Alexander Krylov, Head of the Center of Post-Soviet Studies at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, shares his views about priorities of Russia’s policies at post-Soviet area. Comments on the reasons of problems in Russian-Armenian relations, the Role of Karabakh conflict in regional processes and in processes mentioned.
Russian politicians and experts use to describe the post-Soviet area as the zone of Russia’s vital interests. What are the reasons of such approach, except NATO’s permanent expansion to East?
Many people consider the post-Soviet zone as gone to historical deep. But, whether it is good or not for certain people, it remains an objective reality. The common ground of former Soviet republics is reflected permanently and in various sectors. As well as the problems, contradictions and conflicts, which have taken places. The relations with post-Soviet states are of priority meaning for Russia, because they set preconditions for the further development of Russia. After obtaining the independence, former Soviet Republics took different paths, which preconditioned the current character of those relations with Russia, their neighbor countries and other states. The process of post-Soviet elite capsulation has always been under the strictest external pressure and in many aspects was preconditioned by global tendencies. At that, elites seemed not to notice the fast annihilation of the middle class, imposing their ideological models, often destroying cultural and national identity. In some countries, elites even sacrifice national interests, rejecting the independence for foreign suzerain's sponsorship. All these things are happening under the conditions of globalization, and globalism is exactly its ideology, assuming the economies should be released from national states power, leading economies out of limits of any national identity and to full apolitization of economic life. By the way, Donald Trump's victory states that mankind has already passed the ultimate point of globalization, i.e. the American oriented single-polar model of global order.
The world changes, but Russia’s priorities at South Caucasus remain the same. Isn’t it a time to change approaches and geopolitical accents in the region?
After the fall of USSR the South Caucasus appeared in the focus of attention of leading global and regional players first because its important geographic location. Thanks to that, USA and NATO got a good military-strategic platz der arm at the Russian and Iranian borders, as well as the access to energy infrastructure of Caspian Sea and the opportunity to build up new transit paths. In this respect, turning the region in the zone of strict contradictions between Russia and West is natural. At that, Russia's interests at Caucasus are quite different than those of foreign states. And, if for the West the Caucasus is just one of far regions, for Russia it is a closest region connected to its most complicated ethnical region - North Caucasus.
Exactly the important military-strategic location that preconditioned the nature of challenges Russia faced at its southern borders. That is why Moscow's policy is aimed at neutralizing existing and potential threats for Russia. At that, internal and external threats are closely connected, hence the cancellation of those demands coordinated policy at South Caucasus.
You did not state any economic interests..
South Caucasus does not play essential economic role for Russia, but plays in military- strategic aspect. This region being not big one, does not appear as an important market, is not the region of globally important natural resources, even oil reserves of Azerbaijan take very simple place of global energy market. At the same time, Russia is interested in using the transit potential of South Caucasus and in further development of North-South transport corridor through the territory of Azerbaijan. And from the point of global economy South Caucasus is not a supplier of energy resources, but it is a transit from Central Asia to Global markets. USSR fall opened an opportunity for US and EU to build up a new system of energy corridor passing Russia and Iran. If main transportation flows from Central Asia go to Europe through the territory of South Caucasus passing Russia, Moscow will be cut off the role of main transit corridor of energy resources. It is obvious that it would make Russia vulnerable and would weaken Russia's position in Central Asia and International platform. This is the most important thing.
Calls from Moscow to rename EEU as EAU (EurAsian Union) keep increasing. What is that, if not a proof of West concerns regarding Russia’s plans to reincarnate USSR?
I could say that there is no any disagreement between USA, NATO and EU experts in respect to main goal of West at the post-Soviet region. This is the policy of opposing to all the attempts of Russia to launch any reintegration projects and to keep own influence here. The situation at the South Caucasus essentially changed after the 5-day war, and United States and their allies were made to realize that they would not expect Russia to leave South Caucasus in the nearest future. At the same time sharp activation of external players towards Armenia took place, which states the relocation of international and regional policy priorities from Georgia to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The center of regional policy relocated to Armenia, and the prospective of the region now are preconditioned with the fact if the tight relations with Russia will be kept. Meanwhile, a certain part of Armenian society, even within the consideration of negative experience of Georgia and Ukraine, makes it choice towards West. This is proven by the new Armenian Parliament, where the parties standing for revision of Armenian-Russian relations are represented.
Terrorist attack on Iran is another evidence of the absence of countries fully protected of that evil, all over the world. Is the terrorism threat actual for South Caucasus by now?
During recent years South Caucasus appeared in shadows due to events in Syria, but exactly Syria events capsulate tendencies that could make an essential impact on South Caucasus countries. Ukrainian factor could also play negative role in the case if external forces will be interested in further weakening of Russian positions through expanding the non-tranquil zone at its borders. In this case, according to expert estimates, Southern Caucasus could be used against Russia through defrosting conflicts, destabilization of internal political situation in the countries of the region and other factors. It is obvious that Russia and other regional countries do have
interest in keeping sustainability at South Caucasus region, but the struggle against external threats is complicated with internal contradictions of Armenia-NKR-Azerbaijan and Russia-Abkhazia-South Ossetia-Georgia. As the result, the Southern Caucasus remains one of non-tranquil zones of modern world, which promotes the destructive intervention of external forces, ISIS and other terrorist organizations activities.
What is the main problem contained in Armenian-Russian relations for today?
The main problem for Russia in relations with Armenia is the power model set in Armenia since 1991 - the dictatorship of monopolies and criminal tightly connected to authorities, which turned the country into a source of personal enrichment. Within such a power any development projects lose their efficiency, including those of EEU framework and, as the result, the population does not feel any advantages of joining EEU. In its turn, the intension of authorities to lead social discontent to Russian dimension, in addition to that oriented to Turkey and Azerbaijan, sets preconditions for radical change of political course of Armenia to the West. Serzh Sargsyan is not an ideologically motivated leader. That is why he could not be considered as western-oriented leader. Sargsyan plays the anti-Russian card not only in the name of ideas to bring to life, but to secure good intentions of USA and EU. And there are western and Russian oriented adepts inside the Republican Party, as well as a large number of politicians permanently remaining uncertain between these two vectors.
As the result, during recent years Russia is considered the main reason of Armenian troubles. The increase of anti-Russian tendencies in Armenia becomes more and more obvious. This was obviously proved by the participation of Vladimir Putin in ceremonies dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Armenian genocide. However, under the conditions of permanent activities of Russia's opponents in Armenian media and informational environment, the positive effect of Russian president's visit did not last long. Soon the attention of the public was switched to the Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan. I could say that Baku succeeded in using the military-technical cooperation with Russia for own benefits. Russian armaments shipments to Azerbaijan turned into one of the most painful problems in relations of Moscow and Yerevan.
Yes, but in April last year Azerbaijan launched against Armenian troops, as well as against civil population, “Solntsepecks” and “ Smerches” purchased recently from Russia. And that was exactly the April war that became the latest reminder of Russian policy in respect to strategic partner being far from friendly...
April 2016, surely, demonstrated the incompetence of the Azerbaijani army to solve Karabakh problem through a rapid military blitzkrieg. Yes, the attack involved new types of weapons and the most prepared special forces, which, along with the tank units, gave the most serious losses, but could not solve the tasks set. At the same time, April revealed serious shortcomings in Armenian armed forces as well: in intelligence, communications and supply. At the same time, I consider necessary to take into account that in the battles took part exclusively Armenian advanced units, staffed mostly by conscripts. Many of the modern types of military equipment on their armament were not used, including high-precision tactical missile systems.
Karabakh peaceful settlement continues within ongoing shootings and cannonades. Baku speaks about stage by stage, Yerevan and Stepanakert – about package solutions. What gals of negotiations process could be highlighted by you?
Chronic dead end in negotiations, accompanied by sharply increased level of tension, transforms the main task of the OSCE Minsk Group and Russian diplomacy with the continuation of the imitation of Peace Process in establishing a real armistice regime. The April 2016 battles demonstrated the need to create a reliable monitoring system, including the permanent presence of groups of international military observers on the entire contact line, technical means for objective control, etc. An agreement on the establishment of such a system under the aegis of OSCE Minsk Group should include legally mandated obligations of the conflicting parties to identify and punish those responsible for violating the ceasefire. Only effective international control over the ceasefire will create conditions for the activation of the negotiation process with the aim of achieving a comprehensive settlement of Karabakh conflict. Otherwise, the level of aggression of the parties will continue to increase, and Karabakh issue will continue to remain a source of tension and an obstacle to the development of the entire South Caucasus.