ArmInfo’s interview with Andrey Areshev
by David Stepanyan
What fundamental changes do you see in the security system of the South Caucasus over the last five years?
After the protracted status quo around Abkhazia and South Ossetia was broken by the August 8 War, and with Russia's political, diplomatic and military methods, restoration of the relations between Moscow and Tbilisi will actually be a long process. Anyway, the process has started with a constructive dialogue, which is a necessity, I think, given Russia's growing role of the security and stability guarantor in the South Caucasus. Moscow plays a big role in maintenance of peace in the region, exerting certain efforts to resolve the conflicts in the South Caucasus. The USA and EU, and the regional powers - Turkey and Iran, are also actively trying to influence the processes in the region offering their multi-level peaceful and even not-peaceful initiatives.
However, the Armenian-Turkish border still remains blocked as the normalization of the two countries relations was linked to the Karabakh conflict. In this light, we saw how limited are the efforts of the Turkish diplomacy. Such limitations are observed also in other countries.
Well, do you think that reactivation of the Abkhazian section of the railway that links Armenia and Russia is among the topics of the Russian-Georgian dialogue?
Georgia and Abkhazia have recently understood the need for breakthrough mechanisms ensuring normal economic and communication exchange in the South Caucasus region. This is why the unblocking of the Abkhazian section of the railway linking Armenia with Russia is one of the most important issues in the Russian-Georgian dialogue. Certainly, this dialogue includes the issue of unblocking of the main transport routes. The resumption of the railway and motor service via Abkhazia is an extremely important issue for Armenia. It is actively being discussed, but it is quite obvious that there are serious political obstacles for this project. Both Georgia and Abkhazia have recently changed their attitude towards this project, because creation of such mechanisms would mostly predetermine the outcome of the diplomatic talks. One can say with confidence that a new war or conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia or South Ossetia does not meet the interests of Russia, which stakes on new integration formations in the post-Soviet area. I’d like to say that the region faces the risk of extension of cross-border threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and potential destructive ideas. This brings Russia closer to the South Caucasus countries, including Georgia, thereby creating additional opportunities for a dialogue and cooperation.
What does particularly impede reopening of the Abkhazian section of the railway?
There are external and internal obstacles in the way of unblocking of the Abkhazian section of the railway. Among the internal prerequisites, I would first of all mention Azerbaijan's 20-year-old aspiration to isolate Armenia from any communication projects. The stance of some allies of Azerbaijan is also one of the prerequisites.
Armenia has probably taken into consideration the survey of International Alert (UK) about the prospects of reconstruction of the Abkhazian railway, which has been idle since 1991. They have made rather substantiated estimations but, in general, they have arrived at the conclusion that the railway operation is inefficient, first of all, because the possible cargo traffic is insufficient. I think this point of view sounds somewhat cunning. If considered alongside with Russia's expansion into the markets of the South Caucasus and the Middle East in the context of construction of the North-South corridor, this issue will sound quite different.
Not everything is formed on the basis of mere economy and pragmatic calculations. There is geopolitics, which eventually influences economy. There are also issues related to development of the region and Armenia's integration into the future Eurasian Economic Space. There are also external prerequisites to launch the Abkhazian section of the railway, and this issue should be considered with regard to Abkhazia, because there are roads linking Armenia to Russia via the Upper Lars checkpoint and these roads are operating.
In Armenia and Azerbaijan they think that the balance of forces on the line of contact of the three parties to the Karabakh conflict is maintained exclusively due to their own efforts. What is Russia’s role in preservation of the status quo?
Certainly, the status quo and balance of forces are maintained also by the efforts of the conflicting parties. However, Russia's role in the process is tangible enough, specifically in maintenance of the power balance. It is not a secret that resumption of military actions in the region is an extremely negative scenario for us, with all that it implies. In this light, Moscow tries to link resolution of the conflicts in the region to other interests and positions of some regional and global actors. For instance, the meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in Vienna was a result of Yerevan's integration in Russia's Eurasian projects. Besides, the Kremlin maintains the balance of forces in the region at several levels. Mechanisms - bilateral military-political and strategic cooperation of Russia and Armenia and a similar cooperation within the CSTO. Naturally, Russia cooperates also with Azerbaijan in a variety of fields, and this cooperation is much deeper than it may seem at first sight.
What is the role of Russian arms deliveries to Azerbaijan in the above strategy of Moscow?
I think that the Caucasus policy of Russia, first of all, has a purpose of prevention of a large-scale war in the Karabakh conflict zone. Such a policy is a long-term one and is based on the strategy for prevention of external provocations which may theoretically become a sparkle for inflammation of this frozen conflict. The forthcoming new stage of the Russia-Iran partnership will create new opportunities for prevention of the new Karabakh war. Taking into consideration the fact that because of several reasons Iran is not interested in worsening of the situation at its northern border, especially in the regions populated by the people called Azerbaijanis, this partnership may be rather fruitful.
Due to Armenia’s upcoming accession to CU, arms deliveries to Azerbaijan, increasing military presence of Russia in Armenia, and some other similar steps have significantly strengthened Russia’s positions in the region. Will that become a factor help us see a lights at the end of the tunnel in the Karabakh conflict?
very time when events happen in the South Caucasus, which are evidence of Russia's strengthening, in certain centres they immediately remember about the unsettled Karabakh conflict, and about the necessity of more effective mediation in the conflict.
In this context, I should say that before Sargsyan-Aliyev meeting in Vienna that took place after a two-year break, several leading western mass media published articles predicting a new large-scale war around Karabakh. Naturally, such propaganda publications hinder development of a normal and effective dialogue for finding of the way for peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. I am sure that the true Karabakh settlement may be based only on a mutual compromise. However, the "Madrid principles" contain no compromise because of their crudity. Without implementation of the available agreements on prevention of incidents at the border and at the line of contact, mutual compromises foreseen by these principles are practically impossible.