Interview of the head of Caucasus Studies Department under Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Yana Amelina, with ArmInfo news agency
by David Stepanyan
Russia has been strengthening the 102nd military base and air defence group in Armenia. It has also rented “Erebuni” airport. What is the reason of that? Who such strengthening is directed against? How much does it meet Armenia’s interests?
Reinforcement of the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia is not surprising, given that security is Eurasian Union's best trump card. I think, it is of utmost importance for Armenia amid the constant threat of war in the region. In the light of the ongoing internal processes in Turkey and Azerbaijan and the general growth of inadequacy in the region, the 102nd military base must be reinforced to meet any turn of events. I mean protection of Armenia and Russia's interests, of course. Therefore, what we observe now is not surprising, Russia's growing military presence in Armenia is aimed against the same countries as before - in the Soviet period - against Turkey, first of all. In this light, Russia committed a blunder at the time doing Georgia's bidding and destroying the system of its bases in the region and withdrawing the bases from Akhalkalaki and Batumi.
At resent, the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri, Armenia, is being actively re-equipped with new artillery missiles systems and armored vehicles. Particularly, 9K58 Smerch 300mm Multiple Launch Rocket Systems have already been delivered to the base. Simultaneously, the aviation base No.3624 at the Erebuni Airport in Yerevan with MiG-29 jet fighter aircrafts escadrille will be armed with an escadrille of helicopters. A United Armenian-Russian anti-aircraft system is being established. It is equipped with S- 300 PS (PM) anti aircraft systems, Krug ZRK-SD (2K11) air defense systems, 2P25M1 Kub anti-aircraft missile system, S-300V/ mobile Anti Ballistic Missile system and 9K37M1-2 Buk-M1-2 (Ural) – missile systems as well as the Russian anti-aircraft systems deployed in the North Caucasus.
How logical is Russia’s striving to attract former republics of the USSR through organizing of the “march of thousands of captive guestarbiters” at Moscow streets, or hysteria in mass media regarding an Azerbaijani-killer from Birylevo or an Armenian that killed 18 people?
The point is that the persons you are speaking about were not absolutely innocent.
In case of Biryulevo, the point was not at all that an Azerbaijani Zeynalov killed a Russian guy Sherbakov. The point is that Moscow as well as other Russian cities are tired of the beyond of control migration. As a Moscow resident, I can say that the migration situation has been changing towards the negative side. Today they speak about establishment of the emigration ghetto which de-facto are already available in Moscow, for instance in Biryulevo. Naturally, Moscow residents are not happy for such an abnormal situation, which is not justified even from the economic point of view. As for the story of the Armenian driver Harutyunyan, it is a tragical event. Nevertheless, both incidents were extraordinary. But if a man was crushed to death by Harutyunyan's car, this accident would not be beyond the frames of ordinary accident history. However, too many people died because of the accident and Russian mass media could not simply ignore it.
Do you mean that it was not done on the state level?
There is no doubt the situation was not poisoned at the state level. To be confident, one should simply see how many Armenians and Azerbaijanis live in Russia. The south of Krasnodar region, and Shochi, in particular, have de-facto become Armenian, but not everybody are happy for such a fact. However, we do not discuss such issues at the federal and regional level. It conveys a great deal. For this reason, discussion of extraordinary situations is unfortunately extremely emotional. However, if the driver was not Armenian but, for instance, American, undoubtedly mass media would touch on the American topic with the same zeal.
Iranian experts always say about the necessity of cooperation with Russia, in particular, in the south Caucasus. How do you imagine such cooperation? What does it suppose especially after the Genevaconference?
I think it is still early to say that the Russian-Iranian relations will be radically changed. The Iranian policy is very much complex and, alas, contradictory. For this reason, it is not always possible to trust in Iran. For this reason, I would not link power change in Iran with new opportunities in foreign policy. Of course, certain improvement and changing is possible, but one should not wait for more. In fact, today we do not understand what Iran expects from its relations with Russia. As a rule, the intentions declared by Teheran, meet serious disagreements at the stage of their fulfillment.
May I suppose that you mean aspiration of Iran to export Shiite Islam to Russia?
The Russian Muslims are chiefly Sunni, whereas the Shiite Iran has been more and more offering Moscow its own ways for settlement of problems of radical Islamism, in particular, of the Sunni Vahabism. Moreover, Iran is striving to spread its influence on the Russian Muslims. This topic was not discussed several years ago, but at present it is gradually gaining voice. The religious factors are more and more playing a bigger part than even economy and policy. There are many disagreements between Moscow and Teheran. For this reason, Russia and Iran have to delay development of relations a little.
Since losing a part of the NATO outpost the Turkish policy “zero problem with neighbors” has transformed into the policy “no neighbor without problems”. Nevertheless, Ankara is trying to move forward in the south Caucasus. Will you please comment on such a policy?
Although it is obvious that Turkey has lost the role NATO's outpost and despite failure of the Turkish policy "zero problem with neighbours" and its failure in Syria, today Turkey has serious prospects to enhance its influence in the region.
An ocean of young energy has been accumulated in Turkey today, which should be directed somewhere, as the Turkish market is too narrow. Russia itself needs the youth and energy of the Turkish society. I think that all this young energy is gaining the Islamist color thanks to natural course of events. That is to say, it will not be liberal and will not be oriented towards Europe. Turkey has already informally abandoned a silly and absolutely unreal attempt to find itself within Europe. And Islamism has remained the only option for Turkey, not the one functioning in Saudi Arabia, the countries of Persian Gulf or in Egypt, but just the political islamism. Political islamism goes on feeding pan-Turanian projects very well, especially if we take into consideration the fact that Turkic nations living at the post-Soviet area feel certain historical community with the Turks. The expert said that one should not overemphasize this community after split of the Ottoman empire and other events. Nevertheless, despite changing of coordinates of Turkey in the world, this topic still remains. Turkey has been gradually walking the way of the political Islamism and will go on developing in this way. Let's take Georgia. Here the influence of the Turkish political,
economic and religious influence is obvious. And Ajaria is a bright sample of that. Today we see the growth of the Turkish influence in Abkhazia too, although the Abkhazians try to build their national state. As for Armenia, one should not wait for the growth of Turkish political influence in this country. As for the growth of the Turkish economic presence in Armenia, I think it is sexed up.
Do the Armenian-Turkish relations have any prospect in the system of coordinated described by you?
The Armenian-Turkish relations in the available new system of coordinates practically have no prospect. They may have prospects only if Armenia abandons its statehood, which, I am confident, will never happen. It is clear that Turkey will increase pressure upon Armenia, including with a help of Azerbaijan, and this is normal. It is obvious that any programmes for settlement of the Armenian-Turkish relations will be directly linked with Karabakh settlement. It was funny to observe how this fact was abandoned at the very beginning of the "football diplomacy", but later nevertheless found itself on the agenda. I am confident that the Karabakh conflict cannot be de-jure settled today, although de-facto it was settled long ago since establishment of Nagornyy Karabakh Republic waiting for the international recognition. For this reason, one should not wait for returning of this state within
Azerbaijan, as it is simply impossible. There is simply no geo-political configuration which supposes returning of the NKR within Azerbaijan. For this reason, I am rather pessimistic to unblocking of Armenia by Turkey in the near future. Actually, it is not clear, if Armenia and Turkey need it.