Dr. Christian Johannes Henrich: "The relations between Armenia and the EU will be strengthened only to the level that is comfortable for Moscow"
Last November, Armenia signed an Agreement on Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership with the European Union, which provoked a lot of controversy about the threats of Yerevan's rapprochement with the West for the Russian-Armenian relations. In an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza, political scientist, director of the Research Centre Southeast Europe and the Caucasus, Dr. Christian Johannes Henrich, commented on the prospects for cooperation between the EU, Yerevan and Baku.
-During the Eastern Partnership summit in November 2017, Armenia and the EU signed the Comprehensive Agreement. What significance will it have for the further development of the Armenian-European relations?
-First of all, this agreement is a signal for the relations between the EU and Russia. Back in 2013, good and close relations with Russia were a problem for Ukraine. The EU put forward an ultimatum to Kiev at that time. As time has shown, this was a mistake, which led to serious consequences and contributed to the Euromaidan and annexation of Crimea. Despite the fact that Europe denies any responsibility for this, and in public opinion, Russia is the only guilty side, in fact, the EU has changed its strategy. Armenia, being a member of the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union, signed in Brussels an agreement with the EU providing for the political and economic cooperation. This agreement is not associative, as, for example, signed by Turkey in 1963, but it opens many opportunities up to the visa-free regime that Georgia and Ukraine have already received. There is no real prospect of joining the EU for any of the partners. The relations between Armenia and the EU will be strengthened and intensified due to this agreement, but only to the level that is comfortable for Moscow. My esteemed Azerbaijani colleague, Anar Allahverdi, explored the role of Russia in the foreign policy of Armenia and Azerbaijan in his dissertation. In his opinion, Russia always strengthens the side that shows the maximum loyalty and thereby directs the foreign policy of these states in accordance with its own strategic considerations.
-Currently, Azerbaijan and the EU are intensively working on the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which should reflect the actual goals and common challenges for the both sides. The next round of negotiations should be held in February this year. What benefits can the EU and Azerbaijan get from such an agreement?
-The agreement with Azerbaijan will allow the Eastern Partnership to achieve the next foreign policy success as a part of the European Neighborhood Policy. If the EU gets Azerbaijan, it will have a partner with significant oil and gas resources that will also provide the energy security for Europe in the future. At the same time, this agreement will enable Azerbaijan to begin the political transformation process. However, it is necessary to wait for Baku’s reaction - whether such a process is considered appropriate in principle. I see very great potential for the rapprochement between the EU and Azerbaijan in the economic sphere, especially in the energy sector. In the political sphere, on the contrary, I see great differences that could even jeopardize the successful conclusion of the agreement.
- The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh was one of the problematic issues in the formulation of the Eastern Partnership summit final declaration in November 2017. Finally, a statement was used not naming specifically the conflict, but the territorial integrity of the partner countries was unequivocally supported. In your opinion, did the Catalan precedent have a sobering effect on the European policy towards the Karabakh separatism?
-I do not think that the Catalan conflict had a special impact on the final declaration. After all, there are numerous resolutions of the UN Security Council and the European Parliament calling for an immediate withdrawal of Armenian occupants from the region. That is, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan had been maintained earlier. However, there are no appropriate sanctions as means of exerting pressure on Armenia, as Russia has veto power in the UN Security Council and blocks such efforts. Also, the inconclusively functioning OSCE Minsk Group stands idly by, instead of increasing pressure.
-What world challenges and risks can the South Caucasus face in the context of the existing regional conflicts and political situation in 2018?
-The recent protests in Iran, the proxy war between the major powers in Syria, as well as the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, are the tinderboxes for this heterogeneous region. Azerbaijan has the military budget that surpasses the entire state budget of Armenia. Today, the military balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia is no longer as it was between 1988 and1992. It is doubtful that Azerbaijan will launch a military operation to restore the rule of the international law. Some time ago, Russia entered into the military alliance with Armenia; Turkey and Pakistan are Azerbaijan’s brother countries. If in case of a conflict, Ankara supports its brother country, then we can face a very frightening scenario. Even taking into account the fact that nothing can be ruled out in the international politics, especially in the Caucasus, I do not think such a scenario will take place. Minor shootings on the Armenian-Azerbaijani frontline are already taking place regularly. Such incidents can lead to a sharp escalation.