John Herbst: "Radicals do not allow Ter-Petrosyan to make deal with Baku"
Director of the Atlantic Council's Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center with headquarters in Washington, the former US ambassador to Uzbekistan and Ukraine, John Herbst, told 1 TV about his vision of Russian-US relations and their impact on the South Caucasus republics. Vestnik Kavkaza publishes the part of the interview that concerns Transcaucasia, with the proviso that many of Mr. Herbst's thoughts do not coincide with the opinion of the editorial board.
Editorial note: Unfortunately, a view of Russia's destructive policy in the region in general and in the foreign policy of Armenia and Azerbaijan in particular has become more evident recently in the statements of Western experts on the South Caucasus. The point is that Moscow allegedly shows great loyalty to the side of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which shows loyalty to Russia in a particular period of time. Obviously, Moscow needs to maintain partnership relations with both countries and influence in the region, which is in the interests of the state. But it would be an oversimplification to present this position as "a desire to preserve the Karabakh conflict". Russia's political establishment is heterogeneous and sometimes adheres to diametrically opposed positions. Indeed, there are Moscow supporters of maintaining the status quo in the Karabakh conflict, but there are also those who believe that the preservation of this problem sooner or later will cause a bombshell, which is extremely undesirable for Moscow. Unlike the United States, Russia has borders with the conflicting countries, and part of the population living in the North Caucasus, for example, Avars and Lezgins, lives in Azerbaijan as well. Moscow cannot ignore such family ties. In addition, Russia is a multiethnic country with a federal structure, which is why they are very cautious about any manifestations of separatism here, and therefore advocate the return of all internally displaced persons to Karabakh and the preservation of this territory within Azerbaijan, where the authorities will guarantee the observance of all rights of their citizens regardless of their nationality and religion. Otherwise, the policy of encouraging separatism can lead to a chain reaction in the region.
- Will anti-Russian sanctions affect Russia's allies and partners, including Armenia?
- We have imposed rather serious sanctions against the Kremlin for its aggression against Ukraine, but we try to use these sanctions wisely, limiting their influence so that they do not harm other countries.
- Speaking with the Voice of America, you talked about the impact of the sanctions imposed against Russian military industrial enterprises on Russia's military cooperation with other countries. Do you think that these sanctions are really able to limit Russia's arms sales to the Kremlin's partners, in particular Armenia and Azerbaijan?
- I doubt that US sanctions will have an impact on Russia's arms sales to Armenia. I think that they will not affect Russia's arms sales to Azerbaijan either.
- But do you think that the problem of limiting Russia's arms sales and the militarization of the region, is strategically viewed by Washington in terms of putting an end to the conflict and intensifying the peace process between Armenia and Azerbaijan? I mean this is a serious problem, because Moscow uses arms sales as one of the levers of its main influence on Armenia and Azerbaijan.
- The essence of Moscow's policy in the South Caucasus is to make Russia a vital and irreplaceable country for Yerevan and Baku. It makes itself a vital country for Armenia, supplying weapons and acting as a guarantor of security, for example, in case of a possible attack by Turkey. Russia is trying to become vital for Azerbaijan, allowing Armenia to violate the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and at the same time selling arms to Azerbaijan. I believe that the Kremlin's policy is very cynical. It is not interested in establishing peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. They use tension in the conflict zone (tension, not war) to maximize their influence in the South Caucasus.
- But does the US contribute to Russia's diplomatic efforts within the framework of the Minsk Group? How do you explain this approach?
- I think that the United States has never paid enough attention to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and if it does not make active efforts to solve the problem, it is not surprising that the United States recognizes the wider role of Russia in this issue, since Russia is the only country that has an impact on the conflicting parties. And the Kremlin, in turn, wants to manage the situation. Russia admits tension there, but does not want a war.
- How can we prevent a possible new war and make progress in the peaceful settlement of the conflict?
- It seems to me that Moscow prefers the problem not to be solved, but have it without wars.
- Should we wait for the active steps of the Trump administration in this matter?
- No, I do not think so, because it cannot succeed in this matter. When I dealt with such issues at the State Department 20 years ago, Armenia was led by a very serious statesman Ter-Petrosyan, and I think he really wanted to reach a peace agreement, but the radical forces in Yerevan and the radical forces of the Armenian diaspora did not allow him to make a deal with Azerbaijan and forced him to resign. I think it is very sad.
I know that Armenians are very gifted and talented people. Armenia was one of the most active and prosperous countries of the Soviet Union. Armenians are also very successful in the US, but they are limited themselves with a very unpleasant present and future due to their radical position on the Karabakh issue.
- How does the Armenian diaspora in the US, the lobbying organizations affect the White House policy or even the Congress decision to support Armenia in foreign and security issues?
- I think they have some sort of influence, but in my opinion, the Armenian diaspora (I'm not talking about everyone, but about the active elements of the diaspora) spent too much time on condemning the terrible events in the Ottoman Empire, achieving international recognition and protecting the rights of Armenians, of course, I understand them, but they did not spend enough time and resources to understand how Armenia can develop and prosper as a state, being a full-fledged member of the international community, and not just as a satellite of Moscow. It is very sad. American Armenians live well, because they are very talented, and they have prospered in the United States. It would be great if they applied their great potential for Armenian prosperity in Armenia as well.