Heiko Langner: “The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict can be settled with Russian mediation”
Interview by Orkhan Sattarov, the head of the European Bureau of Vestnik Kavkaza
German political scientist and expert in the post-Soviet area, Heiko Langner, commented on the situation in Georgia and Azerbaijan following the elections, the upcoming summit of the Eastern Partnership, and the prospects of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for Vestnik Kavkaza.
- Mr. Langner, Georgia has recently held the presidential elections. What do you expect from Georgia in a post-election period? Will foreign political vectors change?
- Foreign political vectors will unlikely change. We should consider the objective reality that was established after the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008. Russia has recognized independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Actually it means that Georgia has lost these territories completely. I don’t believe that Russia will ever take its recognition back – the step would destroy trust to the Russian policy in the region. At the same time, I cannot imagine that any Georgian government would accept the loss. The factor will influence Russian-Georgian relations greatly in the future. Thus, we cannot speak about a pro-Russian turn of the Georgians; but Tbilisi intends to build pragmatic economic relations with Moscow, which is reasonable, considering attractiveness of the Russian market for Georgian products.
- Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was re-elected for the third term in October. What do you expect from Baku policy in next five years?
- It should be noted that Azerbaijan obtains the highest level of independence among three states of the South Caucasus. It is explained by its effective foreign political strategy and economic prosperity, as Baku has thoughtfully built relations with all regional and international players. Azerbaijan closely cooperates with Russia and Europe, the U.S. and Turkey. Baku manages to build neutral relations with Iran. Azerbaijan will continue implementing this foreign political strategy and no radical changes are expected.
- The summit of members of the EU program of the Eastern Partnership will take place in late November. What are advantages of the Eastern Partnership for its members?
- European economic interests obviously prevail in the program of the Eastern Partnership. I don’t mind an economic exchange and cross-border trade, but it depends on conditions. The agreement on free trade will only be beneficial for all sides if the members of the agreement are equal in economic development. However, this is not the case. The EU countries are much more developed in the sphere of economy and technologies than the post-Soviet countries. The former Soviet republics are in the middle of establishing diversified economies. Free trade between unequal partners will create unbalanced economic relations and improve the gap between European and post-Soviet economies.
Thus, all advantages belong to the EU which is trying to conquer new outlet markets. It is confirmed by the trade balance of the EU with the countries of the South Caucasus. Both Georgia and Armenia have a great trade deficit with the EU. Both countries import much more products from the EU than export to Europe. The main reason is that Georgia and Armenia have no products which would be interesting for the EU. Of course, Georgian wine and Armenian cognac are nice products, but in general they are niche goods which cannot compensate for the development of diversified economy.
As for Azerbaijan, it has trade surplus with the EU in recent years, but it happens only due to oil and gas export to Europe. The trade balance without the energy segment demonstrates huge deficit of the Azerbaijani side. However, Azerbaijan has an advantage in comparison to its neighbors in the region as it can reinvest its oil dollars in diversification of economy, which happens in reality.
I think that consumers goods, including washing machines and fridges can be domestically produced; it’s not necessary to import them. It will create new jobs in processing and producing industry which is necessary for any economy. I believe that effective domestic economy and specialization in certain export products are not controversial; together they provide opportunities for economic development of the country and improvement of living standards.
From this point of view, Azerbaijan’s progress is much better than Georgia’s or Armenia’s. Azerbaijan provides 80% of the whole industrial producing in the whole South Caucasus; an average income level is much higher here, while the poverty level is much lower than in the neighboring countries. I understand that not all problems have been settled, but the main economic development strategy of Azerbaijan is right. And an equal partnership with the EU can be established in this context.
- What do you think about Armenia’s rejection to sign the association agreement with the EU at the Vilnius summit?
- Armenia’s decision to reject the association agreement with the EU and to join the Customs Union headed by Russia reflects the geopolitical balance of forces in the region. Armenia depends seriously on Russia because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenian foreign policy is not flexible and depends on Moscow’s good will, which of course doesn’t want to reject its interests and will prevent the EU’s improvement in the area of Russian influence from economic and political point of view. It is reasonable, from the point of view of Russia and its interests. However, it will lead Armenia to a disaster.
Armenia can continue its policy of illegal occupation of Azerbaijani territories, however, it pays a lot for this – economic underdevelopment, massive poverty, poor social conditions for the population, and massive migration and serious demographic problems. The international diplomacy should try to take Armenia away from the isolated position in the region; but it requires that Armenia will change its current foreign policy and will be ready to move forward in the process of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Yerevan should refuse from maximalist demands to reach a compromise with Azerbaijan. In this case Azerbaijan and Turkey would stop the economic isolation, and Armenia would benefit from this.
- What do you think about possible ways out of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- First of all I would like to note that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cannot be considered frozen, as many people think. People are being killed on the frontline and clashes are taking place. It is wrong to consider this conflict frozen in this context. On the other hand, I don’t see opportunities for settlement of the conflict in the near future. If we look at the OSCE Minsk Group which is responsible for talks on the settlement of the conflict, we will see that the only mediator which has real power in the South Caucasus is Russia. Neither France nor America can compete with it. And only under mediation of Russia the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan can be settled. The key from the Karabakh conflict lies in Moscow. Only cooperation between Yerevan, Baku, and Moscow can lead to settlement of the situation.
I think a logical way out should be based on territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, which is damaged today. Two principles of the international law – of territorial integrity and of self-identity – are not mutually exclusive. Seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh were populated by the Azerbaijani people mainly and they should be returned to Azerbaijan as soon as possible.