Caucasus’ frozen conflicts not so frozen, Sokor says

Nov 8. New Europe

by Vladimir Sokor

Caucasus’ frozen conflicts not so frozen, Sokor saysMany foreign experts are concerned today about how Kazakhstan is going to work in 2010 as the OSCE chair. Astana has hosted an international conference to discuss the mission Kazakhstan is going to take on in two months. The range of questions discussed at the conference was broad: regional security, energy, economy, and human rights. Among the foreign speakers invited to the conference was an analyst from the Jamestown Foundation, Vladimir Sokor. The speakers at the one-day conference in Astana were representatives of a working group on preparation for Kazakhstan’s OSCE chairmanship, formed by two American institutes – CSIS and IND. IND is the Institute of New Democracy, Washington. CSIS is the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also in Washington. It is a US leading consulting and analytical institute on foreign politics. Sokor is one of the analysts making the working group. His speech was titled The Frozen Conflicts in OSCE Space. Next year Kazakhstan will have to decide on a tangle of complex and knotty problems connected with the well-known conflicts, including Georgia and South Ossetia, Moldova, and Nagorno Karabach. Sokor gave an exclusive interview to New Europe Correspondent in Astana Kulpash Konyrova about the OSCE, conflicts in the Caucasus and the Nabucco gas pipeline.

Mr. Sokor, at the very beginning of your speech you said that “the expectations of Kazakhstan’s OSCE Chairmanship should not be too high”. Why do think so?

What I mean is that Kazakhstan will inherit not only the privileges and powers, but also the deficiencies that have had place over the entire period of OSCE operations. It is a known fact that over the past 16 years OSCE has had failed to negotiate resolutions for some conflicts in the OSCE space. Secondly, let us remember that the last successful chairmanship of the OSCE was nine years ago, when Romania held that post. Those countries that came after it did not deliver. The evaluation given to them by the experts was just that – disappointment. It is not a secret that some countries set just one goal for themselves – to survive the 12 months of chairmanship. That is why they kept to the following tactic: just not to make bad mistakes and not to harm the organization itself. So, considering this difficult legacy, I say that the expectations of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship should not be too high. In my view, that task Kazakhstan is facing is to try to improve the situation and to achieve better results from the earlier decisions on conflict resolution. For example, today we all see that the well-known Medvedev-Sarkozy plan on the Georgia – Ossetia conflict is not being fulfilled.

Can you once again name and characterize those frozen conflicts that Kazakhstan should pay attention to in the future?

First of all, the experts are no longer using the term “frozen conflict” as “frozen” means that nobody is dealing with it. The term that is used now is “protracted conflicts”. Second, it should be noted that many of the conflicts that I will talk about below had started as internal, but since the 1990s, they have mutated and grown into international conflicts. The most sensitive issues that Kazakhstan will have to address include Afghanistan, Georgia and Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabach, Crimea, Moldova, and the Balkans, where the latest developments have shown the signs that the conflict may erupt with a new force again. As far as the characteristics of the conflicts are concerned, the most urgent and sensitive issue today is territorial integrity and recognition of international borders. Thus, in 2008, Russia demanded that the territorial integrity of Georgia should be respected. However, it does not recognize its unity. Instead, it recognizes two new states (South Ossetia and Abkhazia – note by NE) that made part of Georgia before. As is known, no OSCE country, including your Kazakhstan, has recognized these states. The problem of territorial integrity lies in the core of another Caucasus conflict, Nagorno-Karabach. In my speech at the conference I noted that some progress could be seen on this conflict, thanks, on one side, to the internal policy of the country (the Azerbaijan government), and to the initiative of the new US Administration, on the other side. The White House has made an attempt to resolve this conflict quickly. Its essence was to open the border between Turkey and Armenia. And the US has succeeded in breaking the first barrier, as Turkey has agreed to make this step. However, we should remember that the opening of the borders between Turkey and Armenia was linked, according to the earlier agreements reached on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabach conflict, to the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabach. So for Kazakhstan, as the OSCE chairman next year, it is important to note that these two processes – the opening of the borders and the withdrawal of the Armenian troops from Nagorno Karabach – should be simultaneous.

Going back to the theme of the Caucasus, I cannot but ask about the Nabucco project. It is not a secret that this project causes disagreements on different levels between the West and Russia.

The Nabucco gas pipeline is just a part of an ambitious EU project The Southern Corridor that also includes several other new pipelines. On the whole, the proposed capacity of the Southern Corridor is designed to deliver 80 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe per year. The project relies on the gas from Central Asia. This is why the main political goal of the European Union today is to provide a direct access to Europe for the Central Asian resources, bypassing Russia, through the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. But what are the capabilities of the Central Asian countries? Let’s start from Kazakhstan. From a conversation with the Kazakh officials from the Ministry of Energy I have understood that the Republic currently has no spare volumes of gas to join this project. The main hopes are placed on the promising reserves of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. However, the inclusion of that same Turkmenistan in the Nabucco project is presently under a question mark, as this gas pipeline is designed mainly for gas from Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Egypt. And it has very little room for the Central Asian gas. If the European Union offers to that same Turkmenistan the annual volumes of 5 billion cubic meters of gas in Nabucco (the designed annual capacity of Nabucco is 30 to 31 billion cubic meters), it will make no sense for Turkmenistan to spoil its relationship with Russia for such a small volume. That is why the Southern Corridor is proposed, to make it beneficial for the Central Asian republics to go by this route.

But why cook a hare before catching him… Nabucco is not even built yet…

The European Union has now noticeably intensified its efforts on this project and has started concrete actions.