While the rest of the world struggles with the first crisis of globalisation, the Caucasus is still stuck in a pre-1914 age of clashing Great Powers. As last August’s conflict in Georgia painfully showed, nowhere else in the wider Europe is war such a danger.
Yet this May could be a bright moment. Russia, the US, the European Union and Turkey – the constellation of powers with an interest in this unfortunate region – are in brief alignment. They have an opportunity to begin to defuse what is the least visible and the most dangerous threat to the region and its many energy pipelines: the unresolved Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The moment follows the long-awaited announcement last month by Armenia and Turkey, backed by the major powers, that they have drawn up a plan to restore relations. This could see their border re-opened and a commission formed to study the 1915 massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
That would be a great achievement, but there is a snag: Nagorno-Karabakh, the unrecognised territory, legally part of Azerbaijan, which is under Armenian control. While the Armenians say the two issues should not be linked, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, mindful of his close ally Azerbaijan, has said that there must be progress on the Karabakh issue before the border re-opens.