"RUSSIA HAS EXTENSIVE INTERESTS IN SOUTH CAUCASUS"
Ivan Sukhov

WPS Agency
What the Papers Say (Russia)
Russia
November 2, 2009 Monday

Highlight: Peter Semneby: Russia's behavior shows that it expects
changes in the South Caucasus; An Interview with EU special
Representative for South Caucasus Peter Semneby.

Turkey and Armenia signed protocols on diplomatic relations
establishment in Zurich, Switzerland, on October 10. Here is an
interview with EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Peter
Semneby on what effect the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement will have
on its participants themselves and their neighbors.

Question: Moscow's comments on the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement are
quite favorable even though the impression is that this rapprochement
will reduce Russian clout with the South Caucasus to a certain extent.

And what is your opinion of the process in question?

Peter Semneby: The situation with the relations between Armenia and
Turkey as it was so far could not last, of course. Something had to be
done about it in terms of the opening of borders, normalization, etc.

It is necessary to consider ways and means of promotion of one's
interests in the region in this new situation. The war in Georgia
reminded everyone of the existence of grave risks in connection with
the latent territorial conflicts in the region. Awareness of these
risks provided an additional impetus to the Armenian-Turkish relations.

As for Russia, its very behavior shows that it has been expecting
changes in the situation in this part of the Caucasus. Russia invests
into Armenian economy. It builds railways there. Investments of this
kind are made only when the investor is fairly confident that he will
get his money's worth back, and that means when the borders are open.

Question: Shall we assume that the rapprochement with Ankara is
something the Armenian diplomacy should take credit for? Did Yerevan
manage to disassociate the matter of rapprochement with Turkey from
the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh?

Peter Semneby: It was not Armenia alone providing the necessary push
that set things in motion. (Even though it was always clear that
doing so is in the interests of Armenia, that is.) We have to admit
meanwhile that some political forces in Armenia question expediency
of this move. Some heated debates are taking place in Turkey too,
as we know. Turkey understands that it may become one of the central
players in all of the region only if and when this particular matter is
addressed and taken care of. This conflict with Armenia tied Ankara's
hands in the South Caucasus.

As for the Armenian-Turkish relations and the conflict over
Nagorno-Karabakh, these are two different conflicts that should not be
mixed. An attempt to mix them will interfere with the normalization
trend we've been seeing. It is clear that any development in each of
these matters has an effect on the general atmosphere. It behooves
us therefore to do whatever it takes to make sure that this effect
is positive.

Question: What concessions can Armenia and Azerbaijan go for in the
matter of Karabakh conflict resolution right at this point?

Peter Semneby: By and large, I believe that it is necessary to aspire
to a situation where both parties will make some sort of concession
to the other and leave major issues including that of the status of
Karabakh for later.

Question: Is there a chance that this rapprochement with Turkey will
spark street protests and foment mass disturbances in Armenia?

Peter Semneby: Opposition to normalization of the relations with
Turkey is external rather than domestic. What I mean is that it is
mostly Armenian diasporas abroad that have been raising objections.

And yet, this is a serious problem for the Armenian administration
because of the part in the life of the country diasporas traditionally
play.

Question: When can we expect the opening of the Armenian-Turkish
border?

Peter Semneby: The countdown will begin with ratification of the
protocols by national parliaments. It should occur two months after
the exchange of ratifications.

Question: Will the protocols be ratified?

Peter Semneby: Nobody can say for sure, of course, but I'm convinced
that they will be ratified, all the same.

Question: What effect will this Armenian-Turkish rapprochement have
on the regional economic architecture based on and centered around
Azerbaijani and Central Asian oil and gas export?

Peter Semneby: Normalization of the relations will open new
opportunities, facilitate regional security, and have a generally
positive effect on the economy of the region.

Question: Leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and even Karabakh visit
Moscow in the wake of every new development in the Armenian-Turkish
rapprochement and in the course of the Karabakh talks. Why would they?

Whose initiative is it?

Peter Semneby: It is clear that Russia has extensive interests in the
South Caucasus and that it is prepared to defend and promote them. It
is natural. It is a positive factor, in general, that Russia clearly
associates its interests with progress in the matter of conflict
resolution. We can only welcome Russia's resolve to play an energetic
role in these matters.

Question: And yet, the opening of the border is bound to turn Armenian
economy to Turkey. Lacking ground routes connecting it with Armenia,
Russia is bound to perceive a certain weakening of the ties with the
country it has regarded as its principal ally in the South Caucasus
for years. And yet, Moscow supports and abets the negotiations under
way. Isn't that paradoxical?

Peter Semneby: Russia has vast interest in Armenia, and particularly
economic interests. Since Russia invested colossal sums in Armenia,
in its energy infrastructure and so on, it is naturally interested in
development of the Armenian economy. Its dynamic development meanwhile
necessitates certain conditions. An open border with Turkey is the
most important factor facilitating economic development of Armenia.

Even diversification of the Armenian economy will benefit Russia.

Question: This solution to the Armenian-Turkish problem... shall
we call it Armenia's step in the direction of European and Atlantic
integration?

Peter Semneby: Armenia participates in a great deal of EU's programs
like the neighborhood program or, for example, the Eastern Partnership
initiative. Negotiations over associated membership in the European
Union might begin soon because that's what we offer to all Eastern
Partnership participants. It will continue regardless of whether or
not the border with Turkey is opened.