On March 1, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan announced that the protocols on normalization in the Armenian-Turkish relations signed in 2009 are to be cancelled. At the same time, Sargsyan noted that even in these circumstances, unlike Turkey, Armenia remains in the winning position. In a conversation with EADaily's correspondent, the EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) Institute director Vladimir Lepekhin told how these developments can influence the situation in the region and, in particular, whether there is a new threat of escalation in the Karabakh conflict zone.
Mr. Lepekhin, how do you assess the Yerevan decision to annul the Armenian-Turkish protocols? What is the result of this quite an expected turn and why has Armenia taken this step now?
It should be noted that the initiative on signing the Armenian-Turkish protocols (that is, it was a goodwill) came from the Armenian side. Unfortunately, a year after this initiative, in December 2009, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan noted that Ankara would not ratify the protocols without the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. In fact, Turkey set its conditions to the Armenian side by linking the bilateral relations with the interests of a third party. In such a situation, ratification of protocols by the parliaments of both countries became impossible.
At the same time, the Armenian side was waiting for the change of Ankara's position for seven years - until February 2015, when Serzh Sargsyan withdrew the protocols from the parliamentary agenda. The recent cancellation of these protocols by the Armenian side only means bringing the form of bilateral relations in line with their real content and, of course, this was due to the fault of the Turkish leadership.
Earlier, Turkey expressed a desire to become closer to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and, as is known, one of the terms of the union's treaty is open borders. How can this decision influence Turkey's future in terms of joining or not joining the union?
The desire to be closer to the EAEU does not necessarily mean becoming a member of this union or opening borders for the EAEU member countries. The Eurasian cooperation means existence of special relations of various states with the countries of the EAEU and its structures. Such special relations are established by special treaties, as it is done today with such countries as Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Serbia, Iran, etc. Turkey has the right to claim special relations, since it strengthens trade and other economic cooperation with such countries, members of the EAEU, as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
I do not think one should expect Turkey’s membership in the EAEU in the coming years, but the expansion of cooperation with this union is an understandable and promising vector of the economic development of this country.
In fact, from the very beginning the hope that the protocols would lead to establishment of diplomatic relations was extremely low. As you said, Turkey had put forward preconditions the focus of which is resolution of the Karabakh conflict in accordance with the position of Baku. Can one say that now it is one factor less on the way to prevent from escalation around Karabakh?
I believe that the non-signing of the bilateral protocols by the Turkish side did not lead to and will not lead to an escalation of tension between Armenia and Turkey, since nothing can be a factor in the strengthening of something. It is another matter that the rejection of this signing is in effect a missed chance to develop a dialogue and gradual normalization of relations between the mentioned countries. In this sense, today Turkey’s hands are untied in regard to Armenia exactly as it was before September 2008.
Recently, the American intelligence community in its report predicted a serious escalation of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2018. In addition, after President Ilham Aliyev appointed early presidential election, predictions were made that he was thus preparing for a war. Do you expect a repetition of the April events, especially if we take into account that the region as a whole is rather troubled?
In my previous interview, I already noted that the aggressive statements used by the president of Azerbaijan towards Yerevan a month ago are connected solely with the pre-election rhetoric and do not mean preparation of the leadership of this country for the war for Nagorno-Karabakh. It is another matter that there are many people in various Western structures who are interested in pitting Azerbaijan and Armenia against each other. Aliyev's decision to conduct the presidential election this April instead of October, in part, broke the plans of Western special services to destabilize the situation in Azerbaijan and the region as a whole. However, various pro-American forces, including those in Azerbaijan, are trying to fuel protest moods in Baku, using the nationalist anti-Armenian rhetoric in particular.
As for the possibility of a repetition of the April events in 2016 in Karabakh, it is quite possible, but only in case if the US State Department and NATO succeed either in winning over Erdogan or in eliminating him. Unfortunately, some Armenian experts can see the main threat in Turkey, although in the last century this country has been an instrument of Western forces. Armenia, of course, must be apprehensive of Turkey, because it is still considered one of main opponents to Armenia and the Armenians, but destabilization of the international situation and most of the local conflicts taking place today are actually caused by Western oligarchies and special services. The main provocations for Armenia today should be expected from the Western "partners’" side.
Interviewed by Lia Khojoyan