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 Thursday, October 13 2016 12:15
David Stepanyan

Iskander systems will reduce risks of a new escalation around Nagorno-Karabakh  

Iskander systems will reduce risks of a new escalation around Nagorno-Karabakh  

In an interview with ArmInfo, Russian political expert Andrey Areshev comments on the latest personnel reshuffle and appointments in the Armenian Government in the light of new opportunities of development of the Armenian-Russian relations. He also forecasts possible impulses around the Karabakh conflict, the balance of forces in the region and the Karabakh peace process with due regard for the supply of Iskander-M missile systems to Armenia and the influence of Russia and the United States on the parties.      


Do the recent appointments in the Armenian national security field have foreign political reasons or are they just restricted to domestic twists and turns explained by Serzh Sargsyan’s intention to see “his own” people among the force sector management?   

Certainly, some appointments in the Armenian government were unexpected for foreign observers at least. However, a thorough analysis shows that these appointments could have their own logic. In particular, in the context of the Defense Ministry, many Armenian experts point at the need to put things in order in this significant area for Armenian statehood. It is another question how fast it will be possible to achieve real results and how effectively a civilian will be able to manage the defense ministry, while the purely military issues are considered to be the prerogative of the General Staff. Personal loyalty is important of course, but I think the professional qualifications of a particular minister, the compliance with the position and the ability to resolve the problems in the country are of more significance. Time will show how effective these appointments are. Certainly, one should wish success to the new government and one should not think that the personnel reshuffle has become the consequence of the foreign political situation.


Many experts in Armenia are inclined to qualify the appointment of Gazprom representative Karen Karapetyan as the prime minister of Armenia, as well as the changes in the economic unit of the Cabinet as a temporary measure aimed at calming down the consequences of July passions in the Armenian society. There is one more version saying that Karapetyan was insistently “recommended” by Moscow. Are there any prerequisites for real, long-term premiership of Karapetyan given the fact that the Constitution has been amended?    


Hopefully, the new government of Armenia and the economic unit in particular will not disappoint the citizens' hopes for positive changes. As regards the term of activities of the new government, there certainly may be various forecasts, including negative and skeptical. However, I would like to remain an optimist, because the recovery of the socio-economic situation in Armenia will have a positive effect on the development of the Russian-Armenian relations and will provide them with new opportunities. I think this task is as important as implementation of the constitutional reform or preparations for the April 2017 parliamentary elections. Attraction of additional funds to the Armenian economy, gradual settlement of the foreign debt problem, optimization of the monetary policy, creation of new jobs will make it possible to stabilize the domestic political situation and to prevent recurrence of such events as the two-week dramatic developments in Yerevan streets in July. As regards some Armenian media outlets' reports about "the appointment of the new government by Moscow", they are untrue, to put it mildly. Any unbiased observer realizes it perfectly. With some show of reason, Russia could point at some role of not only Russian higher education establishments, but also the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy as a source of manpower for the Armenian Government.


What geopolitical calculations might the Russian leadership have made when transferring/selling the Iskander-M missile systems to Armenia?   


I should say that Armenia is the first country in the world where the export version of Iskander missile systems has been delivered. This demonstrates Russia's intention to maintain the military-political balance between the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while the 'four-day war' could outline certain deviation from that policy, bringing forth hard-hitting questions in the Armenian society. When it comes to the Caucasus region, Iskander systems are weapons of strategic deterrence, and, of course, they will have a positive impact on the regional stability, reducing the risks of large-scale military escalation. Similarly, I would like to note that the anti-aircraft missile systems S-300 and S-400 deployed in Syria are designed to cool the 'hotheads' in the United States, which are hatching a plan to mount missile attacks on the military facilities of the Syrian government, and perhaps also on Hmeimim Airbase. Despite the continuing anti-Russian campaign in the 'independent' Armenian press and social networks, many issues in the Armenian society concerning the outer contour of national security have been removed. Probably, this fact explains a certain shift of emphasis by the fighters of the 'information front', including towards unconcealed sympathy for the pro-US and pro-Turkish militants of the terrorist groups that have been killing many Syrians, including the local Armenians, for many years.


US Secretary of State John Kerry thinks that the conditions for overcoming the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh have not developed yet. Kerry believes that the unpreparedness of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan is the main reason hindering the settlement. Does this stand of the US Department of State reflect the real state of affairs around the Karabakh conflict?   


First of all, we should note that US Secretary of State John Kerry represents the leaving American administration that can hardly boast of any notable achievements in addressing regional conflicts. Washington's priority is to maintain its influence on the elite of the Caucasus states, which doesn't require the conflict settlement at all.  To say that this is because of the unwillingness of leaders is, to put it mildly, a deceit by the foreign minister of a country having an active role in the region. Given the evolving regional and global situation, I would not expect the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to intensify any joint initiatives. The Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders are more likely to conduct a dialogue with Washington and Moscow, trying to achieve results maximally admissible for themselves. I think Baku’s surprised and offended reaction to Kerry's official statements is linked particularly with this. However, this is unlikely to have a long-term negative impact on the informative nature of the Azerbaijani-American dialogue. The public distrust in the effectiveness of the OSCE Minsk Group, which certainly can't outdo itself, and particularly given the memories of Mr. Kerry's "pro-Armenian" past, is a quite a traditional element of bargaining with some elements of blackmail in the diplomatic practice.


Тhe post-April diplomatic bustle around the Karabakh conflict settlement was followed by some calm. What do you think about the further prospects of the settlement process given the constitutional referenda in Armenia and Azerbaijan?    


Much to our happiness, the concerns over possible escalation of the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh in August and September expressed by some experts, including me, with a passionate hope to be mistaken, did not prove true. At the same time, the militarization of the region continues, which increases the risks of military escalation. I believe that it is likely to become more local in the foreseeable future, in terms of sabotage attempts and terrorist raids, shelling of the front units of the NKR Defense Army, etc. The Armenian Armed Forces and the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army that are in permanent combat preparedness are taking and will take all the necessary steps to neutralize possible threats. Strengthening the military security has no other alternatives in the situation when the negotiation process is actually frozen.


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