Hikmet Haji-zade: "To be our true friend Russia should reject support of Armenian aggression in Karabakh"
-How do you assess current state of Azerbaijani-Russian relations?
Though a definite "calm and business-like tone" is observed in our relations from exterior, unfortunately, this is a deceptive impression. Russia continues to support Armenian aggressors and put pressure on Azerbaijan in different issue. For example, Russia demands from Azerbaijan to stop economic and political support to Georgia and weaken ties with the West and Turkey. On the whole, the situation is far from being ideal. Merely, unlike Georgie, Azerbaijan does not present offenses and claims towards Russia on the international arena and I think this policy is correct.
-Can we count on the cardinal closing of ties between Azerbaijan and Russia under the new President Dmitri Medvedev?
-The cardinal closing of ties between our countries can occur only when Russia rejects the support of Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, which will also promote the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Yet, it is not likely to occur soon. The Russian elite and society are at present in euphoria about the Putin policy in such issues and oil funds, the smallest part of which go to Russian budget officers and pensioners.
-But will Russia benefit more from relations with Azerbaijan or Armenia?
Everything depends on what Russia considers to be profitable for it. If following the USSR collapse Russia would have intended to become a democratic national state (as Turkey did following the collapse of the Osman empire) Azerbaijan would be a more favorable partner than Armenia. Unfortunately, the nostalgia about the empire have dominated other feelings and intentions and now, instead of learning to produce ars, Russia again prepares its old rockets. Russia does not want to maintain friendship, cooperate or trade, but it wants to rule! But it will not attain it, as world has changed and it is not so strong as previously.
-What do you think about the arguments, used by CSTO secretary general Nikolay Bordyuzha, who spoke of prospects, our country would have following its return to this organization?
-Nikolay Bordyuzha, speaking about the advantages of the CSTO, has not made a single comment about the Karabakh conflict. And it is not clear how we will cooperate in the sphere of security with such a member of the organization as Armenia, and Russia, by the way, which supports its aggression. Bordyuzha mentioned such spheres of interaction within the organization as a combat with drugs, illegal migration, cooperation in combat with calamities, but he said nothing of the main point! In his interview he had mentioned the word "NATO" several times, it seems that Russia is anxious about both Georgian membership in this organization and expanding cooperation of Azerbaijan with NATO. But who is to be blamed for the attempt of our countries and Ukraine to escape from Russia's pressing influence? I want to hope that the new president of Russia will think over this issue.
-By the way, let's talk again about the new president of Russia. A number of analysts and political scientists noted following Medvedev's being elected the President, that the Korean will start rejecting its empire ambition, stop hopping for restoration of its influence on the whole territory of the former USSR and support separatists, concentrating on the resolution of social internal problems. But now we observe intensification of the Crimea tatars in Ukraine, conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, raising of the Lezgiun issue in Azerbaijan. Does it mean that Medvedev, in fact, fulfills functions of a representative, leaving the power to the Prime Minister of Russia Putin?
-I also hope that Medvedev will change Russia's aggressive empire policy and I want to hope that if he decides to do it, he will not be alone, he will be supported by the world society; the currently silent liberals within the Russian government; and, by the way, a part of the militaristic elite of Russia can not disagree that Putin has caused Russia to quarrel with the remaining world and that it is time to moderate the intentions and deal with the urgent internal problems. Thus, it will be much easier for Medvedev that it may initially seem.
-Do you agree that the resolution of the UN General Assembly on support of right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes in Abkhazia adds to the optimism of the Azerbaijani and Georgian sides, striving for the peaceful resolution of existing conflicts both in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as Nagorno Karabakh?
-Yes, I agree with it. Both Azerbaijan and Georgia should increase efforts in this direction. We should inform the world society about injustice to our peoples and the UN is an important tribune for execution of this task. I consider that most, reading this statement, will say that the UN is only a talking ship and everything depending on super states, which care only about their pockets. But today it is not like this. Not completely like this. Beginning from late 20th century, the community of the countries-voters for the government are becoming stronger and control their elite and public opinion usually contains more morals than the pragmatic policy of the governments. Each year the demand of voters for conduction of fair and moral internal and external policy become more effective. And we should appeal not only to super states and elite but also to world democratic society.
-Then why don't the GUAM countries develop a plan on private support of separatism in Russia in a response to Russia's actions towards the GUAM member-states?
-This is a difficult question. Initially GUAM countries seem not so strong to revenge Russia this way. But on the other side, if we recall the recent history, for example, the Chechen war, we have witnessed that in the mid 1990s both Azerbaijan and Georgia under Schevarnadze supported the Chechen fights for independence. Thousands of Chechens and Dudayev's representatives came in Baku. Schevarnadze helped them even more. But in the result, Russia suppressed the Chechen rebellion and putting a pressure on Azerbaijan, made it reject the active support of Chechens. It is unpleasant to recall it, considering the Azerbaijani-Russian relations. But who is to be blamed for it? Today Russian politicians, before speaking about our eternal friendship, should see the root of the problem. To become out true friend, Russia should reject its support to the Armenian aggression in Karabakh.
In related news:
Armenia: Russia's Strengthening Hand
Armenia’s Feb. 19 presidential election pitted two pro-Russian candidates against each other. Armenia is crucial to Russian strategy in the Caucasus, and Russian political and economic influence there has been on the rise.
The presidential election held Feb. 19 in Armenia is over, and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisyan has emerged as the clear victor. His main opponent was former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Both candidates are pro-Russian, and each recently paid political “tribute” to Moscow: Ter-Petrosyan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 11, and Sarkisyan hosted Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov in Yerevan on Feb. 6. Of the two candidates, Moscow prefers Sarkisyan. As a war hero and a native of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, he is not looking to give an inch of ground in Armenia’s dispute with Azerbaijan over the territory. Russia wants to keep its options open regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, especially now that it is deciding how to respond to Kosovo’s independence declaration — and, therefore, Ter-Petrosyan, who has a history of attempting to resolve the conflict, is not the best man for the job, in Moscow’s opinion. Armenia is a crucial piece of Moscow’s geopolitical puzzle in the region: It is a Russian “advance post” in the South Caucasus and the central cog of Iranian-Russian cooperation. Indeed, Russia’s influence is on the rise in Armenia, with both political and economic trends pointing to an ever-tighter alignment between the two.
No matter who won Armenia’s election, it would not have changed Yerevan’s geopolitical imperatives. Armenia is flanked by a hostile Azerbaijan and an equally hostile Turkey, and thus has to develop close relations with its powerful neighbors Iran and Russia. Considering the recent and ongoing Azeri military buildup, neither presidential candidate had any intention of abandoning the alliance with Russia. Armenia has rejected NATO membership as a goal and has strained relations with the United States over its own close economic relationship with Iran. (However, the strong Armenian lobby in Washington has thus far prevented any substantial cuts in U.S. military and economic aid, something the Bush administration has pushing for since March 2007.) In addition to political affinities, the strong geopolitical pull between Moscow and Yerevan has produced a considerable increase in Russian economic influence in Armenia, through both infrastructural investments and business ventures:
* Russia now controls ArmRosGazprom, operator of a pipeline that transports Iranian natural gas to Armenia to operate Armenian power plants — which produce electricity on which Iran depends.
* Gazprom oil subsidiary Gazpromneft is planning to construct an oil refinery near the municipality of Megri, in southern Armenia, that also will supply Iran with much-needed gasoline and oil derivatives.
* Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom has proposed its services for the construction of a new nuclear power station in Armenia to replace or supplement the aging Metzamor plant.
* Russia and Armenia signed a deal Feb. 6 to create a joint uranium exploration venture.
* Through Rusal, one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, Russia also controls Armenal, an aluminum foil mill in Yerevan that accounts for 40 percent of total Armenian annual exports.
* Russian state railway monopoly Russian Railways has a 30-year contract to run Armenia’s national railway network — which, crucially, extends into Iran.
* Russian mobile telephony operators Vimpelcom and Mobile TeleSystems essentially own Armenia’s entire cellular network.
It should be noted that many of the larger investments (such as the proposed nuclear power plant) could run into funding problems; Armenia is practically broke, and Russia has a poor track record of financing infrastructure projects. Furthermore, Moscow has in the past rarely invested money directly in Armenia, choosing instead to use Armenia’s debt to Russia as a way to foreclose on Armenian national assets. That is still the case, but now there also is an increase in Russian businesses and state-owned enterprises investing directly in the country. Russia sinking actual money into Armenia is notable and signifies that Yerevan is being further locked into Moscow’s sphere of influence.
Armenia, Azerbaijan: Russia, the West and Nagorno-Karabakh
Azerbaijan accused Armenia of stoking unrest in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after a gunbattle that killed 15 people March 5. Azerbaijan is using its petroleum wealth to arm itself for a potential conflict with Armenia over the separatist region, which on paper belongs to Azerbaijan but in reality is controlled by Armenia. The West does not want to see this conflict re-emerge, but Russia does — to a point.
Following a gunbattle in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan said 15 soldiers were killed and it accused its neighbor Armenia on March 5 of deliberately stoking unrest in the breakaway region. If true, 15 dead would mark the worst clash in recent years between Muslim Azerbaijan and Orthodox Christian Armenia, which technically remain at war. Renewed conflict in the disputed enclave would displease the West, but would suit Russia just fine unless Azerbaijan scores a decisive win — something becoming increasingly likely, however, as Azerbaijan converts its petroleum wealth into armaments. Pro-Armenian forces seized the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in a war in the 1990s. The two sides have remained in a tense deadlock over the territory ever since, but the conflict has been relatively dormant since a 1994 cease-fire. Technically, Nagorno-Karabakh is still part of Azerbaijan, even though Armenia controls it. International pressure, lack of support from every nation but Russia and Iran, and fear of Azeri retaliation have kept Armenia from annexing the territory. Azerbaijan has been held back from retaking the land due to pressure from the West and the Azeri military’s relative weakness.
But the situation slowly has been changing as Azerbaijan has grown stronger and richer following the 2006 completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which Western companies developed to feed oil to Europe. The BTC led to a more pro-Western Azerbaijan, and the tremendous new wealth it generated has helped the country increase its defense spending from $175 million in 2004 to more than $1 billion at the start of 2008. This, of course, has Armenia more than nervous, but the much poorer country can barely increase its spending to follow Azerbaijan’s lead. In the past year, Armenia has increased its defense spending by 20 percent, from $125 million to $150 million — almost all of which was spent on boosting its defensive capabilities. The Azeris constantly speak about wanting to take Nagorno-Karabakh back by force, and now actually are closing in on the ability to do so. And there is another force pushing for a conflict: Russia.
Following the 2004 eviction from its military bases in nearby Georgia after the Rose Revolution, Russia has been slowly withdrawing its vast military equipment from Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s fellow country in the Caucasus. Officially, Russia said the last of its equipment was removed from Georgia in the summer of 2007 and much of the hardware was shipped back to Russia. But quite a bit of it was relocated to Russia’s large base in Gyumri, Armenia. Uncertainty remains about the relocation of 40 armored vehicles and 20 tanks; Russia says they are back home, but Azerbaijan suspects they are in Armenia. Armenia has accused Moscow of helping fuel Azerbaijan’s military buildup. It alleges that quite a bit of the military equipment from Georgia found its way to Azerbaijan. Russia has myriad reasons to fuel another conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. First, the Kremlin is still smarting after the West recognized Kosovar independence from Serbia despite Russia’s and Serbia’s vigorous objections. In the run-up to Kosovar secession, Russia insisted that the breakaway province’s independence would cause flare-ups in other separatist regions. A renewed scuffle over Nagorno-Karabakh would represent a major told-you-so for Moscow.
Second, Russia is very interested in destabilizing Azerbaijan and in having the West become displeased with Azerbaijan. The United States and Europe have warned Azerbaijan not to restart conflict with Armenia — especially the United States, which has a very large Armenian diaspora with a great deal of clout in Washington. During an election year, U.S. politicians cannot afford to offend constituencies, so they are liable not to ignore pressure from Armenian-Americans. The West worries that renewed conflict could destabilize their investments in Azeri energy infrastructure. Third and last, Russia would just relish the opportunity that renewed conflict would create for it to sweep in as the great mediator. Moscow repeatedly has said it wants to send troops, perhaps as part of a peacekeeping force, into Nagorno-Karabakh. More fighting would give it the perfect opportunity to do so. Ultimately, having the southern Caucasus in flames greatly increases Russia’s leverage with every player previously mentioned. However, Moscow does have one concern: what if Azerbaijan actually wins the fight against Armenia? A victory by Baku would be a palpable blow against Russian power, allowing Azerbaijan to continue on its Westward push without fear of Moscow.