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 Thursday, September 14 2017 13:38
David Stepanyan

One should not rule out  Yerevan being under Moscow pressure may reject  EU agreement

One should not rule out  Yerevan being under Moscow pressure may reject  EU agreement

Founder of the Armenian Institute of International Affairs and Security Stepan Safaryan in his  interview to  ArmInfo discusses the latest geopolitical trends around Armenia. He shares the most likely versions of the prospects for Armenia's relations with the European Union, the situation surrounding the Karabakh settlement. Comments on the latest trends in the domestic political arena of Armenia. 

Recently, we are witnessing a "shake-up" of Russian and pro-Russian media in Armenia regarding a new framework agreement to be signed by Armenia and the EU in November. There are other trends in the growth of Moscow's interest in this treaty. In this respect, are  Yerevan intentions  to sign this agreement  unshakeable enough ? 

Despite the categorical statements of officials from Yerevan and Brussels about the inevitability of signing the Armenia-EU treaty in November of this year, the signals we receive from Russia, at least on an expert level, do not give us the opportunity to take these statements with 100% certainty. We can not be sure even that Moscow will not force Yerevan to refuse signing the treaty with Brussels literally the day before the scheduled date. Similar precedents, as we know, exist. The last of them was Armenia's refusal to participate in the exercise of Agile Spirit 2017 under the aegis of NATO in Georgia. Yerevan, it seemed, seemed to be allowed to participate in them, since they allowed participating in previous NATO exercises Noble Partner. However, on the very eve of the exercise, Tbilisi announced the sudden refusal of Armenia to participate in them. This, at a minimum, is an indicator of unsatisfactory statements by official Yerevan regarding the real prospects of realizing its intentions. I think that the Armenian authorities themselves are not so sure that they will be allowed to realize what they say.

 

And in what way could  the Framework Agreement, which is being prepared for signing, really threaten Russian interests in Armenia? 

Of course, there are many opinions in favor of the absence of any threats to Russia in the Agreement being prepared for signing between Armenia and the EU, the absence of opposition to this treaty by the official Moscow. However, we must understand that after August 2, Donald Trump was forced to sign a new package of sanctions against Russia, Moscow is no longer looking at the content of this or that document, but rather the need to torpedo any initiatives of the West and the US for the sole purpose of demonstrating own factor. Accordingly, regardless of the presence or absence of threats to Russia in this document, to exclude the sudden emergence of the Kremlin's political motivation, which allows him to  force Yerevan once again to abandon rapprochement with the EU does not have to happen. However, in all this there is also a positive element. Given the lack of consensus in the EU in the application of US sanctions against Russia, the latter may refuse another blow to the relations between Yerevan and Brussels. In this light, with an equal degree of uncertainty, both the signing and the refusal of Armenia to sign a new treaty with the EU can be allowed. 

Of course, Azerbaijan is the same object of  Kremlin's policy in the post-Soviet space, like Armenia. In these conditions, Baku continues to participate in the implementation of energy and transport projects aimed at isolating Russia, for example, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan. Does this create future preconditions for Moscow's pressure on Baku, including with the use of the Karabakh conflict? 

Of course. The Karabakh problem for Yerevan and Baku is a double-edged sword. And in this light, if necessary, it is equally used and used both against Armenia and against Azerbaijan. I think that Karabakh will certainly be used against Baku in the near future, since there is no other such powerful weapon in Moscow's arsenal. At the same time, the degree of resource self-sufficiency of Azerbaijan is much higher than the Armenian one. Armenia, it can be said, completely surrendered to Russia in order to create guarantees of its fidelity to Moscow, in order to avoid the fate of Ukraine. This is the official approach of Yerevan, designed to dispel all mistrust of Russia in its relation. I think that this was facilitated by a whole series of events of the last two years: the creation of the Unified Air Defense System, the United Group of Forces, etc. In the case of Azerbaijan, the situation is somewhat different. Baku is not a conquered heart. And in this sense, Moscow is trying to maneuver with the goal, on the one hand, to win his sympathy, and on the other, to punish for disobedience. It is quite difficult to implement such a maneuver in Moscow, since it requires its voluntary consent to win sympathies of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Baku is rather voracious, one can say, even more than its resources allow. Ilham Aliyev considers himself to be almost a global player, accordingly, assigning the prerogative of the decision to participate in Moscow's projects exclusively to himself. At the same time, Azerbaijan in the event of a decision to participate in the EAES will undoubtedly require Moscow to pay a fairly high price for this. The price that Russia can not pay, since the final settlement of the Karabakh problem will lead to the loss of Russia to Armenia, and even more accurately of the South Caucasus. In this light, the temptation to punish Azerbaijan for the behavior of the wayward and self-sufficient virgin through the Artsakh problem for Russia comes to the fore. Nevertheless, I do not think that Moscow will stop flattering to Azerbaijan and will punish it, using even Armenia. The prospects for this have not yet been seen, especially given caution in the policy of Baku. Russia will take this step only if it is fully confident in its subsequent impunity. 

You hint something like “new April”?

 

April 2016, in my opinion, became part of the Russian policy of padding Azerbaijan. Moscow for several days turned a blind eye to the actions of Baku, giving him the opportunity to solve the problem as much as his abilities allowed. In April, Moscow demonstrated Azerbaijan's complete dependence on itself even in the matter of its defense against the Armenian counter-offensive. However, I do not see any prospects for unleashing this tangle of contradictions in the near future. Baku simply did not take a step capable of provoking a frankly hostile response from Moscow. Energy and communication projects with his participation, as you rightly pointed out, are certainly directed against Russia. And, nevertheless, they are incapable of becoming decisive in Moscow's decision to punish Baku through preferences to the Armenian side of the Karabakh conflict. Moreover, Moscow, through a statement by MFA spokeswoman Zakharova, hastened to get ready for Baku, actually taking his side in a "three-billion" scandal involving corrupt European officials and Azerbaijani authorities. 

 

The document being  on the negotiation table implies giving up at least six Artsakh districts, including Kalbajar. The practically completed Lachin alternative asphalt road linking Armenia to the north of Artsakh through Kalbajar is just one of the indicators of the ephemerality of the "Madrid principles". Is it possible in this light to agree with President Serzh Sargsyan, who says that negotiations on the resolution of the Karabakh conflict are completely absent in the negotiating agenda? 

I think yes. In the middle of the zero, the West was concerned about the settlement of these territories by the Armenian population no less than Azerbaijan. And the fact-finding mission in the territories was created not only at the request of Baku. At that time, the West was also interested in preserving the territorial status quo, not allowing the steps of the Armenian side, which could deprive the formula of "territories in exchange for status" prospects. And the complete absence of today's response to the construction of infrastructure in these territories is nothing more than a sign of the West's realization of the fact that the status quo has been broken, at least in the direction of the territorial and human realities. This is evidence of the West's rejection of previous approaches to the principles of conflict resolution. And the statement of the American co-chairman of the Minsk Group on the surrender of 7 districts, which caused a big noise, is nothing but a provocation in the good sense of the word. Since we do not understand that after such investments in Artsakh we should not expect a different reaction of the Armenian society to a settlement under a similar formula. In other words, the statement of Richard Hoagland simply prevented any shadow discussion of this topic under the aegis of Russia. 

Almost all the latest statements of the conflict parties, the Minsk Group co-chairs testify to the utter deadlock in the settlement, the absence of even a single step towards a settlement. It seems that everything that happens is no more than an imitation ... 

All parties and participants in the Karabakh conflict are in a dead end in reality today. It is a fact. To support Azerbaijan, forcing Armenia to make suicidal concessions, Russia is not in a position, since it will become a geopolitical suicide for Russia itself. The West would also like to punish Baku for excessive obstinacy by taking open steps towards Armenia. Azerbaijan would like to solve the problem by war, however, unlike in 2016, today the risks for it have significantly increased and this is against the backdrop of a decline in opportunities. As a result, having raised the bar of its own appetites, Baku is now unable either to solve the problem by military means or to do it at the negotiating table. In other words, literally all this is not allowed to make existing red lines. 

Is it so important, in your opinion, perhaps the main issue of the internal political agenda of Armenia today - who will lead the government in 2018? 

his issue, first of all, is important for determining the future fate of Serzh Sargsyan, since in the global sense the Republican Party decided to change the power in the republic in the parliamentary elections on April 2, 2017. Accordingly, intrigue is important solely on the personal field. I think that Serzh Sargsyan will remain uncertain about his "return" if possible as long as possible, although his emergence as prime minister, at least today, seems most likely. Considering that his premiership is a litmus paper, allowing to determine the essence of any person from the camp of Republicans, Sargsyan will pull with the disengagement of the "faithful" from "infidels" to the last. Actually, by this, it seriously differs from its predecessor Robert Kocharyan, who almost never left room for uncertainty. The reason, in my opinion, lies in the essence of Serzh Sargsyan as a politician, his love for political surprises. There are, of course, other candidacies for the post of prime minister - Karen Karapetyan and Vigen Sargsyan, however, in my opinion, the name of Vigen Sargsyan is voiced with the sole purpose of balancing Karapetyan's candidacy. And today, one can definitely state that for himself Serzh Sargsyan between the roles of the secretary general and the prime minister has already been determined.

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