US expert: “It is too early to think about Russia-US security cooperation in the South Caucasus” – INTERVIEW

US expert: “It is too early to think about Russia-US security cooperation in the South Caucasus” – <font color=red>INTERVIEW </font>
# 21 April 2011 09:50 (UTC +04:00)
Washington. Isabel Levine – APA. APA’s Washington DC correspondent’s interview with Dr. Cory Welt, an Associate Director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, who is specialized in Eurasian politics, conflict, and security, particularly, the Caucasus. Mr. Welt is currently delivering a series of guest lectures on regional politics and security at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy.

- For a long time the Gabala Station of Azerbaijan was on the agenda of US and Russia as a possible spot for joint co-operation. Later the negotiations died out, but recently the news broke out that Russia has begun modernization of the station. Does it change anything?

- Maybe. But it should also depend on Azerbaijani interests. One unanswered question to NATO’s cooperative missile defense proposal is: who will provide a shield to European and Eurasian countries outside of NATO and outside of Russia? Will Russia be responsible for CSTO states? Who’s responsible for Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova? These issues also need to be considered.

- On the other hand NATO says they will build a missile system separately from Russia, according to the Alliance SG. Will that increase tensions in the region?

- The Secretary General merely repeated a longstanding NATO position -- that the goal is for NATO and Russia to cooperate on missile defense, but by coordinating separate systems not by integrating them into a single system. For now, the Russian government says it is only interested in cooperating on the construction of a fully integrated system. What NATO is proposing does not eliminate the possibility of a fully integrated system at some point in the future -- and indeed is probably necessary for the development of the mutual trust and experience necessary to develop a fully integrated system. So the announcement shouldn’t escalate tensions -- there is still plenty of time for negotiations. If the Russian objection to the development of separate systems is technological and financial, then solutions can surely be found. If the Russian objection is primarily a political one, it will be more difficult but not impossible.

- What are the prospects of the new era relations between US and Russia?

- I believe in gradual forward movement, not the sudden dawn of a glorious new era! I think both sides recognize that they have certain common interests, and that there are a lot of opportunities that can emerge out of closer US-Russian cooperation. The most immediate stumbling block remains the situation in Georgia, however. It is not an exaggeration to say that Russia and Georgia have the potential to be the United States’ two closest partners in the post-Soviet world. Resolution to the Russian-Georgian conflict in a way that respects the interests of both of these partners would contribute greatly to the dawn of such "a new era."

- If Russia and US possibly start co-operating in security sphere what would be the South Caucasus role in it?

- It is too early to think about Russia-US security cooperation in the South Caucasus, I’m afraid. There are more realistic prospects for furthering security cooperation in Central Asia than in the Caucasus. Though it is true that Russia and, together, Azerbaijan and Georgia, have become important partners with NATO for Afghanistan, as they are two branches of the Northern Distribution Network logistical corridor that enables transit of supplies via Central Asia to Afghanistan (with the latter two countries also, of course, participating directly in Afghanistan). That said, in the Caucasus, Russia and the US should continue to consider ways to bridge the divide between Georgia and Abkhaz and South Ossetians, in the interests of long-term peace and stability. Stepped-up Russia-US cooperation to promote resolution of the Karabakh conflict and rejuvenate the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement would also be welcome. There are possibly ways to positively link the two processes that would benefit from joint Russian and US support and coordination.
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