US analyst Thomas Ambrosio: “The Nagorno-Karabakh situation always has the potential for becoming “unfrozen”” - INTERVIEW

US analyst Thomas Ambrosio: “The Nagorno-Karabakh situation always has the potential for becoming “unfrozen””  - <font color=red>INTERVIEW </font>
# 21 July 2010 14:28 (UTC +04:00)
APA’s Washington DC correspondent’s interview with Thomas Ambrosio, US analyst on South Caucasus issues, an Associate Professor of political science at North Dakota State University

- The South Caucasus is full of ethnic conflicts, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict in particular. Also, it has been almost two years after the Georgia war, how would you estimate the security situation in the Caucasus region now?

- The security situation in the Caucasus is actually quite stable. The 2008 Russia-Georgia War made it clear that Russia was interested in securing a sphere of influence in the region and that the United States had, in effect, acceded to it. This tendency by the United States became stronger with the inauguration of the Obama administration, whose ’reset’ with Moscow has returned America to the Russia-centric policy of the Clinton era.

As a consequence, a more stable security environment has been created because of the removal of any real ambiguity about Russian and American policies: Moscow is assertive, strong (at least within the region), and an immediate security concern for those states in the Caucasus; by contrast, Washington appears interested in retrenching, not willing to assert its power within the region, and is geographically far away. Thus, it has become less likely that states in the region believe that the Americans will actively help them if another war were to erupt.

In terms of new risks of tensions, the Nagorno-Karabakh situation always has the potential for becoming ’unfrozen’, the recent shooting incidents would seem to point to such a conclusion. However, I do not see this occurring.

- What do you think about the current stage of relations between Azerbaijan and the United States?

- The US policy toward Azerbaijan is going through an adjustment period. The Bush administration was very positively disposed toward Azerbaijan for several reasons like its support for the U.S. war against terrorism and its oil production. There was a significant change when the Obama administration came to office -- it seemed as if the new president’s desire to distance himself from his predecessor meant an almost blind reversal of Bush-era priorities. The Obama administration realizes that some Bush-era policies were built upon America’s strategic interests, not just the personal preferences of a handful of individuals.

However, this correction will only go so far. Azerbaijan -- although strategically located, possessing important natural resources, and pro-Western -- is overshadowed by larger U.S. interests in the greater Middle East, such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, and, of course, Afghanistan.

- Azerbaijan tries to develop good relations with Russia and at the same time cooperates actively with US. Anyway could there be any circumstance for Azerbaijan to make clear choice between the West and Russia?

- I would not suggest that Azerbaijan even try. Again, the US is far away, and Russia is on the border and assertive of its interests. For its part, the European Union has no interest in projecting power into the region. This does not mean simply accede to all of Russia’s demands; instead, it means accommodating a greater power and not adopting policies which could be seen as openly threatening. It is important to remember that the Caucasus has long been an area of special security concern for Russia, dating back to the tsars in which Ottoman, Persian, British empires have challenged Russian hegemony there. If Azerbaijan ’chooses’, that will force Russia to make its own choice: either accede to substantive Western influence along its southern border or aggressively assert its interests. Tbilisi sought something similar, and we saw the consequences of that policy.