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 Sergey Grinyaev, Director General of the Russian Center of Strategic Assessment and Forecasts
by David Stepanyan
What are the prospects of the Russian policy on creation of the Eurasian area?
I think the prospects of the Eurasian policy conducted by Russia today are rather positive. Such optimism is based on impartial facts - the integration processes are backed as they have been developing on the ways of the integration ties available earlier. The industrial and social ties of the USSR will be restored in some cases. This will reduce expenses for integration much. Moreover, despite the years of independent development, today the true and potential participants in the Eurasian integration processes are much closer to each other by their historic roots, than it seems at first sight. Using an example of fast extension rates of the European Union for the last decades, today we can see that absence of historical affinity and the gap in the social and culture surroundings between the newcomer-states and "old term residents" give birth not to the integration but assimilation processes. As a rule, as a result of such unification, new members of the EU lose their national identity.
Some experts say that despite its declared commitment to join the Customs Union, the Armenian elite still represents the interests of the West. Do you think this opinion meets the realities?
Unfortunately, I do. In the last years Armenia has been actively pro-Western. This policy is welcomed by most Armenian communities abroad even though Russia too has a big Armenian community. This is mostly the fault of Russia, who has neglected the South Caucasus and Central Asia in the last years. Today Israel and Turkey have much more influence in the region than some 5-10 years ago, let alone China and the United States. So, it would be wrong to expect that everything will change the moment Armenia joins the Customs Union. In fact, it was more the personal initiative of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.
What economic benefits may Armenia get from its accession to the Customs Union? Are these benefits commensurable with those from signing the AA/DCFTA with the EU?
I think the question is asked in the wrong way. I would offer to turn it around - what is Armenia ready to bring to the Customs Union to be useful to that and to ensure its own prosperity? I am absolutely confident that the current stage of integration is based on the conditions of mutual pragmatic usefulness. The times have passed when Russia shouldered problems of its close allies only to ensure their false "integration". Few allies appreciated Russia's "kind will gestures". As a rule, they were striving to gain profit both from Moscow and other geo-political centers simultaneously. So Yerevan's profit will depend on the fact how Armenia will display itself in the new union, what it is ready to bring to it, and how much interesting it will be to other partners. Only preserving of the current status-quo at the labor market and preserving an opportunity of the non-visa trips to the Customs Union member-states will allow Armenia to preserve significant share of the foreign currency receipts, to avoid unemployment at the local labor market, and as a result, to preserve certain social stability. Europe cannot replace Russia's labor market. And taking into account the failure of multi-culturalism policy, the reorientation of the European policy towards the national objectives, one should wait for tightening of the migration policy in the EU countries.
Many experts, including Russian ones, think that the major goal of Moscow’s integration projects is Ukraine rather than Armenia or Moldova. What can Moscow offer Kyiv to prevent Ukraine's European integration?
I am one of those specialists who consider Ukraine as one of the key participants in the Eurasian integration process, without offence. Since the Soviet period, Ukraine has been the basis of the country's industrial and agricultural might. Big well-educated human resources, fruitful soil, potential in high-tech industry have really made that country one of the most desirable candidates for Eurasian integration. Without Ukraine, this integration process will be incomplete. The West tries its best to prevent rapprochement of Moscow and Kyiv, he said. What Moscow offers Ukraine is development of economic ties between Russian and Ukrainian enterprises. Unlike Europe, Russia is interested in Ukrainian aircrafts and potential in the field. Besides Russia, the only country that is interested in, at least, preservation of Ukraine's industrial potential is China, and not Europe. The global financial-economic crisis showed that the real sector is the only pillar even for a developed country. And the Customs Union offers development and protection of domestic markets through preferential internal taxation and high foreign taxes. Integration ties of Russia and Ukraine will be lost if their relations deteriorate. And what then? Is Europe ready to support the aircraft and space engineering, and agriculture industry of Ukraine? I am afraid, not. All the above sectors are just rivals for Europe. What happened to the industry and agriculture of the countries of Eastern Europe that joined the EU: GDR, Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Baltic States? Did they manage to sustain competition with of their European rivals? No, they didn't. Does Armenia need such perspectives? I think there is much to think about.
After Armenia had taken a decision to join the Customs Union, Russian experts started speaking of possible recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. They also say that Azerbaijan can prevent this by Eurasian integration only. How promising is this policy of “soft pressure” on Baku?
Russia's decision on Nagorno-Karabakh depends on Armenia's decision on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As regards Azerbaijan, I would not say that Russia is trying to force anybody to do join the Customs Union. This is a pragmatic project. If Azerbaijan decides that it is good for it, it is free to join. All territorial disputes must be solved before the accession to the Customs Union lest they might cause tension in it. This is what the EU does. They refuse to admit a country if it has territorial disputes.
Global politics is experiencing sharp fluctuations directly affecting the South Caucasus and the neighboring regions. The Syrian situation is one of the examples. What can these fluctuations do to a small country such as Armenia?
Even though Armenia is a small country, it must be tougher in defending the rights and freedoms of Armenians living in Syria. I regret that the strong Armenian Diaspora is doing nothing to solve the Syrian problem. Pressured by the United States and the United Kingdom, Armenia prefers being neutral on this problem, and this is in strong contrast to the pro-American positions of Georgia and Azerbaijan. I believe that Armenia and Russia must have a common stance on the Syrian problem. Russia has managed to stabilize the situation in Syria, but we are still far from peace. In this context, the assistance of the Armenian Diaspora would be really invaluable. Their support for our efforts would help us not only to stop the civil war in Syria but also to save the lives of its citizens, many of whom Armenians.