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 Hovhannes Sahakyan, Secretary of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) Faction
Mr. Sahakyan, what do you think of the ongoing debates in the Armenian public and outside the country over the recent decision of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to access the Customs Union amid long-term preparations for the Association with the EU?
To understand what motivated the president to adopt such decision, it is necessary to study the issue from all aspects and to remember that Armenia is a founding member of the CSTO. Armenia is located in the instable region and it cannot neglect security issues. Given that the Customs Union is something like an economic component of the CSTO, accession to it is more beneficial for Armenia at the moment. At the same time, nothing holds Armenia from continuing cooperation with Europe as intensively as Europe will allow. Simultaneously, it is necessary to study how much Armenia can integrate into the European market in case of such opportunity, considering that Europe applies equal rules for all the 28 actors. Nevertheless, cooperation with Europe is of huge importance for us. We can see European experience in the reforms of the governance system and administration. In this area, we are ready to cooperate with the EU as before. European officials also see our readiness for further cooperation. This becomes evident from their statements. Both Armenia and Europe are well aware that the three-year long intensive combined work cannot be cast to the wind.
Nevertheless, European officials have repeatedly blamed Armenia for dishonesty following Serzh Sargsyan’s statement on Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union…
As regards those accusations, I cannot remember a single case when we talked imperatively of Armenia’s Association with the EU without reservations. I have repeatedly said that we have successfully fulfilled all the 7 commitments to the EU within the Eastern Partnership Project and expressed readiness to initial the Association Agreement with the EU. Nevertheless, we have always underlined that Russia is our strategic partner and a member of the CSTO, and the ‘either…or’ principle is not acceptable to us. We once again say that we are ready to cooperate with the EU in the format that would not run contrary to the Customs Union regulations. Security issues are of utmost importance for us, while all the other issues stem from it.
How much reliable are the CSTO and the Customs Union in the security context, given the Russian-Azerbaijani weapon deal and the deepening relations of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan?
One can get an impression that Armenia will be supervising the foreign policy of the CSTO and the Customs Union. We have our problems and they have their problems. If Russia sells weapons to Azerbaijan to get economic benefits, it does not mean that it betrays Armenia. How could Azerbaijan buy weapons from another country? We can do nothing to impede cooperation of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan either. At the same time, in case of a threat to the security of a CSTO member-country, the Regulations of the Organization bind all the member-states to protect the borders of that country. As far as I know, this provision applies also to Nagorno Karabakh. Consequently, we have no reasons for concern.
Stefan Fule said that he is ready to study a new format of cooperation with Armenia. Are there any? What do you expect from the Vilnius Summit?
Serious work and common approaches will be required on both parties to this end. As for the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, it is very hard to make any forecasts in this rapidly changing region and world. However, I hope Armenia and the EU will find areas of cooperation.
Let’s turn to the country’s domestic policy. The president’s initiative to make Constitutional reforms has aroused hot debates in the country. Some experts and oppositionists suppose that the goal of the reforms is to change the form of governance from semi-presidential into parliamentary, where the post of the prime minister is considered the highest. Oppositionists think that Serzh Sargsyan will actually retain power after the presidential election of 2018 taking the post of the prime minister…
These are empty talks aimed at maintaining the tension in the society. As for me, I think the current mixed system of governance will be ideal for Armenia in case some reforms are conducted, because the state in such a complicated region and the people with such mentality do need a presidential institute. The Commission for Constitutional Reforms is composed of the best experts who are to work out and suggest the best options for reforms.
Well, why didn’t you invite opposition experts and politicians to the Commission?
I do not understand the opposition's astonishment at the fact that the Commission for Constitutional Reforms does not include opposition politicians or experts. They would all the same refuse to take part in the Commission's work the way they have done for numerous times. We do not divide the society into power and opposition. If there are some problems, they should be resolved by joint efforts.
Opposition constantly speaks of ‘hot autumn’ given the public discontent at the current socio-economic situation in the country that will surely grow with rising transport fare and cold weather, when the public will more acutely feel the increased gas and electric power tariffs. Do anticipate domestic political tensions in autumn?
Armenia has no prerequisites for "a hot political autumn". The "hot autumn" is the cliche of the oppositionists who do not know what they are going to do in case of "sudden autumn warming". What will the opposition do? Where will it lead the people? Who will the autumn be hot for? First of all, there should be prerequisites to lead to such autumn.
The results registered by Heritage Party Leader Raffi Hovannisian during the presidential election could have become such a prerequisite, but the opposition missed the chance. When Hovannisian obtained 37% of votes at the presidential election, the other opposition forces disturbed each other and the authorities and reduced Hovannisian's rating to naught. When Hovannisian called on the opposition to join efforts to fight the authorities, all the forces of the opposition ignored him. So, what are you talking about? Now that all elections are over, the opposition should not dream of a "hot autumn" and hope for the civil movements.
If we want to strengthen democracy in the country, we should pay more attention to the civil society and its actions. Armenia has a lot of problems and that the settlement of these problems needs healthy criticism and constructive suggestions.