16 November 2018

Exclusive interview with Thomas de Waal

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12 Punto 14 Punto 16 Punto 18 Punto presents an interview with British journalist and writer on the Caucasus Thomas de Waal:

– Azerbaijani Armed Forces have received into service the first Polonez multiple rocket launch system, the Ministry of Defence Industry of Azerbaijan announced on 11 June. It is said that these systems are the answer to the Iskander missiles sold by Russia to Yerevan. Then the Russian press, including the “Kommersant” newspaper, reported that Russia is going to sell Su-30 planes to Yerevan. Experts claim that if these systems are sold to Yerevan, Su-35 systems should be offered to Azerbaijan as well. Is the armament of both sides likely to cause any active conflict in the direction of Karabakh in the near future?

– So far international weapons sales to both Armenia and Azerbaijan have preserved a fragile military balance. They have also earned a lot of money for weapons manufacturers from Belarus, Israel, Russia and other countries, which could have been spent on the social needs of ordinary people. The new weapons acquisitions do not point to a new imminent conflict but they raise the stakes and ensure that if there is fighting the destruction will be very great. We saw in the “four-day war” in 2016 how many people died in a short space of time as victims of these new powerful weapons. The destructive capacity of the two armed forces is now so great that they must be ready to respond very quickly to any attack. (Commenting on the acquisition of the Polonez system, Karabakh Armenian military commander Levon Mnatsakanyan said “We are also introducing certain changes in our tactics,”

– The population protested in Karabakh. After the protests, Bako Sahakyan resigned as the security chief and police chief to the leaders of the bloc. Can Azerbaijan make use of these changes in the future for its own benefit?

– The changes in Nagorny Karabakh were caused by internal domestic politics in Armenia, with local Armenians there demanding the resignation of unpopular officials. It does not change the dynamics of the conflict or the attitude of the Karabakh Armenians to Azerbaijan. They still see Azerbaijan as a hostile aggressive enemy which wants to destroy them.

– After Pashinian's coming to power in Armenia, active steps have been taken against some oligarchs. Many of the oligarchs are members of the former ruling party, the Republican Party. They were also members of the Parliament who voted for Pashinyan. Why does Pashinian choose those who once supported him? Can this step of Pashinian create conditions for the oligarchs to form a coalition against him?

– Pashinian is the enemy of the oligarchs and the Republican Party. They only supported his candidacy to be prime minister from tactical considerations, so as to “save their skin.” But he has already moved against some leading figures from the old regime, including the army commander Manvel Grigorian and the brother of former president Serzh Sargsyan. It will be hard for Pashinian to change the whole system, however. Other powerful vested interests such as the big businessman Gagik Tsarukian position themselves as members of the opposition.

– When Pashinian came to power, he made speeches against Russia, but after a while he began to sound good words to Russia. It reminds us the former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili. Is it possible for Pashinian to turn away from Russia after some time to the West? Would the West support it?

– Every Armenian leader since independence has pursued the goal of a “multi-vector” foreign policy or “complementarity,” with good relations with Russia, the West and Iran. Obviously, Russia is always “first amongst equals” in the list because of its role as Armenia’s military protector and its big economic interests in Armenia. Armenia is not Georgia and anti-Russian sentiments are not strong. But Pashinian will try to decrease the influence of Russia and increase the influence of other foreign actors, especially from the Diaspora. He will do that, knowing that there are limits to how far he can do this, because of Armenia’s suspended conflict with Azerbaijan and closed border with Turkey. The West will obviously welcome any pro-Western trajectory from Armenia, but the country is a low priority in its foreign policy.

2018.06.29 / 15:35
Rafiga Alisafa
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