The regional superpowers seem to have been focusing on settlement of the Karabakh conflict recently. The topic was discussed during the Russian-Armenian negotiations in Yerevan and Russian-Turkish talks in Moscow. In addition, a trilateral meeting of the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia is expected in Moscow. Does this intensification imply a resolution of the conflict anytime soon?
I do not think that these events are directly linked with expectations of an imminent resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Turkey has become more active because of Azerbaijan’s negative reaction to Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. The statement by the Turkish leadership that the protocols will not be ratified without a settlement of the Karabakh conflict has pushed Ankara towards a realistic foreign policy. It understood that it should not put direct pressure on Armenia and should ensure that a solution is reached by Moscow, the party that has the keys to the settlement of the problem. Russia is interested in preserving the status quo.
Meanwhile, Armenia is just the last outpost in the region for Russia, as Moscow has in fact lost both Georgia and Azerbaijan
Therefore, during his visit to the USA in early December, Erdogan touched upon the issue while speaking to the US president. He also discussed the issue in Moscow. Russia’s reaction was expected: the Karabakh conflict settlement should not be linked to Armenian-Turkish reconciliation. Lavrov’s visit to Yerevan should also be assessed in this light. Russia is interested to a certain extent in ratification of the Turkish-Armenian protocols and the opening of borders, primarily, because of the lack of a land link between Russia and Armenia where a Russian military base is located. Moreover, we should not forget the Russian-Armenian plans to reconstruct the Metsamor nuclear power plant. The supply of the necessary equipment to Armenia requires a rail link that goes there either via Azerbaijan or via Turkey.
I do not think that Russia can agree to Turkey’s proposal and start any definite action at least to release the Azerbaijani districts around Nagorno-Karabakh.
Does Russia not want the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, even for the sake of its interests?
These are two different issues. Certainly, Russia is interested in the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border but it can achieve this without settling the Karabakh conflict. Russia is still cautious about the opening of borders and Lavrov’s visit to Yerevan was connected with this. Russia has more levers to put pressure on Turkey than Turkey has on Russia. Yes, it is possible to say that Russia is interested in the Turkish market. On the other hand, Russia exports gas to Turkey and in any case it will be able to find alternative markets. Meanwhile, Turkey depends on the Russian gas: 63% of gas purchased by Turkey comes from Russia. It would be impossible to find an alternative in a short time if Turkish-Russian relations worsened. In this situation Turkey can only propose, advise and persuade. Therefore, the issue is not presented in this way on the Russian agenda: should we make concessions on Karabakh if Turkey does not ratify the protocols with Armenia. I think this issue has just begun to be discussed in the Russian establishment because of Erdogan’s recent visit to Moscow.
Meanwhile, the economic rapprochement between Turkey and Russia is obvious. The two countries intend to implement major projects in the near future. How can this influence Azerbaijan?
The strengthening of the economic ties between the countries will promote peaceful coexistence and cooperation in alternative spheres. As Turkey is our strategic ally, its economic strengthening will be a positive factor for us. However, there is another side to the coin. Will this economic alliance be mutually profitable or unilaterally dependent? If Turkey becomes more dependent on Russia (this is, primarily, through the purchase of fuel, the construction of a nuclear power plant, the possible implementation of the Blue Stream-2 and South Stream projects), it will be possible to talk about the negative implications of the alliance. The situation may even turn Turkey into an executor of Russia’s intentions in relation to Azerbaijan.
Does this mean that Russia can put pressure on Turkey to force it to open its borders with Armenia without settling the Karabakh conflict?
Russia will not put pressure on Turkey over the opening of borders. I think if there is no progress in the Karabakh conflict, Turkey will not ratify the protocols with Armenia and Russia will not apply pressure in this connection. However, if you had put this question to me a couple of months ago, I would have stated the possibility of opening borders. Meanwhile, today the situation is changing towards Turkey not ratifying the protocols if there is no progress on Karabakh.
Do you think it possible to expect any achievements on a Karabakh settlement this year?
I think the end of Turkey’s increased activity on Karabakh will become clear. I expect no other achievements. Therefore, no great hopes should be laid on the effectiveness of Turkey’s current activity. Armenia is not independent on Karabakh. It is Russia that makes the decisions. Meanwhile, Armenia is just the last outpost in the region for Russia, as Moscow has in fact lost both Georgia and Azerbaijan. Russia uses the Karbakh trump card to preserve its influence in the region, aware that it is the last tool of influence on Azerbaijan. Therefore, Russia is not interested in resolution of the Karabakh conflict. And the longer the situation continues, the better for Russia, because even if the conflict were settled in favour of Armenia, it would be undesirable for Russia as both Baku and Yerevan would then move towards the Euro-Atlantic community. In this case Russia could lose the whole South Caucasus. Therefore, Russia is not interested in any progress on this issue. Progress will be possible if any power influencing international processes exerts pressure on Russia. The United States is the only country that may apply pressure. But currently this country has no key national interests in the South Caucasus. Washington has got what it wanted, including the stable implementation of energy and transport projects.
The USA's wishes are coming true. Therefore, the United States will not face Russia over an unnecessary resolution of the Karabakh conflict. The situation may change only if US interests in the region grow. This is possible if, for example, the United States starts raising its interests in Central Asia and in access to the region through the implementation of the Nabucco project to transport of Central Asian resources to the West via Azerbaijan. The implementation of this project requires a deliberate political decision from the United States, as was the case with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline project. But no political will has been in evidence so far. This happens for many reasons, including the global financial crisis and problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. This means there are no reasons to change the current situation. Only two things have changed in the past two years. These are Russia’s attack on Georgia and the recognition of the independence of two constituent parts of Georgian, and the Turkey's increased activity in the South Caucasus without any strategy or tactics. I do not believe that it will end positively.
Does this mean that we have no hope of a conflict settlement?
Azerbaijan has conducted the right policy in isolating Armenia from all regional projects and we are continuing to work in this direction. Armenia is weakening in the economic sense. It would, certainly, be profitable for us if the borders with Turkey did not open, otherwise Armenia would get compensation and the settlement of the Karabakh conflict could be protracted again. In other words, we should continue our policy.