Alexander Skakov: “The struggle for energy resources supplies should not lead to a drastic decrease of prices”

Interview by Yeugeny Krishtalev exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza

Alexander Skakov, the head of the CIS Unit of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, told Vestnik Kavkaza about his view on the situation in the South Caucasus countries.

-    Moscow has to develop relations with the new Georgian leadership. What risks do you see in relation to cooperation with "Georgian Dream"?

-    I think that the presidential election in this case is of little interest. In fact, in Georgia the model of government has changed since Saakashvili - the constitution is not presidential. The prime minister and the parliament have many more important functions. There are other risks faced by "Georgian Dream." There is a risk of the polarization of "Georgian Dream." It is quite a mixed conglomerate of parties, the parties are quite different, with different ideologies, with the ambitions of their leaders. The recent conflict between Ivanishvili and Alasania is another proof of this. I think that in these circumstances, it is in the interests of Russia that the change of power in Georgia ends peacefully, calmly and successfully, and that the former ruling party UNM and the regime of Saakashvili completely disappears. We do not associate our best memories with it, to say the least, and it was simply impossible to deal with it.

The new leadership of Georgia is tuned for a dialogue. It is clear that the dialogue has certain limits. The framework is limited, and we cannot expand them, we have limiting factors, the most important among them are Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But we must understand that we have something to talk about in addition to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The main subjects are the economic and humanitarian issues, that is, cooperation between the two societies, between the two economies of the two countries. These are issues of communication which link Russia with Armenia and Turkey and which pass through the territory of Georgia. So I think that, given all this, we have something to talk about with the new leadership of Georgia.

The fact that Ivanishvili does not raise topics that are painful for Russia, that he has given up the issue of the so-called Circassian genocide and has agreed to Georgia's participation in the Olympic Games in Sochi is very important for Russia today. I think that if Saakashvili's regime remained in power in Georgia, we would have serious problems during the Olympic Games in Sochi, and we do not need them at all. Therefore, it is in the interests of Russia to support the new Georgian government, realizing the limitations of its capabilities. You have to understand that it did not have any plan with respect to Russia or with respect to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The action plan is being developed, coined on the go, so of course it has its flaws. It is subject to adjustments, we can work on them together and somehow influence the Georgian leadership. I think it's all in our power. The most important task is to facilitate dialogue, to talk, and to stay in touch. The dialogue itself is a positive factor that will lead us to peace, not war.

-    How free is "Georgian Dream" from the pressure of Washington and Brussels in its decision making? How successful are Russia's counter-partners in the Atlantic Alliance in pressuring "Georgian Dream"?

-    I think the pressure coming from Brussels should not be overestimated. Brussels now has little interest in Georgia, it has more pressing problems. I think the more important factor is the pressure, the influence of Washington. Of course, the current regime in Georgia completely depends on Washington. But on the other hand, nowadays it is in the interests of Washington not to have serious problems in relations with Russia. The victory of Ivanishvili of "Georgian Dream" in the elections in Georgia would have been impossible without sanction received from Washington. I remind you that Saakashvili, in changing the constitution of Georgia, hoped that he could perform a castling: introduce a docile president, and take the post of prime minister. It was with this aim in mind that he changed the constitution. But it was made clear to him, and it was done by Washington, that such a castling would not please Washington. After a rather lengthy persuasion, Saakashvili agreed to recognize the victory of "Georgian Dream" and Ivanishvili in the elections. I think it was a positive act of influence. The fact that the American influence has contributed to fair elections in Georgia is a positive thing. In contrast with other countries of the Caucasus, where such elections are not held, I think that in this case the influence of the Americans can be considered positive. What will happen in the future is another question, because it is clear that the people in power are changing in America as well, they might change. For instance, the stance of Washington's leadership before the presidential election, immediately after the elections and now slightly differ. But I think that currently Georgia is not the center of Washington's attention, other regions are of greater importance to Washington. First of all, there is Syria, and certainly Iran, while Georgia is on the periphery. For Washington, it is best now not to have any serious problems with Georgia, with the relations between Russia and Georgia. Therefore, in this respect the interests of Russia and Washington converge, and Brussels is not a serious player in this regard at the moment. Therefore it is better for Moscow to deal with, to talk about this subject with Washington.

-    Can Washington use the dragging of Georgia into NATO as a bargaining mechanism with Russia? How painful will it be for Russia in this case if Georgia will use NATO, for instance, in offering the peaceful conduct of the Olympic Games in Sochi?

-    The dragging of Georgia into NATO is not the first scenario for Moscow, I would not link it to the Olympic Games in Sochi. The Sochi Olympics are closely linked to the issue of security in Abkhazia, and to talk about security in Abkhazia in case of Georgia's accession to NATO is not necessary. I think that if Georgia's accession to NATO will become valid again, even though at the moment there are no significant reasons for that, but it is quite possible in the future - in this case some of the usual drastic steps can be expected from Russia. For example, we can already identify the probability of these actions. It might be the discussion of the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Russia as subjects of the Federation. If we look at South Ossetia, this idea would become "a great success", but if we look at Abkhazia, Abkhaz society is not yet ready for it. But if the question of the survival of Abkhazia arises, and the entry of Georgia into NATO will raise the question of the survival of Abkhazia, of course Abkhazia will take this option. Certainly, if Russia takes such action it will only further complicate the situation, but in such a scenario Russia will be forced to pursue them. So I think that we should make it clear to our partners, to NATO and the Americans, that this scenario is unacceptable to Russia, and that Russia will react to it sharply and negatively. I think that Moscow is quite capable of this and thus avoiding a politically negative scenario for us.

-    Could you assess the prospects for the presidential elections in Azerbaijan?

-    I think there are very clear prospects there. In principle, if there is no external influence, which can come not only from Russia and Iran but from the West in the first place. At the moment there are such symptoms, but they are not very significant. In principle, the West can use the elections in Azerbaijan to weaken the regime in Baku. The same thing has been done recently in Yerevan. The West was able to put pressure on Sargsyan in order to have an alternative in the elections. It resulted in an alternative, which almost cost the stability of Armenia. If a similar scenario can be orchestrated for Azerbaijan, it will have a negative impact on the country's stability.

-    So in your opinion the prospect of another term for Ilham Aliyev is quite natural?

-    Yes, certainly. I think that there is no real alternative to him.

-    What does Russia think about projects of Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey, given the possible construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline?

-    I think that Russia's stance on it is not surprising. It is not that this project should not to be realized, but that in case it is implemented it should not lead to a drastic decrease of prices for energy resources. I think that such a scenario would have a negative impact for Russia as well as for Azerbaijan, and to other players. In this case it is important not to go too far in the fight for a route for energy deliveries and not to allow prices to collapse, which would have a negative impact on everyone.