Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Astana Hopes to Use OSCE Presidency to Resolve Conflicts in Eurasia

Paul Goble

Baku, April 29 – Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signaled that he intends to use his country’s presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010 to resolve ethno-territorial conflicts in the post-Soviet states, thus setting the stage for a conflict between Astana and Moscow which has a very different agenda.
In a speech to the Eurasian Media Forum in Almaaty at the end of last week, Nazarbayev said that he wants to push through “a road map … for the strengthening of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional concord” when Kazakhstan becomes the first CIS state to head the OSCE two years from now.
Specifically, he said, Astana will focus on conflicts in the southern Caucasus where the OSCE has a special interest and where Kazakhstan has positive experiences in the past – South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh – in order to resolve these conflicts, something that would radically change the balance of power there.
What makes that especially intriguing, Moscow analyst Sergei Markedonov says in an analysis posted online this week, is that such an effort, if it proves to be more than rhetoric could set Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation at odds, even though Moscow played a key role in Astana’s election as OSCE head (www.polit.ru/analytics/2008/04/27/kazah.html).
Such a possibility as well as the fact that Kazakhstan is already making plans for its presidency and that it will be preceded in office by Greece, traditionally a friend of Russia’s, and followed in office by Lithuania, which is even more hostile to Moscow than Kazakhstan, could play thus define both the strategies of all those involved in these conflicts.
On the one hand, Moscow, which has sought to keep these conflicts at a low boil both to present itself as a defender of Russia’s interests beyond its own borders and to destabilize or at least keep off balance the other countries involved, might seek some resolution while Greece is OSCE is president or delay until after Kazakhstan and Lithuania leave that office.
And on the other, Baku and Tbilisi, whose leaders can read a calendar just as well as those in Moscow, may decide to keep things on hold through Greece’s presidency in the hopes that Astana or perhaps Vilnius will be more inclined to tilt in their direction, or they may conclude that they need to adopt other strategies in order to secure their national borders.
But regardless of which choice any of the three make – and of course others are involved as well -- Kazakhstan’s declaration and its obvious interest in maintaining close ties not only with countries close to Moscow but also with those like Azerbaijan and Georgia which have pursued more independent courses sets the stage for new tensions within the CIS.
Unlike Moscow, Astana has not stopped pursuing relations with those countries like Georgia and Kyrgyzstan which have had “color” revolutions, Markedonov points out, because the Kazakhstan government recognizes that to do so is to allow the creation of a geopolitical “vacuum” that might be filled in unwelcome ways.
And consequently, as the Moscow analyst notes, “Kazakhstan, while attempting to play an independent geopolitical and economic role in Eurasia hardly will support the views of official Moscow on the self-determination,” either in South Ossetia where the OSCE supervises peacekeeping or in Karabakh where the OSCE’s Minsk group is seeking to arrange an
That is all the more so, Markedonov continues, because Nazarbayev 17 years ago even before the collapse of the Soviet Union visited Karabakh together with Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin and issued with him a joint communiqué and Zheleznovodsk at the end of their visit to Stepanakert.
That statement, issued on September 23, 1991, called for “the stabilization of the situation in the region and the return of the deported population to the places of its residence,” and the operation of information centers from Russia and Kazakhstan to make the situation more transparent.
“Despite the fact that that mission was not crowned with success (the military conflict continued until May 1994), that “Zheleznovodsk Communiqué continued to retain a positive reputation (including among Karabakh Armenians.” And consequently, Markedonov continues, Nazarbayev “has the opportunity to appeal to a positive past, and that is a serious resource.”
Given all this, the Moscow analyst concludes, “2010 could become either a year of compromises [in the southern Caucasus] … or a year of missed opportunities” and greater tension “between the two leading Eurasian partners.” As a result, Kazakhstan’s preparations for its OSCE presidency should be closely watched both across the region and elsewhere as well.

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