"Further South Caucasus situation depends on Türkiye election results"
Russian expert on Caliber.Az
INTERVIEWS 17 May 2023 - 16:50
Caliber.Az presents an interview with famous Russian expert, journalist and public figure Maxim Shevchenko.
- Maxim Leonardovich, how do you assess the current intensification of the mediation efforts of the global power centres for Armenian-Azerbaijani normalisation?
- Each of these power centres has its own version of what the final settlement is. That is, it's a game. There are no common goals in politics, no one wants anything good for another and every one pursues their own interests, and uses others.
- So you think that in this case, the global power centres are using Armenia and Azerbaijan for their own interests?
- Yes, of course. There are at least four such power centres - the EU, Russia, the USA and the UK, that are active in the region. And here I would also mention the elections factor in Türkiye. If Recep Tayyip Erdogan wins, this is like one story of Türkiye’s future, if Kilicdaroglu wins this is another future of the country. Moreover, in the latter scenario, I predict the likelihood of a Turkish-Iranian war and a huge disaster for Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran and Türkiye.
- We will discuss the Turkish agenda. Let's analyse the situation in the South Caucasus for now.
- You should understand that the elections in Türkiye are directly related to the situation in the South Caucasus.
- OK. In your opinion, which of the world powers you mentioned has a better chance of settling the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict?
- I think it depends on many factors. As I have already said, this is due to the elections in Türkiye, the political struggle in the United States, the situation on the Russian-Ukrainian front, as well as the conjuncture of world markets. On the other hand, in politics, sometimes the process is more important than the result, as the OSCE Minsk Group is an example of this. Look, all the world leaders were determined to resolve the conflict, but for some reason, the Minsk Group has not done anything worthwhile for almost 30 years, they only received salaries. Why? Because that was their main task. And, let's say if they had settled this conflict then, under [late Azerbaijani President] Heydar Aliyev, the possibility of a game would have disappeared. I mean the occupation of Azerbaijani territories, the expulsion of Azerbaijanis from their native places. However, the political game continued, the Minsk Group continued to sit with important people in expensive suits, conferring in Brussels and Strasbourg. If you call a spade a spade, then a huge number of people simply hung out, although there seemed to be an opportunity to negotiate. But for some reason, we didn't agree. In fact, the same thing is happening now. That is, in politics, the process is more important than the result.
- It turns out from your words that all these summit meetings on the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani problem are declarative in nature…
- You know, I am a critic of the Putin regime, but I can still say that the only power centre that is really interested in the peace process is Moscow. Because both Armenia and Azerbaijan are closely connected with Russia and the South Caucasus is directly a zone of vital interests of Russia, and no matter how strange it may sound for Azerbaijan, Iran. Tehran is interested in peace processes in the region, believe me, it does not need a war at all.
- As for Iran, I do not agree with you here, taking into account Tehran's hostile policy towards Baku, which clearly manifested itself, especially in the post-conflict period.
- Iran does not need a war, because it has been waging a bloody war in Syria and Iraq for 10 years, in which dozens, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Iranians have been killed. Therefore, Tehran does not need another military confrontation in the South Caucasus.
- In that case, why is Iran seeking to militarise the region, helping Armenia?
- Do you think that Iran should abandon Armenia when it was the only transport corridor for Iran all these years?
You do not forget that it was through the territory of Armenia that products, consumer goods went. And now Iran has to give it all up? Why on earth? Would you do that yourself? Always put yourself in the other's shoes. After all, in the 90s, when Iran was subjected to monstrous sanctions that virtually paralysed the Iranian economy, Armenia was the only transport corridor, and the second was Türkiye to northern Iraq. The Turks continue to buy both Iranian oil and Iranian gas to this day. I believe that Iran, like Russia and Türkiye, is interested in the Caucasus peace processes. Regional countries as a whole are interested in peace in the South Caucasus, but the platform for achieving this peace is not Tehran, and not Ankara, but Moscow. I believe that Russia puts forward the most constructive and realistic goals, provided that it keeps its finger on the pulse. I think that the Russian peacekeeper checkpoint in Karabakh, naturally, with Baku’s consent, will remain in the region for a long time, at least if there is no terrible defeat in Ukraine. I think it is enough to have one checkpoint to be sure that the Russian Federation concerns this region. Even the base in Gyumri does not have such strategic importance as this checkpoint on the Lachin road. Therefore, Moscow is very interested in establishing good, clear relations between Baku and Yerevan, in determining the status of the borders and the Armenian minority in Azerbaijan, in advancing the process that Baku insists on and which I fully support, I mean the return of Azerbaijani refugees or their descendants to Armenia. I have several Azerbaijani friends who were born in Armenia or come from there, one of them even holds a fairly high position in Russia. So, he says that in Soviet times there were no problems between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, on the contrary, there were quite friendly relations. And just the same, Moscow is interested in revitalising these relations. For example, this is alien to Europe, otherwise, Paris would not supply weapons to Armenia. The USA is an entirely different planet. I assure you, not even every American diplomat will show on the map where Armenia or Azerbaijan is located. Therefore, the Moscow negotiation platform is the closest to reality and to the result.
And what forces are pitting Iran against Azerbaijan is a topic of a separate conversation. Such forces really exist, they dream of Azerbaijanis on both sides of the Araz River killing each other. You know that the majority of Iranians are ethnic Azerbaijanis who speak the Azerbaijani language and those whom we call Persians are often Azerbaijanis. Azerbaijanis in Iran are plentiful, I have visited Iran several times and can attest to this. Therefore, if a conflict suddenly starts between Iran and Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijanis will not fight with the Persians, but with the same Azerbaijanis living on the other side of Araz. And in this case, for certain global forces, it will become a holiday, and for the rational part of Russia, it will turn into a huge grief.
- So you still admit the possibility of an Iranian-Azerbaijani military confrontation?
- It's huge. Moreover, this probability is increasing every day, given the interest of influential world forces interested in fomenting this war. I don't even mean Israel, because I don't consider it an influential world force, but rather a tool that is used to provoke conflict.
First of all, I mean the United Kingdom and the United States, because France relies on Armenia.
- And what is the reason for France's interest in Armenia at such a global level?
- I'll explain. The two countries with which France entered the Caucasus are Armenia and Georgia. The Georgian president is the former head of the Strategic Intelligence Department in France, Salome Zourabichvili is not an art critic at all. Before she became the French ambassador to Georgia, Saakashvili gave her Georgian citizenship (Zourabichvili did not even know the Georgian language, as the Georgians themselves say), then she became Georgia’ss president, actually working in the state institutions of strategic management of France and being a French official.
And Armenia as a state is simply a place of competition between different diasporic influences. There are several powerful Armenian diasporas - Russian, French, American, Middle Eastern and Turkish. The latter, by the way, relies on the Cilician Patriarchate - it is considered real, and Etchmiadzin is considered Soviet, that is, not real. The Armenians of the world believe that Soviet Armenia is a random phenomenon, that the real Armenia is located to the south in the area of Lake Van, and so on. So, Soviet Armenia, represented by Vardanyan, Karapetyan, loses significantly in the status of its influence to American or French Armenians, who enter, for example, the White House, the Elysee Palace and so on. Influential Armenian businessman Ara Abrahamyan was friends with Gaddafi and traded oil and gas, I know that. Gaddafi was killed, but I'm not sure that Abrahamyan entered the Elysee Palace or the White House.
As for the French Armenians who are at the top, they do not determine the policy of France, but France uses them to keep a hand in the Caucasus. The fact is that the Caucasus is a key region for France, the struggle is going on for this narrow corridor of the South Caucasus, in which many riches are located.
- France is losing its position on the African continent, but is trying to cling to the South Caucasus.
- I would not say that France has lost its position in Africa, it's just that everyone is changing their approaches, and North Africa has always been and will always be a strategic place for Paris to be present in all ages. There's just no more uranium there. North Africa has always been a source of uranium mining for French energy. Uranium is now in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Russia, so it is now extremely important for France to interact with Central Asia and Russia. Meanwhile, while Paris supplies weapons to Ukraine, Russia has increased supplies of uranium to France and fuel for nuclear power plants.
- Even though Russian-French relations are damaged because of the Ukraine war?
- Yes. Russia now has good relations only with China and Iran and not bad with India. And with all European countries, except Hungary, relations are very bad. But France is still trying not to cross the red line in relations with the Russian Federation, it is still traditionally considered an independent player. No wonder Macron's visit to Beijing was perceived in Brussels almost as a betrayal of the EU interests. Nevertheless, it was a demonstration of France's special position as a country with an imperial project in the global imperialist ensemble of powers.
- Returning to our region, I would still like to know your opinion on the results of the Brussels meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.
- I would describe the Brussels meeting as an agreement of intent.
- Do you think the upcoming Moscow is the most promising?
- Yes. I think it is the most promising, because Moscow can connect Tehran to the dialogue, but Paris cannot do it. And without Tehran, the problem of Zangazur will not be solved under any circumstances. Tehran says it will not allow it to be cut off from Armenia, moreover, there is no clear project to connect Iran to the Zangazur junction yet. And the agreement on a railway connection to Nakhchivan (although this is good news) is not so easy to implement. Since Iran has a special relationship with Russia, Moscow could have a dialogue with Tehran, unlike Paris. Although, paradoxical as it may sound, at one time Khomeini came to Tehran from Paris. So, France has some ties with Iran, but they are not open, and Moscow has obvious ones.
- Are there prospects for Baku and Yerevan to reach a peace agreement?
- The prospects are very vague, because the main world power centres, except the Russian Federation, will prevent this agreement from being signed on the site of another.
- And finally. What is your forecast regarding the second round of elections in Türkiye?
- I think Erdogan's chances of winning are very high. Perhaps this explains his calmness. Of course, he is one of the greatest political figures of our time, next to whom I was lucky enough to live. Personally, I believe in Erdogan's political genius and that he will find the right words and the right technologies to win a decisive victory in the second round.
At the same time, 5 per cent of the votes from [third presidential candidate Sinan] Ogan's candidate can also seriously determine the situation in the second round of elections in favour of the incumbent president, since the Kurds voted for Kilicdaroglu, and Ogan represents Turkic nationalism and for his partnership with Kurdish parties in one coalition is unthinkable. This is his condition for Kilicdaroglu, which he cannot fulfil, cannot break with the Kurdish parties that give him most of the votes. Therefore, Ogan will come to an agreement with Erdogan, who is already supported by Turkish nationalists. So, the opposition does not have enough resources that they could attract, and Erdogan has such resources.
- Not only Azerbaijan but also Russia are interested in Erdogan's victory. Right?
- Absolutely. The future situation in the region also depends on this. So, God grant good luck and health to Recep Tayyip Erdogan for many years.
- Amen! Thank you for the conversation.
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