Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Karabakh emphasises the importance of repairing relations with Russia

Russia’s influence on its neighbours is most often portrayed as lamentable and exploitative. As such it is unsurprising that Dmitry Medvedev’s efforts to broker a settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at best ignored and at worst portrayed as a cynical component of Russia’s attempt to establish energy hegemony over the west. Whilst states will naturally be most motivated by projects which accord with their own interests, Russia is in no way unusual in this regard and its mediating in the Nagorno Karabakh dispute should not be lightly dismissed.

The conflict, like other post Soviet crises, has been bequeathed upon the states by a strategic piece of Stalinist arbitrariness. Karkakh, a region populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, was allocated to Azerbaijan’s administrative area under Stalin’s policy of divide and rule. Now Medvedev has the leaders of both countries signed up to solving their disagreements by negotiation. This is unequivocally a positive development.

In a prevailing climate of Russophobia there is temptation for western politicians to see successful Russian conflict resolution as a threat. Instead it actually emphasises that Russia can be a stabilising bulwark in the region, if the west chooses to treat it as a partner rather than a threat. In his victory speech Barack Obama has spoken of American ‘alliances to repair’ as a task which faces him. If he genuinely does wish to repair alliances then the US’ relationship with Russia might be a useful place to start.

Perhaps he might do well to listen to Congressman Jerold Nadler, who campaigned for Obama last week and answered a question about Iran and Israel in the following terms,

“We have not been willing to put our priorities properly. We have not been willing to say ... "Hey Russia, we won't expand NATO into the Ukraine and Georgia, right next to your borders, if you cooperate with us on Iran." ...I think Iran and Israel are a hell of a lot more important than expanding NATO to Russia's borders. Why should we? What do we need it for?”.

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