Mr. Safrastyan, yet not so long ago the economic relations between Russia, Turkey have developed enough to arouse concerns over the Karabakh conflict’s possbile resolution in prejudice of Armenia, as it happened in 1921. The shot down of the Russian Su-24 warplane in no way fits into this logic. What were the true reasons behind that step of Turkey?
Since 90es I have been urging and continue to urge not to merge Russian-Turkish trade and economic relations with geopolitics and all the more with geo-strategy. In the economic terms everything was favorable and the sides intended to increase the goods turnover from 20 to 100 billion USD. In geopolitical and geo-strategic terms Russia and Turkey remained competitors because the existing geopolitical problems between them (South Caucasus, Balkans, and in recent years the Middle East) have not disappeared. The existence of the Turkish-speaking population in Russia as well as Azerbaijan, establishment of Turkish speaking countries in the Central Asia, and Turkey’s policy of Neo Pan-Turkism should also be considered. Throughout the recent years, Turkey and Russia have not been firing but continued to sit in tank-outs. And till the main guns were silent the trade was developing. The drastic changes in geopolitics of the Middle East have led to escalation of relations between Russia and Ankara.
Are you speaking about Russia’s military build-up on the southern borders of Turkey?
Sure, Russia’s military build-up and air strikes on ISIL targets in Syria have changed the geopolitical situation in the Middle East dramatically. I am sure that Turkey’s General Staff promptly analyzed the emergence of a new powerful and active actor on the southern borders of Turkey that sharply changed the military and geopolitical situation around Turkey. This is what made Turkey respond sharply. The response was the shot down Russia bomber jet.
Why did Turkey respond that way?
The decision to shoot down the SU-24 over Syria was a well thought step of the Turkish top leadership. I am sure the General Staff of the Turkish Army had its part in that decision. The provocation aimed to press Russia to make it pull back its military from Syria. That is why Turks applied to NATO immediately after downing the Russian jet. In other words, it was part of a strategic plan to stop Russia's military operation in Syria. Russia perceived the incident not the way Turkey anticipated. It resulted in Russia's military build up in Syria, i.e. deployment of S-300 and S-400 missile systems.
Don’t you think such response was actually predictable?
I don’t think so. By shooting down the Russian plane, Turks relied on the situation in the world, the tense relations of Russia with U.S. and Europe, and the Ukraine crisis. It was a far-going geopolitical plan that failed eventually.
There is an impression that Russia is being gradually forced into corner. The West did not learn lessons from history. After all Russia can go for broke and nobody will find it funny…
A generation of western politicians, starting from Obama and ending with Merkel, have made a strategic miscount, the consequences of which will be felt for a long period of time. This fundamental mistake was isolating Moscow from decision-making in the world on the highest level, which have led to the current situation. Unfortunately, there was no leader of Kissinger’s world-view in the West, who would try to make use of the situation, formed after 1991. Moscow should be perceived the way it is, and should be involved in solving problems and issues for example in Ukraine and Syria, as well as in other places of confrontation between Russia and the West. Such policy really leads Russia to isolation and the Russian elite has very negative attitude to this. And if this policy continues, Russian foreign policy may actually transform to more aggressive one. However, in my opinion, recent meeting between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov and Vladimir Putin creates possibility of strategic u-turn in the West’s policy towards Russia. Moscow has already gained from Kerry a statement that the U.S. does not want to isolate Russia, although Obama was saying quite the opposite few months ago. And the agreements reached in Moscow should be thought over, both by White House and Kremlin. And I hope that this will lead to revision of Russia’s isolation process, which undoubtedly is in the interests of the entire world.
Moscow has repeatedly marked the post-Soviet space and part of the Middle East with “red lines” as a zone of its interests. However, the examples of Syria and Ukraine demonstrate that the U.S. and NATO fully neglect those interests. Will the upcoming new “reset” change Washington’s attitude towards the “red lines”?
2008 and 2015 were important landmarks in the U.S.-Russia confrontation. The year 2008 saw a conflict involving Georgia and the year 2015 saw deployment of additional Russian forces in Syria. The United States' aspiration to expand into the former Soviet Union space is obvious, but it is not so resolute as the representatives of Eastern Europe's ruling elites would like. In 2008 that process was a bit slackened and even suspended by Russia's use of the army. But later the process was resumed with the developments in Ukraine. In 2015 Moscow deployed troops in Syria in response to the West's attempt to cross its "red lines". Were it not for this fact, the process of Russia's isolation would continue more intensively. I think U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's statement that the U.S. has no intention to isolate Russia is the result of Russia's anti-ISIS air operation in the Middle East, which was launched on September 30. The process of Russia's isolation is stopped by the use of the Russian armed forces. Throughout history, Russia was strong when it used its army. In times of peace, the Russian diplomacy almost always lost ground.
Actually, little has changed since the 19th century. Russia keeps competing with the West and fighting for the Straits and Turkey remains a tool in the West's hands to restrain Russia…
The only crucial difference is that Turkey is a part of NATO today. This drastically changes the situation.
The conflict around Karabakh is also one of the hot spots in the interests of Russia and the West. The conflict can be “heated” very easily…
In strategic sense, I see no danger of "heating" of the Karabakh conflict given that the "heating" will cause pain in the entire global policy. The fate of the world is not decided in Karabakh.
Neither was it decided in Abkhazia or South Ossetia…
The 08.08.08 war became possible as a result of direct infringement of Russia's interests, whereas in the Karabakh conflict Moscow was only a guarantor of status quo maintenance. In the tactical sense, however, the situation around Artsakh may escalate, especially amid the shady undertakings of Recep Erdogan, who will try to use Karabakh for additional pressure on Russia. But I hope the incumbent leadership of Azerbaijan realizes the situation and will not become a toy in Turkey's hands. On the other hand, I have no special expectations from the Karabakh peace process following the presidents' meeting in Bern.
Where will this confrontation lead the world to? What global process reflects it most precisely?
It is the current process of the corroding unipolar world and the developing multi-polar world. U.S. hegemony is shattering not without Russia’s foreign policy efforts. The U.S. crude policy towards Russia’s isolation does not meet either the universal realities or the capacities of the West and Russia. Moscow is now repeating the path of the USSR of late 1930s. New Russia’s military capacity is being developed now. It is a strategic issue that enables Russia to demonstrate its muscles and protect its interests. When collapsing the Soviet Union, the West anticipated such scenario. Brzeziński repeatedly urged that the collapse of the Soviet Union will not be full without the collapse of Russia. The then leaders in U.S. were under effect of the victory in the “cold war” and did not expect revival of the USSR in the form of a new Russia. Actually, they were mistaken.
Anti-Russian politicians link this to the person of Vladimir Putin and blame him for everything.
I don’t think so. I think Putin’s emergence was logical. The country like Russia that is big not just with its geographical scales could not but have a political figure, which would undertake the mission to restore Russia’s positions in the world.