CIAKR-South Caucasus presents a large interview with Eldar Namazov, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Baku), ex-assistant to the President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev.
Azerbaijan has high hopes for Russia on Nagorno-Karabakh settlement. What do you think about this?
First, the expression "high expectations from Russia" should be clarified. The fact is that objectively Russia has a huge influence on one side of the conflict - Armenia. This is an indisputable, as if historical fact. The level of military, political and economic integration of Armenia with Russia is so high that a number of Armenian experts often express their dissatisfaction with this issue.
In my opinion, Azerbaijan is rightly believed that Armenia would never have been able to occupy the territories of Azerbaijan if it did not have such great support from Moscow. For example, there are facts when documents about illegal transfers of weapons to billions of dollars, secret deliveries of weapons of Armenia were printed in the Russian media. Therefore, in Azerbaijan, it is the opinion that it is precisely such influence of Russia on Armenia that makes it an important and even a key player in the settlement of the conflict. Azerbaijani experts very often express the opinion that the Karabakh problem should be discussed not with Yerevan but with Moscow. Because without the support of Moscow, Armenia simply will not be able to continue the occupation of Azerbaijani territories.
The leaders of Armenia also indirectly recognize this. Recently there has been a change of power. New Armenian leader Nicol Pashinyan has openly stated that if the Karabakh war resumes and Armenia is defeated, then they will blame Moscow, because it is Moscow that has the ability to restrain Azerbaijan, not allow Baku to conduct an operation to liberate the occupied territories . In fact, it's about some insurance.
This is all due to an imbalance in military capabilities. Different ratings of military forces indicate a significant superiority of Azerbaijan. And such an imbalance was seen, incidentally, during the April fights of 2016 year. Therefore, Armenia frankly warns at the level of its leader that Russia is obliged to restrain Baku and not allow it to conduct an operation to liberate the occupied territories. That is the key role of Moscow, as various experts say. This is reflected in the formula that the Karabakh conflict should be negotiated with Moscow and not with Yerevan.
It turns out that the consciousness of the political elite of Azerbaijan is rooted in the idea that there is nothing to expect from the Karabakh issue from Russia?
Not quite. We talked about the role of Moscow. Why her role is so significant in the issue of Karabakh conflict settlement. And now we go to expectations. Russia acted as a military ally of Armenia and this explained its support for Armenia in the course of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh. It transferred Armenia's weapons free of charge, as the latter has no opportunity to pay for arms deliveries from Russia. This is done through the allocation of loans by Russia, which are offset by the fact that virtually all leading economic objects of Armenia are owned by Russian companies. This also applies to the fields of transport, aviation communications, and electricity. In general, all state infrastructure of Armenia is owned by Russian state-owned companies. This is a payment for arms deliveries to Armenia, for which Yerevan cannot pay money. Therefore, for a long time the expectations were, let's just say, modest and it was believed that Moscow was simply not interested in changing the situation in principle. After all, the continuation of this conflict allowed Moscow to influence both Baku and Yerevan.
But in recent years, the situation has changed as military parity has been violated, thanks to the modernization of the Azerbaijan army (in which Israel, Russia, etc., which supply high precision weapons to our country, played a significant role). Azerbaijan expressed its will in April 2016 and achieved military success in liberating part of the occupied territories. So now there are already some other expectations from Moscow, which is not quite satisfied that its strategic ally is very likely to be defeated in a subsequent military campaign.
Therefore, the option of a peaceful settlement, called a phased one, involving the return of lands occupied around Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan, the return of refugees, and then the status solution through negotiations, the introduction of a peacekeeping contingent into the region - this phased plan may in principle be acceptable for Moscow.
However, in such a scenario there is still a question of status, as only part of the problem is solved. The conflict is moving to a new stage, and disputes over status will continue there. But if this step-by-step settlement plan is implemented, Moscow does not lose its leverage over Yerevan and Baku. Moreover, if Russia contributes to the gradual settlement of the conflict, it may further involve Azerbaijan in its orbit, helping to liberate the occupied territories. It is in this context that various experts are mulling over Azerbaijan's accession to the EEU (as an option).
Azerbaijan's full participation in the CSTO is not discussed. But the CSTO is currently working to establish an observer institution. And many experts believe that such a status can be created specifically for Azerbaijan. But these are all expert assessments that have to do with the fact that Russia at some point offered Yerevan to agree to a gradual settlement of the conflict. This is called differently. Its essence is that the territories occupied outside Nagorno-Karabakh should be liberated. There are some contradictions here in the interests of Yerevan and Moscow, because in Armenia the political elite was formed on the basis that Azerbaijan cannot return any of the occupied territories. This is what N. Pashinyan says - Nagorno-Karabakh has included these lands in the NKR in its "constitution". And Armenia is firmly in the position that no lands outside Karabakh can be liberated. At this point, the positions of Yerevan and Moscow do not coincide, so a number of Azerbaijani experts believe that the Azerbaijani side could play a part in these contradictions.
Occasionally, information about the possible return of occupied districts to Azerbaijan by 5 in case of a country's accession to the CSTO or the EAEU appears in the media. How true are these rumors?
There is a famous speech by President Ilham Aliyev, where he has publicly stated that Azerbaijan has no special interests in joining the EAEU, but Azerbaijan could think about it if there were serious motivation for it. He stated this just at the time when this issue was being discussed - that, perhaps, in the context of the Karabakh conflict settlement, Moscow and Baku will agree. Both on the liberation of the occupied territories and on the integration of Azerbaijan into the EEU. This statement was made by the President of Azerbaijan, who allowed such an opportunity.
But it is noteworthy that we did not see any active steps in this direction from Moscow. The same goes for the CSTO issue…
In my eyes, at one time there was a process of becoming a CIS as a new international organization. At that time, I worked in the administration of the late President Heydar Aliyev, was his assistant in internal and foreign policy, and also served as chairman of the Security Council. I had to attend all these meetings. I remember what a stir it caused in the society, and many in Azerbaijan seemed that joining the CIS meant loss of independence.
But in the future it turned out that within the CIS there is a very serious platform on which Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, on many issues Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, stand, which believe that there should be no supranational structures within the CIS. In the end, Azerbaijan, once inside the CIS, stopped experiencing serious pressure from Moscow, and on the other hand, it had already defended its sovereignty and independence together with Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan. It was much easier and easier. Ultimately, it turned out that the CIS is nothing more than a civilized form of divorce for the former Soviet Union republics. It was the realization that came later to Moscow. Therefore, they have already become less interested in the CIS and have begun to think about creating closer alliances, such as the EAEU. Within the CIS it was impossible to achieve any serious integration. These events took place in my eyes and with my participation.
In fact, in this regard, I assess the current state of the CSTO. After all, in this organization, except Russia, no one views the West as a potential adversary. Kazakhstan (and not only) is trying to develop its relations with the European Union and the United States. And in Kyrgyzstan, there has been a NATO military base for a very long time.
A new elite has emerged in Armenia after the change of power, which does not view the West as a potential military enemy. CSTO countries participate in international peacekeeping actions under the banner of NATO countries. Again, Armenia, which in many of its international peacekeeping operations is under the command of either Poland or some other NATO member state. Therefore, it very much reminds me of the situation with the CIS. It seems to me that Russia is perfectly aware of the importance of participating in or not participating in the CSTO.
Therefore, some interest on the part of Russia to conclude a pact on Karabakh with Azerbaijan within these organizations has not yet been reviewed.
Although a number of experts think that Russia will be very interested in this. But so far, the Karabakh Kremlin is trying to act as an independent center. And it has nothing to do with the CSTO or the EAEU. In many ways, this may be due to the fact that within the framework of the CSTO or the EAEU there are countries, such as Kazakhstan or Belarus, which have very close relations with Azerbaijan…
Even if Azerbaijan joins these two organizations, no one guarantees the return of 5 districts?
And I would put the question just the opposite. I think that the return of these 5 occupied areas may be related not only to Azerbaijan's participation in these organizations, but to a number of other factors. Because Moscow has shown no interest in the context of your question. In spite of even the above statement by Ilham Aliyev.
Recently, the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister did not rule out the possibility of placing a peacekeeping mission on the front line. In what format, in your opinion, is this possible in principle?
This issue was already resolved at the OSCE Budapest Summit in 1994, which for the first time in the history of the organization made a decision to form peacekeeping forces and send them to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement zone. This was followed by numerous OSCE missions to the region. The plan for the deployment of the peacekeeping mission has already been drawn up, but it is not being implemented.
Because a peace agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia is needed in order to launch such a peacekeeping operation. But we all know that Russia is very sensitive to the fact that some armed NATO contingents are deployed at its borders on the territory of the former Soviet Union…
Such a heightened sensitivity of Moscow, incidentally, led to the signing of the Convention on the status of the Caspian Sea. The Convention stipulates that non-Caspian armed forces may not be in the Caspian. In return, Russia agreed to the sectoral division and the possibility of implementing trans-Caspian gas and oil pipeline projects.
So this issue is so sensitive to Moscow that it relates to the deployment of some peacekeeping forces in Karabakh. This is considered so important that many experts, when they hear that there is support for a settlement, ask just about the composition of the peacekeeping force. And when they hear a negative answer, they say that, in the whole, the issue of the Karabakh conflict settlement is also not agreed. Because many experts believe that Moscow's position will depend on this issue. And the position of Yerevan will automatically depend on Moscow's position. Russia will determine its position depending on the composition of the peacekeeping force.
And can Russia determine the composition of peacekeeping forces?
No, no. Russia will determine its position on the Karabakh settlement, depending on the composition of the peacekeeping force.
It is interesting that Armenia itself fears that some CSTO member countries will be part of the peacekeeping force. Armenia itself is a member of the CSTO, but at the same time, this organization includes countries that have closer relations with Azerbaijan than with Armenia, we will not repeat…
In general, the CSTO, in my opinion, is in a deadlock in a sense. Because in the military-political confrontation that exists between Russia and NATO, the CSTO is practically not involved. And it is no coincidence that many members of the CSTO claim that it is not so much a military bloc as a political bloc. The goals of the CSTO are peace, stability in the region, not some kind of block confrontation. This is exactly what the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan have stated, and repeatedly.
Therefore, in the context of the military-political confrontation between Russia and the West, the CSTO as a factor is not taken into account, which negates its role as a military bloc.
I think that the future of the CSTO is more related to the results of the great geopolitical transformation that we are now experiencing. The old international security system is already losing ground. The system of international security created after World War II can already be said to be destroying in our eyes. We are now entering a transit phase that will lead to some new world order. We will not see the results of this in a year or two. Even the UN structure itself is in crisis. In fact, the UN does not fulfill its role as a major international arbitrator.
How do you think the CSTO will behave if the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resumes?
I think that as an organization will not interfere. By the way, this is well understood in Armenia. In Baku, the CSTO allies Belarus and Kazakhstan. In addition, the CSTO mandate does not extend to the occupied lands of Azerbaijan. The CSTO Charter states that this organization is guided by the decision of the UN Security Council. And the UN Security Council adopted 4 resolutions on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, which demand their immediate release.
The members of the CSTO should, in accordance with the organization's charter, demand from Armenia the release of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. So the participation of the CSTO in the war on the Armenian side is excluded.
Recently, cases of shelling on the contact line have increased again. What do you think is going on?
I think what is happening at the Armenian-Azerbaijani border is connected with a very unstable situation within Armenia itself. As you know, there is a very fierce battle between the new regime and the old one. The leaders of the previous regime - Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharian - openly say that the current government will not last for a year.
A similar political confrontation is also taking place on the Yerevan-Nagorno-Karabakh line, because the two previous presidents of Armenia were natives of Nagorno-Karabakh and represented the Karabakh clan. And this fierce domestic political struggle certainly implies that both current and former authorities will use the Karabakh map in their own way. These attempts to deploy the Karabakh map in Armenia's internal political struggle lead to private and sudden violations of the ceasefire regime, as well as militant statements by representatives of the current government. Recently, the Armenian National Security Secretary stated that they had decided to carry out a new road in Karabakh in the length of 150 km, which caused some Armenian experts to be surprised. Because in the budget of Armenia there is no money even for a tenth of this road. Karabakh speculation has become commonplace in a very tough domestic political struggle in Armenia.
Is it worth waiting for the Karabakh conflict to escalate after Nicolas Pashinyan's recent statement in Khankendi that "Karabakh is an integral part of Armenia"?
Such probability is always present. First, Armenia continues to occupy our territories. Yerevan is not attending serious talks within the OSCE Minsk Group. This may lead to resumption of hostilities. The second reason lies in the internal political struggle in Armenia, in which each party tries to use the Karabakh map for its own benefit.
I would like to remind that Azerbaijan lost its lands in due time due to internal political instability. Now everything can come back boomerang. Azerbaijan today is a stable and military-dominated state. A fierce power struggle is going on inside Armenia. As for the new pro-Western authorities of Armenia, they considered it possible to continue very close military cooperation with Russia, while receiving from it military support and, at the same time, receiving great economic and financial assistance from the EU and the USA. Because new people in the new government worked at one time in a number of NGOs, they were considered pro-Western and so on. Such a policy does not seem to suit either Moscow or Washington.
Recently, we can see Armenia losing its position. Assistance from the United States has sharply decreased. I am about the last decision, which was made in Washington, which provides assistance to Armenia for only a few million dollars in security issues and termination of assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh in the issues of mine clearance (against the allocation of $ 100 million to Azerbaijan). I think that both Washington and Moscow understand that Armenia's attempt to sit on two chairs is unacceptable. At the same time, Yerevan could lose support from both Moscow and Washington.