Gayane Novikova: “It is obvious that Russia is not interested in a clear definition of its position on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict”

Interview of Dr. Gayane Novikova to ArmInfo News Agency

July 25, 2012


Dr. Novikova, several analysts, including the Azerbaijani, argue that only Russia is able to influence the parties to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and to push forward its own option of the conflict resolution. In your opinion, should such a vision of the problem be considered as well-grounded?

At a glance, the vision that Russia is the only state able to resolve the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has some reasons. Russia is a major actor in the South Caucasus. It considers this region as an area of its interests (I would like to remind you that there was even a saying “the area of privileged interests”); it has a certain leverage of influence upon internal and external developments in each of the states and the state entities of the region. It builds relationships with both Armenia and Azerbaijan exclusively pragmatically, on the basis of its strategic interests.

I doubt that Russia has its special plan for resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. However, it is obvious that it is not interested in a clear definition and the introduction of its position on this issue, because otherwise it comes down on the side of either Armenia or Azerbaijan, thereby narrowing its strategic space. Taking into consideration the level of the Russian-Georgian relations, Russia cannot allow itself to have another “reluctant” neighbor as a result of a choice between the states involved in the above-mentioned Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Thus, Russia is in favor of the status quo established in the area of the conflict.

Let me remind you that the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, as well as the Presidents of Russia, the USA, and France, have been issued several statements pointing out that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict can be – and should be – resolved only by its direct participants. In general, they are right.

In your opinion, are Armenia and Azerbaijan able to stop the meaningless bloodshed along the borders without any external assistance?  Or, maybe we should apply for help to the international community, taking into consideration that there is a threat that subversive acts will turn into a resumption of full-scale war?

Most probably, subversive acts in the absence of the comprehensive peace agreement are unavoidable. The problem is that the number of these acts is increasing, and in parallel the number of victims from both sides is growing. The so-called international community has its own array of other problems, and the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict is not among its priorities. Thus, the proverb “people in trouble are left to themselves” is applicable in the case of this conflict. Furthermore, to stop the bloodshed along the contact line there should be not only good will of the parties directly involved in the conflict, but also their recognition of the meaningless of this bloodshed.

In the case of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict it has not happened because Azerbaijan must demonstrate its firm commitment to return the territories that are currently under the Armenian control at all costs. Тhat is, for Azerbaijan the tactic of provoking the two Armenian parties to the conflict to respond is not meaningless: on the one hand, Azerbaijani authorities stress the priority of the conflict resolution while simultaneously intensifying the militaristic mood in their society. On the other hand – when Armenia acts in response – they acquire an opportunity to blame our state for its “aggressive behavior.”  The Armenian side repeatedly has suggested, and still suggests, a withdrawal of the snipers from the contact line. However, Azerbaijan, in line with the above-mentioned approach, cannot take even this step – because it will be evaluated throughout the Azerbaijani society as a concession to Armenia and a reversal of the national goal. Moreover, Azerbaijan comprehends also a threat of a further escalation as a consequence of a tough response of the two Armenian state entities and the negative reaction of the international community.

The military actions along the border with Armenia cannot give rise to a withdrawal of Armenian forces from the territories which Azerbaijan considers as its own. At a glance, Baku could not be interested in an escalation of tensions in the northern side of the Armenian-Azerbaijani state border – for the reason that it could be evaluated by Armenia as good reason to apply for help to the CSTO member-states, and to Russia in particular. Why, in your opinion, does Azerbaijan increase provocations in this direction, but not along the contact line between the Karabakhi and Azerbaijani military forces?    

I suppose that on the one hand Azerbaijan is probing the defense line of Armenia; on the other hand it is checking Russia’s reaction – as the leading state in the CSTO – in the event of a possible large-scale military operation against Armenia. (I exclude any support for Armenia from the Central-Asian states and Kazakhstan; most probably they will stay neutral if military actions resume directly between Armenia and Azerbaijan.)  As another factor I would mention the joint military maneuvers of the CSTO Collective Operational Reaction Forces (CORF) “Cooperation 2012.” They will take place on Armenian soil in early September and will be focused upon the repulson of a possible military attack against Armenia. These maneuvers increase nervousness not only in Georgia, but in Azerbaijan, as well. The latter “warns” Armenia and demonstrates its operational readiness.

In your opinion, is there any possibility that Moscow can repeat the August 8, 2008 scenario if the Nagorno Karabakh conflict develops into a full-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

No, none. However, currently Russia focuses upon mechanisms to prevent escalation of the conflict that could have unpredictable consequences. First, it will be very difficult for Moscow to decide which of the parties to the conflict to support.  Second, in the August war of 2008, it had two pretexts to intervention: the Russian peacekeepers in the area of the South Ossetian conflict, and the approximately 96-97% of the South Ossetia population holding Russian citizenship.

Among the negotiation themes during the recent visit of Hillary Clinton to Armenia and Azerbaijan was the Nagorno Karabakh problem. The US Secretary of State mentioned also that there are some positive shifts occurred after the Paris meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani Ministers of Foreign Affairs. However, there have been no visible changes or shifts in regard to conflict resolution. What is the purpose of the American diplomacy in regard to this kind of statements?  

On the eve of the presidential elections and with growing internal tension in the USA, American diplomacy needs to demonstrate success in the foreign policy area safeguarding some stability in the overt and latent “hot spots.”  Turkey was in the focus of Mrs. Clinton’s regional visit; the stopover in Yerevan and Baku was rather a PR-action to confirm Washington’s interest in stability in the South Caucasus and to balance the Kremlin activity in this region.

What trends can you mention in the current foreign policy of Armenia in regard in particular to the European integration and the integration to the Eurasian Union initiated by Vladimir Putin?   

Armenia faces the difficult task of preserving the essential balance in its foreign policy. The European and the Russian initiatives (the Free trade zone, and the Eurasian Union and Customs Union, respectively) have their pluses and minuses.  European integration does not assume membership of our state in the European Union, which conducts soft power initiatives in the South Caucasus and is not ready to implement and support high cost economic projects. However, intensification of cooperation with the EU will enable Armenia to enlarge its political and economic opportunities and contribute to the further democratization of the country. It can play also an indirect role in the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

As for the Russian initiatives, let me remind you that Armenia’s decision not to participate in the Customs Union with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus fits fully with the desire to correct and balance, above all, the political priorities of Armenia. The level of bilateral relations between Armenia and these three states, all of which are members of the Customs Union, is very high, especially with Russia. And, finally, all have signed agreements on free trade areas in the CIS.

Most probably, Russia will pressure Armenia hard, trying to involve it in these projects. To achieve this goal Russia will use not only its economic leverage (such as energy supplies), but also the factor of unresolved Nagorno Karabakh conflict, as well as the state of Armenian political forces in the 2013 presidential elections.