Maxim Suchkov, an expert of the Russian Council on International Affairs and the Valdai International Discussion Club, in an interview with ArmInfo discusses the level of global Russian-American confrontation affects the countries of the post-Soviet space. He comments on recent American initiatives in Armenia, talks about the role of the Artsakh conflict in relations between Moscow and Washington, and Russia's interests in its settlement.
The last "sanctions" tension in Russian-American relations can not be projected onto the post-Soviet space, which Moscow has repeatedly assessed as a zone of its interests. How, in your opinion, will the deepening of the contradictions between Moscow and Washington affect the South Caucasus and, in particular, Armenia?
Every time the Russian-American relations experience a crisis escalation, this causes legitimate fears of Russia's neighbors who, after the dissolution of the USSR, were the frontier of the confrontation between the two states and Armenia, among other things. Particularly, this with the lesser interest of the current US administration to the region, the unobvious desire to "invest" in this region at a level where this will cause concern and open opposition to Russia. In part, with the ability to hold back the Russian-American confrontation in the framework in which it has developed in recent years: a bilateral agenda, Ukraine, Syria. In this sense, relations between Russia and the United States are deteriorating qualitatively," deep ", not quantitatively," in breadth. This does not mean that next year we will not see it - relations between the two countries are developing now along a very dangerous and little predictable trajectory. The post-Soviet space as a whole, and Armenia in particular, are extremely important for Russia in many aspects, and this is well understood in the US.
Following the recent factual proposal of the US Ambassador to Armenia to invest $ 8.5 billion in Armenian energy, a visit was made in Yerevan to "strengthen relations with Armenia so that it does not feel threatened by its sovereignty" by a rather representative delegation of the US Congress. Is this part of the American strategy of isolating and deterring Russia in the post-Soviet space, and what are the prospects for such a pioneering?
This is exactly the evidence of the Americans' recognition of the significance of Armenia for Russia, the degree of dependence of Armenia on Russia itself and awareness of the problems in Russian-Armenian relations. The proposed financial and economic projects and the emphatically representative level of official delegations from the US objectively work both to strengthen the US presence in Armenia and to strengthen the arguments of supporters of such a presence among Armenian politicians, experts and the public." It is difficult for the United States to blame for this approach - they do that, that they consider it necessary to promote their own interests and weaken the geopolitical competitor, which they, of course, see Russia, I do not think that Moscow needs to seriously worry about these initiatives - they are one-off, although they are built into a more harmonious system of American influence in Armenia. At the same time, it is important for Russia to continue to engage in qualitative and systematic work on those projects - bilateral ones and within the framework of the EEU, which are now and which should appear in the interests of Armenia's development. If it will be Moscow will not have to get nervous every time about “what the Americans planned there”.
Appreciate Artsakh as one of the factors of the general Russian-American agenda. How coordinated is the position of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict in recent times. Especially considering the last statement of the former American co-chairman Richard Hoagland?
At the background of other contradictions in the Caucasus region between Russia and the United States in the direction of Artsakh, there is much more constructive interaction between the two countries. In 1990s, in many ways, Artsakh could be called an" oasis of cooperation "between the two countries, and the statements of individual diplomats, even in such a high rank as the former US co-chairman Richard Hoagland, for obvious reasons, are always resonant. I remember the critical reaction of the former Russian American co-chair Matthew Bryza to Russian and even Armenian diplomats and the public, but this does not necessarily mean a change in the country's position on this issue. By now, administration of Trump is engaged in Artsakh, as, indeed, with many other questions "on autopilot". In particular, only the first hearings on the nomination for the post of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Wess Mitchell, were held this week. In other words, the United States does not even have the hardware resources so far, in order to deal with this issue seriously, we need to wait for a while. Unfortunately, judging by the negative trends in the conflict that we see recently, we have not so much time.
The Russian experts in the South Caucasus generally consider the preservation of the "frozen" status quo of 1994 as the best scenario in line with Russia's interests. Do you agree with this, and does not the holding of such an explosive state of conflict in the conditions of inflating the already militarized region with weapons just blow the interests of Russia? In the end, the threat of a conflict igniting to the stage of war near Russian borders can not but affect Russia.
There is an opinion existing among my colleagues according to which the preservation of the "frozen" status quo from 1994 is the best scenario corresponding to the interests of Russia. It seems to me that the origins of this position are not that" frost "is a panacea for the" smoldering "conflict, with its tendencies for ignition. For today we have a protracted conflict complicated by historical realities, and for a quarter of a century after the collapse of the USSR, which is overgrown with additional factors of identity, nationalism, and economic aspects. Of course, the resumption of the conflict is not in Russia's interests, no matter what speculation is in favor of the opposite. There is also the proximity of the borders, the fact that in this case Russia will face a number of unpleasant political dilemmas, which she still tried to avoid. The political settlement of this problem is not visible in the foreseeable future, the American does not exclude that the emergence of a constructive neighborhood will require the replacement of several generations. At the same time, the current problem of the resumption of the war cannot "wait so long", it requires immediate solutions. Against this background, "frost" is the most desirable of the least acceptable options, including mediator countries. To solve seriously the problem of Artsakh, with proper pressure on the parties, painstaking work "on the ground" in the conflict zone with existing difficulties on the part of the parties to the conflict to make compromises, then consciously agree to large domestic and international risks. No one wants to do this under current conditions, because the costs are extremely high, and the political benefits - no matter how cynical it may sound – are not obvious.
On September 18, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian designated territories as possible concessions "in the transfer of which there will not be a threat to the security of Artsakh and will not be endangered by a final settlement of the conflict." According to the estimates from the United States and France, lying on the negotiating table, the "Madrid principles" are practically non-alternative today. Does the surrender of any Artsakh territories to Azerbaijan, as envisaged by the above-mentioned principles, come from the interests of Russia and will this not become a catalyst for a new war capable of enveloping the underbelly of Russia with another chaos?
The Russian position on the lack of alternative for Madrid principles in many respects is in solidarity with the voiced by the United States and France. At the same time, Moscow proceeds from the premise that the key, if not to a resolution, then the settlement of the conflict lies in the plane of the agreements between the parties to the conflict themselves. In this regard, if the proposals of Minister Nalbandian are indeed the step Armenia is ready to take, and which will help the parties to approach a peaceful solution of the problem, I see no reason why Russia could not support it, and vice versa, if such a move stimulates a new wave military confrontation, then this will concern Russia, but even in this case - obviously less than Armenia and Azerbaijan themselves. Consequently, in this light, the solution of the conflict, returns to the starting point. Baku and Yerevan should do it for themselves -without regard to external players - to determine the boundaries of their concessions into formulate the conditions under which they would be ready to make these concessions. If this does not happen, the internal political processes in Armenia and Azerbaijan, will push the political elites of the two countries to more radical steps in this direction, as a result of which there will be no winners.