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 Viktor Krivopuskov, Head of Rossotrudnichestvo Office in Armenia, Counselor of Russian Embassy in Armenia, Candidate of Philosophical Sciences, Doctor of Sociology, honorary member of the Writers’ Union of Armenia
Mr.Krivopuskov, you are a diplomat, public figure, scientist, political expert and historian spending much time on studying and developing the Armenian-Russian relations. You are the author of well-known books, such as “Rebellious Karabakh” and “Armenia, Armenia...: 200 questions-200 answers about the country and the people since biblical times to modern days”. Today Armenia faces an “interim choice” – to initial and sign the Association Agreement with the EU or to start a re-integration process within the post-Soviet space around the idea of the Eurasian Union. Actually, history has repeatedly thrown Armenia into a dilemma. Today, also, the formula “either…or” is perceived in Armenia more seriously than the formula “both…and”.
A choice is always a temptation. Russia has also faced the problem of choice on its difficult historical path. The Strife in the early 17th century, the epoch of Peter the Great, the Patriotic War of 1812, October of 1917, the Great Patriotic War, the collapse of the USSR were nothing but a possibility of a historical choice. But are there any reasons to speak of a “great choice” today? One should understand that the current situation in both Russia and Armenia is not so critical. As a diplomat, politician and sociologist, I try to be guided not by emotional “twists and turns” or speculations, but good knowledge and clear ideas giving an answer to the question what the appearing picture is. In fact, that picture consists of 2 parts. One of them exists really, and the other one temps with its artistic performance. Truth is always balanced and it is equality of weight indices. Today, however, the “either…or” principle is imposed, i.e. it is offered to make a tough choice, which, to tell the truth, implies first of all destroying everything built over decades and even centuries. The state policy must be based on the sense of reality and the forecasts should also be realistic and should be based on the complex of political, economic and humanitarian components of development of the nation, country, and national priorities of both Armenia and Armenian people. Therefore, I think that there are real chances to take a sober and correct step.
Certainly, one should not forget history, which also participates in today’s debates as the main indicator of the reality. I have recently published a monograph “Confidence as a Factor of Society Consolidation”. It has a paragraph dedicated to the interstate confidence in the post-Soviet area by the example of Russian-Armenian cooperation. The matter concerns not only the historical basis, but also the last 20 years, i.e. new Russia and the Third Republic of Armenia. Here I point out the progress in all interstate cooperation dimensions that interest the Armenian and Russian societies: maintenance of peace, defense of our external borders, development of economy, financial stability, science, culture, education, etc. By the main international problems, the positions of our countries coincide or are very close at least. Russia is interested in strong, competitive Armenia, because it enhances our strategic allied relations to a new level. The Russian-Armenian phenomenon of interstate confidence is of big significance to consolidation of the Russian society, because it mostly determines the condition of the large Armenian community in Russia. Then I write that if one stakes on interstate confidence as the basis for strengthening of the confidence inside Russia, one can constantly gain the combination of the confidence based on the sense of confidence in another state and its actions with the confidence based on certain reckoning.
You are absolutely right to think that the issue of unambiguous choice has no prospects. When studying the economic statistics of the CIS countries, I was amazed to learn that Belarus has a well-diversified trade and economic turnover, whereas the West is rather critical of Belarus regarding the problem of choice. Almost half of the commodity flow of the country falls on the European Union. Living under the same Soviet roof, Belarus, Armenia and other post-Soviet countries, including Russia, have gone through fire and water, sometimes through tragic episodes of the contemporary history and gained big success in economy, science and education.
Actually, I am quite well aware of Armenia’s history and I can say that the USSR you are talking about seems to have been created for Armenia. The Armenian nation had not had such prosperity and wealth in its history before. I mean the development of town planning, science, culture, technologies, and production. It is enough to recall that during the Soviet time about 70 trains would daily arrive at the Yerevan freight station and 70 trains would daily leave that station. Furthermore, the commodity exchange was not only inside the Soviet Union, but also with foreign countries. Soviet Armenia successfully traded with almost the whole world. Moreover, it sold not only raw materials but its labor products, which were technology intensive and had a high added value. This was the reality of our joint rationality, which is the basis of our countries’ efficient interaction. Therefore, those who say that Armenia’s commodity turnover indices with Europe are higher than with Russia are cunning. It is far from being true. When the matter concerns investments that lie in the basis of any country’s economic development, the apologists of the idea of “choice” splutter, roughly speaking. The thing is that everything, except the partial raw materials going from Armenia to the West, is produced on the Russian investment base and is designed for the Armenian-Russian commodity turnover.
Economy is the daily bread. To break the traditional stable economic ties is tantamount to death. Following the collapse of the USSR, all of us experienced unprecedented downturn in production and the whole infrastructure. And we started restoring it: Russia – at the expense of its own immense resources, Armenia – at the expense of international, first of all, Russian resources. Let’s look at the nuclear power engineering, the fuel complex, communication or the railway. Which of the European countries suggested assuming the mission of restoring these national infrastructures? Yes, they implemented certain small projects, but no projects on global infrastructure. Only Russia seriously invested in restoration of the poverty-stricken energy complex, started rehabilitating the railway transport and tuned the South Caucasus Railway into a high-yield advanced enterprise. Let them call these investments “politically motivated”. The most important thing is that these investments bring benefit to the country and replenish its budget. Russia is still criticized for the 5 enterprises it received against Armenia’s debts. But no one wants to see or hear that none of these 5 enterprises has been destroyed. Moreover, when these enterprises were being transferred to Russia’s assets, it was announced that the deal should be considered as new Russian investments in Armenia’s economy. Some time passed and all of these 5 enterprises became the largest taxpayers of the country. The success of Mars CJSC, where the first free economic zone in Armenia has recently been launched, is of special significance. It is also important that these enterprises fulfill big orders both for Armenia’s defense and for other countries.
As regards the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory named after Viktor Hambardzumyan, the project of rehabilitation of this important scientific center of Armenia is being completed on the initiative of our Rossotrudnichestvo Office. Now it is being upgraded and will shortly become a priority facility in the system of space rubbish monitoring on the low earth orbit. This is a very serious and promising project that can make the Observatory financially strong and independent. There are also a lot of examples of Armenian-Russian close cooperation in the military and technical field.
I cannot help asking a question about the sale of Russian military hardware worth 1 bln USD to Azerbaijan.
I dare to claim that since the epoch of Peter the Great and Israel Ori, Russia’s foreign policy with respect to Armenia has not changed, there has always been mutual orientation though the kings and secretaries general changed. Russia has always been committed to its political principles even in the hard times. When the Patriotic War 1812 was running, the Emperor did not withdraw a single soldier or officer from the Karabakh battlefield. Today we mark the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Gulistan. In March 2013 we marked the 185th anniversary of the Treaty of Turkmenchay. Let’s read the books by Hovhannes Tumanyan, Avetik Isahakyan, Catholicos Nerses Ashtaraketsi, combat leader Andranik and other old and new Armenian figures. Over 200 thsd soldiers and officers of the Russian imperial army gave their lives for freedom and independence of Armenian people. Today we defend Armenia’s borders with Iran and Turkey together with Armenians. The 102nd Russian military base performs a mission of peace maintenance in the region at the request of the Armenian state. All this allows understanding what lies in the basis of our relations and what lies in the basis of the 1 bln USD. Does the fact of the arms deal become a reason to make cardinal decisions? The important thing is that our countries have already switched from the term “strategic partnership” to construction of strategic allied relations. Believe me, these relations are based on high-strength bricks and this fact is worth understanding.
Politics is known to be the art of achieving the possible and I think that the “choice” is being bargained today. Moreover, everybody keeps silence of this bargain as a purely commercial deal. There are only assessments of some experts, but there is no certainty. I am concerned with it. But some circles in Armenia think that if the “choice” is actually imposed on us, the choice should be made through a nationwide referendum. What do you think of this idea?
It is hard for me to comment on the Armenian elite’s attitude towards the situation. As a sociologist, certainly, I support the instrument of the referendum. XXI century is the epoch of knowledge-driven economy. In this case, to know is to be sure that the decisions made will be supported by the absolute majority of the population. Nowadays it is the large corporations that are guided by science and sociology to improve the system of production and management, but the state policy, unfortunately, uses these principles rarely.
What about Russia? Doesn’t it latently offer us “to choose”?
We do not speak of the “choice”, we speak of intensification of the trade and economic, scientific and technical, military and technical, educational, cultural and humanitarian relations that have deep roots. Unlike the EU idea, the Eurasian idea does not throw the country into the “either…or” dilemma, but suggests developing together without any obstacles from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Moreover, the statements about the Customs Union and the ways of development of the Eurasian Union clearly say that no one is persuaded to join the Union. Its participants are equal regardless of their size or weight. The Eurasian Union lays down no preconditions for accession and suggests equal participation in its creation and construction. This means that each country can take part in creation of the Union, first of all, the CIS countries that are so much interested in integration processes and expansion of cooperation on mutually beneficial terms. We realize that the economy of XXI century is different, therefore, the emphasis is put on restoration and development of not only trade and economic relations, but first of all scientific and technical ties. This is why we speak of an innovation cooperation program, which is gradually becoming a reality.
This is why Rossotrudnichestvo pays so much attention to science and education…
Our Office serves to contribute to trade and economic, scientific and technical, educational, cultural and humanitarian cooperation between our countries. In each of these fields we already have good professional practice, we have managed to implement a number of pilot projects for the CIS countries. It is important that all our programs are formed on a mutually beneficial basis in order to strengthen the scientific brainpower here. Armenia is a science-intensive country. The sooner we speed up joint efforts to rehabilitate the scientific and technical potential of the country, the faster Armenia will make progress. Russia needs strong Armenia as an ally. Therefore, our mission is to pay special attention to close contacts with the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Science and Technology, research institutes, and young scientists. Today this interaction is quite dynamic and it helps restore the bridges with Russian institutes and scientific schools. The Russian-Armenian Center for Innovative Cooperation set up jointly with the Armenian Economy Ministry in 2010 has already implemented over 20 such projects. There is also a program on innovative cooperation with the Skolkovo Foundation. We expect representatives of investment structures and venture capital funds to come to Armenia to choose specific projects. The ties between the Russian and Armenian universities are also strengthened. We provide the Armenian public, school and university libraries with books and other devices. There are six branches of Russian universities in Armenia. Last year the branches of Timiryazev Agricultural Academy and the Russian Veterinary Academy opened at the Yerevan Agrarian University.
There was also a project on opening the Lomonosov Moscow State University's branch in Armenia…
At the moment the technical and paper work is being done. Almost all the issues are agreed upon and the idea will shortly be put into practice. The Moscow State University branch will not become a competitor for the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University and other universities of the country. Moreover, the basic sciences to be taught at the faculties of the MSU branch will be an asset to the higher education system. I am sure that the MSU branch will become a good regional center, which will attract the gifted youth from Diaspora, the Middle East, the CIS and other foreign countries. The activity of the MSU branch as a world-known brand will have a big multiplier effect for Armenia and will give a fresh impetus to development of the scientific and technical potential of the country and its reintegration into the Eurasian and global innovative economy.
Thanks for the interview.