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
An interview of the head of the analytical centre "Alte et Certe", known Russian political expert, Andrey Epifantsev, with Arminfo news agency.
by David Stepanyan
To be honest, I should say that the point was not about that. The point is that Armenia's European integration process is certainly leading to a certain conflict of interests with Russia. Russia and the EU are competing policy-makers and have different interests. It is impossible to be involved in both of them simultaneously the way it was impossible to simultaneously be a member of NATO and Department of Internal Affairs during the Soviet time. Armenia's initialing the Association Agreement with the EU means that Yerevan will delegate the major part of its powers to the West, switch to Western standards, get flooded with duty-free Western products, etc. If Russia maintains the current level of relations with Armenia, as well as the current level of its participation in Armenia's affairs and its current support to Armenia, it will find itself in a foolish situation running counter to its interests. In this case, for an unknown reason, Russia will have to be under serious obligations and help its competitor: defend it, ensure its political interests in the disputed territory, provide it with cheap energy resources, free arms, finance its economy, host its labor migrants, etc. The world knows no examples of such absurd relations and I am sure that Moscow will not become a "trendsetter" here. No one denies Armenia's right to participate in any integration processes. But no one deprives Russia of the right to react to the changes in the situation. Naturally, under the new conditions, Armenia will be unable to remain the strategic ally of Russia and Moscow will have to considerably decline our countries' relations to the level of ordinary good-neighborly relations. In practice, this may result in denunciation of the treaty on military cooperation, abandonment of obligations to defend Armenia, withdrawal of the Russian military base, transmission from "friendly" to market terms of trade, fixing of world prices of energy resources, introduction of a visa regime and return of the Armenian labor migrants to Armenia. I think that to maintain its political influence on the South Caucasus, Russia might consider making its relations with Azerbaijan closer and changing its stance on Nagorno-Karabakh. "However, it is for Armenia to choose the integration process.
The forthcoming initialing of the Association Agreement and DCFTA will have positive as well as negative consequences for Armenia. Among the positive consequences we can mention the harmonization of the Armenian legislation and state processes with the advanced western norms, which will positively affect the society, fighting corruption, etc. It is very much possible that the visa regime with the West will be simplified, prices for the food products, produced in the EU countries, will be decreased in Armenia, etc, Among the negative consequences is raising of the general level of prices because of the growth of tariffs for the energy sources, the destruction of the local producer which will have no chance to compete with the western products, the growth of unemployment and migration. As a strict sample, I can point at the post-Soviet Baltic states and Bulgaria. Look at them, and you will see you in 3-5 years. Practically, the whole labor pool left Lithuania and Latvia to earn money. If earlier Bulgaria was a well developed agricultural country, at present it purchases tomato from Turkey. It is funny when I hear somebody saying that from now on it will be easy to sell Armenian products in the West. I am sad as Armenian ordinary people are naïve. Actually, Armenia does not have the products with a prospect to be well sold in the West, as for the mining industry goods, which may be really sold, they will be sold without the integration unification. Russia and the CIS, are the territories where Armenian products may be really sold. However, after initialing and signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, it will be harder to do that, as taking into account what has been happening to Ukraine now, Russia will start protecting its market from the production of the business-rival country and from the Western goods which may interfere its market through Armenia.
Despite participation in the EU “Eastern Partnership” programme, Azerbaijan seems to lag behind Armenia and Georgia in the integration projects with Europe. What are the reasons of this lagging?
Azerbaijan does not at all need participation in the integration programmes with Europe because of many reasons. Azerbaijan has got Turkey as an integration partner and ally and Baku will have nobody better than Turkey. Economically, this country lives thanks to the pipe, and they can sell oil and gas without joining Europe. The political system of Azerbaijan is based on the principles which will never let this country join Europe, and changing of these principles will mean leaving of the present elite and destruction of its economic prosperity. So, this is not lagging but a purposeful policy.
Armenia and Georgia have been striving to become a part of a single European economic space. Is it possible to reach a compromise on de-blocking of the Abkhazian sector of the railway, taking into consideration its importance for the European integration and Armenia’s coming out from the “half blockade”?
The Abkhaz railway is of no importance to European integration. The Association Agreement with the EU can be signed no matter whether the railway is open or closed. The operation of the Transcaucasus railway is important for facilitating the communication with Russia and for transporting Armenian cargoes to Russia and vice versa. However, Armenia's inclination for the West and the enhancement of the West's role in Armenia's affairs will reduce this communication and the cargo traffic.
At the moment, the re-launch of this railway needs the consent and interest of Russia and Azerbaijan as a country that has an immense influence on Georgia's decision to open the railway. "Azerbaijan's stance is clear - to keep the blockade. Russia's interest in the railway will also be reduced to nothing after November and Vilnius. So, one can stop talking of opening of the railway.
Let’s touch on the Middle East affairs. Is it possible that just Bashar Asad’s supporters used chemical weapon, or the Iraqi scenario is more possible? How events will develop sonce refusal of Russia and China to sanction the operation against Syria?
It is hard to guess who used chemical weapon. To be logical, I see no reason for its using by the governmental troops, as they are wining, their number is bigger, they are well armed, and in many cases the people support them. Why does Asad need it? It is more logical that just rebels used chemical weapon in Syria. However, here we must not guess. We need international investigation of the situation even if it will be held after completing of the battle actions in Syria. At present is very much difficult to predict further development of events. There are several signs saying that they have already adopted a decision to bomb Syria, but it will be a short-term bombing which uses cruise missiles, but not a mass and long-lasting bombing as in case of Serbia, and not the land attack as in case of Iraq. It will practically give nothing to the West but its demonstration as a centre of force and the world arbiter. I think if bombing of Syria is short - just a couple of days, Iran will hardly join the conflict. Taking into consideration their own shaky position within the country, the authorities of Turkey will also hardly dare to take part in the active stage of the conflict and will just limit by aggressive statements and an open support of the countries of the West.
How can possible participation of Iran in the Syrian conflict, if the USA participates, threat security of the South Caucasus?
Iran's participation in the Syrian conflict if the Americans start bombing, will undoubtedly draw nearer the day when Iran will come forward in a role of Iraq and Syria. Anyway, irrespective of Iran's participation in the conflict or not, if Asad loses and Iraqization of Syria will take place, Iran will be the next and the military operation against Iran will be just a problem of time. Just for this reason, it is very much important for Teheran not to let falling of Damascus. Iin its turn, the military operation against Iran will cause serious changing of the situation in the South Caucasus. It may have serious consequences - starting the radiation pollution of the region up to thousands of refugees moving to the neighboring countries, and Azerbaijan's temptation on the sly to settle the Karabakh conflict with a help of force. The situation in the region may change so much that it should be discussed during a separate talk.