Heiko Langner: "Berlin wants to get access to the Caspian gas reserves"
German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues her tour to the South Caucasus countries - on August 23 -25, she will visit Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. A political scientist from Berlin Heiko Langner spoke with Vestnik Kavkaza about the purposes of her visit.
- Angela Merkel is a rare guest in the Caucasus. For Azerbaijan and Armenia, this will be the first visit of the German Chancellor. Why is Merkel visiting the region only now for the long 13 years of her chancellery?
- The fact that the trip is taking place right now is connected with the crisis trendies in a number of important issues for Germany. The transatlantic ties with the US on trade and energy policy issues have been deeply affected by President Donald Trump's bold position and his ”America first” policy. Germany must develop energy relations with other states and import more energy resources if in the future it does not want to be dependent on an unreasonably expensive liquefied gas from the United States. For this reason, the German government continues to insist on the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline jointly with Russia, despite the opposition of the United States. Simultaneously, Berlin wants to get access to the Caspian gas reserves and increase gas supplies from Azerbaijan. In addition, due to the global migration waves, Germany is interested in a stable situation in the immediate neighborhood of the European Union, as well as in intensification of cooperation in the migration policy issues. In this context, the countries of the South Caucasus play not the least role - for example, until recently, a fairly high number of applicants for refugee status from Georgia was observed. In the long term, Germany wants both to reduce the flow of refugees to the EU and Germany and effectively control it. Due to the internal political situation in Germany in the context of migration, Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy is aimed at securing her own power. Merkel has long ago made a U-turn in the migration policy and said goodbye to the idea of "hospitality culture.”
- Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan criticized the EU for an insufficient financial support of his country. Do you think that this issue will be discussed during Merkel's visit to Yerevan and will Germany accommodate with Pashinyan on this issue? What are official Berlin’s interests in Yerevan?
- Pashinyan certainly could not have had Germany in mind, when he criticized the EU. After all, Germany is the second country after the US in terms of the amount of allocated assistance for the development of Armenia. At the same time, despite its close political and economic ties with Russia, Armenia had and still has a great interest in cooperation with the EU, where the most of the Armenian exports is sent. Between Armenia and the EU, there is now an agreement on an in-depth partnership. However, the volume of direct investments from the EU countries to Armenia is still very modest. The new head of government, Pashinyan, wants to change this and modernize the country's economy. To do so, he needs investment capital and technological support from the EU. Armenia's foreign economic relations are severely limited since Turkey and Azerbaijan have been keeping their borders with Armenia closed due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for 25 years. As a result of the unresolved prolonged conflict, as well as the mistakes made by the authorities in the economy, a significant part of the Armenian population lives in poverty and difficult conditions. Germany's direct economic interest in Armenia is much lower compared to the interest in Azerbaijan. It is limited to some metal raw materials, consumer goods and agricultural products.
- CDU deputy Albert Weiler visited Nagorno Karabakh several years ago and stated that he was "impressed by the democratic progress" of the unrecognized separatist entity - NKR. Azerbaijan banned him from entering the country for illegally visiting the occupied territories. Do you consider such measures of the Azerbaijani government justified?
- Even if there really was any democratic progress in the secessionist republic of Nagorno Karabakh, which is not recognized by any state in the world, this does not change anything in the international legal status of this territory. It is possible to give arguments both for and against prohibitions of visiting unrecognized or disputed regions. For the less well-known politicians, this is always a good opportunity to attract media attention for a while. Azerbaijan is by no means the only country where the relevant laws are provided for such cases. Freely elected deputies of the Bundestag must comply with the laws of other countries, just as people, businessmen or tourists who are not connected with politics should do so. Professional politicians cannot stand above the law. And if the deputy of the Bundestag, according to the media, twice visited Nagorno-Karabakh on his own, this is a clear evidence of his prejudiced position and deliberate ignoring of the Azerbaijani laws. Thus, the ban to entry is not groundless. A misconduct of an individual member of the Bundestag from her own party did more harm than good for Chancellor Merkel. Her negotiations at the government level were under the negative influence of this incident, although there are many more important things to discuss.
- In recent weeks, Azerbaijan has been discussing an expediency of the country's joining the CSTO military bloc. One of the deputies from the ruling party believes that such a step, perhaps, will be appropriate in the context of the new geopolitical situation. Has Baku taken a course toward active rapprochement with Moscow?
- Azerbaijan's foreign policy is pragmatic and uniquely determined by country’s own interests. Azerbaijan's entry into the CSTO could be an opportunity to resolve the protracted Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia in its favor and reverse the de facto separation of the region. Russia, as a neighboring world power, used ethno-territorial conflicts in the South Caucasus to realize its own geopolitical goals, in particular, to prevent the penetration of NATO into its unstable southern flank. Georgia persistently insists on joining NATO and paid for this price in the war against Russia 10 years ago, as a result of which it actually irreversibly lost its two former autonomies - Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Azerbaijan pursues a more realistic policy, making a choice in favor of the good-neighborly relations with Russia. The return of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan by Armenia bound with Russia by the military alliance may become the price for Azerbaijan's strategic partnership with Russia and the country's entry into the CSTO.
- In the Caucasus, Germany historically maintains close ties with Georgia. After the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Georgia, and it is hardly a coincidence that she is visiting Georgia now, 10 years after the end of the war. At the same time, in the past, Germany was skeptical about the prospect of Georgia’s joining NATO. Has this position changed today?
- On the issue of the prospects for Georgia's membership in the North Atlantic alliance, the German government is pursuing a dual policy. A fundamental opportunity for Georgia to join NATO remains, but this issue is not on the agenda. If the NATO bloc takes Georgia into its ranks, it will exacerbate an already complicated relationship with Russia and provoke new conflicts. In addition, the candidate countries for joining the alliance should not have unsettled territorial disputes with their neighbors. This means that Georgia can join NATO only after it abandons the secession regions, or these provinces voluntarily return to Georgia. So far, nothing indicates that one of these options is possible. For this reason, an unspoken agreement has developed between all the participants - that Georgia, at least in the near future, will not become a NATO member.