"If Armenia loses membership in CSTO, its borders may radically change"
Caliber.Az interview with Russian expert Ruslan Safarov
INTERVIEWS 06 October 2022 - 12:53
Caliber.Az presents an interview with Ruslan Safarov, a Russian expert, political analyst, and publicist.
- How do you assess the US policy towards Armenia and the South Caucasus in general? Do Americans manage to promote their interests using the Armenian factor?
- I think Armenia is currently used as a lever to influence the policy of the South Caucasus countries, particularly Azerbaijan. The fact is that the positions of the USA and France in the region weakened considerably in 2020, since their initiative as mediators was intercepted partly by Türkiye and mainly by Russia, and the OSCE Minsk Group virtually ceased to exist. Both Washington and Paris, therefore, have an interest in stirring up the conflict situation between Baku and Yerevan, either to spur a full-scale conflict against Russia and Türkiye or to intercept the settlement initiative and thereby bring not only Armenia but also Azerbaijan into the orbit of their policy.
The first scenario (conflict) would provide a new front in the rear of Russia, which is engaged in hostilities in Ukraine, and would also set fire to Türkiye, which now has the dangerous prospect of war with Greece, directly supported by France. The interest of the US, and especially France, can be seen with the naked eye.
In the case of the second scenario (active mediation), NATO peacekeepers may appear on the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, i.e. a direct military presence in the region, and thus an increased diplomatic influence on Baku and Yerevan with far-reaching plans. The South Caucasus is strategically important to the US, as it is key to the formation of the West-East and North-South Eurasian transport corridors. In addition, with the US entrenched in the region, Washington's maneuverability to influence Russia (North Caucasus), Iran (South Azerbaijan), and Türkiye (reducing Ankara's sovereignty over the region) is significantly increased.
So far, the US and France have been quite successful in this process on the Armenian track. But it should be understood that the aim of this adventure is not Armenia, but Azerbaijan. That is why Baku is now making diplomatic efforts to keep peace in the region, while also conducting a show of force to strengthen its negotiating position on the peace treaty.
- What do you think about possible US military supplies to Armenia? How will the Armenian side pay for this reckless military-political adventure in case of its realization?
- Such a possibility cannot be ruled out, although it will be quite difficult for the US, taking into account the lend-lease for Ukraine starting this October. The escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict requires the US to continually increase arms deliveries to the theatre of war. How plentifully they will be able to support Armenia with arms is a big question. Besides, let's not forget that after their defeat in 2020, the Armenian armed forces need a complete restructuring, and retraining of the army to NATO standards, which will require significant time, and the Pashinyan government has very little of it.
The debts that Armenia will get in the end will be further used for the financial and economic control of that country by the West - that is the price for the Armenian people for the geopolitical chimeras living in the minds of part of the Armenian society.
- Could the current arms race initiated by Armenia lead to the outbreak of a new war with Azerbaijan?
- As Chekhov said, "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired." Any militarization, and the arms race, as a rule, leads to a military denouement. However, referring to the current state of affairs in the Armenian armed forces, we must understand that in 2020 they have been substantially demilitarized in the fields of the Patriotic War. Therefore, replenishment and restructuring may take a considerable amount of time. Given the desire of Armenia's military-political leadership to withdraw from the CSTO and finally formalize its transition into the sphere of Western influence, they may not have time to do so. If Armenia loses membership in CSTO tomorrow, its borders may radically change. I think Armenia understands this and is therefore trying to sit on three chairs at once: they are trying to blackmail Russia, building bridges with the US and France, and actively seeking support from Iran and India.
- What leverage can Moscow use to keep Armenia within its sphere of influence, in particular in the CSTO?
- Russia finds itself in a rather difficult position in the South Caucasus: it has to choose between its two allies in the region. It is in Moscow's interest to maintain these relations with both countries and, most importantly, to end the conflict and open transport corridors. In this regard, the Armenian leadership's demarches regarding a possible withdrawal from the CSTO are similar to blackmail. What is important here is that the blackmailer threatens suicide, because Armenia's withdrawal from the CSTO would make it extremely vulnerable to power pressure from Azerbaijan.
The Kremlin has quite a few levers to influence Armenia. Russia is home to a significant Armenian diaspora, and Russian state-owned companies (railways, power generation, gas industry) hold a significant share of the strategic areas of its economy. Therefore, Russia has enough levers to influence Armenia.
- Do you envisage the withdrawal of the Russian military base from Armenia?
- The term for deployment of the Russian military base in Gyumri is stipulated in the agreement of 1995 and addendums of 2010, but the base will be deployed till 2044. Withdrawal of the Russian military base is not in Russia's long-term interests, so I would suggest that the closure and withdrawal of the base from Armenian territory are unlikely.
- As you know, India has taken a provocative step by entering into millions of dollars of contracts with Armenia for the supply of weapons of its own manufacture. Is New Delhi's stance directly linked to the Pakistani factor and Baku's attitude towards the Kashmir issue?
- The Pakistani factor plays a significant role in Armenian-Indian and Indo-Azerbaijani relations. However, there are deeper reasons related to India's geopolitical strategy. New Delhi's relations with Beijing are referred to by many Eurasia analysts as a "cold war". By 2050, it is China and India that will have the largest economies on the planet. At the same time, they have a number of unresolved territorial disputes (Aksaychin, Arunachal Pradesh). India actively supports the idea of a North-South corridor (Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran), aware of the economic benefits of this partnership, as well as the geopolitical advantages (Delhi is afraid of a direct alliance between Moscow and Beijing, and therefore is trying hard to construct options for cooperation with Moscow or maintain the Beijing-Delhi-Moscow triangle). But India is in no way interested in the East-West corridor, which China is actively promoting through the One Belt, One Road trade and economic strategy. The development of this project would lead to China's economic and political dominance in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and Southeast Europe, which would mean a strategic defeat for India. Therefore, New Delhi is ready to complicate Armenian-Azerbaijani relations in any way possible so that the prospect of transport communications through these countries is postponed indefinitely.
Azerbaijan's interest is to ensure that both corridors are fully operational. This will bring significant economic benefits to the Republic and will make it one of the main geopolitical and geo-economic crossroads of Eurasia. Hence, as I see it, the complexities of Indo-Azerbaijani relations and India's activity in the Armenian direction. But New Delhi is unlikely to arm Armenia significantly: it could cause great tensions in the China-Russia-India triangle. Rather, India's assistance will be aimed at smoldering the conflict and delaying the signing of a peace treaty between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
- How do you assess the level of the current protest base in Iran, and what forces are behind these internal political processes?
- In my opinion, the American and British traces are quite obvious here. The broken deal on the Iranian nuclear program, possible deliveries of Iranian drones to Russia (both sides deny such contracts), the contracts signed by Russian fuel and energy companies in Tehran in July of this year (for more than $40 billion), the active formation of "Middle Eastern NATO" during the last year - this is far from the final list of tension points between the Anglo-Saxon tandem and Iran. Washington and London are not yet ready to lift sanctions from Tehran because it would reduce the energy crisis in the EU (this is not in the UK's interest) and it would create preconditions for the development of Iran's missile programme (this is not in the US interest because of the threats to Israel).
Separately, I would like to note that the aggravation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the protest wave in Iran coincided with the signing of a number of agreements on the North-South corridor between Russia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. There are no coincidences in geopolitics and the interests of the West were violated by these agreements. In my view, these agreements were the trigger for the events that followed. The ongoing protests in South Azerbaijan and their possible escalation will slow down the construction of this corridor, and a potential civil war in Iran will terminate the project altogether. But external forces can only play into internal problems. And here, too, a number of factors have accumulated. Iran is a multinational state. The last year and a half saw unrest in Khuzistan (a predominantly Arab-populated area), and today there is unrest among Kurdish and Azeri populations. This means that the society and peoples of Iran have a demand for the adjustment of national policy. Socio-economic problems in society are becoming increasingly acute, and there are serious problems with the perception of the regime among young Iranians as well. All this is a breeding ground for protests. There are also serious intra-elite problems, particularly exacerbated by the illness of the country's top leader, Ali Khamenei, and the potential issue of succession to power.
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