ArmInfo. In an interview to ArmInfo, Dr. David Hovhannisyan, Armenian diplomat, expert on Eastern Studies, speaks about the reasons and motives of the Syrian crisis, collision of different countries’ interests in Syria, possible preconditions of the conflict settlement, and the problems between Russia and the Western world.
Do you think some transformation of the Syrian conflict has taken place over the past 5 years?
Today's events in Syria are mostly the same that used to be 5 years ago. In one of previous conversations with you, I have described already the Syrian events by external factors in first. And they are still preconditioned first by external factors. Of course, huge flows of blood have gone since that time, the Syrian society has been divided, and the Syrians turned back to the lifestyle of the 15th century, having their tribal ties as the only hope for security, because even the confessional relations are being destroyed nowadays. But all these events are taking place here, "down on the Earth", while at the upper levels the struggle of global and regional interests goes on, obtaining more and more dangerous forms and limits, and an example of that could be the Russian plane shot down by Turks. I do consider obvious that in such conditions it is impossible to talk about the settlement of the situation at lower levels, "on the Earth". To my strong belief, it’s Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as the US Alliance that are involved in the Syrian conflict. And they do fight harder and harder. Because Syria, Iraq and ISIS are the places where the bellicose masses from the entire world are trying to get today.
It may sound pretty naïve, but anyway – why has this aggression always flocked and splashed out exactly in the Middle East area since the end of WWII?
Not only in the Middle East area. An essential crash of interests could be seen today also in the South Chinese Sea, around the Korean problem, etc.
Yes, but everything is already taken, shared and separated there, as distinct from the Middle East…
To the first view, it's a long time that the World already has been divided to pieces and shared in between, but that "sharing" happened under conditions of existence of two super powers. Along with the collapse of the USSR, the political pressing that used to affect all the political vectors and ruled their behavior had disappeared as well. I never considered the world as unipolar, due to the simple reason that any action causes a counter action, which could be observed in the USA during Bush Jr.’s presidency and the "weight" of the World is much more than that of one pole. The World may become unipolar only in case we face any threat to our existence from some alien civilization. During the World War I the apple of discord has been divided to pieces by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and after that the borders drawn by a simple ruler kept existing under various mandates. The WWII did not break those borders and even the Arab-Israeli conflict highlighted the fact of the existence of two mighty poles. But after one of these poles has disappeared, all the "perfect" lines started voicing their own position in the world, claiming the facts in respect to civilization, culture, history and the Great Arab State, promised by British and French powers. We clearly understand that it is idealism and that it is hard to imagine Morocco and Yemen being under one single caliphate, because things have changed. But for Arabs all those ideas, the memory of Great Power still remains the same. For instance, we, Armenians, do remember the era of Tigran the Great, those blessed times, but we keep silence on the fact that it’s only an illusion.
Does it mean you think Arabs are struggling for these fabulous ideas?
Why should they be called fabulous? These ideas generate energy to develop a new look at the World. That is not happening yet, of course. We are talking about the Arab dimension, but there is also an Islamic dimension, and many interesting processes are taking place there - for instance, the struggle of Saudi Salafi project and Muslim Brotherhood to Shiite projects – Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain etc.
Whose interests collide in Syria first?
I may cause many angry responses saying that I cannot see any special, essential interests of the United States in Syria, understanding that as a global player Washington should secure its presence in such areas. And in Syria the United States holds its struggle exceptionally within the purpose of not to allow the others like Russia and China to occupy a position, which they consider important, not to allow Syria to be found under influence of one global player. Meanwhile, Russia's interests in Syria are very clear. And all the events of the same nature taking place in Ukraine could be described with Sevastopol, losing which Russia
would lose its actual presence in the Black Sea area, which has recently turned into something like a "NATO lake", except a little piece under Russia's protectorate and Abkhazia, which has no ports. And without the Sevastopol port, Russia would not have an access to the Mediterranean Sea, where it also has a strict need for bases. At least, for maintenance and refilling of its vessels. And the matter with "Admiral Kuznetsov" is an example of that. From this point of view, Syria is the most comfortable place in all the Mediterranean area. That is why Russia tries hard to recover its presence in Syria up to the level of the Soviet Union period. And Russia’s negotiations with Egypt on Russian vessels harboring demonstrate at least Russia's being not sure about the base in Lattakia. We should not forget about another global player - China, and regional players - Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries. Erdogan's apologies to Putin let us suppose that Russia and Turkey, as well as Turkey and the United States have reached military-political agreements to cancel any immediate Kurd threat from Syria. Turks were not allowed to do more, that is why both the United States and Russia strictly cut any attempt of Turkey to break the limits. Saudi Arabia, in its turn, feeds everything that could be fed.
They feed everything that could explode. Why?
Yes, exactly. Everything that could explode, especially taking into consideration their hate to Bashar Assad's establishment. Religious hate, because they are sure the Shiites are heretics, political hate – because Syria draws a claim for the leadership in Arabian league, and geopolitical – appearing as an intention to break the “Shiite zone”. Beside these reasons, there are also dozens of others.
And what about Iranian interests?
Iran also plays an essential role and not in a single region. And the security of the Shiite zone, which has been established within hardest efforts, is number one priority for Iran. The loss of the Shiite zone means Iran’s role decrease in all the regions of its presence.
Talking about the Shiite zone, do you mean the Iran-Syria-Lebanon triangle?
And also Iraq, as well as other countries with Shiites minority, and Bahrain, where Shiites form the majority. Hence, Iranian opportunities to impact the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, are very large.
However, are there any signs of Syrian crisis settlement?
Syrian crisis will end only when the volunteers from all over the world quit arriving to Syria under the flags of ISIS, which declared itself the Islamic Caliphate, claiming the annihilation of all the "kuffars" and the power of "sincere believers". We can see that recently this flow has a tendency to decrease. And even the ISIS leaders have changed their tactics, calling out for volunteers not to come to Syria, and to act at their own places. These claims are very clear and they have a purpose to divert the attention of the countries struggling against ISIS. Once the flow of volunteers to ISIS stops, it will turn a useless segment, losing the status of cesspool milling out unsustainable elements from all over the world. And, once it turns useless, it will be destroyed. And only upon that it will become possible to settle the situation in Syria. It is not real to talk about the prospect of the Syrian crisis end without destroying ISIS. At that, there is no need to differentiate the ISIS and the Jabhad Al Nusra, as well as any other titles being created just and only to avoid the strikes, because all these groups are of the same origin and have the same essence.
Since the collapse of the USSR, Russia perceives NATO expansion and its being surrounded by bellicose countries as an existential threat. Does the Syrian dimension appear as a part of that threat?
Guess these are different dimensions. Yet at the time of separation of Germany, while placing the nuclear weapon throughout its western regions, the United States used to describe that fact with the policy of inhibition of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Union countries. In this context, Ukraine is the brightest example. Ukrainian crisis may permanently expand and the West will be involved. And, regardless of any scenario, the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine is a step to be answered to. And, from my point of view, this answer of NATO is aimed exactly at the inhibition of Russia at prevention of further escalation. Syria is not a part of this policy. At that, all the concerns of Russia being surrounded by unfriendly countries are justified. Russia should not intervene in the conflict while being not confident in its own resources. And that's why the time has come for Russian to change the policy.
Moscow does not possess enough resources to be involved in the struggle at all the fronts. The option is to continue the process
That started in the 90s of last century - the liberalization of Russian policy.
That liberalization stood by a fingernail to Russia’s complete fall…
First of all that happened because of the reason that it was not consequent, was not tied to very depth of Russian society, did not consider its variety and diversity. Anyway, the terms “Tsar (King) Boris” and “Liberalization” are mutually excluded. In the 90s the federalization assumed the principle "take as much as you can". It is very good for countries like Lichtenstein, but not for Russia.
Do you think that if Russia goes deeper into liberalism and gets rid of the “king”, the West will accept it?
Eurasian ideology is destructive for Russia, because Russia turned the Russian Empire due to its presence at the European political area, initiated yet by Peter I and, in certain limits, by Tsar (King) Alexey. Moscow's intention to set the Eurasian Union in opposing NATO and European Community is a wrong estimate of own capability. Except some serious works published in the 20s of last century, there are no serious research works of “Eurasians” in respect to this issue by now, all containing inadequate estimates of the current situation.
Eurasians like Alexander Dugin?
Yes, exactly. Like Dugin and people like him, making absolutely wrong classifications of state types, etc. The fact is that today’s reality all by itself states the wrong kind of such “research”. Of course, Russia's being concerned about its borders and Russians’ intentions to keep the influence throughout all the post-Soviet area is absolutely understood, natural and justified. But such people’s ideology and mode of reaction still cause harm to Russia. And the heart of the matter is that it is not me who should think about that sitting here in Armenia. This is quite an impartial conclusion but, anyway, I don't want to think as a man who is unconcerned with this.