbrella of theOSCE. Britain is not a member of the Minsk Group, and still less one of itsthree Co-Chairmen. Our relationship to it is rather like that which WinstonChurchill once claimed to have with the Church of England: more a buttressthan a pillar of the Church, as befits one who supports from the outside . . .

    Many other international organisations are already active in the field, andare likely to have a still more significant part to play as further progress ismade in the process of peace-keeping, conflict resolution and economic andsocial development in the region. To list them all would confront the readerwith an indigestible alphabet soup; to say nothing might give the impressionthat the international community is somehow disengaged from the problemsof the region. So let me make the important point in a more general way:major international organisations and their leading members are engaged to-day, and prepared to remain engaged, over a wide spectrum of activity,ranging from the macro-economic contribution of the international financialinstitutions at one end, through major programmes to support changes in gov-ernment policy in other key areas (including customs, military, police, judicialand electoral reform), to support for the work of NGOs and civil society at thegrass-roots. The shared objectives are the ones I summarised above: to helpensure peace, security, prosperity and democracy for the people of the South

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  • Caucasus. They are made much more difficult to attain by the conflicts to whichI now return.

    These are most often described in the West as frozen conflicts, and it iseasy enough to explain why. If we go back just over ten years, these conflictswere marked by large-scale and bitter fighting. Many, and by no means onlycombatants, were killed or severely wounded. Many more had to flee fortheir lives, or were expelled from what had been their homes (nearly one inten of the overall population in the South Caucasus were displaced as a resultof the three conflicts). There are victims to be mourned, and refugees andIDPs left living hand-to-mouth in temporary accommodation. But there arealso cease-fires in place and mechanisms to monitor and help maintain them;and we can hope that the time of major battles is behind us. That is one senseof the word frozen. Another, rather less positive, is that there is something notunglacier-like about the pace at which the diplomatic efforts to resolve the con-flicts seem to be going. And besides, as someone once asked me, you wouldntcall them unfrozen conflicts, would you?

    The answer is not as obvious as the questioner was intending to make itsound. One of the difficulties about the frozen conflicts label is that it can beseen to reflect an outsiders disregard for the underlying history. These pro-blems didnt all start with the break-up of the Soviet Union; and, if you goback only as far as the end of the First World War, you will find that the tran-sition from Russian to Soviet Empire was marked by great turmoil in the SouthCaucasus, with ambitions and perhaps also animosities carried forwardfrom a more distant past pulling this way and that over the frontiers andarrangements for governance that were to emerge.

    When things did finally settle down, under the firm grip of Stalin, theystayed settled down for many decades. It is not unreasonable to ask whetherthis was not more significantly the time when the conflicts were frozen,whether we are talking about conflicts between the peoples of the SouthCaucasus and Moscow, or intra-regional conflicts between the peoples of theSouth Caucasus themselves. Not just frozen, but deep frozen. And it wasthe thaw, when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union no longer had thepower to keep the temperature of the freezer below zero, that reawakened theconflicting ambitions which led on to the heat and tragedy of war. We needto keep in mind that historical perspective, and to remember that the SovietEmpire, and to some extent the Russian Empire before it, brought to theSouth Caucasus stability of a kind which stifled rather than resolved underlyingconflicts, and that our challenge now is to encourage reconciliation from thegrass-roots up, rather than from some distant centre down.

    There is another reason to be cautious about the term frozen conflicts. Itmay be accurate enough in reflecting the absence both of major hostilities and ofsignificant progress towards conflict resolution, but it may serve also to give theimpression that the freeze is so intense as to prevent all movement in theunderlying correlation of forces, whether military, political, economic or demo-graphic. That may be thoroughly misleading; and, if we need to think in terms ofice, the better analogy may be that of a frozen river: the surface ice may be thick

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  • and apparently immobile, but, underneath it, currents continue to run. If they arethought to run in a direction favourable to one or other of the parties, they inevi-tably become relevant to the prospects for conflict resolution, with one partybeing encouraged to play for time, and the other becoming increasinglyanxious to find means to break the deadlock.

    But let me come back to what I referred to as distant centres. We are dealingin the South Caucasus with conflicts that have deep local roots. They would, forthat reason alone, be difficult to resolve, even without the bitterness engenderedby recent fighting and continuing displacements. But there is also anotherdimension, described by the pessimists as a zero-sum game being played outbetween Moscow and Washington. I am not one of the pessimists. I do notbelieve that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia need to choose betweenhaving good relations with the United States and good relations with Russia;and I do not believe that Russia and the United States are condemned to azero-sum game in the region. But there have on occasion been voices fromWashington that I would think to be unduly dismissive of the need to buildpeace and security in the South Caucasus with, rather than despite or against,Russia. And we hear at least as much of voices from Moscow unable or unwill-ing to distinguish the natural influence which geography and history, cultureand commerce will give to a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Russiaamong its next-door neighbours, from a neo-imperialist striving for a backyardfenced off against the outside world.

    It is important to recognise that the South Caucasus is now part of thatoutside world. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as member states of theUnited Nations, are free to develop relations with their neighbours, includingTurkey and Iran as well as Russia; with the countries of the European Unionand with the EU itself; with the Council of Europe and with NATO; withfellow members of the OSCE; with neighbours around the Black and CaspianSeas, and, of course, with the United States. All that should go withoutsaying. It is an important part of the recipe for peace and prosperity in theregion, and that is an outcome which no one should be more interested thanRussia in helping to bring about.

    Unfortunately, we are not yet at that point. The cold warriors have not allfolded their tents and faded away. Russian policy makers seemingly remain sus-picious not only of United States, but to some extent also of European Unioninfluence in the South Caucasus; and the search for conflict resolution ismade harder as a result. We need to recognise that this is an important aspectof the overall problem, but we should not simply go on to assume that allthat is needed for a lasting peace to break out is that the Russians and the Amer-icans should agree to what needs to be done. And then stroll in like benevolentgiants to bang recalcitrant local heads together.

    The head-banging image is an obvious caricature, with very little relation toanyones idea of 21st century international best practice. And yet the factremains that it is a necessary, though not a sufficient condition for conflict res-olution in the South Caucasus that the United States and Russia should make itclear to the conflicting parties both that they want the conflicts resolved, and

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  • resolved peacefully; and that they are prepared to work to this end with eachother, with the parties themselves, and with other members of the internationalcommunity with a constructive contribution to make.

    The point is perhaps most easily illustrated by imagining a hypotheticalopposite case, where the Americans, or the Russians, or both, were privatelymore interested in continuing conflict than in conflict resolution. One suchpossibility arose in the case of the Russian military bases in Georgia, whosecontinued presence there without the consent of the host nation was rightlyjudged to be internationally unacceptable. At the same time, it seemed clearthat influential voices in Russia, even though they might agree both on the rel-evant principles of international law and on the fact that Russia had no positivestrategic need for the bases, remained concerned that a Russian withdrawalmight be followed by an American and/or NATO move to fill what might beseen as a vacuum. There was, in short, if not a feeling that the bases were inthemselves necessary to Russia, then a perceived need to make sure that theydid not simply get handed over to others in what might be seen as a strategicadvance in the face of Russian weakness. There was thus a need for diplomacy,and the United States responded positively. Assurances were given at thepolitical level, and potential obstacles removed from the path of the Georgianand Russian Foreign Ministers, who then went on to negotiate an agreementon base closures and the removal of troops and equipment satisfactory toboth sides. This particular story has not ended yet, but the example neverthelessserves to show that the US/Russia or NATO/Russia elements in one of theconflict equations can be solved separately, given good will and good senseon the part of the distant centres.

    Another such hypothetical opposite case could be argued with reference towhat we know to be a substantial Russian military presence in Armenia. It isgenerally accepted that they are there with the agreement of the Governmentof Armenia, so that questions about host nation consent do not presentlyarise. But outside observers may see that host country agreement as beinglargely determined by the Armenian perception of an actual or potential militarythreat from Azerbaijan. (The argument still sometimes advanced that, even ifthere were no conflict with Azerbaijan, Armenia would continue to requireRussian military support against a threat from Turkey would strike most andperhaps all neutral observers as seriously lacking in 21st century credibility.)So, if the conflict over NK were resolved, and frontiers at present closedwere opened up to peaceful traffic, the expectation of outside observers isthat the Armenian perception of threat would diminish, and eventuallydisappear. Would Armenia in those conditions still want a substantialRussian military presence on its territory? And would Russia want to retainone, in circumstances which could not plausibly be explained in terms of theconflict over NK?

    Looking at the same picture through Russian eyes, we might find that, post-conflict, there was no very strong reason for keeping Russian troops in Armenia,and plenty of other things that could be done with the human and financialresources that might become available for redeployment. But, once again,

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  • there might be a concern in Moscow about whether outside parties, in particularthe United States or NATO, might want to move forces in as, or shortlyafter, the Russians moved out. Here too is a case which would in due courseseem to offer scope for constructive diplomacy between the distant centres.And which, meanwhile, serves to underline my point about the need to establishthat the United States and Russia both want particular conflicts to be resolvedpeacefully and are prepared to work constructively together to that end.

    How far can we be confident that these conditions can be met? The picturecan be a difficult one for outsiders to read. Optimists can point to agreed texts,public speeches and high level meetings between Russia and the United States,and between Russian and European interlocutors, which suggest that leaders onboth sides of the former Cold War divide now accept that their national inter-ests, including their national security interests, point towards cooperationrather than confrontation in approaches to the South Caucasus; that it isnt azero-sum game, and that new thinking can be applied to the benefit of all. Onthe other hand, pessimists, who will call themselves realists, have evidence tobring forward on their side of the argument, and will emphasise in particularwhat they see as a current hardening of Moscows line in its dealings with itsformer Soviet neighbours. If the pessimists are not to be proved right, it willbe necessary both for President Putin to reach for his international statesmanshat, and for President Bush, and European leaders, to pay more attention to theproblems of the South Caucasus and to the need to work actively with Russia tohelp to resolve them. If this can be done, the international organisations with thepotential to offer effective support will be ready to put their shoulders all themore willingly to the wheel, and the focus of attention will return to what, inthis computer age, we might call its default position: on the parties themselves.

    The three conflicts are different and the parties to them are different.Generalisations risk making complicated situations more complicated still;but, in an article of tolerable length, there is a limit to how far it may be possibleto go into detail on the specifics of the individual conflicts. I therefore proposeto err on the side of generalisation. As Yogi Berra once said, when you come tothe fork in the road, take it . . .

    The first of the general points I would make is a positive one: we are not inone of those bleakest of all conflict situations, where the parties refuse to haveanything to do with each other. This is not to say that it is always easy for theUN or the OSCE to bring the parties together to address a particular agenda; nor,indeed, that the NGOs most actively involved find it easy either. Meetings areenvisaged, but dont always happen; or they happen with a different cast, at adifferent time and perhaps in a different place. There may be frustration, butthere is not a vacuum. Credit for that must go to the parties themselves, andalso to those who are seeking to facilitate their working together. On the officialside, I would mention as examples the three Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group; theUN Secretary-Generals indefatigable Special Representative for Georgia/Abkhazia; the Head of the OSCE Delegation in Georgia, the OSCE rovingAmbassador working in support of the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group, andthe EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus. On the NGO/civil

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  • society side, mentioning once again only some examples among many,Conciliation Resources have been both constructive and persuasive onGeorgia/Abkhazia; LINKS (London Information Network on Conflicts andState-building) have played a crucial role in the devising and launching ofthe South Caucasus Parliamentary Initiative; and the International Institutefor Strategic Studies is working to encourage dialogue on South Ossetia, as isthe NGO International Alert, which is working also in other areas.

    I should like to be able to present in a positive light also my second generalpoint, about the overwhelming need to avoid both the further use and the threatof force in these conflict situations. But we still hear too often that some influ-ential player, or would-be player, has made a speech saying in effect that, ofcourse, wed like to settle this by peaceful means, and were working hard tothat end; but, if the other side dont see the light pretty soon, we shall haveno alternative but to look for other means . . . And were getting stronger,and/or richer, all the time.

    Politicians will say that they make speeches like that because public opinionexpects it of them. But that may be a sign that public opinion has been led toexpect negotiations without the need for compromise, or has been encouragedto form a Panglossian assessment of the present and/or likely future correlationof military forces. The political problem is, of course, a very difficult one; but itwill surely become worse if political leaders, and influential members of civilsociety, do not work to encourage better-informed debate.

    The advocates of force, if they are serious, should be encouraged, not leastby their political masters, to produce risk assessments based on hard facts ratherthan wishful or courtier-like thinking. It may, of course, be legitimate to includescenarios where everything turns out for the best. But any risk assessmentworthy of the name must include also the possible applications of MurphysLaw, where everything that can go wrong, does indeed go wrong. In particular,perhaps, the possibility that ones opponent will get unmatched overt or covertreinforcement from outside.

    If, on the basis of professional and intellectually rigorous risk assessments,the conclusion is drawn that a resort to force would be unlikely to succeed, andmight indeed prove seriously counter-productive, what benefit, if any, couldthere be thought to be in continuing to sound warlike trumpet notes in publicspeeches? For those of us living at peace in Western Europe, there is somethingvaguely comical about the old refrain: we dont want to go to war, but by Jingoif we do, weve got the ships, weve got the men, weve got the money too. . .But it isnt funny at all to hear similar sentiments expressed much nearer to thefault lines. Those inclined to see merit in such rhetoric should ask themselvesnot only what effect it might have on their popularity ratings at home, butalso what effect it may have on the other side. Will it serve to make opponentsmore inclined to show flexibility in negotiation? Or merely more anxious to dowhatever may be necessary to ensure guarantees of protection from a friendlyneighbourhood power?

    Another point of general application is a tactical one about wedges, andwhich end it makes sense to try to slip in first. The answer ought to be

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  • obvious, but the temptation for politicians is often the other way around. Letsagree on the final status of Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Nagorno-Karabakh,they may say, and then Im sure that well be able to come to reasonable agree-ments on points of detail. I understand the temptation, and it would no doubt benice if it were possible to get a quick fix of that kind. But experience of the pastten years or so underlines just how elusive the acceptable quick fix can be, andreinforces the case for exploring what may be achievable through a bottom-upapproach, focussing first on practical steps to make life better for the peoplemost immediately involved.

    The prospects for progress along those lines will be the better if the partiescan have confidence that each is seeking to work exclusively through peacefulmeans. And better, too, if a way can be found to finesse the awkward politicaland legal points, which can be used to enmesh small, practical steps at theconfidence-building level in the difficulties still surrounding questions ofrecognition and final status. One could, for example, argue that it is impossiblefor the Government of Georgia to deal with the authorities in Abkhazia whilethey maintain their claim to independence; or that it is impossible for the auth-orities in Sukhumi to deal with a government in Tbilisi which continues toregard Abkhazia as an integral part of Georgia. These and similar argumentshave been deployed in practice as well as recalled in theory, and the practicalpoint to be made against them is that they will not bring nearer by onemillimetre the prospect of conflict resolution; and that they will make imposs-ible the search for small, practical steps which would move things along in adirection which both sides could regard as positive.

    The trick, if that is not to give the thought a bad name, may be to recall whatcommercial lawyers do when they print the words Without Prejudice at thetop of a paper indicating the merest possibility that their client might in somecircumstances be ready to consider something or other, needless to saywithout commitment. The key in a situation like Georgia/Abkhazia is to getit accepted, perhaps explicitly, or perhaps as no more than an unwrittenworking assumption, that ideas can be advanced without prejudice to the onepartys position on final status, and can be agreed to on the same basis by theother.

    This may be time to move back towards the fork in the road, and to say alittle more about the individual conflicts. In the case of those concerningGeorgia, there is encouraging evidence that disagreements about final statusare not being used as a reason to prevent discussion of more modest, practicalsteps.

    In the case of the conflict over Abkhazia, the parties are seeking, with thehelp of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, to reach agreementon two political declarations of potentially great significance: one on the non-use of force, and the other on the return of IDPs, in the first instance to theGali district, in conditions which will allow them to live in security anddignity. Agreements are also being sought on the re-opening and rehabilitationof railways, and on hydro-electric projects of benefit to both sides. Talks aboutsecurity and security guarantees are taking place in parallel, also with the active

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  • participation of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and thereis the prospect of a meeting on confidence-building measures, mainly in theeconomic sphere, which the German government has offered to host, inconjunction with the United Nations. There is still some way to go, but theFriends of the Secretary-General, when they met with the Parties in Genevaat the beginning of February under the chairmanship of the UNUnder-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, were able to take note of muchuseful ground already covered, and to urge all concerned to take the stepsnecessary to complete this preliminary but necessary lap of the course.

    I am conscious that the assessment in the preceding paragraph will strikesome people close to the issues as almost wholly misleading: reflecting,insofar as it reflects reality at all, only that evanescent version of realitywhich may appear from time to time in a UN Conference Room, only tovanish in the harsher light of day. The real world school will dismiss thecurrent negotiating process as a diplomatic Penelopes web, designed tocreate an illusion of progress within the framework agreed by the SecurityCouncil (respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia,within its internationally recognised borders), while working outside the confer-ence room for very different ends. The proponents of this view certainly have apoint when they say that, if it is indeed the intention of Moscow to respect theterritorial integrity of Georgia, the message might usefully be made clearer tothe Governor of the Russian region of Krasnodar (bordering on Abkhazia),and to others on the Russian side whose words and deeds heighten Georgianfears of creeping annexation. More recently, what had for some time beenan obvious Abkhaz debating point about Kosovo (if they are allowed to splitoff, why cant we?) appears to have been taken up in Moscow at a levelmore serious than that of routine debating points, and it is not clear at thetime of writing what the implications may turn out to be for Russian policytowards Kosovo and/or Abkhazia, and towards the major western countrieswith whom they are working on these issues.

    In the case of South Ossetia, Georgian concerns about creeping annexationby Russia are also frequently heard, with particular reference to the numbers ofofficials in key places in the Tskhinvali administration who happen to be Rus-sians, and very probably Russians on secondment from their home departmentsin Moscow. On the other hand, there is also a diplomatic process and a politicalagenda of real substance. Speeches made by President Saakashvili in 2005, tothe Council of Europe in Strasbourg and at the United Nations in New York,confirmed that the Government of Georgia, like the Governments of allStates Members of the United Nations, continue to regard South Ossetia asan integral part of Georgia. But the speeches demonstrated also an open-minded willingness to explore the constitutional arrangements which mightbest reflect that, while providing for a substantial degree of devolution to theauthorities in Tskhinvali. The proposals, since spelled out in more detail,include an impressive list of practical ways in which economic and social pro-gress could be encouraged and security ensured, to the benefit of those living inthe region, irrespective of their ethnic background, and with the hope of

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  • facilitating thereby the peaceful resolution of the outstanding disagreements onfinal status. These proposals clearly constitute an invitation to talk, and to getdown to work on some of these practical points. Responses from the Russians,and from the separatist leadership in South Ossetia, give some reason to hopethat that is what we shall see happening over the months ahead.

    The fork in the road which leads towards Armenia and Azerbaijan brings uson to rather different territory, because we are dealing there with two membercountries of the UN, between whom questions of recognition and status do notarise. They do however arise in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Armeniaand Azerbaijan have different answers to the questions posed. As the argumentshave gone back and forth over too many years, it is clear that Azerbaijan andArmenia have been giving primacy to different principles in the HelsinkiFinal Act: Azerbaijan to the principle of territorial integrity, and Armenia tothe principle of self-determination. And rather less has been heard about thevery important paragraph in the Final Act which declares that All the prin-ciples set forth above are of primary significance and, accordingly, they willbe equally and unreservedly applied, each of them being interpreted takinginto account the others.

    The most recent indications are that this black and white view of the pro-spects for compromise is giving way to a more positive search for agreement,with the strong encouragement of the three Co-Chairs. The Foreign Ministersof Armenia and Azerbaijan, and, more important still, the two Presidents, aremeeting more frequently both bilaterally and with the Co-Chairs; they havemade progress in identifying the outline of a significant agreement, and arenow able to focus on the small number of inevitably difficult points whichremain outstanding. It is generally recognised that 2006, a year without majorelections, offers a window of opportunity which will not remain open forever; and it is perhaps time for the international community more generally,without interfering in the detail of the negotiations between the parties or inthe efforts being made by the Co-Chairs to facilitate further progress, tomake clearer their readiness to provide practical and effective support onceagreement has been reached. It is, for example, already widely assumed thatsuch support will have to include the presence of international peacekeepers;extensive mine-clearance, so that the safe return of refugees and IDPs can beensured; a donors conference, and steps to encourage the re-opening of com-munications by road and rail. A move now from widely assuming to beginningto plan for such developments could prove timely and constructive.

    Let me in conclusion go briefly back upstream of the fork, to underline onemore general point. It is this. Most visitors to the South Caucasus with an inter-est in conflict resolution will find politicians in the region only too keenly awareof what they see as the costs of compromise, of giving away something tothem varmints. And, if those currently in government are seen to betempted towards compromise by what they see as the realities, there areothers, in the media and in various activist constituencies, all too ready toensure that what they would regard as the facts of life do not suffer from alack of repetition.

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  • Lost in all this is any sense, still less an equally well-publicised sense, of thecosts of failing to resolve the conflicts: the costs of not being prepared tocompromise. And yet these costs are very real. Lives continue to be lost.Lives continue to be lived out in refugee accommodation far from home.Military expenditure, both above and below the official budget transparencyline, takes up an appallingly large share of government spending and, indeed,of GNP. Investment in infrastructure either doesnt take place, or is carriedout in less than optimal size in a less than ideal location, for reasons determinedby conflict rather than economic or social policy. Trade, subject to blockadesand sanctions, leaves too many of its benefits in the hands of profiteeringthird parties. Various forms of corrupt and criminal activity thrive, or aremade more difficult to control, in what is perceived as a war economy. And,meanwhile, cultural and other exchanges between the people of the regionbecome more and more constrained; children are brought up with a distortedview of history and a limited choice of language, and bridges becomeprogressively more difficult to build.

    Finally, if this were not bad enough, too few are looking at all systematicallyat the larger-scale opportunity costs: at what the region might be looking like,economically and socially, in ten to fifteen years time, if only the conflictscould be air-brushed out of the picture. I am not an advocate of air-brushing,but of trying to focus the attention of people in the South Caucasus on apicture of what they are missing; or, in other words, on what these conflicts,and the failure to make the compromises necessary to resolve them, arereally costing, and will continue to cost. In a word, too much.

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