29 September 2006 - 01 October 2006

Prospects for the Caucasus Region

Chair: Sir Brian Fall GCVP KCMG

For the first conference in Ditchley’s autumn season we chose one of international diplomacy’s most intractable problems, the territorial and ethnic tensions in the South Caucasus and the possible consequences of a continuing stalemate.  The subject came on to the programme on this timing at the request of the US State Department, with whom Ditchley cooperated closely in the preparatory stages.  The need for diplomatic progress was dramatically underlined in the days leading up to the conference, when tensions rose to crisis point between Russia and Georgia over the arrests of official Russian representatives in Georgia.  As a result, we lost the participation of an important voice from Moscow. 

The debate was nevertheless vigorous and, given the complexities, surprisingly constructive.  It was the view of nearly all participants that the international community had to make an intensified effort to shift the logjams over Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh.  The prospects for the success of such an effort were the subject of hard argument. 

It was generally agreed that most parties to the disputes, whether internal or external to the region, could share the same broad objectives:  a common interest in the region’s stability and security;  the economic, political and social evolution of the three individual states in a way that ensured their territorial integrity and met the principles of self-determination;  the development of the region’s energy and other economic interests, in healthy competition with the other suppliers of energy in the neighbourhood;  expanded economic and social freedom, on the basis of evolutionary change;  and a proper balance between all of these objectives and the rights and interests of the countries and peoples involved. 

That said, there was no questioning the depth of the underlying tensions, the strong emotions raised by history and territorial claims, and the fiercely subjective views on what should happen next.  Nor did anyone question the uncompromising character of the principal parties and the domestic constraints on all the relevant political leaderships against developing new approaches.  Neither was the geopolitical context an easy one.  In the light of Europe’s history since 1989, separatism was rife, a variety of different precedents were available and specific aims and interests were competing, if not incompatible.  It was difficult to imagine a more complex diplomatic challenge.

The conference took care to examine the wider linkages:  the effect of developments in the South Caucasus on North Caucasus issues, and vice versa;  the intense interest of the larger neighbours (Russia, Iran, Turkey), as well as the external powers (primarily the US and the EU, but also the UN and OCSE);  issues of human rights and good governance;  the wider implications for global security and the control of organised crime and terrorism;   the impact on the themes of EU and NATO enlargement;  and the apprehensions aroused by the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.  The South Caucasus was truly a cauldron within a cauldron. 

The discussion entered into these heated areas with a will and looked at some of the issues in some detail.  This record does not need to repeat some quite sensitive exchanges.  Several of the participants were returning directly back to the region to continue negotiations.  Some important general points nevertheless emerged and helped to clarify the context for the policy practitioners present. 

One of them was the degree of priority which the international community, and particularly the external powers capable of playing a role in the Caucasus region, should devote to these issues.  From the inside looking out, it was difficult to understand how the larger global players – the United States and the European Union came particularly to mind – could fail to put the Caucasus higher up their international agenda.  Whatever the difficulties in the short term – and they were considerable – the  potential for longer-term deterioration in this region remained very high.  It would be deeply regretted in five or ten years time if we looked back and saw that we had failed to increase the pressure for conflict resolution before doors or windows shut more tightly.  From the outside looking in, the ordering of priorities appeared more reasonable.  The historical intractability of the disputes was off-putting;  Russia might be antagonised;  political leaders seemed to be entrenched against compromise;  fires were currently burning more fiercely elsewhere;  and an intensified effort might be just as likely to cause damage as to improve things.  Participants remained divided on this up to the end:  there were powerful arguments for hurrying and for not hurrying.  As one diplomatic practitioner put it:  the leading politicians involved on the ground will only change their views when the risks of not moving outweigh the risks of moving. 

A related issue was the question of time.  If attitudes had to change before a solution became possible, economic development, democratisation, the impact of new oil and gas projects and changes in big power relationships had to be given time to make an impact.  The education of the younger generation in the region, bringing them to take account of wider global factors, could also play a role.  Many participants felt, however, that time was a luxury in present circumstances.  The tensions were themselves too destabilising.  With a number of different negotiating initiatives in place or in prospect, it would be wrong not to give them maximum effort.  If we aimed only at containment, that might leave scope for an uncontainable explosion.

We looked closely at the roles of some of the major players.  Some considered the United States as having the most vigorous approach within a well thought-out strategy, although others wanted to see a greater insistence on re-establishing a full dialogue with Russia.  The European Union was active, but regarded as being incapable of developing a comprehensive strategy for the Caucasus region, partly because of broader uncertainties over the EU’s future evolution and partly because of divisions over policy towards Russia and towards the region’s resources.  As a result, the EU was seen as unable to play the kind of role which the region expected from it, even though the attraction of close association with the EU into the future might be one of the factors for long-term change.

The role of Russia was agreed to be absolutely central and received a good deal of attention.  In this respect the absence of a wider range of Russian opinion was regrettable.  There were divided views as to whether or not Russia was part of the Caucasus problem, but no-one doubted that Russia had to be part of the solution.  For most participants it was clear that the Orange and Rose Revolutions were a wake-up call for Moscow, which had stimulated a more systematic strategy to control events in countries considered part of its “near abroad”.  Partly as a result of this, western policy towards Russia was generating a new mix of competition and cooperation, both on the South Caucasus and on wider issues.  We saw it as regrettable that the quality of dialogue with Russia, both for the US and for the EU, was currently too thin to embrace the linkages which the region’s issues created.  Yet the West needed Russia’s cooperation on counter-terrorism, in the area of energy security, in resolving these frozen conflicts and in calculating the extent of EU and particularly NATO enlargement.  An inadequate debate with Russia prevented a coherent policy framework for the others.  In effect, the EU and the US were trying to develop an integrationist strategy as a basis for crisis prevention in one of the least stable areas of the Euro-Atlantic community, without having a unified view amongst themselves of all the issues involved and without ensuring the kind of Russian cooperation that was essential.  This was one of the most serious messages that came out of the conference for major western capitals.

As part of this discussion, it was pointed out that the EU as such might not be the best forum to develop a coherent strategy on the Caucasus region.  There were too many other confusing issues at play in and around Brussels.  If that was the case, could not individual European governments, especially Germany, the UK and France, not develop a coordinated and specific approach to the region?  In most participants’ view, the circumstances seemed to require it, not least because the range of those countries’ interests in the wider region would suffer if a settlement was not more vigorously attempted.

While Russia’s role was considered paramount, the involvement of Turkey and Iran in the region’s problems was also regarded as important.  Each of them had their subjective national interests, but they had something to offer and their exclusion could mean trouble.  While Turkey could more easily be consulted as an outside party, Iran’s influence could not be ignored, especially on Azerbaijan and the energy questions involved. 

There was considerable discussion about the contribution which NATO could make.  Closer NATO cooperation with the three countries of the South Caucasus, and particularly with Georgia, seemed to make sense.  Actual membership for Georgia raised greater difficulties.  NATO’s Membership Action Plan was an important incentive, but had to be accompanied by a firm commitment to no use of force in the territorial disputes.  The conference concluded that the door should not be closed on NATO membership, that Russia should understand that it did not have a veto, but that Georgia’s expectations should equally not be raised too high.  In particular, the distinction should be clear between Russian apprehensions about NATO enlargement into its neighbourhood and Russian concerns about NATO members pandering to Georgia.  Confusing them could exacerbate the problems.  This would be a long journey for Georgia and the others;  and efforts to gain Russia’s understanding in the long term would be valuable.

Out of all the potential approaches on offer, and from the variety of views about how intensive diplomatic efforts should be, the American approach was most widely regarded as being appropriate and clear:  address the tensions with constant diplomatic discussion and negotiation;  raise the long-term prospect of a relationship for the region with NATO first, then with the European Union;  improve the dialogue with Russia, if Russia felt able to respond;  and contain any drift towards violence through the missions on the ground.  The overall American objective, to extend Euro-Atlantic principles across the region, was a fair one, unthreatening to Russia.  Yet the US probably could not do this alone.  Europeans, preferably the major EU members, should be offering most systematic help.  The timing and intensity of efforts had to be judged against the circumstances.  With the right diplomacy, including good neighbourhood initiatives, and with the prospect of growing business in and with the region, not least in the energy sector, careful coordination could gradually bring improvements.  That was, finally, a constructive message from this conference and one which the several negotiators and mission leaders present seemed to feel gave value to their continuing efforts.

This was in many ways a remarkable discussion, in the best Ditchley tradition, of a really difficult set of issues.  We benefited from a wide range of expert opinion around the table and from an experienced, wise and authoritative Chairman.  No-one left on Sunday with precisely the same analysis as when they arrived on Friday, but perhaps with a touch less pessimism.  If so, the time was well spent. 

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman: Sir Brian Fall GCVP KCMG
British government Special Representative for the South Caucasus (2002-).  Formerly:  Principal, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford (1995-2002);  HM Diplomatic Service (1962-1995);  Ambassador to the Russian Federation and to the Republics of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Turkmenistan (1992-95);  Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (1992 93);  High Commissioner to Canada (1989-92).

Dr Levon Barkhudaryan

Chairman, Arminpex Bank, Armenia (2001-).  Formerly:  Minister of Finance (1999-2000 and 1993-97);  ambassador of Armenia to Canada (1997-99).
Mr Styopa Safaryan
Director of Research, Armenian Center for National and International Studies, Yerevan (2005-).  Formerly: Research Coordinator and Director of National Public Opinion Service, Armenian Center for National and International Studies, Yerevan (2004-05).

Mr Elin Suleymanov

Azerbaijan Diplomatic Service;   Consul General of Azerbaijan, Los Angeles.  Formerly:  Senior Counsellor, Foreign Relations Department, Office of the President, Baku;  Press Officer, Azerbaijan Embassy, Washington DC.

Dr Sabine Freizer

Director, Caucasus Project, International Crisis Group (2004-).  Formerly:  Fellow, Center for Civil Society, London School of Economics (2000-03).

Mr Ivan Krastev

Political Scientist and Chairman, Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia;  Executive Director, International Commission on the Balkans (2004-). 

Ambassador Yves Brodeur

Canadian Ambassador to Turkey (2005-).  Formerly:  Director General, Communications Bureau (2003-05);  Spokesman and Director of Press and Media Relations, NATO Brussels (2001-03).

Ambassador Peter Semneby

EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, The European Union (2005-).  Formerly:  Head, OSCE Mission to Croatia (2002-05);  Head, OSCE Mission to Latvia (2000-92);  Head, European Security and Defence Policy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden (1997-2000).

Professor Charles Urjewicz

Professor, National Institute for Oriental Languages, Paris;  Professor, St Cyr Military Academy;  Consultant, Caucasus Region, Government of France.

Professor Alex Rondeli

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary;  Head, Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, Tiblisi (2001-).  Formerly:  Director, Foreign Policy Research and Analysis Center, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia (1997-2001).
Mr David Usupashvili
Chairman, Republican Party of Georgia.  Formerly:  Executive Secretary, Anti-corruption Working Group of the President of Georgia;  Direct, AMEX International Georgia office (1999-2000), Young Lawyers Association of Georgia (1995-97).

Mr Daniel Kunin

Senior Adviser to the Government of Georgia, Tbilisi (2003-).  Formerly:  Director, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Moscow (2002-03).

Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk

Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on the conflict dealt with by the Minsk Conference.

Ambassador Yury Fedotov

Russian Diplomatic Service (1971-);  Ambassador of the Russian Federation, London (2005-).  Formerly:  Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (2002-05);  Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, New York (1994-99).
Dr Ekaterina Sokirianskaia
Project Director, ‘Enforced Disappearances in Chechnya’, Memorial Human Rights Center (2003 );  Assistant Professor, Chechen State University (2003-).
Mr Alexander Sternik
Political Counsellor, Embassy of the Russian Federation, London.

Ambassador Resit Uman

Director-General for Bilateral Political Affairs (Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey (2006-).  Formerly:  Director General for Turkish-Greek Affairs, Cyprus (2005-06);  Ambassador of Turkey to Uzbekistan (2001-05).

Dr Roy Allison

Senior Lecturer in International Relations of Russia & Eurasia, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics & Political Science (2005-).
Mr Tony Brenton
HM Diplomatic Service (1975-);  HM Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Moscow (2004-).  Formerly:  Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy, Washington (2001-2004);  Director (Global Issues), Foreign &Commonwealth Office (1998-2000).
Dr Laurie Bristow
HM Diplomatic Service (1990-);  HM Ambassador to Azerbaijan (2004-).  Formerly:  Deputy Director, Iraq Policy Unit, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2003).
Mr Anthony Cantor
HM Diplomatic Service (1965-);  HM Ambassador to Armenia (2006-).  Formerly:  HM Ambassador to Paraguay (2001-05);  Public Diplomacy Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2000-01).
Mr Jonathan Cohen
Co-Director, Caucasus Programme, Conciliation Resources, London (1997-).  Formerly:  Deputy Director, Foundation on Inter-Ethnic Relations in the Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, The Hague (1996-97).
Mr Denis Corboy
Director, Caucasus Policy Institute, International Policy Unit, King’s College London.  Formerly:  EU Special Envoy to the Caucasus.
Mr Charles Grant
Co-founder and Director, Centre for European Reform (1996-);  Board Member and Trustee, British Council (2002-);  Member, Committee for Russia in a United Europe;  Chairman of the Council of Experts, Moscow School of Political Studies.  Formerly:  Defence Correspondent, The Economist.
Ms Pauline Hayes
Department for International Development (1993-);  Head, Europe & Central Asia Department (2006-).  Formerly:  Secondment to the Office of the Quartet Special Envoy for Disengagement, Jerusalem (2005 06).
General Sir Garry Johnson
Commander in Chief, Allied (NATO) Forces Northern Europe (1992-94);  Chairman:  International Defence Advisory Board to Baltic States (1995-);  International Security Advisory Board to Republic of Georgia (1998-).
Lord Judd
Life Peer, Labour (1991-);  Member, Joint Committee on Human rights.  Formerly:  Parliamentary Delegate to the Council of Europe and the Western European Union (1997-2005);  Director, Oxfam (1985 91);  Member of Parliament, Labour, Portsmouth North (1974-79), Portsmouth West (1966-74);  Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1977-79);  Minister for Overseas Development (1976-77).
Ms Bridget Kendall
BBC Diplomatic Correspondent (1998-).
Colonel Christopher Langton OBE
Head, Defence Analysis Department, International Institute for Strategic Studies (2001-).  British Army;  Military Attaché, Russia, South Caucasus and Central Asia;  Deputy Chief, UNOMIG.
Professor Neil MacFarlane
Head, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford (2005-);  Fellow, St Anne’s College, Oxford (1996-).
The MacLaren of MacLaren
HM Diplomatic Service (1978-);  HM Ambassador to Georgia (2004-).  Formerly:  Consul-General and Deputy Head of Mission, Ukraine (2000-03).
Mr Craig Oliphant
Principal Research Officer, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (1999-).  Formerly:  Adviser to OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (1996-99).
Mr Richard Paniguian
Group Vice President, BP plc (2002-).  Formerly:  Regional President, Russia, Caspian, Middle East, Africa, BP plc (1999-2002);  Chief Executive, BP Tanker Co (1995-99);  Director, Refining and Marketing, BP Europe (1992-95);  President, BP Turkey (1989-92).
Mr Roy Reeve
Head of Mission, OSCE Tiblisi (2003-).  Formerly:  Head, OSCE Office, Yerevan (1999-2003);  HM Diplomatic Service (1966-1999);  HM Ambassador to the Ukraine (1995-99);  Consul General, Sydney (1991-95).
Mr Dennis Sammut
Executive Director, London Information Network on Conflicts and State Building.
Mr Dan Smith
Secretary-General, International Alert (2003-).  Formerly:  Chair of the Board, Institute of War and Peace Reporting, London (1992-2006).
Mr Simon Smith
HM Diplomatic Service (1986-);  Director, Russia, S Caucasus and C Asia;  Head, Eastern Department, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2004-).  Formerly:  Head of North East Asia and Pacific Department (2002-04), Foreign & commonwealth Office;  Counsellor, Moscow (1998-2002). UNITED NATIONS 
Mr Jean Arnault

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Georgia;  Head of the United Nations Observer Mission, Georgia (2006-).  Formerly:  Special Representative for Afghanistan, Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (2004-06). UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Dr Ronald D Asmus

Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund, Brussels (2002-).  Formerly:  Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations (2000-02).  Formerly:  Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (1997-2000).  Author.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Bryza
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, US Department of State (2005-).  Formerly:  Director for Europe and Eurasia, National Security Council (2001-05).
Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh
Director, Patterson School of Diplomacy & International Commerce & Professor of Diplomacy & Conflict Resolution, University of Kentucky (2006-).  Formerly:  Foreign Policy Adviser (POLAD) to the Chief of Naval Operations, Pentagon;  US Special Negotiator for Eurasian Conflicts, Co-Chairman, OSCE Minsk Group.
Mr Jackson Diehl
Deputy Editorial Editor, The Washington Post.  Formerly:  Foreign Correspondent, Latin America, Central Europe, the Middle East, The Washington Post.
Dr Sarah Mendelson
Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Russia and Eurasia (2001-).  Formerly:  Assistant Professor of International Politics, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.
Mr Philip Remler
US Foreign Service Officer;  Senior Advisor to the Ambassador, US embassy, Moscow.  Formerly:  Advisor, US Embassy, Iraq (2004);  Deputy Chief of Mission & Chargé d’Affaires, US Embassy, Georgia (1999-2002).
Dr Brenda Shaffer
Research Director, Caspian Studies Project, Harvard University;  Faculty Chair, Center for Advanced Energy Studies, University of Haifa.  Author.
Dr Cory Welt
Deputy Director and Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (2005-).  Formerly:  Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies (2004-05);  Visiting Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies (2003-04).