In an interview with ArmInfo, Head of ARFD Bureau's Hay Dat and Political Affairs Office Kiro Manoyan speaks about the reasons and essence of the of latest developments in Syria, specifies the sides to the conflict and their interests, as well as explains why a new wave of “cold war” is impossible in the current situation and comments the Nagorno-Karbakh peace process.
A brief question that anticipates a comprehensive answer – what is happening in Syria now?
The reasons that sparked the conflict in Syria in 2011 were generally domestic political. It was continuation of the Arab Spring. Later, the domestic political demands of Syrians have been distorted dramatically and even replaced with interests of foreign powers. Eventually, what is happening in Syria now is rather a proxy war where third countries and forces are settling their own problems, while the Syrians and Syria are paying a high price for it.
Do you mean collision of interests of U.S. and Russia?
I mean Turkey and Saudi Arabia, first. However, Russia and U.S. pursue and protect their own interests in the Syrian conflict. Nevertheless, Russia was directly involved in the Syrian conflict quite late. In this light, it is not easy to expect the conflict to end soon, much less to forecast anything. I am sure that the conflict would not last that long and would not become tragedy for the people of Syria, if it were connected with the problems of Syrians only. Besides Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the conflict has involved Qatar. All these countries seek to reduce Iran’s influence in Iran. Turkey seeks to make Kurds weaker in Syria. Declaring a fight against the Islamic State, Ankara did everything to make that terrorist organization stronger in Syria at the same time. Iran, in turn, does not want to see in Syria a force that would be acting against it in the future. Neither Hezbollah, a force influential in Lebanon, does. As for U.S., it has changed its policy in the region repeatedly during the last 5 years. At present, Washington comprehends that Assad is just part of the problem subject to settlement. Its approaches now greatly depend on the approaches of other countries, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Russia had to interfere in the crisis in Syria, otherwise its interests would remain in the background of the Middle East processes. There are other actors too, but Russia showed that it is present in Syria and will remain there. I cannot say the same about U.S. To retain its influence in the Middle East, Russia needs to be present in the Mediterranean too. To that end, it needs the Syrian ports.
Do you mean that the main confrontation in Syria is between Sunnites and Shiites?
It is just one of the main directions involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar on one side and Iran and Hezbollah on the other side. Yet, for Turkey there is another dimension of the conflict - most of the Kurds are Sunnites, not Shiites.
Did Turkey intervene in Syria to “create a 5,000square km area of safe zone” as it had declared or Ankara, in fact, pursues other goals?
It is note ruled out that Turkey will control that 5,000 square km area for a longer time. Ankara had been insisting on the establishment of such no-fly zone to settle Syrian refugees for a long time already, though 5,000km is too much for that. I think Turkey tries not to let Kurds take control of that area. In the future, I think, Ankara will do everything possible to settle those territories with Syrians to “drive a wedge into” the territory controlled by Syrian Kurds.
Is there still a risk for Turkey to face establishment of a Kurdish State in the territory of Syria, Iraq and Turkey amid de-facto war in Syria and Iraq?
Independence of Iraqi Kurdistan is still the most probable scenario. However, neither Turkish nor Syrian Kurds mull independence. Anyway, they do not speak about it, unlike Iraqi Kurdistan, though the authorities there have internal political discrepancies.
Are there any links between the military actions in Aleppo and Mosul?
I am not sure in it, considering that in Aleppo there are supporters of not only Al-Nusra Front, but also of other groups. At present, about twenty thousand people in Aleppo are in condition of hostages and are used as human shield against attacks of the Syrian Army that seeks to take control of Aleppo and weaken the positions of both terrorists and opposition.
Is it a new round or wave of “cold war”?
I do not think so. One should talk about new round of "cold war" in the light of latest developments in Syria. In conditions of "cold war" existence of the OSCE Minsk Group or cooperation between the presidents of France and Russia would become impossible. Maybe the current developments somehow remind the years of the “cold war”, however nowadays everything, particularly the interests, are so closely bound that even mutual sanctions will not lead to final breach in relations.
This especially relates to Russia, which as an international factor, is not only strong and powerful but also a responsible state. In case Russians were not involved in Syria and even Iraq, one would have to guess who would solve the main issues there. With all discontent with Russia related to Crimea and Ukraine the West cannot disregard its role and efforts in the Middle East.
Considering that James Warlick speaks mostly about the package settlement-scheme for Karabakh and Moscow – about the stage-by-stage option, the stances of the OSCE MG co-chairs seem to have differed certainly…
U.S. Co-Chair Warlick has been talking about phased settlement of the conflict since 2014 urging the sides and the counterparts to sign a comprehensive agreement based on existing proposals and arrangements. Meanwhile, prior to that, logic of the talks was quite different envisaging achievement of final agreement on all the fundamental issues and development of a comprehensive agreement only after that.
By April 2016, even Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov started talking in Baku about phased settlement. Today everyone has realized the danger of such talks, and statement made by Russian Co-Chair Popov about inadmissibility of discussing exclusively the issue of territories testifies to that. Warlick now agrees with him, stating about inadmissibility of discussing the issues of territories and status separately. As a result the Co-Chairs themselves have returned to the initial logic of negotiations. Actually, Matthew Bryza was long ago stating that lack of agreement on one issue means lack of agreement on all the remaining issues.
Since there is no agreement on all issues, can we say that the sides still negotiate just to negotiate?
In conformity with the statements of the mediators that are in harmony with the statements of the Armenian side, the negotiations are now held around mechanisms of control over ceasefire violations and to strengthen the ceasefire. The negotiations are not held around the matter point of the problem.
What are the main threats to the Armenian stance on Karabakh?
I think, first of all, we need to consolidate our stands, so that external forces have no temptation to use possible loopholes. We cannot afford weakening from inside and constant need in unity. There is no doubt that the Armenian people showed such unity in April. Neither there is any doubt that the July events involving Sasna Tsrer (Daredevils of Sasoun) group was an attempt by external forces to affect that atmosphere. And they managed to do it in some degree. The unity of the people should be ensured through respecting, not infringing, their rights. The people and the authorities should unite at least when it comes to Artsakh’s issue. I see an external threat in Azerbaijan’s stance, especially after its April attempt to launch larger-scale violations on the line of contact. I think regular shelling and raids by Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces may create premises for a large-scale war. At the same time, I think the co-chair-countries together or separately may try to exert pressure on Armenia, but I do not think that Armenia will not be able to resist that pressure.
Will the current thaw in the relations of Russia and Turkey increase that pressure?
Today Russia and Turkey try first to rehabilitate trade relations, including through implementation of the Turkish Stream. And despite that fact, in a case of long-term operation this pipeline will obtain a geopolitical significance for the West. At this stage of the project, the Turkish Stream appears just and only as an economic project. There are no consolidated positions existing between Russia and Turkey regarding other issues and, to my view, there is no any shape of that yet. Anyway, Moscow keeps doing its best to isolate Turkey from the West. It is exactly with this purpose that the talks on the possibility of triple consultations on Nagorno Karabakh with participation of the Russian, Turkish and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers are still being played up. But it is obvious also that the Karabakh problem could not be solved in the framework of such consultations and such format. Moreover, it is understood that going for such courtesy, Moscow tries to nurse Turkey and Azerbaijan. We shouldn't treat such attempts indifferently, but there is no reason for panic either, because there is only emptiness inside this mutual gallantry. One should not exclude the attempts of Russia to solve the Karabakh problem beyond Armenian sides to the conflict, but such attempts also have limits. Russia has own interests in Armenia. And Moscow's behavior is predicted exactly by those interests, and not by our charming eyes. It is absolutely normal and natural, but, being aware of this fidelity, we should understand that Russia's efforts to do a favor to Turkey and Azerbaijan will have certain limits, stipulated firstly by our point of view and by Russia's aspiration to protect own interests in Armenia.