Director of Armenian Center for Political and International Relations Aghasi Yenokyan in an interview with ArmInfo discusses the pitfalls that impede the development of Armenian-Iranian economic interaction. He comments on the prerequisites and opportunities for changing the "first person" in Armenia under the influence of external factors. Forecasts the possible negative and positive impact of US anti-Russian sanctions on Armenia.
On August 2, before his trip to Iran, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in an interview with the Iranian media reported on the discussions at the expert level on the possibility of transit of Iranian gas through Armenia to Europe. Sargsyan emphasized the readiness of Yerevan to cooperate with Iran on this issue. How far can this readiness go according to your forecasts?
Of course, in the first place this issue has a geopolitical background. I do not think that there are special economic problems here, since technically the organization of the transit of Iranian gas through Armenia to Europe can be solved quite easily. In this sense, I consider the question of transit in the same plane as the actual lack of response to the US $ 8 billion investment proposal. All this is only discussed, and in theory.
According to the official release following the Tehran meeting of the Presidents of Armenia and Iran, Serzh Sargsyan and Hassan Roukhani discussed the possibilities of using international transport and transit routes connecting the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea across the territory of Armenia and Iran. In this light, the presidents stressed the importance of negotiations between Iran and EEU concerning Free Trade Agreement, with the Iranian president expressing confidence in their soon successful completion. Do you think it will be possible to agree with Russia and if so, what can be the price of such agreements for Armenia?
Indeed, the emergence of transit Iranian gas in Armenia will be a serious challenge for Gazprom, since the issue will not be in the sphere of providing gas to Armenia, but in the gas supply of the European market. And this is in the context of Gazprom's longstanding policy towards achieving gas monopoly in Europe. Of course, it should be noted that in recent years, such prospects have significantly disappeared, in particular, thanks to the US sanctions against Russia. Nevertheless, it is premature to talk about Moscow's refusal to become a gas monopoly in Europe, and for the sake of Armenian-Iranian projects, in my opinion. I think that the main problem here is not even in Tehran, but in the ability of the Armenian authorities to resolve the eradication of Gazprom's monopoly in the country. In this light, it seems to me that Serzh Sargsyan should still be guided by Moscow's opinion on this issue.
And do not you think that the statement by Donald Trump, initiated by the Senate of the US Congress, the bill to expand sanctions against Russia, Iran and the DPRK, creates for Yerevan some opportunities for maneuvering between Russia and Iran, Europe and the USA on the other?
That is why Serzh Sargsyan does not refuse to discuss the establishment of gas transit through the territory of Armenia. Thus, he leaves for himself an open window of opportunity. Moreover, the situation at the global level is heated to the limit, allowing to hope for the resolution of the issue of Armenian gas transit in a matter of months. For example, the acquisition of transit functions by Armenia can be the result of significant changes in the relations between Moscow and Brussels as a result of the strengthening of the same sanctions regime.
Theoretically, Serzh Sargsyan is able to go against the interests of Gazprom if there is a prospect of investing enough powerful financial flows into Armenia. 2018 is the year of the end of his presidential term, the year of the formation of a new real executive power in Armenia. Is it possible, nevertheless, to try to replace him from outside, for example, with Karen Karapetyan, who is considered pro-Russian today?
I do not exclude either the first or the second scenario. Serzh Sargsyan is quite capable of sitting in the prime minister's seat personally. However, with the same success in this chair after 2018, Karen Karapetyan may well remain. The main thing for Sargsyan is the preservation of the sole control over the corruption pyramid in his hands, and if Karapetyan does not show a significant piece of this pie in the Prime Minister's chair, Sargsyan will not interfere with the continuation of his premiership. The latter can assume the functions of a prime minister solely for maintaining complete control over financial flows and this is in conditions of minimal responsibility. In other words, it is important for those whom Serzh Sargsyan himself wants to see at the post of prime minister, and not someone in Washington, Brussels and even Moscow. I do not think that the current policy of Sargsyan puts Russians before the need to replace him. There is not much to worry about, at least until Sargsyan obediently follows their instructions. Therefore, it will certainly not be particularly against the next reproduction of Serzh Sargsyan's power in Moscow.
US Vice President Michael Pence conditioned the possibility of lifting new sanctions "by the Kremlin's fulfillment of its obligations," regretfully stressing that "Russia's recent diplomatic moves are telling the opposite." With the DPRK, everything is also more or less clear. It is unclear why the Vienna agreement, Iran, was consistently executed?
Such a sharp rejection of Iran by President Trump, in my opinion, is due to his personal inability to form a fundamentally new foreign policy agenda of Washington. In this light, he is forced to simply destroy everything that was created by his predecessor Barack Obama, including the significant progress made in the settlement of US-Iranian relations, in general, and the Iranian nuclear issue, in particular. By the way, this aspiration is felt not only in the external, but also in the domestic policy of the United States. At the same time, Congressmen are very much in a hurry, trying to connect Trump hands and prevent the realization of his personal ambitions and preferences in this matter. And finally, in general, in the end, the Congress shows the world the next axis of evil in the face of Russia, North Korea and Iran. Thus, a new blow is being struck across Russia in the form of determining its place in the international coordinate system in the American sense.
At first glance, paradoxical question is whether the new US sanctions against Russia bring only economic negativity to Armenia or in the foreseeable future we can witness a geopolitical positive?
Of course, the new package of US anti-Russian sanctions will have negative consequences for the Armenian economy. This is an inevitable scenario, given Armenia's serious dependence on transfers received from Russia. It is already clear today that the new sanctions will lead to their further reduction. As for the political component, finding Armenia in the range of Russian influence as a result of tightening the US sanctions policy will automatically lead to even greater isolation of our country. However, I do not really rule out that the implementation of all the latest US sanctions against Moscow is capable of leading Russia to significant changes that are quite capable of helping to free Armenia from Russian imperial encroachments.
In what and when, for example, it can manifest itself?
In my opinion, the impulses towards Russia can be so lightning that Armenia will not even have to withdraw from the EEA or the CSTO. The new sanctions directly affect and pressure the interests of a significant stratum of the Russian oligarchy. As a result, these people are quite capable of refusing to accept the internal results of Putin's external policies. And as a consequence, try to form a completely different policy in the country, completely different, however, quite civilized methods. In this light, the likelihood of cardinal changes within the Russian ruling class itself, in my opinion, is sufficiently substantiated, tangible and therefore predictable. When this happens it is impossible to say today.