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“All countries in the Caucasus are to go through hard times in 2015,” interview with Andrey Areshev

Andrey Areshev, expert at the Center for Central Asian, Caucasian and Volga-Urals Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Science, editor-in-chief of the website of the Scientific Society of Caucasiologists, speaks about growing turbulence in the South Caucasus, expectations of Armenia and third countries in 2015, and prospects of the Eurasian integration.

Mr. Areshev, please give a brief overview of the past year for the South Caucasus. What was the brightest event of the year? What were the impacts of the national and global events on the region, particularly, in the Middle East?

The year proved uneasy for the South-Caucasian counties. The coup d’etat in Kyev, the national referendum in Crimea, tragic events in Ukraine and Novorossiya, growing activities of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, open destructive policy of the western countries, their political, economic, military and information pressure upon Russia - all this exacerbates tensions in the region and makes new challenges to the ruling elites in the Transcaucasian states. More and more Caucasians are regularly reported to join the military actions in the Middle East. This along with the persistent efforts to unleash the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict became the hallmark of the processes in the region, I think.

The growing ethnic and religious tension near the borders of the Caucasus countries may have a very negative impact on the south of the Caucasus Mountains. Cross-border terrorist activities may intensify and expand into Russia’s North Caucasus. Russia’s actions last year (particularly, military exercises of the Southern Military District, including its military bases in Armenia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, as well as the Caspian Fleet) showed that its response to the emerging threats may be also of military nature reckoning in potential involvement of third countries into regional processes. At least, look at the recent special tactical training exercises with application of electronic warfare involving the 4th Russian military base (the Republic of South Ossetia). Not only military, but also legal basis of Russia’s relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia is developed, which is of great importance given the growing turbulence in the region.

Despite the partially normalized trade and economic ties with Georgia, further involvement of the official Tbilisi in the United States and NATO’s activities in the Caucasus, attempts to manipulate Armenia and Azerbaijan’s problems caused in particular by non-governmental organizations that have become quite active recently, one cannot but study various scenarios of developments. On the other hand, the policy that aims to involve the Caucasus in its traditional role of a communication center linking Russia with its potential trade and economic partners in the Near East and Middle East has got a new impetus (at least, at the level of intentions and public statements). The situation is rather uneasy given that some countries in the Caucasus are being actively involved in alternative blocs that are de-facto aimed at what the western political and diplomatic slang determines as “containment of Russia.”

What do they in the Big Caucasus, particularly, in Armenia, expect from 2015?

All countries in the Caucasus will go through hard times in 2015 and Armenia is not an exception. The heavy social and economic situation, the attempts to manipulate the country’s problems from outside and to give the public and political processes in the country an evident anti-Russian vector are fraught with further fragmentation of society and growth of the conflict potential. In the near future, ahead of April 2015, when the centennial of the Armenian Genocide will be marked, large-scale opposition rallies having objective ground are more than possible in Armenia. Last several months showed a responsible attitude of the major opposition forces to the country’s foreign policy that prioritizes participation in the Eurasian integration processes and enhancement of the bilateral Armenian-Russian relations. The country will resume the negotiations for a new agreement with Brussels that will preserve all the standards that do not run contrary to Armenia’s EEU (Eurasian Economic Union) membership.

The question is whether Armenia’s complementary foreign policy will further suit the West given the western leaders’ repeated statements about the “civilizational” nature of the so-called “European choice.” What has that choice led to in Ukraine and, for instance, in Bulgaria that refused from the South Stream under pressure of Brussels, is quite obvious. The authorities of Armenia or any other country will hardly take the path fraught with loss of the national sovereignty. I think, in Russia, they will be keeping in touch with everyone in Armenia who is not managed by external power centers, who speaks independently and acts in favor of the country’s national interests. At the same time, I think, it is important to listen to the opinions of everyone: both the authorities and those who reasonably and constructively (and sometimes even harshly) criticize them. 

This is extremely important in a situation when attempts to seize the initiative are not ruled out, also by “forcing through” the so-called “constitutional reform” that has been suspended recently under pressure of the opposition. This reform may bring additional instability and uncertainly to Armenia. Well, the recent attacks on opposition activists, including representatives of the Karabakh War veteran organizations, appeared to be of obvious provocative nature. Unfortunately, attempts to create artificial tension around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should not be ruled out either. Like in 2014, the best “antidote” for those attempts will be the combat efficiency of the national army and Armenia’s military and technical cooperation with Russia that has significantly increased over the year. 

What is your assessment of the prospects of the Eurasian integration amid the mounting global political and economic crisis?

The United States and its European allies are confronting the post-Soviet countries’ efforts towards Eurasian integration, formation of united economic space. Their coordinated policy seriously affects the economic situation in Russia and other post-Soviet countries. At least, look at the recent ruble crash and general instability that some try to present as a political (and even geopolitical) dimension. The U.S. authorities took an open course towards torpedoing the Russian-Armenian relations - this was confirmed also by the U.S. Embassy in Armenia – which is reflected at many levels.  

Meanwhile, the Eurasian integration based on mutual benefit, complementarity in economies and coordination of interests of the actors where they can compete, is promising despite all the “hidden pitfalls.” Creation of joint ventures and new jobs will help reducing migration scales. Opening of broad markets will give new chances to national manufacturers. Common business areas, labor force, goods and services will liquidate, at least, theoretically, the unnecessary and sometimes absurd barriers between the societies and separate persons and teams.  

It is quite natural that the adherents to the Western-oriented “globalization” oppose the logical and broadly inevitable formation of new macro-regional alliances. The economic crisis that is based on the fight for resources and colonial appetites of Western countries and transnational corporations is not fundamentally new in the global history. Something of the kind happened in early 20th century (for instance, in 1991, the United States terminated the commercial treaty with the Russian Empire made in 1832, and it was just one of similar examples). However, the current dynamics may turn to be even more acute due to the relatively exhausted “unused” resources, growing appetites of western organizations and the potential aggressor armed with a wide range of weaponry, including information ones.  

Russia’s intention to wage independent policy meets the fundamental interests of its both nearest and remotest neighbors. The example of Ukraine (earlier also Georgia’s example) openly demonstrated what happens when the post-Soviet “elites” are forced a fundamentally different path. It is very hard to imagine the Eurasian integration with its exclusively economic dimension without coordination of the foreign policy course of its members and combined policy in the field of military building and security. I hope that the current positive trends will continue in 2015.   

By Yana Amelina specially for EAD

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