"Russia no longer needs the suitcase without a handle that Armenia represents today"
Expert Igor Korotchenko hosted by Caliber.Az
INTERVIEWS 31 January 2023 - 16:21
The contradictions between Russia and Armenia are snowballing. The parties have many mutual claims, but at the heart of the disagreement is undoubtedly Yerevan's treacherous desire to change overlord to a more favourable one. Now Yerevan is already threatening to get rid of the Russian presence, expressing in return a willingness to accept and deploy on Armenian territory a new European Union "civilian" mission, whose aims and objectives raise many questions in both Moscow and Baku. Igor Korotchenko, Russian political analyst and editor-in-chief of the National Defence magazine, told Caliber.Az about Russia's views on the current policy of Yerevan, especially its obvious attempts to complicate and undermine the negotiation process in the South Caucasus.
- The relations between Moscow and Yerevan have seriously cooled. Commenting on the upcoming deployment of the EU mission to Armenia, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova said, in particular, that "Russian border guards will react to the behaviour of the EU observers taking into account the situation on the ground". What did Zakharova mean by her statement and should we fear real conflict situations between the EU mission and the Russian military in Armenia?
- In any case, the Russian border guards will act strictly in line with their duties and regulations. Clearly, any provocative action taken by the European observers will prompt a reaction. It is difficult to say what that reaction will be since the situation is still evolving. It is clear, however, that the Russian decision-making centres view the deployment of the EU mission to Armenia and Yerevan's readiness to accept it exclusively from a negative perspective. In Moscow, this is interpreted as Pashinyan's consistent policy aimed at breaking the alliance with Russia, gradually reorienting to a security format on the part of Western countries, primarily France, and in the future as an exit from the CSTO and the closure of the Russian base in Gyumri. In other words, the scenario and assessments of the development of the internal political situation in Armenia by the Russian decision-making centres are extremely negative: we can see that Armenia is turning from a friendly country into a country with an unpredictable policy, which in the future may lead to force majeure in the political and military format.
- Could Yerevan's unambiguous manoeuvres to undermine the Russian presence in Armenia induce Russia not only to make statements but also to take action?
- Armenia is, after all, a sovereign country, and if Yerevan wishes the Russian border guards to leave the territory of Armenia by denouncing the relevant agreements, then it is Yerevan's right. Another thing is that Moscow should counteract the negative trends, and react promptly, relying on some, if there are any, healthy political forces in Armenia. But Pashinyan, as we can see, is consistently, though skillfully mimicking, turning Armenia's foreign policy course away from Russia - this is quite obvious. That is, the trend is outlined and only the timeline remains unknown. Therefore, I think a serious analysis and review of the whole Russian policy towards Armenia is needed here, and if that country's leadership bites the hand that feeds it, then why do we need the suitcase without a handle that Armenia represents today?
The most unpleasant thing is that this turbulence in Russian-Armenian relations is taking place against the background of a "special military operation" (inverted commas - Ed.). And it is clear to everyone that Russia is concentrating all its efforts in this direction, while we need a calm South Caucasus. And Armenia's de facto policy leads to instability in the region again, which will critically affect the functioning of the North-South corridor, very important to Russia, because communications and logistics are blocked across Europe, and Russia's exports and imports are now largely dependent on this corridor. We see the attempts by the EU and the US to shatter the situation here as an attempt to undermine Russia's economic position. But Pashinyan, willingly or unwillingly playing along with these Western centres of power, must be aware that he is choosing an anti-Russian course, with all the consequences that this entails.
- Do you think that the West's objective to undermine the North-South corridor is decisive here?
- Undoubtedly. And it is a multi-pronged operation: first, to destabilise the North-South corridor by expanding the conflict zone. But this is only one of the objectives. And it is clear that France, as part of its longstanding relationship with Armenia, is trying to get involved in the region to promote its national interests. Overall, it is clear that the EU would like to displace Russia from the South Caucasus by spreading its capabilities here, without asking the opinion of regional players. And even without in-depth analysis, it is clear that the EU mission in Armenia is neither beneficial nor necessary for all the other regional players - not Russia, not Iran, not Azerbaijan and not the other countries of the Caspian region. Moreover, its future activities are worrying, because it is quite obvious that the extra-regional players who will promote their national interests here will do so at the expense of our, I mean the countries of the region, national interests. If today it is a reconnaissance-police mission, tomorrow it may turn into a full-fledged military mission. No one here needs it except Pashinyan.
- The so-called "state minister" Ruben Vardanyan, who is considered by many as a "Moscow spy", also plays a notable destabilising role in the region...
- There are different towers of power in Russia, and we must proceed from this. But Vardanyan's role in the South Caucasus is obviously destabilizing. The task now is the peaceful integration of the Karabakh Armenians into the legal field of Azerbaijan, and the emergence of Vardanyan not only stops this process but turns it into a completely different orbit. There are different assessments, but I am absolutely convinced that Vardanyan is an international project with the Armenian lobby behind it. Another thing is that different segments of this lobby may operate in different countries, including Russia. This man has so many skeletons in the closet, that when he leaves for Europe, he can simply be arrested on charges of corruption, and Western intelligence probably has its own case and dirt on Vardanyan, which makes him a docile tool for realizing the interests of Western centres of power. But now, I believe, some package of solutions must be determined based on the action of Azerbaijani eco-activists on the Lachin road. What kind of package? At least joint customs control of Azerbaijan and Russia on this road.
As for all these Armenian cries about the blockade, almost the second "genocide" - all this is the work of the propaganda apparatus, which is trying to manipulate Western politicians. But I would like to mention that the issues raised by Azerbaijani environmental activists are absolutely right and within the legal field: due to the illegal exploitation of gold and other minerals by Armenia serious environmental damage was caused to the Azerbaijani nature, and all gold concentrate and other metals are exported to Armenia. The problem of environmental and economic damage caused by Armenian companies in Karabakh in Azerbaijan has therefore been taken up by the Russian Foreign Ministry at an official level for consideration and analysis. How it will be dealt with concretely depends, of course, on the diplomats, but I think the least that can be done is to establish customs checkpoints where Russian peacekeepers and Azerbaijani customs officers could monitor cargo from Armenia to and from Karabakh to prevent economic damage to Azerbaijan, as well as separatist activity in Karabakh.
- What do you think awaits Armenia as a result of its current policy of turning to the West and trying to withdraw from the peace process with Azerbaijan?
- Nothing good awaits Armenia. The essence of the current policy of Yerevan is that Pashinyan has refused de facto and de jure from all those obligations that he undertook under the Trilateral Statement of November 10 and the subsequent agreements at the highest level between the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. On this basis, Pashinyan's policy is at odds with Russian interests. And whether he does so under the influence of the political conjuncture, Western advice or changes in the domestic political situation is no longer important. The main thing is that he does not comply with the agreements reached through the mediation of the Kremlin. We are seeing increasing anti-Russian rallies in Armenia, the penetration of Western influence in Armenian politics, especially in defence and security, and increasingly hostile comments from Armenia already in the public arena - something that Pashinyan and his entourage could not afford to do before. And this means that they rely on the support of certain Western states. I can tell which ones - France, the US, and the European Union as a whole. In view of this, Moscow should base its foreign policy analysis on the real scenarios, which are that Armenia will break its alliance with Russia and switch to an equidistant format. This dictates, in my view, the need for Moscow to take a different approach to solve the whole set of problems in the South Caucasus. In order to do this, it is necessary to rely on predictable states and politicians who are at least not hostile to Russia, and this should be based on trade and economic relations. Because the economy is primary. Because strong economic ties form the basis for the development of high-quality political relations. Unfortunately, Armenia with its weak, dependent economy subsidized by Russia resembles a cuckoo we feed, and as a result, it tries to kick us out of the nest. And here I am motivated from a purely pragmatic point of view, without any particular prejudice towards Armenia or personally towards Pashinyan. I analyse the situation from the perspective of purely Russian national interests. And from this perspective, we have to say that Armenia is behaving in a hostile way: it is turning towards the West, and this forces Russia to use other levers of influence to stabilize the situation - in particular, to expand the format of relations with Azerbaijan, to block the efforts of Armenian lobbyists trying to pit us against Türkiye and Azerbaijan and to put Armenian glasses over the Kremlin's eyes. This should by no means be the case, Russia's policy is now based solely on Russian interests.
Armenia should only be seen as one of the many countries with which Russia is building its relations. And if that country behaves in a hostile and negative way towards Russia, it should be subject to appropriate retaliatory measures.
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