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Russia Vies to Halt Lengthy Karabakh War

Europe's bid to mediate a war called more dangerous than that in former Yugoslavia is foundering, with Moscow's intentions in question

By Daniel SneiderStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 19, 1993



STEPANAKERT, NAGORNO-KARABAKH

AS the bitter war rages around this mountainous Armenian enclave, Russia and the West find themselves at odds about how to bring peace.

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Working on their own, Russian envoys are trying to mediate direct talks between the warring sides to bring about a Russian-enforced cease-fire. But Western partners in an almost two-year-long effort by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) accuse Moscow of pursuing its own goal of reasserting Russian influence throughout the Transcaucasus.

``Until Russia and the international community come in with a single plan, there won't be any peace,'' Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan told the Monitor in Yerevan last week. He argues that both sides in the conflict are able to use this confusion to manipulate the peacemakers and avoid serious talks.

In September, there were some prospects for a breakthrough in the five-year-long conflict between Armenians and Azeris over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian mediation had managed to bring the Karabakh Armenians and the Azeris into direct talks for the first time in mid-September. A month-long cease-fire was extended following a secret meeting early in October between Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliyev and Karabakh leader Robert Kocharian, Armenian government sources say.

But all this collapsed with the resumption of fighting on Oct. 21. In response to an Azeri attack, spearheaded by Afghan mujahideen fighters, the Karabakh Armenians captured the entire southwest corner of Azerbaijan, sending tens of thousands of refugees across the Iranian border. On top of land taken earlier this year, the Karabakh forces now control almost a fifth of the country's territory and have displaced 500,000 people from their homes.

A week-long meeting of the nine-nation Minsk Group of the CSCE, of which Russia is a member, attended by representatives of the warring parties - Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh - ended on Nov. 9 with no visible progress.

The Minsk Group has pinned its hopes on gaining agreement to an elaborate time-table of mutual steps, pairing Armenian withdrawal from specific pieces of occupied territory to Azeri concessions. But since September, various participants say, the Azeris have rejected this approach.

The Russian special envoy, Ambassador Vladimir Kazimirov, left the meeting early to resume his own diplomacy. In a telephone interview from the Azeri capital of Baku on Wednesday, the Russian diplomat argued that none of the complex issues in the conflict can be solved without first establishing a durable cease-fire.

``If the fighting isn't stopped, then there will be continued spasms - every time; a new battle in a new place,'' Ambassador Kazimirov says.

Kazimirov warns that two factors compel the focus on a cease-fire: the huge number of refugees and the ``threat of internationalization of the conflict.'' He specifically rules out the involvement of nearby Iran and Turkey, a fear in Moscow. But, he adds, ``it is possible to find quite a few extremists, including religious ones, who are ready to participate on this or that side.''