Andrey Epifantsev: Moscow will not become a style setter fin the
relations with Europeanized Armenia

An interview of the head of the analytical centre "Alte et Certe",
known Russian political expert, Andrey Epifantsev, with Arminfo news
agency.

by David Stepanyan
Saturday, August 31, 17:46


One of the pro-Kremlin Russian political exports has recently said
that Armenia has stopped being Russia's reliable ally. Do you share
such a point of view? What grounds and possible consequences does it
have?

To be honest, I should say that the point was not about that. The
point is that Armenia's European integration process is certainly
leading to a certain conflict of interests with Russia. Russia and the
EU are competing policy-makers and have different interests. It is
impossible to be involved in both of them simultaneously the way it
was impossible to simultaneously be a member of NATO and Department of
Internal Affairs during the Soviet time. Armenia's initialing the
Association Agreement with the EU means that Yerevan will delegate the
major part of its powers to the West, switch to Western standards, get
flooded with duty-free Western products, etc. If Russia maintains the
current level of relations with Armenia, as well as the current level
of its participation in Armenia's affairs and its current support to
Armenia, it will find itself in a foolish situation running counter to
its interests. In this case, for an unknown reason, Russia will have
to be under serious obligations and help its competitor: defend it,
ensure its political interests in the disputed territory, provide it
with cheap energy resources, free arms, finance its economy, host its
labor migrants, etc. The world knows no examples of such absurd
relations and I am sure that Moscow will not become a "trendsetter"
here. No one denies Armenia's right to participate in any integration
processes. But no one deprives Russia of the right to react to the
changes in the situation. Naturally, under the new conditions, Armenia
will be unable to remain the strategic ally of Russia and Moscow will
have to considerably decline our countries' relations to the level of
ordinary good-neighborly relations. In practice, this may result in
denunciation of the treaty on military cooperation, abandonment of
obligations to defend Armenia, withdrawal of the Russian military
base, transmission from "friendly" to market terms of trade, fixing of
world prices of energy resources, introduction of a visa regime and
return of the Armenian labor migrants to Armenia. I think that to
maintain its political influence on the South Caucasus, Russia might
consider making its relations with Azerbaijan closer and changing its
stance on Nagorno-Karabakh. "However, it is for Armenia to choose the
integration process.

In November Georgia and Armenia are going to initial DCFTA and the
Association agreement with the EU. What expectations do you have from
Georgia's and Armenia's participation in this project?

The forthcoming initialing of the Association Agreement and DCFTA
will have positive as well as negative consequences for Armenia. Among
the positive consequences we can mention the harmonization of the
Armenian legislation and state processes with the advanced western
norms, which will positively affect the society, fighting corruption,
etc. It is very much possible that the visa regime with the West will
be simplified, prices for the food products, produced in the EU
countries, will be decreased in Armenia, etc, Among the negative
consequences is raising of the general level of prices because of the
growth of tariffs for the energy sources, the destruction of the local
producer which will have no chance to compete with the western
products, the growth of unemployment and migration. As a strict
sample, I can point at the post-Soviet Baltic states and Bulgaria.
Look at them, and you will see you in 3-5 years. Practically, the
whole labor pool left Lithuania and Latvia to earn money. If earlier
Bulgaria was a well developed agricultural country, at present it
purchases tomato from Turkey. It is funny when I hear somebody saying
that from now on it will be easy to sell Armenian products in the
West. I am sad as Armenian ordinary people are na´ve. Actually,
Armenia does not have the products with a prospect to be well sold in
the West, as for the mining industry goods, which may be really sold,
they will be sold without the integration unification. Russia and the
CIS, are the territories where Armenian products may be really sold.
However, after initialing and signing of the Association Agreement
with the EU, it will be harder to do that, as taking into account what
has been happening to Ukraine now, Russia will start protecting its
market from the production of the business-rival country and from the
Western goods which may interfere its market through Armenia.

Despite participation in the EU `Eastern Partnership' programme,
Azerbaijan seems to lag behind Armenia and Georgia in the integration
projects with Europe. What are the reasons of this lagging?

Azerbaijan does not at all need participation in the integration
programmes with Europe because of many reasons. Azerbaijan has got
Turkey as an integration partner and ally and Baku will have nobody
better than Turkey. Economically, this country lives thanks to the
pipe, and they can sell oil and gas without joining Europe. The
political system of Azerbaijan is based on the principles which will
never let this country join Europe, and changing of these principles
will mean leaving of the present elite and destruction of its economic
prosperity. So, this is not lagging but a purposeful policy.

Armenia and Georgia have been striving to become a part of a single
European economic space. Is it possible to reach a compromise on
de-blocking of the Abkhazian sector of the railway, taking into
consideration its importance for the European integration and
Armenia's coming out from the `half blockade'?

The Abkhaz railway is of no importance to European integration. The
Association Agreement with the EU can be signed no matter whether the
railway is open or closed. The operation of the Transcaucasus railway
is important for facilitating the communication with Russia and for
transporting Armenian cargoes to Russia and vice versa. However,
Armenia's inclination for the West and the enhancement of the West's
role in Armenia's affairs will reduce this communication and the cargo
traffic.

At the moment, the re-launch of this railway needs the consent and
interest of Russia and Azerbaijan as a country that has an immense
influence on Georgia's decision to open the railway. "Azerbaijan's
stance is clear - to keep the blockade. Russia's interest in the
railway will also be reduced to nothing after November and Vilnius.
So, one can stop talking of opening of the railway.

Let's touch on the Middle East affairs. Is it possible that just
Bashar Asad's supporters used chemical weapon, or the Iraqi scenario
is more possible? How events will develop sonce refusal of Russia and
China to sanction the operation against Syria?

It is hard to guess who used chemical weapon. To be logical, I see no
reason for its using by the governmental troops, as they are wining,
their number is bigger, they are well armed, and in many cases the
people support them. Why does Asad need it? It is more logical that
just rebels used chemical weapon in Syria. However, here we must not
guess. We need international investigation of the situation even if it
will be held after completing of the battle actions in Syria. At
present is very much difficult to predict further development of
events. There are several signs saying that they have already adopted
a decision to bomb Syria, but it will be a short-term bombing which
uses cruise missiles, but not a mass and long-lasting bombing as in
case of Serbia, and not the land attack as in case of Iraq. It will
practically give nothing to the West but its demonstration as a centre
of force and the world arbiter. I think if bombing of Syria is short -
just a couple of days, Iran will hardly join the conflict. Taking into
consideration their own shaky position within the country, the
authorities of Turkey will also hardly dare to take part in the active
stage of the conflict and will just limit by aggressive statements and
an open support of the countries of the West.

How can possible participation of Iran in the Syrian conflict, if the
USA participates, threat security of the South Caucasus?

Iran's participation in the Syrian conflict if the Americans start
bombing, will undoubtedly draw nearer the day when Iran will come
forward in a role of Iraq and Syria. Anyway, irrespective of Iran's
participation in the conflict or not, if Asad loses and Iraqization of
Syria will take place, Iran will be the next and the military
operation against Iran will be just a problem of time. Just for this
reason, it is very much important for Teheran not to let falling of
Damascus. Iin its turn, the military operation against Iran will cause
serious changing of the situation in the South Caucasus. It may have
serious consequences - starting the radiation pollution of the region
up to thousands of refugees moving to the neighboring countries, and
Azerbaijan's temptation on the sly to settle the Karabakh conflict
with a help of force. The situation in the region may change so much
that it should be discussed during a separate talk.


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From: Baghdasarian