The guest of the TV show “Realpolitik” David Shahnazaryan director of the Center for Political and Legal Studies “Concord”, former head of the National Security Service of Armenia.
Mr. Shahnazaryan, recently Armenia-EU negotiations concluded regarding Association Agreement, the head of EU diplomacy and the head of neighborhood politics and EU expansion Štefan Füle made a welcoming statement. How do you assess the negotiations and are you acquainted with the document which was not published.
I think it is a great achievement for Armenia. I hope that the process of Association will have a great and successful final. I consider it to be a historical opportunity for Armenia.
What do you put into these opportunities?
It is opportunity to be closer to Europe. Regarding economical context, Armenia gets the tremendous opportunities. Armenia gets the opportunity to become part of civilized market. Here I am talking not about half billion EU market, but about billion one. As you know, the US and the EU are conducting serious negotiations regarding establishing of a common transnational market. Which opportunities does this market create for Armenia? First of all, all goods which are produced in Armenia can be sold in Europe. It means that soon we will see an influx of serious investors. Armenia becomes more attractive country for foreign investors, there also many opportunities for local Armenian oligarchs who can transform their commercial capital into industrial one. Regarding political context, we will move closer to the modern civilization and European values, however we still have to conquer this Rubicon trail.
Mr. Shahnazaryan, the economy of Armenia has serious problems with monopolies and generally with oligarch systems which literally strangle the economy. For instance, how would we look like with such people as chairman of the State Revenue Committee Gagik Khachatryan, Gagik Tsarukyan and other “lfiksamo”, what can we do in European market within the frames of this agreement?
This agreement creates tremendous opportunities for everyone. Within the framework of this agreement even oligarchs can use their funds in a more effective way. As I said, we have problems not with oligarchs but with a flawed system which must be changed. No doubt that the economy of Armenia is in horrible state however this agreement provides us with opportunity to pull out our economy out of the path which takes us to the abyss. In the meantime, it is only first step, there is yet a long way to go before Armenia can achieve this. All our standards must meet European requirements and in economic sense Armenia will be able to become a full member of this market. Regarding politics, this also provides us with opportunity to establish values which uphold Europe and the Free World. Thus, we will become part of Free Civilized world which not only gives various advantages but also provides us with opportunity to diversify our security.
So, now you are talking about security diversification of Armenia?
Yes, there are tremendous opportunities for security diversification. Armenia gains new status in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In other words, the new status provides Armenia with a chance to cover that civilizational, human rights and civil society gap which was present between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Although human rights situation in Azerbaijan is worse than in Armenia, Armenia still maintains a better record than the former. It is also well known that in all conflicts like the Nagorno-Karabakh one, the success is always achieved by the side which stands on the higher civil level. The first example is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In 90s, Armenia was considered to be an “island of democracy” while Azerbaijan was in a worse condition. Well, this becomes clear, when we recall that Armenia received wide support from the Free World, Democratic West, while Azerbaijan tried to solve its problems with the Soviet Politburo and other rudiments of the USSR. Needless to say, that all that attempts and efforts were futile.
So, did Azerbaijan also try to engage with democratic Russia?…
As a result, when democratic processes were initiated in Russia… By the way, 90s was the only period in history of Russia when it was not ruled by a single man. In spite of this fact, Russia still pursued its geopolitical interests and did its best to enhance its position in the region. In that period we also had advantages which provided us with opportunity to combine foreign, domestic, and military policies. We were able to receive arms contracts from Russia, political and financial support from the West, and bread from Turkey. In the end, thanks to the well organized political, military, and diplomatic moves we managed to achieve a serious success in war and diplomatic field.
What can you say about current Armenia-Russia relations? The last events, famous Russia-Azerbaijan agreement, and Grachya Arutyunyan case showed that Armenia-Russia relations are not going smoothly, and in particular – during the negotiations on the Association. I believe we must reassess current Russia-Armenia relations.
First of all, let us separate Armenian-Russian relations from Armenia-Russia relations, because right now we are talking about intergovernmental relations. During the whole independence period Armenia-Russia relations have never been so tense. Why and where? I believe we must look for a root of cause in Kremlin. Let‘s base our discussion solely on facts, because some Russian and Armenian representatives are constantly trying to distort the facts, bring some emotion and hysterical behavior.
In February-March 2011 Russia signed with Azerbaijan 5-6 arms deals. I have to remind you that not all of them were fulfilled. According to my sources, these deals are worth $3.5bn.During that period Association Agreement with the EU did not attract so much attention the way it does nowadays. Later on, the talks became much more serious, when the sides were about to sign free trade agreement which constitutes an integral part of Association agreement and marked the beginning of arms and weapons supply. The deal regarding the last one was worth $1bn and was related to the offensive arms. Some people in Armenia were ready to express gratitude and enormous thanks to Russia for such a gift!
Prior to this, Russia also raised gas prices for Armenia which made some Kremlin analysts claim that it was purely political goal which will force Armenia to forget about existence of the EU and become part of Russian integrational processes that do not match Armenia’s political interests.
It is important to note that it is hence the strategic ally of Armenia who cuts arms deals. In the same line of high authorities of Russia, analysts who work for Kremlin could not even bring a single argument which could match our goals or interests in the region. They even claimed that “we modernize Russian military base in Gyumri”… However, what does it have to do with the armed forces of Armenia? Furthermore, I will remind you that few years ago Putin also clearly expressed his standpoint regarding establishing of Russian military base in Gyumri. During the interview with Azerbaijani reporter, he stated that Russian military base in Gyumri does not go against Azerbaijani interests. Be cautious, it was not against Azerbaijan, but against Azerbaijan’s interests. In the meantime, the interests of Azerbaijan lie not around war with Karabakh but around full scale war with Armenia; this goal constitutes a cornerstone of Azerbaijani military doctrine and foreign policy. Moreover, Russia itself since 2011 called into question two crucial points – first, that we and Russia are strategic allies, and second that Russia will ensure Armenia’s security.
After arms deal with Azerbaijan we witnessed Grachya Arutyunyan case. It is clear that while being in court Grachya Arutyunyan was under effect of some medications. It was simply a coercion of his rights. It is indeed surprising that judge did not make any remarks regarding this issue. In addition, when Grachya Arutyunyan was sent to Butirka prison it turned out that his arm was fractured/broken. We can explain this in two ways; it is either his hand was fractured as a result of car collision or after the court hearing. Moreover, we must turn to the robe issue. Of course, I can suppose that it was done by the order of local “kings”, local authorities. Nevertheless, other Russian authorities did not make any remarks regarding this issue. Yet, we received a strange statement from the Russian embassy in Armenia. However, we have a healthy civil society which reacted in an appropriate way which surprised Russia which did not expect such a reaction.
I also have to point out to the public outcry of our youth which was mobilized after transport fare increase and proved that the generation of Independence will not allow that foreign state trampled the dignity of our country and our sovereignty. The actions of our youth raised a great hope in our society; this hope proves that it is possible to overcome deep psychological crisis which is present in Armenia and on its political arena which started a few years ago. Civil society showed that it can uphold to the high moral values which were present in 80s and in the beginning 90s.
During the protests related to the Grachya Arutyunyan some representatives stated that they were directed by the Western conspiracy.
I have to admit that over the last years Russia tries to justify its failures by a global Western conspiracy against it. Russia is trying to find reason for its failures outside itself. Russia-Armenia relations are quite important for us, however we should never forget about our statehood, sovereignty, and dignity. Everyone understands this in Russia.
Current Russia-Armenia relations started and were established during the presidency of Robert Kocharyan. What was the base of these relations? First of all, the property – in exchange for the debt, secondly, energy security was completely given to Russia, and whole network of rail ways was also given to Russia. Essentially, Armenia-Russia relations were directed to the one point: Armenia can do whatever it wants in foreign area, as long as it does not contradict interests of Russia. When Russia reassessed its policy in South Caucasus, it turned out that we had our own interests which we must pursue and understand. We must strive to the diversification of our own security. The policy of modern Russia reminds me period of collapsing USSR. Basically, Russia is trying to initiate new operation “Ring”. I believe that our society can resist it. In the end we all have to face one crucial question – do we have our own interests in Armenia-Russia relations or we always have to submit ourselves to Russia in order to receive its favor? This process is going on, and we will resist it.
Do you share the standpoint that we will face new “storms” or “cleansings”?
Russia will do its best to create new storms; however it does not have that many opportunities. Russia-Armenia relations are important for us, however Russia has to understand that there is a civil society in Armenia which will protect not only rights of Grachya Arutyunyan, but also our own statehood. What must be done in these regards? Taking into consideration that Russia changed its policies, we need to reset Armenia-Russia relations. Having this in mind, Armenia must ensure its energy security. Thusly, we must also closely cooperate with Iran. Secondly, I also started to notice some progress in regards to diversification of security and military cooperation; for instance, we can point out to the recent successful visit of Armenian Minister of Defense to Georgia. In other words, under diversification I understand the close cooperation with EU states and countries which signed Association Agreement. Finally, Armenia must deepen its relations with Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. By the way, although we have many common political goals with Moldova, I still find our relations to be unsatisfactory.
Last actions of Russia created an interesting situation in OSCE Minsk Group. Russia realizes that it changed its status of mediator. It is unprecedented, when mediator, “honest broker”, as Bismarck used to say, initiated arms race between two sides. If war starts, God forbid, it will not matter for us who sold T 90 tanks to Azerbaijan. Secondly, few times Russia together with other co-chairs pushed sides to the peace talks, while Russia itself initiates arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Kremlin knows the end of every arms race; it is either collapse of one of the sides or a real war. I suppose that in the near future someone other than Russia in OSCE Minsk group will initiate negotiations in order to find exit out of this impasse. It is well known that this impasse appeared after Safarov case, when newspapers wrote that high level Russian authorities participated in the extradition of Safarov to Azerbaijan.
We reached the point when Armenian authorities must stand up not only for themselves but also for the whole Armenian society. Current behavior of the authorities is not adequate. Nevertheless, I believe that our society will stand up to the future challenges. We must also take into consideration that our statehood and sovereignty are absolute values which are currently put in danger.
In relation to the Russian integration projects, there was adduced only one argument. Is it possible to be in two different economic and security systems at one time? Indeed this is unprecedented. Meantime, the position of Russia in regards to its ally is also unprecedented just as position of peacemaker and mediator. It means that our response will also be unprecedented. Armenia must diversify its security system. There is no alternative to the EU Association Agreement. This can turn into opportunity which was used by Baltic States after collapse of the USSR. No one wanted them in Europe. Together, three of them, they tried to enter the EU through the door, however they were rejected, then they tried through the window and it worked out; now they are the full members of the system.
We also have hope for such opportunity. I have no doubt that the day is near when the relations between Armenia and Russia will be restored when the Kremlin’s imperial pretensions disappear, as it will hit primarily Russia itself.
Indeed, Ukraine is really important for Russia, and few days ago Putin listed the advantages and achievements which will be available for Ukraine if it joins Russia. However, on the next day Russia issued import ban on Ukranian “Roshe” product.
Russia implemented punitive sanctions against Ukraine. Needless to say that Russia also went the way too far with Georgia as well. I do not exclude that such steps could be taken in relation to Armenia too. Why not, for instance, Russia can issue import ban on Armenian brandy. But we must be ready for this and look for alternative markets. What did happen when Russia issue ban on the Georgian wine? Currently, the production of Georgian wine meets requirements of the European market.
We need a unity in order to withstand this. Russia has a habit like this when it comes back to the region – and now Russia wants to utilize Armenia in order to solve all questions in the region. The same took place with Karabakh case. We have experience when Russia acted in this way and we are ready to deal with it. Besides that, Azerbaijan for Russia represents more important ally than Armenia. I am sure that all plans which Russia had with Baku will not be fulfilled as well. We must realize that sooner or later Russia will leave the region again. Therefore, we must find common language with our neighbors and make use of advantages which are presented by Association Agreement.
I am not acquainted with Association Agreement itself; however I am aware of the main points of this document. I expect that if this agreement is based upon universal, European, or western, values then it will not be difficult to judge the rest of it. Moreover, I am aware of certain wordings/statements regarding Nagorno Karabakh.
So, you have no concerns regarding this?
The main concern is that there are certain representatives of Armenian political elite who aim only at the defense of Russian geopolitical interests without taking into consideration what really lies behind these interests. One can also close eyes to the arms deals, and dignity of citizens of Armenia. Even if our society bore the arms deals it will never bear the trampling of dignity of Armenian citizens by Russia authorities.
You said we must be unified in the face of forthcoming challenges.
We must solve our internal problems. We must fight against corruption; we must force the Armenian authorities to undertake these steps.