8 February 2023

Wednesday, 17:32


R+ interview with Ariel Gonzalez Levaggi, Secretary of the Eurasia Department at the Institute of International Relations, National University of La Plata (Argentine)



- Baku has paid a lot of attention to its relations with the countries of South America in recent years. What is it that might attract Azerbaijan's interest in such a far-off region? What could attract the attention of government and business of those countries in Azerbaijan?

- Azerbaijan has been the most successful country in the Caucasus in terms of its growing influence in the international arena. South America, especially Argentina and Brazil, has successfully addressed the expansion of Azerbaijan's interests in the region. Azerbaijan has developed three dimensions of its international agenda in the region: political, economic and cultural. The opening of Azerbaijani embassies in recent years in Argentina, Brazil and lately in Uruguay is a good indicator of its close relations with the region. Argentina, Brazil and Colombia also have embassies in Azerbaijan. In cultural and economic terms Azerbaijan has developed a smart public diplomacy strategy promoting Azerbaijani historical and cultural heritage, the country's business-investment climate, its leading regional role, and input in the intercultural dialogue. Launching the Azerbaijan Studies Chair at the Eurasia Department of the Institute of International Relations of the National University of La Plata is one of the main indicators of the growing Azerbaijani presence in the region. The countries of the region have been attracted because of the high economic growth, its geostrategic position and permanent interest of Azerbaijan in the region.

- The media reports that during the recent visit of President Serzh Sargsyan to Latin America one of the issues discussed was lobbying for the recognition of the "Nagornyy Karabakh republic". How realistic do you think this is considering that most of Argentina is suffering from an unresolved territorial conflict?

- Argentina will never recognize the independence of Nagornyy Karabakh if only because, as you have mentioned, it has its own occupied territories - the Malvinas Islands. In both conflicts, the principle of territorial integrity is the main approach of Argentina and Azerbaijan. The Karabakh and the Malvinas issues have a common ground but their history, characteristics and possible solutions are different. Another common issue is that both countries strive for a peaceful solution of the conflict.

In the case of Malvinas, the UK occupied the territory in 1833 while the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict and occupation of Azerbaijani territories surrounding Nagornyy Karabakh started in the early 1990s. The Nagornyy Karabakh conflict generated the displacement of the native population from the occupied regions toward the current territory of Azerbaijan while in Malvinas there is a transplant population from the UK but not internal displacement. Another difference is that Argentina started and lost the war for the Malvinas back in 1982 making the negotiations over sovereignty more difficult while Azerbaijan suffered an invasion of its territory.   However, the international community and international organizations support Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. 

- Recently Russian President Putin made a tour of South American countries. In terms of the cooling of relations between Russia and the West, could this visit be the start of close relationships between the countries of the region and Russia in opposition to US policy?

- Latin-American countries always use their bilateral relations with Russia - years ago with the Soviet Union - to balance or limit the hegemony of the US in the region. However, during the last ten years Russian influence has been growing at different dimensions such as political, economic and military. The multidimensional approach toward the region has had different feedback. The leftist countries, especially the members of the Bolivarian Alliance such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador, have seen an opportunity to balance the influence of US hegemony in the region by signing different agreements. For example, Venezuela has bought rifles, tanks, aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery systems from Russia since 2001 while Russia has written off more than 85 percent of Venezuela's debt accrued since the Soviet period. The center-left governments like Argentina and Brazil have sought in Russia an emerging partner to limit US influence without taking too many commitments on sensitive issues like defense and security. The relations are based on high level meetings, cooperation in G20 and the increasing trade level. Finally, the countries of the Pacific Alliance such as Chile, Peru and Mexico, the main allies of the US in the region, look upon Russia distrustfully because of its efforts to increase its influence in the region. Putin's visit to Latin America follows up continuous efforts made by Russia to maintain and increase its interests in the region.

- This year there will be presidential elections in several countries in South America, including Argentina and Brazil. What might change in the politics of these countries after the elections?

- The 2014-2015 elections in the Southern Cone could be decisive for the next years in Latin America. However, the political landscape is not clear yet, especially in Brazil and still less in Argentina. In Chile, Michelle Bachelet won with 62 per cent of the votes returning to the presidency after the 2006-2010 government. The victory of Bachelet ensures the continuity of a foreign policy seemingly closer to Latin America than the rightist government of ex-President Pinera. The defeat of Brazil in the World Cup has changed the political scenario in Brazil. President Dilma Rousseff will likely fail re-elections phasing down the PT hegemony in domestic politics. Her main rival is the economist Aecio Neves (PSDB party) who belongs to the traditional political elite and it is very likely that international affairs will re-top the presidential agenda accentuating on mature relations with the US and their Western allies. Finally, the political cycle of Kirchnerism in Argentina is ending. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will not go for re-election and needs to find a replacement. It is difficult to forecast but the main candidates for the Presidency both from the Kirchnerists and their opponents stick to traditional views on relations with the US and European countries. If during the Kirchner era relations with the US were complicated, it is very likely that the next President will seek an approach with the Americans in order to ensure financial support and investments.