Azeri.Today from Moscow
Moscow bureau of Azeri.Today
Azeri.Today interviews Andrey Okara, Russian political expert, director of the Center of Eastern European Studies.
- How do you assess the Russian-Azerbaijani relations and what are the prospects for their development? What can you say about the relations between the two neighbor countries?
- The Russian-Azerbaijani relations are clearly asymmetric, with both of the sides trying to resolve its problems. Russia needs the following from Azerbaijan: country’s pursuance of the pro-Kremlin course in the post-Soviet space, non- involvement in the associations like GUAM, non- construction of the Southern gas corridor, absence of direct and effective ties with the United States, pro-Russian position in relations with Turkey and Iran and probably in the future accession to the Eurasian Union. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan needs the following from Russia: primarily, understanding, as well as moral, political and other support in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, non-support of Armenia, limitless access of Azerbaijani production to the Russian market, tolerance to the citizens of Azerbaijan, living and working in Russia.
We need to remember that Russia has a critical mass (“control political shares”) to manage the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has a potential of relations with Turkey, with which it enjoys cultural and economic closeness, and Iran, tied to it with religious and historical bounds, both quite important for Russia.
- In his recent interview with Russia Today President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev did not rule out theoretical accession of the country to EAEC. What do you think the Russian integration project can attract Azerbaijan with?
- I don’t think that the prospect of EAEC accession may be interesting for Azerbaijan in the middle- and long-term perspective. But this is interesting for Russia in political context rather than the economic plane. Therefore, such a statement from the President of Azerbaijan can be viewed as a political compliment to the Russian leadership ahead of important talks. If the issue of Azerbaijan’s hypothetic accession to the EAEC continues in the coming months, it can be spoken of as something larger than merely a compliment. But I doubt that it will happen.
- How do you assess Russia’s mediatory role in the Karabakh process?
- As I have noted above, Russia has a critical mass to manage the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, while after signing the Meiendorff declaration in 2008 our country has assumed the obligations within the international law as the main moderator of talks between Baku and Yerevan. But to take one side in the conflict would mean to lose the other for Russia.
I do not think that the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict can be settled in the foreseeable future. It turns 30 in 2018. But have we seen any prospects for its settlement throughout this period? The conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh can be viewed as one of the most important ‘points of Russia’s entry’ to the South Caucasus. It can be compared to the conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Trans-Dniestria and Donbass. Such frozen, lukewarm and occasionally awakening conflicts help the Russian government to address the most vital geopolitical problems, related to their subjective perceptions of Russian sovereignty and exaggeration of external threats, and represent a political tool to keep these countries into the Russian orbit of influence.
It is also necessary to highlight the role of Armenian natives and simply the people of Armenian descent (from the foreign minister to editors-in-chief of some influential Russian media outlets) in the information warfare which Russia has to hold in both Ukraine and the international arena. Inner Russian propaganda is a separate topic: just switch on any political talk-show on any Russian federal channels and count the number of people with Armenian surnames! I suspect that it is even possible to speak about a certain informal pact between the Kremlin and Armenian Diaspora. A similar situation can be observed in Ukraine with the Georgian natives: for example, Saakashvili, the former head of the state administration of Odessa, late Kakha Bendukidze, who was seen as a candidate for the prime minister of this country.
By the way, I don’t think Yerevan enjoys such a state of affairs. Armenia is a hostage of this complicated situation. It has no other allies except the Kremlin and Armenian Diaspora. If Georgia was headed by the same Saakashvili, he could have tried to build a strategic Georgian-Armenian union. But nothing of the kind is expected to happen.
- The US - Russian confrontation is observed everywhere – in the Middle East, in Asia, in Europe and even in Latin America. The United States managed to create an unfriendly ‘sanitary cordon’ in Eastern Europe. How long will the Baltic states, as well as Poland and Romania keep being pro-American? Might the situation shift in Russia’s favor in the coming future?
- I think that this ‘sanitary cordon’, created by the United States and its ‘puppets’ to belittle the sovereignty and foreign policy interests of Russia, exists primarily in the heads of a part of the Russian political elite and on the virtual space, modeled by the Russian television. Unfortunately, the distorted, inaccurate and sometimes inadequate assessment of political processes, occurring in the Russian suburbs (this primarily refers to the two recent Ukrainian revolutions), leads to risky decisions, which result in Russia’s weakening, marginalizing it in the international arena, radically strengthening confrontation with the West (up to digging up the issue of ‘radioactive ash’). And now after the country got involved into the Syrian war, they create a colossal threat of confrontation with the entire Islamic world. And the farther, the higher are the risks for Russia.
But I don’t think that Poland, Romania and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and especially the Eastern European Germany or France come out with the pro-American position. Simply all those countries, including the United States, have a sincere fear of the Russian nuclear potential, as well as the weakening taboo on its usage on the political and informational space.
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