Edward Abrahamyan, the Researcher at British University Leicester and freelance regional security expert at the Jamestown Foundation and IHS Markit, in his interview to ArmInfo comments on the latest impulses in Armenia's relations with US and Europe, talks about the opportunities for Yerevan to develop relations with EU and NATO, shares his vision of the possible role of the Alliance in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.
The public offer of US Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills to invest $ 8 billion in the Armenian energy sector remained almost unanswered. It is voiced and commented on very few in Armenian media. Meanwhile, the implementation of this proposal could well turn the geopolitics around Armenia upside down. What, in your opinion, are the reasons for such restraint of Yerevan?
It should be noted that the ambassadors of France and Germany made similar statements immediately after the ambassador's statement, the latter even mentioned a specific amount of the already invested funds - 150 million EUR in the energy sector of Armenia." The reason for the comparatively sluggish reaction is understandable, as in Yerevan, apparently, they understand that such an initiative and the proposal of the key Western powers of Armenia is, first of all, a political, and not a purely economic, step. Accordingly, the development of this initiative will primarily have political significance, and only then obvious economic benefits for Armenia. Considering the deep dependence of Armenian statehood on Russia in two spheres of national life support - energy and security, the expert assumes that Washington has a decision to check Yerevan's sincerity in its relations with the US by offering a methodology to mitigate dependence on Russia in the energy sector.
It seems that Washington's calculation is conditioned by the idea of strengthening Armenia's independence primarily in the matter of energy communications by creating alternative energy resources, which, of course, will mitigate energy dependence on Russia, creating opportunities for not only direct participation of the Armenian population in the production of electricity and its sale to the state, but also will strengthen the state's ability to export electricity to Georgia, Iran and Turkey.
The strengthening of the confrontation between the US and Russia only actualizes the question mark over the desire of the Armenian authorities to increase their maneuverability with regard to Russia through the creation of alternative energy resources. And then the amount of possible investments - whether they are $ 8 billion or $ 250 million is absolutely not important. This initiative can be extremely beneficial for the Armenian economy and its energy and communication role in the region, since it is able to solve several problems of the Armenian statehood. And such a second chance in the foreseeable future may not be.
Thanking the Armenian President for his contribution to the peacekeeping missions under the auspices of NATO in Afghanistan and Kosovo, Special Representative of NATO Secretary General in the South Caucasus and Central Asia James Appathurai recently stated that he is leaving Yerevan with determination to continue effective cooperation. Do you consider this cooperation possible to go beyond the framework of international formats to a bilateral level, and what are the expected limits of NATO-Armenia relations?
Armenia is considered an important and valuable partner of NATO in the Black Sea and Caucasus region and an unconditional leader in the number of programs and initiatives implemented with NATO in comparison with other allies in the CSTO.
Despite the allied relations of Armenia with Russia, the Alliance is still trying to preserve and, if Yerevan wants, to deepen relations with Armenia on three main platforms: Partnership for Peace, Individual Partnership Action Plan, Partnership Action Plan for Strengthening Defense Institutions. However, despite the delicate silence of NATO officials about certain acute factors, the deepening of NATO-Russia rivalry and the strengthening of Russia's military-political potential in Armenia, probably will not leave the Alliance with another way but to reconsider relations with Armenia.
The is also a danger of classifying the Alliance from a certain moment as Armenia as a "formal" partner. This trend is already felt in Brussels, which, taking into account Azerbaijan's desire to expand the format of cooperation both with the Alliance and with leading NATO member countries, should be avoided. Delicate public statements made by NATO officials within the framework of the Alliance's official position often differ sharply from statements made in private conversations.
As Georgia becomes increasingly included in NATO's security and strategic planning orbit, the desire of Ukraine to join the Alliance, the active aspiration of Moldova and Azerbaijan to expand programs on interaction with NATO, Armenia as the main vehicle for Russian interests in the Black Sea- Caucasus region looks more and more negatively in the West.
Thus, the participation of the Armenian Armed Forces in the military maneuvers of NATO "Noble Partner- 2017", which is to be held in Georgia since July 30, in his opinion, can be of key importance for NATO- Armenia relations. The visit of NATO Secretary General to Armenia and the identification of opportunities for deepening cooperation, with the active participation of the Armenian Armed Forces in various multinational NATO exercises, could improve the image of the country and create the necessary conditions for developing new areas of interaction with the Alliance. At the same time, there are no preconditions for raising the status of Armenia's partnership with the Alliance to the level of "NATO + Armenia" to the level of a bilateral commission.
This requires the political decision of Yerevan and Brussels and a real political dialogue, where Armenia should be in solidarity with NATO in political terms and in assessing threats and risks." It is also important to assume a specific function for the emerging security system of the Alliance, which is apparently trying to do Baku, and that for today it seems unlikely for Yerevan, Based on the above reasons, an increase in the status of Armenia as a NATO partner is unlikely today.
The same Appathurai, noting the increase of the violence level in the zone of the Karabakh conflict, stressed that the negative consequences of its next escalation will be felt also by the countries of the North Atlantic alliance. Are there, in your opinion, against the backdrop of the latest trends threatening regional stability and security, the prerequisites for NATO involvement in the Karabakh conflict settlement process?
With the beginning of the implementation of Essential NATO-Georgia Package, we can assume that the Alliance is already to some extent present in the South Caucasus. And the trend of increasing its influence on the region will only increase. NATO has always been sensitive to the issue of frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space, keeping an appropriate distance, since these conflicts did not directly affect its members." Brussels has a different approach towards unrecognized state entities in the South Caucasus, in contrast to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where NATO unequivocally condemns Russia's actions, recognizing territorial integrity of Georgia, the NATO approach to Karabakh is somewhat different: NATO, in general, has a balanced and extremely passive position on Nagorno-Karabakh .
At the same time, NATO's rhetoric in respect to the conflict since 2008 due to the approach of the Alliance to the South Caucasus region, has constantly increased. The rhetoric of Brussels on the issue of unresolved conflicts, including Karabakh, has radically changed since NATO Summit in Wales in 2014. And at the Warsaw Summit in 2016, the emphasis was on promoting post-Soviet countries, strengthening their independence against the background of the destabilizing behavior of the Kremlin, which considers unresolved conflicts as tools to strengthen Russia's influence.
In my opinion, NATO will continue to support the efforts of Minsk Group as the only legitimate platform for resolving the conflict, but I reasonably assume the possibility of changing this NATO policy in the event of changes in Armenia's foreign policy priorities or Azerbaijan's approaches to securing national security.
Is the absence of a clear definition of terrorism in the international terminology a real reason for the interfering NATO to give an appropriate assessment of the Azerbaijani policy of state terrorism against an internationally recognized state, Armenia, whose victims are hundreds of military and civilians each year?
Being important partners of NATO, neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan in the Alliance is not officially recognized as candidates for membership. This makes the Alliance in some sense detached from the Karabakh problems, which cannot be said about its growing role in relation to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile, NATO is a regional organization, which primary task is the security of Alliance member states by increasing their defense capability and quickly responding to the case of external aggression.
Another important reason for NATO's passivity in the Karabakh issue is the absence, unlike Georgia, of Armenia and Azerbaijan in NATO's strategic security orbit. Accordingly, the Alliance is more concerned about the security of the close and actually performing allied functions of democratic Georgia than the CSTO member, kleptocratic Armenia, and having an out-of-bloc status, however, a clearly authoritarian Azerbaijan.
Brussels looks at the region and the problem between Armenia and Azerbaijan from the point of Georgia's security view and the strengthening of Russia's military potential.
Thus, NATO's crisis management mechanisms registered in 2010 Strategic Concept can rather approach the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations with the further opening of the border than the Armenian- Azerbaijani confrontation, and there is also a fear that political component of the rivalry between Yerevan and Baku Can migrate to the structure of the Alliance, which is extremely undesirable for Brussels.
Former adviser for strategic planning of US President George W. Bush, Peter Feaver believes that in the foreseeable future, the administration of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, will not have time to resolve the Karabakh problem. Meanwhile, it was Karabakh at various political and expert levels that was repeatedly voiced as a platform for the most effective interaction between Moscow and Washington. Is it possible to assume on this background that soon the settlement of the Karabakh conflict will become Russia's exclusive prerogative?
With the advent of April 2016 of a new paradigm of regional security, the Karabakh problem already is the prerogative of Russia. At the same time, against the backdrop of the growing confrontation between the US and Russia, it is somewhat naive to think that in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group platform, all contradictions, mutual reproaches and opposition of interests will be left aside for partnership over the resolution of the Karabakh problem."Russia and the United States already have a discrepancy, in particular, the negative reaction of the United States to the length of deliveries of modern offensive weapons to the parties, and first of all to Azerbaijan, is intensifying. In particular, in March 2017, the commander of the US Joint Forces in Europe, General Curtis Scaparotti, following the example of his previous, General Bridlov, assessed Russia's policy towards the Karabakh conflict as "destabilizing and destructive." And the officers of the Alliance responsible for the South Caucasus James Appathurai and William Lahue in Yerevan also raised the issue of deliveries of modern offensive arms of Russia to the parties to the conflict as a serious source of concern for NATO.
Moreover, the US Congress is also forming the conviction that in the previous and in the future escalation around Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia is the main supplier of lethal weapons to the parties to the conflict. Russia is increasingly viewed as a destabilizing country and violator of the Founding Act of NATO-Russia of 1997 - in fact the only mechanism regulating the range of relations between the Alliance and Russia.
All this will undoubtedly have consequences at the level of the OSCE Minsk Group, so it is difficult to name the platform of the Minsk Group as an effective interface between Moscow and Washington, rather, on the contrary, this is the next place for rivalry between opponents in the near future, among other things, with the intensification of confrontation between them the risk increases that at some point the Minsk Group may be paralyzed and already incapacitated.
In Moscow, it is customary to consider any movement of post-Soviet countries towards Europe as a prologue to NATO membership. Can we expect surprises from the Russian leadership in this regard, in the aspect of the Armenia-EU "light" treaty that is being prepared for signing in November 2017?
I do not think that Moscow seriously considers the upcoming signing of a "facilitated" Armenia-EU framework agreement as a factor that poses a potential threat to its interests. Since December 7, 2015, Armenia and the European Union are negotiating the signing of a comprehensive document on trade, investment, political interaction. Previous negotiations lasted 3.5 years and were successfully completed, the document was ready for signing, but on September 3, 2013 after the meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan unexpectedly announced Armenia's accession to the EEU.
The document to be signed is not published, therefore, it is impossible to draw reliable conclusions and analyzes on its possible impact, however, this document does not have the weight of the document of 2013. Here, Armenia's membership in the EEU is taken into account. No matter what the door of the EU is always open to any cooperation.
Armenia had to sign something based on the political ethics of the EU, especially since Armenia also wanted it, which is what is being done. In other words, it is more like a formal document reflecting the intentions to preserve and develop good-neighborly relations, taking into account the discrepancy between the EU and the EEU.
The document being prepared for signing is not substantive and comprehensive, it does not represent a roadmap for economic and political integration of Armenia with the EU, which exists in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. And this is clearly realized in Moscow.
Therefore, I do not see the real reasons for the impeding signing of the Armenia-EU document, as it was in 2013. It is quite clear that Yerevan will build relations with the EU, not only in the military-political but also purely economic terms - relying solely on Russia.
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