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Armenian ally cannot be Baku’s strategic partner: interview

Chairman of the Atlas Center for Political Studies Elkhan Shainoglu and Director of the Constructive Policy Foundation (Russia), political analyst Abdul Nagiyev, in an interview with EADaily shared their views on the recent meeting in Geneva of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and also talked about possible causes and consequences of tough criticism of official Baku by European institutions.

How much will the talks in Geneva help achieve a positive shift in the negotiation process?

Elkhan Shainoglu: It was the greatest desire of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group that the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia meet. They managed to realize this idea. Among other things, they finally managed to complete the final statement with a line stating that "the meeting was held in a constructive atmosphere". I think, long before the meeting, the co-chairs persuaded both sides to agree to the inclusion of this phrase. Otherwise, they should not even be so eager to organize this meeting. But this phrase by and large does not mean anything. It means continuing meetings that already happen regularly. And there is no result as such: Armenia continues to hold the lands of Azerbaijan under occupation.

Back in the joint statement of the OSCE Minsk Group there is a proposal that the presidents agreed to take additional steps to reduce tensions on the contact line. For this to happen, one of the conditions of Azerbaijan must be fulfilled: Armenia should at least verbally declare its readiness to release the adjacent areas of Nagorno-Karabakh. While this did not happen, there is no reason why the Azerbaijani side should respect the truce. On the contrary, there must be constant pressure on the enemy who does not agree to a peaceful settlement of the conflict through negotiations. The biggest step in reducing tension in the conflict zone would be a complete withdrawal of missile installations and snipers from the contact line.

The Russian president once secured the signing by the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia of a more significant document than this statement by the co-chairs (it is the Meiendorf Declaration signed in November 2008 – EADaily’s note). In that document there were a number of important points that are not currently being implemented. Moreover, no one even remembers about it. So this statement will be forgotten immediately after a violation of the ceasefire.

Abdul Nagiyev: No one expected a radical breakthrough from the meeting of Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan, but the fact that it took place without preconditions and passed in a constructive atmosphere can be viewed as a positive signal. An hour after the meeting, Sargsyan stated that "for us, the only solution is that Karabakh was outside of Azerbaijan", demonstrating to the internal audience the steadfastness of the course of the Armenian authorities.

The parties put forward unchanged strategic requirements, but an adjustment in tactics can help unlock the situation. The goals and tasks of the parties are diametrically opposed, but according to the scant statements of the officials on the eve of the leaders' meeting, it can be assumed that the parties have undergone changes in the tactical pattern. Everyone understands perfectly well that the only possible way out of the impasse can be an agreement that simply postpones the final status of the disputed territory and concentrates the negotiation process on minimizing the risks of a new war.

An alternative to starting negotiations is a military solution, which is highly undesirable, and primarily, for the Armenian side. The military-political landscape in the region is not changing in favor of Armenia, and the effectiveness of the Armenian "diplomatic balancing" in recent years is also greatly reduced. But there is no need to expect quick and easy solutions; the special sensitivity of the Armenian society to the Karabakh problem leaves its imprint. Even if the Armenian leader tries to take a moderate stance in the peace negotiations, he will face a backlash inside the country, as it was already in 1998 with the first president of Armenia. Aliyev and Sargsyan agreed to take additional measures to intensify the negotiation process and reduce tensions on the contact line, which is perhaps the only achievement of the Geneva talks, which should be noted without preconditions put forward by Yerevan.

How do the positions on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict coincide in the countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group, in particular Russia and the United States? Are they willing to put pressure on the parties together to force them to peace?

El.Sh.: There are contradictions between the US and Russia on the topics of Syria and Ukraine. But as for the topic of Nagorno-Karabakh, there is a feeling that there is some consensus on this issue. Perhaps, the OSCE Minsk Group is the only venue where the two rival states cooperate with each other. But it's a pity that even this unique cooperation between the US and Russia does not help in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

A.N.: The relations of the countries co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group, in particular, Russia and the United States, are experiencing a serious crisis. The degree of tension is high enough; Russia and the West have found themselves in new geopolitical realities. In the prevailing conditions, approaches to the solution of the interethnic conflict in the underbelly of Russia can not a priori coincide. The South Caucasus region has historically been in the zone of Russia's geopolitical influence for the past two hundred years, and all Western diplomatic maneuvers are aimed at reducing Russia's "harmful" influence in this region. International relations are in the zone of increased turbulence, and there is no motivation for joint actions of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries in this situation.

What are the new anti-Azerbaijani PACE resolutions related to, and how can they affect the relations between Baku and Brussels?

El.Sh.: On October 11, the PACE adopted the first resolution concerning human rights in Azerbaijan. The resolution was criticized by the Azerbaijani government. Even before the adoption of the document, representatives of Azerbaijan were confident that the leadership of the Council of Europe adhered to the anti-Azerbaijani position. The fact is that Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland demands that the leadership of Azerbaijan follow the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights, which implies the immediate release of the leader of the REAL movement Ilgar Mammadov. Otherwise, Jagland threatens Azerbaijan with an exclusion from the members of the organization. The argument of the Azerbaijani side - Mammadov was convicted not for political reasons, but for a specific criminal act.

Also Baku refers to the fact that the ECHR has more significant verdicts, which remain on paper. On this basis the relations between Baku and Strasbourg are gradually deteriorating. The presence of this tension is recognized in their speeches by Azerbaijani officials and members of the ruling party. For example, Ali Hasanov, the Azerbaijani presidential aide on socio-political issues, said: "Adoption of prejudged documents based on subjective reasoning, an increase in attempts to exert pressure forces Azerbaijan to reconsider relations with the Council of Europe."

Thus, it can be understood that official Baku is considering the possibility of withdrawing from this organization. But there is no exact solution yet. In case this happens, we will observe the cooling of the relations between Azerbaijan not only with the Council of Europe, but also with other European organizations. For example, Azerbaijan's relations with the Euronest PA fall under question. Azerbaijan's withdrawal from the Council of Europe will play into the hands of Moscow, which will immediately take advantage of this and strengthen its influence in our country. And this contradicts the interests of official Baku for national security considerations.

Armenia's strategic partner - just a few days ago, Russia allocated one more loan of Armenia to the tune of 100 million dollars - cannot be Azerbaijan’s strategic partner as well. For economic reasons, neither will Baku be able to completely turn its back on Europe. The main economic projects of Azerbaijan are directly connected with the countries of the European Union; the final destination of Azerbaijani gas also lies in Europe. Finally, the withdrawal of Baku from the Council of Europe can play into the hands of the Armenian lobby in Europe, which will achieve adoption of several more anti-Azerbaijani resolutions.

Our center believes that the parties must make mutual concessions. The PACE should refrain from making harsh remarks about the leadership of Azerbaijan, and also expand the dialogue with official Baku, before adopting any resolutions. And Baku should consider releasing the very prisoners that the Council of Europe considers political. But Baku can take this step only if it is not subjected to external pressure.

A.N.: The EU policy towards Azerbaijan is structured in accordance with its geopolitical interests and is built through the prism of counteracting Russian influence in the South Caucasus region. The EU is trying to involve Azerbaijan in its civilizational structure without taking into account Azerbaijan's national interests, having imposed on the republic additional obligations of a political nature. In turn, Azerbaijan seeks to reach an agreement with the EU, which will ensure mutual respect, equality of the parties and will fully comply with the independent multi-vector foreign policy doctrine of the country. The lack of tangible progress in this direction is the main irritant in bilateral relations and generates pressure on Azerbaijan from European structures. Anti-Azerbaijani PACE resolutions, which, incidentally, are only recommendatory in nature, are aimed at providing political pressure.

Ilham Aliyev decided to take part in the summit of the Eastern Partnership, despite the recent scandals in relations with the EU. How are you planning to build relations with Brussels in Baku? And will the complex relations of Turkey's allied Azerbaijan with Turkey affect them?

E.Sh.: The official Baku will continue cooperation with the European Union. For Azerbaijan, this is very important. First, the main economic partner of Azerbaijan is the EU countries. Secondly, Europe is also the last destination for gas to be extracted from the Shah Deniz field in the Caspian. In the coming months, a strategic cooperation agreement is to be signed between Baku and Brussels. Despite the fact that there is a chill in relations between Azerbaijan and the Council of Europe, official Baku does not have similar problems with the EU.

As for Ankara's position, the cooperation of Azerbaijan with the EU is not directed against Turkey. For this reason, Baku's relations with Brussels should not worry Ankara, despite the fact that Turkey itself does have enough problems with the European Union.

A.N.: Azerbaijan is a reliable supplier of energy resources to the EU market; it has agreements on strategic partnership with a number of the European Union countries. The European Union is the main economic partner of Azerbaijan, and relations with the EU are very important for the country. Cooperation in the energy and transport spheres between the parties has been established and deepened for several years. The new agreement between the Republic and the European Union is at the stage of coordination, and the participation of the Azerbaijani president in the Eastern Partnership summit is in full conformity with the declared intentions. President Aliyev's visit will focus on the search for new mutually beneficial political interests with the European Union.

The conflict of interests, which causes tension in the relations between Turkey and the EU, is far from the possible political influence on the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU. The European Union builds relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan on different, non-intersecting planes.

Interviewed by Anar Huseynov

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