Author: Fuad HILALOV, Istanbul
"Recently, Yerevan hosted the summit of leaders of the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union, where the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian convinced participants of his government's commitment to the Eurasian course. But almost all analysts and media outlets recalled that before coming to power, Pashinian was an ardent opponent of Eurasian integration. When Pashinian was sincere in this matter - before coming to power or after?"
"I think he has never been sincere, neither before nor after. He is a kind of pragmatic politician. He came to power in the wake of anti-Russian and, largely, anti-Eurasian sentiments. He criticised the Eurasian project as part of his criticism of Sargsyan and, therefore, relied on the opponents of the existing regime. He criticised the inefficiency of Sargsyan's internal governance, as well as the foreign policy and relations of the previous Armenian government with Russia, the West and Azerbaijan. But let me remind you that it was under Sargsyan that Armenia reached a certain agreement on the issue of the return of five regions adjacent to Karabakh to Azerbaijan. Sargsyan did not implement this decision because he thought that it could cause serious confrontation within the Armenian society. Due to his weak political position at that time, he decided to wait until he is a prime minister and the constitutional reform is complete. By the way, both Putin and Aliyev believed that Sargsyan would keep his word; they counted on him. Pashinian "overthew" Sargsyan by criticising him for weaknesses, the entire policy of the previous leadership. But at the same time he criticised Eurasianism. When Pashinian came to power, he had to cope with a completely different set of tasks. It is very difficult without Russia's support. Since Armenia's foreign policy and economy significantly depend on Russia, Pashinian began to change his tough anti-Russian and anti-Eurasian rhetoric based on pragmatic considerations. He has skilfully took advantage of Sargsyan's unpopularity among a significant part of Armenian society. And now, in order to maintain power, he must take some pro-Russian steps. I think he sympathises to Armenian nationalism more than Eurasianism but, in general, this is characteristic of Armenian politics. For Armenian politicians, Eurasianism with a strong Turkic factor is a threat. They accept it because their choice is inevitable or necessary. In fact, they would prefer either to establish "the Greater Armenia", which is simply unrealistic, or a bilateral alliance with Russia without all the other Turkic peoples. Nevertheless, Pashinian has to accept what is available currently, no further options. Russia is an unconditional supporter of the Eurasian rapprochement, and being a pragmatic politician, Pashinian has to recognise this model."
"Does it mean that Armenia is doomed to be Eurasian, regardless of who rules the country?"
"Armenia is not doomed to be Eurasian; it is not Eurasian. The country is very dependent on Russia in every sense of the word. Since Russia is the leading driver of the Eurasian integration, Armenia participates in the process because non-participation would be worse than participation."
"Armenia has driven itself into an economic blockade due to territorial claims against Azerbaijan. What can Armenia give to the Eurasian Economic Union in this situation?"
"In fact, Armenia's contribution to the Eurasian Union can be positive. But a truly turning point would be if Azerbaijan joins the Eurasian Union. Azerbaijan is a truly Eurasian country, and in this regard, the positions of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the EAEU can be compared with those of India and Pakistan as the SCO member states. Active participation of Azerbaijan and Armenia within the Eurasian Union would create completely different conditions for solving the Karabakh problem, hence ending the blockade of Armenia and unblocking relations in the South Caucasus. But Armenia is doing everything possible to aggravate relations with Azerbaijan. Closer cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan could provide a gradual solution to the Karabakh issue and the integration of Armenia, not excluding the possibility of normalising relations between Armenia and Turkey and so on. All these issues are planned in this full-fledged Eurasian project."
"Yerevan positions itself as a strategic ally of Moscow. However, it is no secret that the "revolution" in Armenia has shaken the system of Armenian-Russian allied relations. Is it possible to rebuild the long-standing relationships between the two countries? If so, what can we expect from this restructuring?"
"It is possible. Many agreements with Sargsyan have been reached not with him personally but with the state of Armenia that he led. That's why when Pashinian questioned them (and he questioned many of them!), this caused a very serious reaction from Moscow. Nevertheless, Moscow builds its relations with Yerevan based on pragmatic concerns, i.e. knowing well what and who determines the agenda in Armenia. From a pragmatic point of view, I think that the situation is not so hopeless. There is no place for hostility or breaking up the historically established ties between the two nations but, in general, we observe an unpleasant situation in Armenia, which causes the discontent of Russia with the existing political course in the neighbouring country."
"A year ago, during a press-conference in Jojug Marjanly liberated from Armenian occupation, you said that Azerbaijan was the only and main ally of Russia in the Caucasus. What is the role of Baku in Moscow's strategic plans?"
"Azerbaijan is Russia's main ally in the South Caucasus, although it is not a member of the EAEU or CSTO. I believe that our relations develop rapidly and favourably. Yet we could not implement the plan, which assumed the return of five regions to Azerbaijan. By the way, this plan, which was slowed down because of Pashinian, is a sort of proof of the seriousness of our intentions. Azerbaijan is the major partner of Russia in relations with the Caspian region and the South Caucasus. It is the key actor in the stabilisation of relations between Moscow, Tehran and Ankara and is the key to our success in the Middle East. The role of Azerbaijan in this process is colossal. Personal relations between Putin and Aliyev is at the highest level. Both presidents understand and respect each other not just out of politeness but also because they share the same views on the overall strategy of the region. Azerbaijan is lucky to have Ilham Aliyev as its president, who follows the political course of his father, Heydar Aliyev. He is a rare yet a striking example of how one should govern the country in the interests of people, and not only in the interests of the ruling elite, which is very important. Being popular leaders, Putin and Aliyev are close both personally and ideologically. I think that the events taking place in Armenia do not undermine the present and future relations between Russia and Azerbaijan. On the contrary, we see that our presidents understand each other very well. I believe that the time has come when we need to take the next step of intensive friendship between Russia and Azerbaijan. All conditions for this exist. Huge victory of Russia in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, shows that Russia actively returns to the Islamic world. The number of nations turning towards Moscow is increasing. Therefore, Azerbaijan can take advantage of Russia's growing prestige to strengthen its own positions."
"Earlier this year you forecasted that the agreement on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict would be signed in the spring with the Armenian side returning "several regions" to Azerbaijan in June. What factors did prevent this from happening? What are the prospects for settlement today?"
"Honestly, President Ilham Aliyev amazes me with his endurance. He is trying to avoid any aggravation of the situation with Armenia. He reasonably accepted the election of Pashinian and calmly continues to hold the dialogue with Armenia, despite harsh comments and behaviour of the Armenian leader. I believe that's the reason why Azerbaijan won. In other words, in this situation, restraint, calmness and self-confidence are the qualities that determine the most reliable partner of Russia. I think it is the time to return to the 'new old' draft resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Two years have passed since Pashinian came to power, and he has already broken away with his anti-Russian and anti-Eurasian rhetoric that he used during the election, and increasingly demonstrates pragmatic qualities of a realist politician. This creates prerequisites for building a new type of relationship and involves the development of new tactics. The strategy and roadmap of relationships are clear. It is important for Baku to think over a new tactic of relations with Russia, which Azerbaijan will use to make the next step to finalise these plans."