Arms race between Azerbaijan and Armenia is very alarming – Finnish expert

Sat 25 Jun 2011 03:48 GMT | 07:48 Local Time

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Mikko Palonkorpi, Researcher, Finnish Graduate School for Russian and East European Studies Unoversity of Helsenki.

Azerbaijan has been trying to put the negotiation process over Nagorno-Karabakh on the international scene by the medium of such organizations as UN, EU, etc, so that to exceed the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. In its turn, Armenia has been impeding all Azerbaijani efforts. Is it possible to say, that the work of the Minsk Group mostly suits the Armenian interests?

I don’t think so. But at the same time I can understand frustration of the Azerbaijan over lack of progress in the negotiations hosted by the OSCE Minsk Group. I think new and creative formats should be tried as long as they don’t disturb and distract main negotiations framework of the Minsk Group.

Therefore high level meetings hosted by Russian president are very useful. Maybe even former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari and the Crises Management Initiative could be involved in the future creative formats.

One of the most topical issues today is the military balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On the one hand, military expenditure of Azerbaijan has been reached $ 3 billion; on the other hand, war capability of Armenia has also been increased with the help of Russia. What do you think about the military balance in the region?

I think the arms race between the Azerbaijan and Armenia is very alarming especially since both sides are acquiring more sophisticated weapons systems. As we saw in Georgia few years ago, “violations of air space” by drones can dangerously escalate tensions, which can easily spiral out of control.

Also arms race is disastrous for Armenian economy. I believe the most dangerous period will be when Azerbaijan passes its peak hydrocarbon production, which also indicates peak in growth of its relative advantage over Armenia.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a comfortable majority in Turkey’s parliamentary election on 12 June. How do you see the Turkish role in the process of the peace settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

In your opinion, is it possible that the Turkish-Armenian negotiations be renewed without taking into account Baku’s interests?

I think Turkey should play positive role in the attempts to resolve protracted conflicts in the South Caucasus. The Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Pact by Turkey and similar initiatives have shown Turkey’s interests in conflict resolution. Turkish-Armenian negotiations can be renewed and high level official contacts resumed, but it is very unlikely that rapprochement can bring about substantial breakthrough i.e. opening of the border, if there is no progress in Karabakh or genocide issue. Key here is two track diplomacy.

If the high level Turkish-Armenian rapprochement is in deadlock, then emphasis should be placed on increasing cross-border or people-to-people contacts on civil society level. If successful these grassroots contacts could function as model for confidence building measures in and around Karabakh.

Armenia alleges that its ongoing economic blockade is due to the closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Though, at the same time, Erevan has economic relations with neighboring Iran. Russia also is investing into Armenian economic.

Moreover, Armenia’s border with Georgia and Russia are open. In your opinion, does Armenia’s economics really suffer a setback or we just witness the grandstand play?  Does Armenia really stay in the blockade?

I think Armenia does suffer from the economic blockade imposed by closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey on one hand and landlocked geographical position on the other. Armenia was hard hit by the world wide economic crisis. For their part the current political stalemate over Nagorno-Karabakh and increased military tensions over ceasefire line are hindering foreign direct investments into Armenia. One result has been increasing share of the Russian business involvement in the Armenian economy. At least in the short run, opening of the Georgia-Russia border crossing point at Kazbegi upper Larsi was much more important for Armenian economy than it was Georgian for economy.

So on one hand closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey limit Armenia’s economic and foreign policy options, but also it hinders regional development of the South Caucasus as a whole. Especially when compared to the rest of the Europe where the trend has been deepening integration and removing borders all together. The South Caucasus with its partially closed borders appears as exceptional case in Europe against this trend. Armenia is sidelined from the strategic east-west energy transit routes, but also from the other transit corridors that connects Caspian basin to Black Sea region such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway.

Moreover, as a result of Armenia’s dire economic situation, tens of thousands Armenians have emigrated from the country. According to the public opinion polls quite substantial percentage of the population would leave Armenia for better economic opportunities elsewhere, if they had change to do so. This outflow of population widens further “the age gap” between Armenia’s ageing and Azerbaijan’s more youthful population, with some military implications. More importantly, since it is usually the better educated, younger and more liberal part of the population that emigrates, whereas more nationalistic or patriotic part of the population plus older generations stay, the Armenian population as a whole could become more conservative, nationalistic and even less inclined to make compromises over the Karabakh. Looked from this perspective keeping borders closed with Armenia could also be counterproductive for Azerbaijan’s policy aims.

If both borders would be opened, Armenia would have better access to European markets via Turkey and as a result Armenia would have more possibilities for developing multidimensional foreign policy - i.e. more emphasis on improving and deepening relations with Europe, EU and the West instead of relying only to Russian support. If the siege mentality could be lifted that would increase Armenia’s sense of security and as result it could be more ready accept some sort of compromise over the Karabakh.





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