The Russian Foreign Ministry has strongly criticised NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s visit to Georgia and NATO’s meeting here. Moscow says it does not consider NATO’s activity to be a beneficial development. Roughly translated: the problem is growing! The Kremlin’s analysis of the visit is that Mr Scheffer gave signals in Tbilisi similar to those given during the Cold War. Moscow believes that NATO has brought the “friend-enemy reflex” back to life. It is also disturbed at the NATO meeting occurring in Tbilisi in such an open show of support to Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili. From Russia’s point of view, NATO could create great difficulties in the Caucasus. The Russian Foreign Minister’s statement puts his country’s position on the matter in the clearest manner: developing relations with Georgia will only further encourage Tbilisi towards new adventures, nothing more. It is most likely that this tough stance from Russia will do little to deter NATO away from the Caucasus. However much the NATO Secretary-General’s visit might be interpreted through the Russian window as flag-waving in the back garden, this was surely among Mr Scheffer’s targets. Another important development parallel to this was the EU and NATO’s decision to support Azerbaijan as a whole. The two institutions gave a strong support to “Azerbaijan, a fifth of whose territory is under Armenian occupation, including the region of Upper Karabakh”. The European Union’s external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said after meeting the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Memmedyarov that she fully supported Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and a resolution of the Upper Karabakh problem by negotiating through peaceful means. She went on: “The latest armed conflict in the region (the Georgia war) showed again that a resort to weapons does not contribute to a solution. Political dialogue, confidence building measures and negotiations are the only feasible way to resolve such long-lasting problems.” It could be thought, based on this statement, that NATO does not want to see Azerbaijan as a second victim in the Caucasus. This powerful support of Azerbaijan is intended to draw a line in front of Russia’s policy of punishing those who flirt with the west. All these developments are awakening interest in the Caspian Sea and Caucasus, with all their underground riches. In an unavoidable manner, this is drawing closer together those countries that do not want the region’s status quo to change. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has said that the Caucasus countries do not need NATO, and that NATO’s intervention in the region would worsen the problem. Speaking during his meeting with Armenian foreign minister Edward Nalbantyan, Mr Ahmedinejad said his opinion on the matter was that the countries of the region could resolve their issues by dialogue, and that there was “no need for intervention by NATO or others”. But however much he might say that foreign intervention will worsen the situation, he does argue that it is not Armenia’s occupation in Azerbaijan or Russia’s occupation in Georgia, but rather a potential pact between NATO and Georgia that would raise tensions in the Caucasus.
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