Caucasus: OSCE - Efforts to thaw frozen conflicts growing more complicated
'I am really convinced that there are many areas where we need to make a difference, and we need to work a lot harder on them. I think we must seriously look at all [three] frozen conflicts and my aim as [chairman]-in-office is to re-energize efforts towards the peace settlement of these conflicts,' Stubb told the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna on April 10. 'I sincerely hope that our efforts are met with constructive engagement by all the partners.'
Addressing that same panel on January 10, Stubb's predecessor Ilkka Kanerva had listed conflict resolution among Finland's top priorities at the helm of the OSCE.
Yet, three months into Finland's chairmanship, OSCE efforts to promote peaceful solutions to the Soviet-era conflicts seem only to be growing more complicated. Recent developments concerning Karabakh underscore the difficulties facing Finland.
Azerbaijan has been outspoken in its criticism of the peace process in recent weeks, and has pressed for changes in the existing Karabakh negotiating framework. Armenia, meanwhile, has threatened to recognize Karabakh's independence, if Azerbaijan refuses to participate in peace talks overseen by the OSCE's Minsk Group.
Addressing reporters in Vienna on April 10, Stubb said he fully supported the Minsk Group's mediation efforts, adding that he saw 'very little room for maneuver, or change' in the existing negotiation process.
Among the 39 nations that voted in favor of a UN resolution recognizing Azerbaijan current borders and calling for the immediate withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory were Baku's fellow GUAM members -- Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. The latter two are themselves entangled in conflict settlement talks involving the OSCE.
Frustrated by the disproportionate influence that Georgia asserts Russia enjoys over the existing negotiating framework, Tbilisi recently came out with a new proposal for peace talks. Dubbed 2+2+2, the new formula seeks to leave the Russian republic of North Ossetia out of the peace process, award Georgia's loyalist Provisional Administration of South Ossetia a seat at the negotiation table and bring the European Union in. Georgia has threatened to withdraw from the peace process, if its proposal is not accepted.
OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, who met behind closed doors in Vienna in March with Georgia's State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili, has not commented on Tbilisi's initiative. Stubb in early April made it clear he was not in favor of modifying the existing negotiation framework.
Stubb also said that, in his view, the internationally-sponsored negotiation mechanism between Moldova and its Russian-speaking separatist republic of Transdniester 'seems to be working quite well.' Yet, this so-called 5+2 settlement process -- which brings together the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine as mediators, along with the EU and the United States as observers -- has been stalled for the past two years. Addressing the OSCE's Permanent Council on March 13, Finnish diplomat Heikki Talvitie clearly indicated he did not anticipate any breakthrough in the near future.
In the meantime, Russia unilaterally arranged for direct talks between Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov. The meeting -- the first of its kind in seven years -- took place on April 11 in the separatist-controlled city of Bendery. The two men agreed to work toward reinforcing confidence-building measures, with the aim of reviving the 5+2 process. Voronin also promised to lobby Brussels and Washington for the lifting of a travel ban imposed on Transdniestrian leaders five years ago. In return, Smirnov pledged to no longer deny Moldovan officials access to Transdniester.
In a statement, the OSCE welcomed the Bendery meeting as 'a first step that can pave the way to resumption of the settlement negotiations in the 5+2 format.'
The 'Kommersant' newspaper on March 11 reported that Russia was ready to help Moldova restore its sovereignty over Transdniester in return from Chisinau's assurances that it will not join NATO. That same Russian daily on April 12 said solving the Transdniester conflict would also help Russia counter Georgia's attempts at weakening its leverage on the South Ossetian peace process.
Editor's Note: Jean-Christophe Peuch is a Vienna-based freelance correspondent, who specializes in Caucasus- and Central Asia-related developments.
The Central Eurasia Project aims, through its website, meetings, papers, and grants, to foster a more informed debate about the social, political and economic developments of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is a program of the Open Society Institute-New York. The Open Society Institute-New York is a private operating and grantmaking foundation that promotes the development of open societies around the world by supporting educational, social, and legal reform, and by encouraging alternative approaches to complex and controversial issues. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the position of the Open Society Institute and are the sole responsibility of the author or authors.