Can a parallel be drawn between Nagorno Karabakh and recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
Of course, there are parallels. The origin, political and legal aspects, dynamics of development of the conflicts are similar in many ways.
Given the peculiarities of the relief, a solid control zone and maximally short like of contact were formed while militarized enclaves in Shushi and some other settlements were neutralized in the Karabakh war. The situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was quite different. That is why, in 2008, Tskhinvali experienced the horror that befell Stepanakert in 1992-1993, before creation of a buffer zone in Aghdam.
Baku closely watched Tbilisi's actions and often imitated them. Undoubtedly, if Saakashvili's blitzkrieg were a success, NKR would be attacked within several months. At that, Baku would have the West's support, similar to that it demonstrated during the initial two days of Georgian aggression.
Now, when the Georgia attack is rebuffed, the situation resembles that in Karabakh. Georgian enclaves in Liakhvi valley and Upper Kodori. Although Leninogorsk region can be transformed to an analog of Shahumyan region of NKR, seized by the Azeri forces. Like in Karabakh, an exchange of population has taken place here. No one remembered Ossetian refugees from Georgian regions (Kvareli, Gori, Borjomi and some others). A similar story was with huge flows of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan. But be sure that Georgian refugees from South Ossetia will be remembered as soon as certain powers will search for tools of pressure on Russia.
Utter defeat of Georgian forces proved that they had been constantly replenished under the disguise of UN and OSCE missions in formally demilitarized regions. If Russia and Ossetia observed the Dagomys agreements, Georgia openly violated them, without any condemnation.
The situation in Karabakh was different. The OSCE mission was limited to monitoring of the contact line. Nevertheless, Matthew Bryza was doing his utmost to "unfreeze" the conflict to deploy "western peacekeeping contingent" there. No doubt, if Bryza succeeded, the situation in Karabakh would soon become explosive.
We can only hope that Russia will henceforth approach the Karabakh problem taking into account the commonness of interests of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh as well as the situation in South Ossetia.
Anyway, the OSCE Minsk Group proved its absolute inefficiency. Talks held by Matthew Bryza, who welcomed jets with "humanitarian assistance" in Tbilisi can hardly make sense. It's enough to mention that the U.S. viewing the Karabakh problem in the light of its global interests dominated in the negotiation process while Iran, with its political interests, cultural and historical ties was not event represented in the MG. Isn't it absurd? By the way, the idea of strengthening partnership between Russia and Iran is likely to be developed.
Was Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia timely?
The decision of the Russian leadership to recognize independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia came like a bolt from the blue. Actually, the situation was rather vague before the August 7-8 events, although Georgian aggression was inevitable. In a recent interview with CNN, Prime Minister Putin said, "We have considered all possible variants, including direct aggression of the Georgian leadership."
Rebuff of the Georgian attack that was followed by Sarkozy's cunning mediation (probably meant to rescue Saakashvili from a final defeat) accelerated the process of recognition. I should also mention that any other decision on the republics' status would be pregnant with graver side effects for Russia.
As to Armenia, it has little space for maneuver under the circumstances. It's Russia's strategic ally on the one hand and is in direct dependence on Georgian communications, on the other. This determines Armenia's restraint. Serzh Sarsgyan's statements were absolutely adequate while "pro-Russian" remarks by his well-known opponent were populist and crooked.
I suppose, new opportunities for progress have emerged. NKR welcomed President Medvedev's statement on recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile, in case with Karabakh, Moscow will be more restrained, just like Yerevan in case with recognition of the two above-mentioned republics. However, this should not hamper resolution of humanitarian issues.
How could you comment on presence of NATO ships in the Black Sea? Is serious confrontation with the West possible?
Concentration of NATO ships is nothing but usual manifestation of force. Maybe, some measures for replenishment of the Georgian army are being taken under the disguise.
Anyway, I do not think this armada represents a menace for Russia. Of course, the U.S. grows more and more unpredictable but you will hardly find any people there who will dare to incite an armed collision with Russia in the Black Sea. The danger will increase if Georgia undertakes a new aggression that is quite possible judging by the fact that Georgia broke all previous agreements on ceasefire (expect for the "six principles" which Georgia interprets its own way.
As to various economic sanctions against Russia, the European Union will hardly refuse from Russian gas. Furthermore, they will not recall their managers who work for big and profitable enterprises. Given the tendencies of Europe's economic development, it would be unwise.
Hysteric opinions expressed somewhere in press or in a café should be selected from statements by serious politicians. They wanted to put Russia to the test. Well, they received answers to all their questions.
Will the U.S. foreign policy change, with Democrats coming to power?
I think there is a certain bipartisan consensus on majority of foreign policy issues and we should not wait for changes. Honestly, Obama's team doesn't inspire optimism. Let's take Richard Holbrooke, for example, a likely candidate for the post of Secretary of State. The role of President in the American system should not be exaggerated, because each President - Democrat or Republican - has brain trusts, lobbying groups and so on. As a whole, the U.S. policy will grow tougher, what is pregnant with new conflicts and wars, in the Caucasus as well.
The right of nations to self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity
Which one id dominating?
Both principles are subject to political conjuncture. However, the right of nations to self-determination is presented more precisely in fundamental record. Developing during previous centuries as a political principle (legitimation of new states, including the U.S.), after World War II it was included in the list of basic laws fixed in the UN Regulations.
It was further developed in the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says,
1. All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
2. All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law. In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.
3. The States Parties to the present Covenant, including those having responsibility for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right, in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.
Of course, the principle of territorial integrity is also mentioned but no document speaks of domination of one principle over the other. The principle of territorial integrity can't be exercise in the states which do not ensure equality of the nations living in it and do not allow free self-determination of these nations.
The Helsinki Final Act, 1975, says that all of 10 principles are fundamental, these being: Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty; Refraining from the threat of use of force; Inviolability of frontiers; Territorial integrity of states; Peaceful settlement of disputes; Non-intervention in internal affairs; Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief; Equal rights and self-determination of peoples; Co-operation among states; and Fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law.
Attacking Kuwait in early 1990-ies, Iraq violated the territorial integrity of a state. As to Karabakh, Abkhazia and Ossetia, here we deal with expression of will of the nations and actions taken in compliance with the operating legislation while the military operations appear as a rebuff of aggression, what is approved by the UN Regulations.
How do you assess a kind of warming in the Armenian-Turkish relations? Can it be linked to resolution of other regional problems?
Some warming between Yerevan and Ankara is favorable. The Armenian-Turkish relations need gradual normalization. Consultations of diplomats are no longer a secret. Russian concessionaires of the Armenian Railways announced readiness to reconstruct Kars-Gyumri line. Foreign media circulated information that some oil companies negotiate construction of a gas pipeline with Armenia. The Ayrum-Gyumri-Akhuryan route (bypassing Georgia) is being discussed. Certainly, these are just variants but Georgia's destructive role in the region becomes more and more evident not only for Russia or Iran but also for U.S. allies, such as Turkey, and the key EU countries, which are concerned over their energy security.
Possible normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations and partial opening of the border should not be used as an argument for withdrawal of the Russian military base from Armenia.
The Armenian authorities' flirtation with the U.S. and NATO, the forthcoming joint exercise in September are quite understandable as a part of complementary policy pursued by the republic. However, it's clear that the west will use Caucasian nations as active storage (Georgia is a vivid example) Cooling with Russia in exchange for attractive offers can have deplorable consequences for Armenia and NKR's security. The Karabakh conflict can't be resolved with NATO's assistance. Partial restoration of Russia's positions in the Caucasus, Turkey and Iran's firm opposition to resumption of hostilities may push Baku to search for more adequate way to resolve the Karabakh conflict. However, it will not happen before the presidential election in Azerbaijan.