In an interview with ArmInfo, Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based "South Caucasus" Club of Political Scientists, speaks about the latest tendencies in the Karabakh peace process, in the policy of Big Powers towards the conflicting parties, as well as shares his vision of the impact of Constitutional reforms in Armenia and Azerbaijan on the Karabakh peace process. The Azerbaijani political analyst addresses also the current challenges to Azerbaijan’s national security.
Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile systems were delivered to the Defense Ministry of Armenia much earlier than they were showcased at the military parade on occasion of the 25th Independence Anniversary of Armenia. What geopolitical calculations did the Russian leadership make when supplying the systems that had never been exported before to Armenia?
It is difficult to say when particularly the Iskander systems were supplied to Armenia, since there is no official information on it. There are just statements by separate persons the attitude to which is different. For instance, in June 2016, Rostec State Corporation CEO Sergey Chemezov said in an interview to Kommerstant newspaper that Iskander missile systems are on the list of the products banned from export. Perhaps, Russia's stance has probably changed certainly since June and Armenia received Iskanders prior to the military parade. It is known that the arms supply was one of the key issues President Serzh Sargsyan discussed in Moscow earlier in August. The showcasing of these systems in Yerevan might be a result of those talks. After the Armenian side started criticizing Russia, Moscow needed to show that its military technical cooperation with Azerbaijan and Armenia is balanced. The Iskander missile systems that were showcased at military parade in Yerevan fit into this logic. Yerevan showcased these systems to show its military capacity and influence on Azerbaijan, though it has hardly achieved that goal. First, it is evident that it is impossible to win the war just with Iskander systems. Second, as the proverb runs, a good marksman may miss. By all appearances, these systems are outdated models adapted for export.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has recently said,'There are still no conditions for Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement'. He also thinks that the key reason hampering the settlement is the unwillingness of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. What do you think such a stand can mean and do you think it reflects the real state of affairs around the Karabakh conflict?
I think this stand reflects the United States' vision and approaches to the Karabakh conflict. Observers often speak of the amazing unanimity of the three Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group about the Karabakh conflict, meaning that the discrepancies on many issues and international policy topics do not affect the process of cooperation within the OSCE Minsk Group. But the observers fail to take into account that the unanimity is rather fictitious than actual. Today no one is interested in war, but this does not mean that Washington is satisfied with its positions in the South Caucasus and that it will put up with this. The 'unwillingness' of the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to make the compromise Kerry was speaking about covers up the unwillingness or inability of the United States to propose a new agenda for the settlement process. Washington keeps a close watch on the current process and does not want to 'get on the ball' in order not to turn into the can carrier in case of possible failures. Washington wants to see Moscow as the can carrier and to use any possible flaws of Russia for its own benefit. This policy is not new and there is nothing amazing in it.
The post-April outbreak of diplomatic bustle around the Karabakh conflict settlement has been followed by some calm. What is the possible scenario of further prospects of settlement with due regard for the constitutional referenda in Armenia and Azerbaijan?
I think the constitutional reforms in Azerbaijan are more indirectly related to development of the Karabakh peace process than the constitutional reforms in Armenia. There are no signs of fight for power in Azerbaijan, while in Armenia the signs are obvious. The Azerbaijani negotiators' positions look coordinated and unchanged, whereas the positions of Armenian negotiators strongly correlate to the changeable public and political situation inside the country. Under these conditions, the qualitative characteristics of the parties are rather different and create an imbalance in the approaches and assessment of the situation. This results in deterioration of the negotiation conditions. In the light of the personnel reshuffle in the Armenian government, it was not absolutely clear whether Nalbandian would continue representing Armenia in the peace process or whether it would be another politician who represents the interests of other political forces in the intra-power elite. Today it is no longer a question. But the domestic political processes in Armenia are so turbulent that the situation is also reflected in the foreign policy and influences the settlement process. So, figuratively speaking, the Armenian spring-summer-model foreign policy can be considerably different from the autumn-model foreign policy. As regards the calm, I think in the current situation this is calm before a new storm. It is necessary to understand that the situation around Karabakh has not changed since April 2016 though many efforts were exerted. As the conditions for resumption of armed hostilities remain unchanged, the resumption is just a matter of time.
Azerbaijan has recently amended its Basic Law again. What do you think of the Constitutional Reform and the prospects of its reinforcement?
It should be noted that quite serious measures have been made in Azerbaijan recently to modernize management institutions, redistribute functions and powers, revise the regulations and activity of a range of organizations etc. The Constitutional Reform in Azerbaijan was one of the steps towards efficient transit to a post-oil model of development. For Azerbaijan it is very important to synchronize the economic reforms with institutional ones. So that they could contribute to major goals of the public development, including the ones included in the known Development Concept 'Azerbaijan - 2020: Future Outlook. It should be taken into account that the given processes develop amid significant economic reforms aimed at the development of the country's non-oil sector. Therefore the reforms suggested by the authorities of Azerbaijan fully meet the practice of improving methods of management applied in many countries at different time. At the same time, the Constitutional amendments have not just strengthened the president's power, they covered such sectors as property relations, human rights, and a range of other issues. In other words, he said, there is a set of amendments to the Basic Law that look to give dynamics to the political and social-economic processes, building of new sustainable development model for the Azerbaijani public.
What is the key problem hampering the development of Azerbaijan, apart from the Karabakh conflict? Would you name the main challenges and threats to the national security of the country?
Our society is really concerned over the problems of security, but the problems are being settled without threatening the stability of the political system. This fact has been reaffirmed by the recent referendum on constitutional reforms in Azerbaijan. Among the priority tasks, apart from the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, the issues of ensuring effective transformation of political and socio-economic institutions in compliance with the new conditions are coming to the fore. These conditions are determined both by the ongoing processes in the global and regional policy and the processes in the global economy. The decline in the world prices of energy resources, US dollar appreciation against other currencies, including the regional ones, have a significant effect of foreign pressure on all countries of the region. In addition, the rather complicated and contradictory processes in the world, the confrontation between Russia and the West, strengthening rivalry elements between the regional players for the spheres of influence are making Azerbaijan a buffer country with all that it implies. Today the key task of Baku is to ensure the national interests, maintain the positive potential accumulated over the previous years and to increase it under the new conditions. The growth of religious extremism and the need to expand the interaction with the partners create conditions for rapprochement of various actors such as Russia, Turkey, Georgia, and Iran. As regards Azerbaijan, it is a natural platform for cooperation that leads to development of trilateral and multilateral formats directly involving Baku.
The question may sound paradoxical and still, what geopolitical and geo-economic factors do you think could meet the common interests of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the foreseeable future?
Azerbaijan and Armenia are in the same geopolitical space. Eventually, geography is the inviolable condition for interaction of these two countries. It was the attempt to change the geography, i.e. the border that caused the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. In Armenia they often say there is no way back to the past, i.e. they mean Nagorno-Karabakh cannot remain part of Azerbaijan. The situation is different in Azerbaijan. They think the right to that land belongs to the people who lived on it and who were deprived of the opportunity to live there and decide its fate. Today, Armenia and Azerbaijan are trying to exist in a new political situation but with their old burden. As long as we fail to settle our old problems, we will not manage to go ahead the way we would like to.