Virtual Parallels

Armenia-Russia, Azerbaijan-Russia in 2013

Armenia-Russia, Azerbaijan-Russia in 2013

Armenian Authorities Never Spoke about Their Intention to Join Customs Union
- What are the general characteristics of the relations between Russia and Armenia, and how do they depend on the policies of other global players in relation to our country?
- The main areas connecting Armenia with Russia are security and the economy. Russia has long positioned a military base in Armenia , and most recently prolonged the contract for Armenia to host the Russian military base . Armenia and Russia are members of a military- political organization – the CSTO.
We can say that for Russians Armenia is the main area of dislocation in the region. In Armenia there is a constant ( fair or not) expectation from Russia in terms of support for the negotiation on the Karabakh conflict , security guarantees and economic investment. In addition to these core interests, Russia has a large Armenian community, which also determines the extent of closeness of relationship. It should also be noted that the Armenian authorities, which have a serious lack of legitimacy, look up to Moscow as a guarantor for them to retain power. One gets an impression that our authorities are confident that Russia will in any case support them in return for the opportunity to retain influence on Armenia.
Relations between Armenia and Russia are largely conditioned by the relations between the West and Russia. Even though recently an improvement was expected in the relations between Russia and the U.S. (the West ), in the end just the opposite happened. You might remember the former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presenting the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a button as a sign of improvement in relations at an official meeting. The button was mistakenly labeled “overload" instead of "reset." Indeed, shortly after the reset "overload" happened, the relations between the U.S. (and the West in general), and Russia have deteriorated significantly, and Armenia is experiencing the consequences.
How does it manifest itself? Over the past 4 years, the West spent efforts, time and money on Armenia to have an EU Association Agreement signed. But we saw Serzh Sargsyan say (according to many, under pressure from Russia) that Armenia decided to join the Customs Union. The official Yerevan took this step being fully aware that it would make Armenia's integration into the EU deep and comprehensive trade zone impossible. It is likely that Russia wanted to show to the West that in a second it could nullify EU’s four-year effort.
- Why do you think the issue of signing the agreements on joining the Customs Union with Russia and on Association and free trade zone with the EU stands more acutely to Armenia than to Azerbaijan?
- It seems but obvious: one of the reasons is that, unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia is poor in natural resources, and is trying to attract foreign investment into its economy. Whereas Azerbaijan is in this sense self-sufficient and does not have to worry too much looking for salvation in  different unions. On the other hand, in comparison with Armenia, Azerbaijan is more authoritarian. That is why Armenia has more prerequisites for integration into the EU. Azerbaijan is also well aware that the EU is not eager to have it joined, and by and large, being a wealthy state, Azerbaijan does not need it. Aliev's rigid authoritarian system is unable to accept the proposed EU program of political reforms.
By the way, I would like to present some observations on the issues related to the Eurasian and/or European integration of Armenia.
Initially, all the interested parties are aware that in the case of entry into the EU free trade zone, there would be no option to join the CU, as the trade area and customs union are incompatible. The fact is that with such an  entry the country is deprived of sovereignty in its customs and trade policies, whereas at least here the country needs sovereignty to join the free trade zone. The decision-makers in Armenia were quite well aware of this, and it seems everyone knew that the "either, or " requirement is not the EU’s whim but a necessity from the technical and legal points of view. It should be noted that the development process, leading to the signing of an agreement with the EU, was open and public. It is true that much was not clear from the content, but in general, from time to time the public was informed about the stage of negotiations, the achievements and the pre-stipulated time frames.
I want to emphasize that the Armenian authorities never, I repeat, never announced their intention to join the Customs Union. They have always said that they saw no obstacles to the conclusion of an agreement with the EU, and joining the Customs Union could be considered in case of a common border with it. That is, in other words, it makes no sense to think in this direction.
Over the last year there were considerations of possible cooperation in one form or another with the CU, which, by the way, is acceptable for our European partners. I at least got the impression that the parties were looking for acceptable formats of cooperation. But it must also be noted that the public did not know anything about what negotiating for cooperation with the Customs Union is, what results are expected, and so on. By the way, a few hours before Moscow declared Serzh Sargsyan's intention to join the CU, the Deputy Chairman of the Republican Party (the party in power - Ed.) was convinced that the Putin – Sargsyan meeting would not yield any sensations and reiterated that Armenia is a country having no common borders with the Customs Union, and that in general a decision to join such an alliance cannot be adopted overnight.
- How is the Russian contemporary policy towards the country perceived by the citizens of Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora in Russia? What role does the Armenian Diaspora in Russia play in the architecture of modern Russian-Armenian relations?
- In my opinion, in the Armenian society there is no dominant assessment of the policy pursued by Russia in relation to Armenia. In Armenia, there is always a group that always welcomes the policy of Russia in all situations. Many are convinced that Russia is a “big brother” country, and that in the world there is no more than another state, which manifests as a good attitude to Armenia as Russia.
 But it should be noted that recently the volume of criticism of the Russian politics has increased in public discourse. By the way, the reaction of the active part of the society on joining the Customs Union is a prime example of this. A civil initiative against Armenia’s joining in the CU was created. A series of protests has been organized. Most of the political opposition strongly criticized the government's decision to join the Customs Union. It is clearly stated that Armenia suffered pressure from Russia, the Kremlin is speculating with the security of Armenia and is secretly blackmailing Armenia.
Vladimir Putin's visit to Baku and the delivery of Russian arms to Azerbaijan also fueled up the anti-Kremlin sentiment in Armenia.
As for the position of Armenians in Russia, there is not much I can say on the matter. The leader of the "Union of Armenians of Russia" Ara Abrahamian has always supported Putin in any matter, but it is clear that the organization cannot be considered a representative structure. And those who are critical of such matters are generally disorganized and usually their voices remain unheard.
- Which spheres are of fundamental interest for Armenia and Russia and for Armenia and the EU as cooperating parties? Have these interests been transformed recently?
- I have already talked about the common interests of Armenia and Russia. The EU is attractive to Armenia due to its market, greater capacity, high standards, potential investments in the country, and so on. The European Union is attractive to the citizens of Armenia due to its education, labor, business, tourism, and so on.
In its turn, the EU is interested in the Armenian market. But I think the primary interest lies with the trend of expansion of the European civilization and the geopolitical space. Being concerned with its own security and prosperity, Europeans tend to ensure that neighboring countries are in their economic and political space, were guided by the European criteria and are predictable and understandable to them.
But the West must understand that it cannot stand up to Russia only by economic incentives. The whole matter of the Customs Union is a serious failure for the West. The EU diplomacy has serious deficiencies. It should have foreseen such scenarios and should have proposed new 'resources' to its neighboring states.
If the European Union wishes Armenia’s  European integration, it should definitely think about attractive offers in the field of security.

Two Russias for Azerbaijan
- What are the general characteristics of the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan, and how do they depend on the policies of other global players in relation to our country?
- Relations between Azerbaijan and Russia in the post-Soviet period have been rather complex and have not easily fitted into the usual framework of relations of a parent state and its former colony. Moscow's official policy towards Azerbaijan is related to the overall situation in the Caucasus, a region posing serious challenges and threats to the Russian national security. While the Caucasus is divided into North (Russian) and South (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), both of these regional sub-systems are a common geopolitical and cultural space. Thus, Russia has always understood that the effectiveness of control over "their" North Caucasus largely depends on the processes in the South Caucasus. At the same time, the South Caucasus forms a buffer zone between the Russian North Caucasus and the Islamic world, especially Turkey and Iran - two countries whose centuries-old influence in the Caucasus is traditionally perceived by Russia as a challenge to its own centuries-old interests in the region. And in the post-Soviet period, these traditional political opponents for Russia were joined by new global players in the person of the United States and the European Union. And the Western countries play a much more important role today in the Russian policy on the Caucasus and are seen as the main opponents of Russia in the region.
As a result, in its relations with Azerbaijan, Russia comes from the following guidelines: the role of the Islamic factor, considering the complicated situation in Chechnya and Dagestan that borders with Azerbaijan, the energy resources in the Caspian Sea, the confrontation with the West, and primarily the United States.
The following factors played a major role in defining Azerbaijan’s relations with its northern neighbors: the Karabakh conflict and the threat to the independence of the country; the energy resources in the Caspian Sea, labor migration by a significant portion of the population in Russia.
The main conflict in the relations between the parties has been associated with different approaches to the above factors. The complexity is aggravated due to the dynamically changing geopolitical situation in the region and the role of external forces. In addition to these objective factors, many stereotypes and myths about the two parties established after the start of the Karabakh conflict and the collapse of the Soviet Union have impacted on the Azerbaijani- Russian relations. The uncertainty in the foreign policy orientation of the parties was another serious factor.
As a result, Azerbaijan and Russia meet in higher places, sign contracts, and declare the principles of friendship and cooperation. But over all the years, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union both sides have expressed mutual accusations, claims, reproaches and have been suspicious of each other. It is true that in international relations there is no outright hatred and enmity, but there relations are not friendly either. In general, in the Azerbaijani- Russian relations friendship and cooperation on the basis of suspicion and mistrust prevail.
- Why do you think the issue of signing the agreements on joining the Customs Union with Russia and on Association and free trade zone with the EU stands more acutely to Armenia than to Azerbaijan?
For many reasons. First, Armenia does not have its own energy resources; therefore it lacks opportunities for a steadier economic development. In addition to this Armenia is in a complex geopolitical situation: the borders with Azerbiajan which are actually the front line today are closed because of the Karabakh conflict. It has closed borders with Turkey because of the unresolved Armenian-Turkish relations. In Armenia, there is a Russian military base and the border is guarded by the Russian troops. Plus, in fact up to 70 percent of Armenia's economy today is in one form or other under the control of Russia. But at the same time, Armenia has no common borders with Russia; the relationship is sustained by the air transport. It is possible to have ground communication with Russia through Georgia, but it is also closed due to the conflict between Georgia and Russia, which worsened after the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008. This leaves only the border with Iran, but it could be at a risk in the event of an escalation of the confrontation between the West and Iran. As a result, any conflict in the region, not even directly connected with Armenia, for example, the Georgian- Russian war in 2008, is a serious blow to the economy of Armenia and makes Armenia even more vulnerable. Thus, many Armenian citizens live and work in Russia largely thanks to labor migration to that country. Therefore, today for Armenia the relation with Russia is a safety issue and that of more or less tolerable economic relations. This is not to say that Armenians are very pleased joining the CU. Many people in Armenia are in favor of European integration, seeing it as a hope for better development. After all, an alliance with modern Russia, that does not accept Armenia as an equal partner and has consistently demonstrated it, cannot please Armenians. In addition, the alliance with Russia is essentially a movement back towards the revival of Soviet Armenia in some form and it may, in fact, gradually turn into a Russian province. Therefore, Armenia has long tried to balance between its strategic ally Russia and the European Union. Armenia has sought to establish and maintain good relations with Western countries, especially the European Union, seeing it as collateral for its security.
It is for this very reason that Armenia was in talks to sign an Association Agreement with the EU and the Agreement on the establishment of a deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) with the EU since 2010. And this fact has caused irritation in Moscow, and Armenia came under pressure and, therefore, at the beginning of September, the Armenian President Sargsyan gave in and agreed to join the CU.
In Azerbaijan, the situation is markedly different. It has its own energy resources and therefore Russia’s "gas blackmail" will not work with Azerbaijan. There is also the export of these resources through friendly Georgia to the western market, which allows Azerbaijan to feel safe in its relations with Russia and not to be afraid of pressure. In this case, Russia has two serious trump cards – the Karabakh conflict and labor migrants. However, the Karabakh conflict can be used against Azerbaijan in case of violations of the truce and the start of hostilities. But if we do not allow this and do not respond to the provocation, similar to the one organized by Russia against Georgia in August 2008, Russia will not have chances there either. As for the Azerbaijani migrants in Russia, the vast majority of them had to take Russian citizenship, and therefore even the aggravation in the Azerbaijani- Russian relations will not result in mass deportation of Azerbaijanis from Russia, because they are Russian citizens now. Thus, Azerbaijan’s joining the CU is not important from the economic point of view and is not dangerous in the event of refusal to join. And this is what actually happened. For the same reason, Azerbaijan forced Russia to close its only military base in the country (the Gabala radar) and, again, Russia was forced to swallow the bitter and unpleasant pill.
- How is the Russian contemporary policy towards the country perceived by the citizens of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Russia? What role does the Azerbaijani Diaspora in Russia play in the architecture of modern Russian-Azerbaijani relations?
- All of the above has led to the fact that the Russian attitude to Azerbaijanis is very ambiguous. This is nicely illustrated by surveys that are conducted by different services and give the same result in relation to Russia: for many years in the polls among the population of Azerbaijan Russia steadily ranks the second among the most friendly (after Turkey) and the most unfriendly (after Armenia ) countries! That is clearly seen that for the citizens of Azerbaijan, there are "two" Russias: a friendly one, which has much in common in terms of culture and history, moreover, a Russia that is a close trading and economic partner. The "other" Russia has a hostile attitude in the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that is extremely important for Azerbaijan; it is not interested in its settlement, being the strategic ally of the enemy Armenia.
The situation is more complicated with the Azerbaijani Diaspora. It is largely pro-Russian, although after the Chechens Azerbaijanis came second in terms of harassments and attacks both by the authorities and the media, where the phobias of the Caucasus are largely anti-Azerbaijani in their manifestations. But the representatives of the Diaspora often blame this on the Azerbaijani authorities, believing that the passage of the country under the control of Moscow would change the situation dramatically. That is why Azerbaijan is very much wary of this or that action or claims of the so-called the leaders of the Azerbaijani Diaspora, seeing them as “the Kremlin voices", and not entities, reflecting the interests of Azerbaijan. And so, the largest Diaspora in Russia does not actually play a role in the political life of Azerbaijan or its role is in fact not felt, rather it is rejected.
- Which spheres are of fundamental interest for Azerbaijan and Russia and for Azerbaijan and the EU as cooperating parties? Have these interests been transformed recently?
- The interests of Russia and the European Union in Azerbaijan and those of Azerbaijan in Russia and the EU are too different from each other in order to really intersect. Another thing is that due to many other factors all the parties today are interested in stability and non-military operations, both on the front line of the Karabakh conflict as well as in terms of the deterioration of the situation in the Middle East, especially in Iran , because it will inevitably be reflected in changes in the region. Besides, all the parties are alarmed by the increasing gain of Islamic political forces in the country and the region. This forces all the parties to seek common ground.


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