Swiss Ambassador to Armenia Lukas Gasser: Switzerland will try to contribute to a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict without questioning the established formats such as the OSCE Minsk process
ArmInfo’s Interview with Thomas de Waal, Senior Associate in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, author of the book Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War
by David Stepanyan
Earlier you said that Vladimir Putin’s visit to Azerbaijan hinted that Armenia would inevitably join the Customs Union. Can one say after the Putin-Sargsyan meeting in Moscow that Yerevan has taken the hint? What role has Karabakh played in this decision?
I think that Vladimir Putin's broad hint that Russia can easily agree on a range of issues with Azerbaijan was a determinant factor for Armenian President Sargsyan's decision on Armenia's membership of the Customs Union. Even the smallest threat of losing Russia's military protection seemed too fearful to Yerevan. Another matter that what happened in Moscow was a result of Armenia's insufficiently flexible policy of many years towards Russia and Europe. It was not hard for Yerevan to stay economically dependent on Russia for long years, though, the country's leaders should have realized that the country would sooner or later have to pay a political price for that. The administrations of both Serzh Sargsyan and ex-president Robert Kocharyan allowed takeover of Armenia's economy by Russia, which helped them retain political control over Armenia. When Serzh Sargsyan tried to revise that deal with great caution, he had no options left.
Does Armenia’s membership of the Customs Union mean automatic maintenance of the status quo around Karabakh for years to come given the military balance of the Karabakh conflict parties? The Kremlin sells weapons worth billions to Azerbaijan and 'compensates' for that with delivery of weapons to Armenia on preferential terms. How successful is the Kremlin’s policy?
Russia is interested in either preserving the status quo in the Karabakh conflict or settling it without any painful efforts. The Russian authorities try their best to preserve the military balance. Meanwhile, it would be wrong to say that Russia can keep the situation in the Karabakh conflict zone fully under control. Never before has Moscow controlled the situation around Karabakh. And now, the decision to either unleash conflict or maintain the status quo rests upon Azerbaijan, first of all. The arms race between Armenia and Azerbaijan and new stockpiling of arms make both the countries realize that dancing on a volcano is becoming more and more dangerous. On the other hand, the arms race means that any new conflict will quickly get out of control.
Despite Armenia’s willingness to join the Customs Union, the Association Agreement with the EU has not been cancelled yet. Has the EuroAtlantic community got any levers to use the Karabakh conflict to exert pressure on Yerevan at the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius?
No, it has not. Actually, the EU is, first of all, a technical and bureaucratic union. I am sure that most Europeans engaged in the Eastern Partnership little communicate with the Minsk Group and have a very general idea of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.
It appears that Baku places its stake on economic growth, particularly, on sales of energy resources. It connects the Karabakh conflict settlement with its further strengthening in the international arena. How grounded are these aspirations?
Certainly, now Azerbaijan is stronger and wealthier than it was 20 years ago during the Karabakh war. This gives Baku a new profile and an opportunity to promote itself more efficiently and to use the international structures to lobby the Azerbaijani stance in the Karabakh conflict. The new status of Azerbaijan creates many problems for Armenia, because Baku successfully blocks any attempts to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an international subject. However, Armenians, for their part, are capable of hurting Azerbaijan by simply maintaining the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh and around it. Therefore, I have repeatedly qualified the current situation as a suicide pact.
Iran has repeatedly made it clear that in case of foreign interference in the Syrian conflict it will take retaliatory measures. Won’t U.S. President Obama’s decision on military strike against Syria lead to a large-scale war in the region? What consequences will it have in the South Caucasus?
Of course, the escalation of the conflict in Syria will have a negative impact on the neighboring countries. However, I foresee no direct consequences for the South Caucasus. From the political point of view, the South Caucasus countries are a long way from the Syrian conflict. By the way, Iran itself has enough problems and it is not interested in destabilization in its northern neighboring countries.