Graeme Horne and Emil Danielyan review Russia's sometimes controversial role in both the Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhaz conflicts.
Russia's intervention in the Transcaucasus conflicts has raised concern among a number of Western regional observers, some of whom even go as far as to accuse Russia of having neo-imperialist aspirations in the region. In this article it will be argued that, while there may be room for some concerns regarding Russia's behaviour in the region, its intervention in these conflicts looks increasingly more credible given the limited response of other global players, and the diplomatic success Moscow has had in stopping the bloodshed.
Nagorno-Karabakh is located in western Azerbaijan. The enclave has long been contested by both Armenians and Azeris, both claiming it as the cradle of their respective civilisations. The current conflict erupted during the final years of the Soviet era and has continued to the present with no solution in sight. This makes it the longest running conflict in the former Soviet sphere.
The conflict arose because the majority Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh -- approximately 77 per cent of the total population -- had failed to assimilate into the Azeri state since the incorporation of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan in the early 1920s. The Karabakh Armenians, who now control some 20 per cent of Azeri territory, are seeking to secede from Azerbaijan. As an Economist correspondent put it: `ideally, Karabakh Armenians would like to reunite with Armenia proper, but reckon the current fashion for fission in the ex-Soviet Union makes independence a safer bet'.(1)
Russia's response to the Karabakh conflict has taken two forms. Firstly, Russia has taken collective initiatives aimed at conflict resolution, the most significant of which has been to co-chair the OSCE's sub-committee to deal with the Karabakh conflict, the Minsk Group.(2) Secondly, the Russian government has taken solo initiatives. It is this unilateral intervention that has been a cause of some concern among both regional and Western academics and politicians.
Russia has become involved in the conflict for a number of reasons, the most important four of which are:
* concerns over the spill-over effects of the conflict into Russia;
* doubts about the commitment of the West, including the OSCE, to the conflict resolution process -- a point given …