Heiko Langer: "Pashinyan's election can ease tension in negotiating atmosphere around Nagorno-Karabakh"
New Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan already started political and personnel reforms. Yesterday, at suggestion of Pashinyan, Armenian President fired chief of police Vladimir Gasparyan and director of the National Security Service Georgy Kutoyan. German political scientist Heiko Langner discussed possible consequences of Nikol Pashinyan's election as Prime Minister for Armenia's neighbors in the region.
- What factors led to success of street protests in Armenia and forced Serzh Sargsyan to resign?
- Population of Armenia has been dissatisfied with political and economic stagnation in the country for a long time. There were some protests even before what we saw today. As for recent crisis, accumulated discontent over poor social and economic situation in the country was personalized and association with previous President Serzh Sargsyan. In a perfect worlds, he should have stopped at two terms as President, but he felt he could deceive people by becoming Prime Minister. This was the last straw. In addition, protests initially affected a broad social stratum, and Nikol Pashinyan became a charismatic leader of protests, so people began to pin so much hope on him. When security agencies began to show solidarity with protesters, it was a point of no return for Sargsyan.
- Can Nikol Pashinyan do what people belive he can?
- It's not easy. But right now Pashinyan personifies political restart and can use this momentum to carrie out reforms. We can see real successes in fight against corruption, in political elections and development of democracy. However, overcoming structural problems of Armenia, such as blockade of economic development due to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and due to regional isolation, which exists thanks to closed borders with two neighboring countries - Turkey and Azerbaijan - requires patience.
- Will it be easier to reach compromises in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict when Pashinyan comes to power?
- I think there are more chances with him around. Serzh Sargsyan, like no one else, was interested in stagnation of the settlement process. As a former commander of the Armenian Karabakh troops, he pursued uncompromising policy and was an extremely unwanted figure in the eyes of Azerbaijani negotiators. In order to achieve progress in negotiations, there's no doubt that both sides must take certain steps, as well as be able to present certain results to people of both countries. Pashinyan's election can help to ease tensions in the negotiating atmosphere. And these changes in the negotiating atmosphere can lead to a meaningful progress.
- With successful development of events, what steps can we expect on the way to a peaceful settlement?
- Madrid Principles are the basis for comprehensive peace agreement. Both sides adopted them in the negotiating framework. They envisage de-occupation of the territories outside of Nagorno-Karabakh, occupied by Armenia. I think if Armenia shows real readiness for this, Azerbaijani side will also be ready to undertake security guarantees on the contact line. Everything else will be a bloodless resolurtion os the status quo. It's not a solution to the conflict. Only partial de-occupation of the Azerbaijani territory can become a meaningful action that will help to begin peace process, which would last for many years, and perhaps for more than a decade.
- What role will Russia play in this situation?
- The Kremlin closely follows developments in Armenia. Internal political changes, as of now, pose no threat to Russia's interests. Unlike the so-called "Euro-Maidan" in Ukraine, street protests in Armenia were not about country's reorientation to the West, the EU or NATO. Otherwise, Moscow would have reacted long time ago, especially since there are Russian military bases in Armenia.
Situation is completely different. Russia, as the most influential negotiator within the OSCE Minsk Group, has repeatedly signaled its interest in the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of the Madrid format, and Sargsyan's resignation is within Moscow's position. In the long term, Russia wants to have a strategic partnership with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Sargsyan wouldn't help Russia to achieve this gold in the long-term.