EADaily has asked member of the Azerbaijani parliament Milli Majlis Rasim Musabekov and former foreign minister Tofiq Zulfuqarov to comment on results of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Baku and Yerevan as well as on the meeting of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
What do you think of the Russian foreign minister’s visit, in particular in relation to the Azerbaijan-Russia relation? In Baku, Lavrov reportedly said that he would be glad to see Azerbaijan as an EAEU member…
Rasim Musabekov: There have been no outcomes of Lavrov’s visit yet. I do not think there should be a breakthrough meeting of the presidents. Moreover, truly speaking, Sergey Lavrov and his mission do not have credibility.
Tofiq Zulfuqarov: Lavrov’s visit to the region made rather a strange impression. First, as for the statements in Baku and Yerevan regarding the Karabakh conflict settlement, there was nothing new in them. They were just reiteration of the same vague statements we have heard before. In terms of the Karabakh conflict settlement nothing new was expressed in them. I think this was just an imitation of the negotiation process intensification.
Part of the issues were about the bilateral relations, particularly, about integration processes initiated by Russia. The statements sounded strange in Azerbaijan. In the beginning of the year, Sergey Lavrov made statements on the Karabakh settlement that were treated by Azerbaijani society like pro-Armenian ones. Besides, this summer, after a meeting of the Azerbaijani and Russian presidents there were some opinions in the media that Lavrov was supporting interests of the Armenian lobby in Russia. In this sense, even if the Russian minister invited Azerbaijan to paradise, 99% of the people in the country will hardly believe in it. If the Kremlin was really trying to invite Azerbaijan into the EAEU, Lavrov is not the right candidature for doing this.
The second part of the issue is the fact that there is no settlement or any serious progress in the negotiation process. Moscow wants to continue dominating the process, while other actors oppose it. Apart from Baku, some regional players wanted progress in the Karabakh issue too. It is about Turkey.
The Russian minister announced it was necessary to settle the problem in package, while Baku insists it to be stage-by-stage, Lavrov noted in turn that the conflict will not be settled soon. Interestingly, Putin expressed the same idea, and Erdogan informed on it after a meeting with him… If we match the statements, what shall we get?
Rasim Musabekov: Lavrov said the issue is very complicated and there is no fast decision, and nobody says the opposite. The matter is about promoting the settlement issue to the stage that eliminate risks of a big war. Lavrov does comprehend it. But their tasks include among other issues to wring consent from Azerbaijan for secession, I mean separation of Karabakh from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has never agreed to it and will never do it.
Actually, Turkey explains that if Russia got involved in Syria that was once part of the Ottoman Empire and borders with Turkey, not Russia, could it just take into account the concerns Turkey has related to the situation in the Caucasus that can turn into a big war. This big war can go far beyond military actions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It can bring Russia and Turkey face to face. If Russia wants to implement global projects such as the Turkish Stream or construction of the four units of the Akkuyu NPP, projects meant for a long period, 25-40 years, they need to clear up the mine that is the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories by Armenia. At least, beyond the borders of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is all Turkey wants to explain to Russia. If Russia comprehends it or not will depend on Moscow’s attitude towards Armenia.
Tofiq Zulfuqarov: Statements on returning the five territories and defining their status, some people are trying to present it like a personal Erdogan’s initiative that appears due to personal ties between Russia and Turkey. I do not share this view. I think the Karabakh issue starts playing a serious role for Turkey in terms of stability and security in the region. If we add its importance in Turkey’s domestic policy, Erdogan’s statements seem to be very motivated.
What do I mean? The thing is that unsuccessful attempts to break the impasse in the conflict for several years, especially after 2016, suppose that protracting the negotiation process can result in a new outbreak. If we pay attention to the fact what weapons Azerbaijan has bought, in case of a war the regional map may change. The key factor in the conflict goes to Nakhchivan. If Azerbaijan is stricken deep in its territory, Baku will strike Armenia from Nakhchivan territory. It is several tens of kilometers from Nakhchivan to Yerevan. So, if military actions develop this way, while security of Nakhchivan is supported by international treaties, shows that Turkey will face the danger of direct involvement in the conflict. Taking into account that Armenia is Russia’s military and political ally, it all makes the situation quite different for Turkey. Based on this, Erdogan’s initiative is quite natural, and I think that Turkey’s attempts will continue. Russia will have to respond to them sooner or later.
Such situation poses threat not only to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, but for Russia as well, as it would not like to have a new hotspot of tension nearby. The Russian political elite does understand that continuation of this situation is inadmissible.
President Ilham Aliyev participated in the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels and met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. How far is Azerbaijan ready to go in its cooperation with the West? Will it take into consideration Russia’s opinion on the issue?
Rasim Musabekov: Azerbaijan did not abandon cooperation with NATO in order to please someone. However, contrary to Ukraine, we do not raise the issue of NATO membership. Azerbaijan has and will continue being partners with NATO. If it bothers Moscow, let it look after Armenia that keeps running to various NATO events.
Tofiq Zulfuqarov: Azerbaijan has tense military cooperation with a NATO country, I mean Turkey. Azerbaijan is pragmatic about its defense capabilities and in this connection the relations with NATO are important to it. But the determining factor for building-up its defense capabilities will be its relations with Turkey, both as a NATO member and in the bilateral relations.
Interviewed by Anar Huseynov