ArmInfo’s interview with Azerbaijani political expert Rauf Mirkadyrov
by David Stepanyan
What can you say about the domestic political situations in Azerbaijan and Armenia following the latest elections?
When considering the domestic political developments in Armenia and Azerbaijan, one can see their striking difference from Georgia, whose society is permanently active. It is another question whether it is good or bad. The domestic political space of Azerbaijan has started reformatting to the extent of full removal of the previous information since 2005. Therefore, it is impossible to say that something has changed following the past presidential election in Azerbaijan. Yes, in the run-up to the election some attempts were made to stimulate the society and create a political space at last, but all the attempts were in vain. I think that unlike Azerbaijan, Armenia is experiencing certain domestic processes. The situation caused in the republic after September 3 is the best evidence of that. European integration supporters are much more than those several hundred people who are protesting against the president's decision to join the Customs Union. The fact that the domestic processes in Armenia are being reformatted is also proved by the refusal of the opposition, which had gained almost half of the votes during the past parliamentary election, to run in presidential election. It is mind-boggling. Levon Ter-Petrosyan was concerned over the March 2008 developments and he felt the fear of responsibility for their re-occurrence. The result was his rough mistake to join forces with Gagik Tsarukyan and that mistake weakened his protesting movement.
Do you observe any positive tendencies following the Armenian and Azeri Presidents’ meeting in Vienna after almost a two-year break?
Today we can observe both positive and negative tendencies in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process and both come from Armenia's decision to join the Customs Union. Before Sept 3 2013 both the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians were confident that time was working to their benefit: the former relied on growing economy, oil and gas and Armenia's partial isolation, the latter on control of territories, which will sooner or later be fixed in some form in the international law. But my opinion – and Sept 3 has proved this - is that in reality time is working to the benefit of Russia. By saying on Sept 3 that Armenia could not be in different military-political and economic spaces at one and the same time Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan openly admitted that security was the key factor that made him decide to join the Customs Union. But the Armenians still have a little time. If they changed their position in one day, they can do it in six months, can't they?
How will the Karabakh peace process benefit from it?
The situation that has arisen after September 3 is pushing Armenia and to some extent Azerbaijan for settlement, because strongly dependent on the priorities of Russia, which has very powerful geopolitical interests in the region, Armenia, in turn, contradicts Azerbaijan's interests. Armenia, as a member of the Customs Union, deprives Baku of possible maneuvering in the game with Russia and subsequently threatens it. It appears that the given circumstance is a stimulus for both Armenia and Azerbaijan to come to an agreement on Karabakh within the months left before Armenia's accession to the Customs Union, though there is very little time left. Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent trip to Armenia, which started with a symbolic visit to the Russian 102nd military base was a red flag shown to the West. In other words, Putin claimed that Russia had no intention to leave and that Russia was going to strengthen its position in the South Caucasus. Putin's statement was rather ambitious given that Georgia staked out its own position long ago and Azerbaijan has no intention to join the Customs Union either. Therefore, Russia, which has strengthened its influence in Armenia, will do everything possible to torpedo the Karabakh peace process.
Why should Russia, which has big domestic problems, focus on reintegration of the USSR?
It is very hard to explain why Russia is concentrating its vast resources to reintegrate the USSR as it hardly needs either Armenia or Azerbaijan. In case of Ukraine, much is said about what Moscow has given to Kyiv, but nothing is said about what it wants to take in exchange. Economically speaking, Russia does not need Ukraine even though it has certain economic interests in that country. In fact, the post-Soviet republics have just 15% of Russia's foreign trade as the bigger part of it is energy imports to the West. So, what Russia is really after is not economic interests. As any land power, Russia regards any neighboring territory as its own, unlike sea powers, like the UK or France, who regarded their overseas territories as their colonies and therefore had no problems with letting them free. Today Russian President Vladimir Putin has nothing to give to his society, and so, the restoration of the USSR – in one way or another - has become the trademark of his comeback to the Kremlin.
Recently Moscow has actively been inviting Tehran to a “new non-aligned security system” in the region that includes the South Caucasus. Why is Moscow doing that and what role does the Geneva interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear program play here?
I think, in fact, the situation around Iran, at least its role in the geopolitical axis system has undergone almost no changes. I believe all the preliminary agreements on Iran reached in Geneva were nothing but a timeout for Russia, the West and Iran itself.
So, the talk on the loyalty of “new Iran” to the United States is groundless, isn’t it?
If Tehran suddenly changes its attitude towards the US, there can be no non-aligned union in the region. To become a loyal state, Iran needs reformatting of its whole domestic political space the way it happened in 1978-1979. Within the 35 years after the Islamic Revolution, a totally new political space was created in Iran, and it claimed that "The US is an evil empire". It is impossible to change that space within 6 months. Khamenei will simply be unable to explain such sudden transformation. The matter concerns complete cancellation of Iranian geopolitics in the Middle East. Moreover, how can one speak of a "non-aligned system" if Russia is present in it? Consequently, no such interregional alliance is possible in practice. Russia has its own interests in the region and they run counter to the US interests. If Iran suddenly becomes loyal to the USA, these contradictions will cover Iran as well. Russia is most of all interested in torpedoing the continuation of the Geneva process. So, for the moment the only allies of the USA in the region are Turkey, whose services are still useful to Washington, and Israel, which is isolated from the neighbors by Iran's efforts. Everyone is aware of the current state of Russian economy. If Iranian oil enters the global market, the Russian oil prices will be below 100 USD per barrel at least for a year. Such a price will not be good enough for the Russian budget. So, no sudden changes are likely to happen in the Iran-West relationship in the near future.