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
Interview of the head of Centre for Regional studies, Richard Giragosian, with Arminfo news agency
by Marianna Mkrtchyan
Mr Giragosian, what do you think about the two integration unions which Armenia wants to join? What are their positive and negative sides? What will Armenia lose refusing the Association Agreement?
As for the Customs Union, I can say that the positive element of Armenia’s joining the Customs Union is that it will enhance the Armenian-Russian partnership, prove once again Russia’s trust in Armenia and will strengthen Armenia’s positions within the frames of the CIS. At the same time, it enhances relations with Kazakhstan and Belarus. However, despite Armenia’s hopes linked with the Customs Union, all the positive sides of this integration process are not clear yet. If we touch on the economic sector, Armenia will have losses chiefly regarding the trade tariffs and prices in general. Armenia could have an opportunity of interfering the bigger market. Moreover, for the last two years export of the Armenian production to the European market exceeded twofold its export to the countries of the Customs Union. And finally, the Customs Union offer Armenia nothing new, that is to say, old rules which protect interests of Armenian oligarchs and weaken economic reforms, will go on functioning. Moreover, thanks to such actions, no big European investments will be made in Armenia any more. This just an economic side of the situation. The way how Armenia adopted a decision to join the Customs Union also weakens the country, as from now, the EU takes Armenia as an unreliable partner for the European countries.
Can we suppose that the EU will reduce the number of programmes being fulfilled in Armenia?
Since Armenia’s decision to join the Customs Union, the European Union has already adopted a decision to reduce some programmes. All the funds that had to be directed to the Armenian government for fulfillment of the DCFRA agreement, were stopped. I mean several million EUR. This is a great financial loss for our government. And if in future the EU decides to deliver funds to Armenia, they will be delivered not to the government but civil society.
The ruling party of Armenia says that the decision to join the Customs Union is stemming from the national security of the country. How much is such a statement grounded, especially if we take into account the fact that Russia sells weapon to Azerbaijan, and one of the members of the Customs Union, Kazakhstan, demands to immediately close the border to Nagornyy Karabakh?
I do not agree to the viewpoint that Armenia is joining the Customs Union stemming from the national security problems. First of all, DCFTA agreement as well as the Association Agreement have never contained the points linked with security. Moreover, these agreements have never been presented as a challenge or threat to the Armenian-Russian relations.
Armenia's joining the Customs Union against the background of the fact that Russia is Azerbaijan's number one partner on weapon delivery, and Kazakhstan protects territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, is evidence of weakness of Yerevan's positions. The given steps are evidence of availability of deeper problems, and demonstrate absence of equality in the relations between Armenia and Russia, that is to say, Moscow shows no respect to Yerevan. Armenia's decision to join the Customs Union is directed against Ukraine. In this case, Armenia is just a victim. Actually, these steps were directed against Ukraine but not Armenia. The key purpose of the given decision was to force Armenia say "no" to the EU , but not "yes" to the Customs Union".
Many experts say about a dramatic changing of the political course of Armenia. However, this sudden changing took place in Moscow, first of all, and then in Yerevan, that is to say, the Russian policy changed first, the expert said.
This was the reason, why Russia was not against Armenia's negotiations with the EU for 3,5 years, and official Moscow has drawn a line just recently.
What can we expect from the Vilnius “Eastern partnership” summit? Will the door of Europe be finally closed for Armenia, or new cooperation conception will be drawn out?
I predict only one thing for Armenia at the Vilnius Summit – disgrace: it was really disgraceful on Armenia's part to surrender to Russia so easily. It was a strategic mistake and a lost opportunity. However, at present we are going to prepare new legal aspects for cooperation with the EU. Just for this reason, despite disappointment, the EU said about its readiness to continue cooperation. Armenia and the European Union will create a new legal aspect for partnership. The new document will consist of 6 or 7 clauses, with priority to be given to mobility or simplicity of visa regime, education and sector-specific cooperation – that is, the financing will be continued but will be directed to specific sectors. The other points will concern the efforts to fight corruption, to ensure the rule of law and to protect human rights. But I still doubt that the document will be ready by the EaP Summit in Vilnius. Unfortunately, the Armenian authorities do not realize that the context of their partnership with the EU has been seriously changed and that the new format will focus on the weakest aspects of the Association Agreement - corruption, rule of law and human rights. For this reason, the Armenian authorities will face new higher requirements and closer control. Now that the ruling regime has betrayed the EU, it will turn its eyes towards the opposition.
The Armenian-Turkish Protocols are still on the agenda of the parliaments of Armenia and Turkey. Can we say about staring of a new process between these two countries?
At present, the given issue is regarding Turkey but not Armenia which did everything possible depending on it for normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations. Now everybody are waiting for the actions from Turkey, Turkey is responsible for that. Incidentally, Washington’s, Brussels’s and Moscow’s viewpoint on the issue coincides. They agree that Turkey left the process and it itself can decide when to return to it. However, I think that that the Armenian-Turkish Protocols are already dead and will never come back. But, at present we have another process, when they are trying to attract the points which were involved in the Protocols without the protocol format. And this new strategy is about opening of the border and establishment of diplomatic relations. This is one of the issues, where I protect the position of the authorities of Armenia by 100%. Just thanks to this issue Armenia has managed to enhance its strategic significance and deepen diplomatic relations.
Can we suppose that by 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Turkey will again return to the Protocols for creation of illusion of improvement of relations?
Turkey will come back to normalizing of relations with Armenia till 2015. The genocide issue is a bigger problem for Turkey than for Armenia. It is linked with the moral pressure imposed upon the official Ankara. We should expect that Turkey will come back to normalizing of relations with Armenia over the coming years. Azerbaijan has become the biggest victim of normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations, as its relations with official Ankara were damaged. "Turkey is disappointed by the fact that Azerbaijan puts veto upon all the initiatives in its regional policy. Turkey was wrong as it underrated the role of Azerbaijan. Moreover, Russia made use of the temporary worsening of the Azerbaijani-Turkish relations and improved its relations with Baku. We see that Turkey is not the biggest military partner of Azerbaijan any more, as Russia has occupied this position. Armenia should not like the look of it.
What do you think about an intention to make Constitutional reforms? What is the true purpose of their making? Is not it Serzh Sargsyan’s attempt to secure his power?
It is still early to speak about it as then reforms have not been offered yet. However, I think that they are not an attempt to prolong Sargsyan’s power. I think it will not work because of the two reasons. First, it is for the first time over the entire history of Armenia that the fight started within the ruling party. Secondly, Sargsyan is the last representative of the Karabakh elite in the power. At present, we are ay the transition stage and the next head of state will be younger and will have absolutely different political views. I don’t think that in the created situation the current system will function in future as well.
What will civil displeasure in the republic result in against the background of overall price hike? Can we expect social revolt in the republic?
Civil activism and interest in political processes are growing in Armenia. One of the key reasons of it is the situation when almost 1/3 of the population are below the poverty line, while the oligarchs are getting richer and richer, with no echanism available to control their insatiable appetites. As a result, the people regard them as traitors and the biggest threat for the country.
Thank you, for an interesting interview.