Ariel Cohen: Putin may be compensating for reputational damage to Russia in the conflict in Ukraine by trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict

ArmInfo News Agency
October 16, 2014
By Ashot Safaryan

Mr. Cohen, the Agreement on Armenia’s Accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) signed in Minsk on October 10 is yet to be ratified by 4 countries’ Parliaments. May there be any force majeure situations within this period? How may the West respond to this? Many experts believe that the West is trying to torpedo the Eurasian projects by all manner of means.

A week is a long time in politics, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson (1916-1995) would say. I do not rule out anything, but the chances for Armenia’s admission to the Eurasian Economic Union are estimated at over 90%. The West is not trying to torpedo the Eurasian projects. In the case of Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan I see nothing that would imply the West’s interference.

Can one say that Moscow has taken Armenia’s domestic political initiative from the United States, having enlisted the sympathies of not only the authorities but also the opposition of Armenia? The opposition, which is strongly criticizing the authorities, does not mind Armenia’s accession to the EAEU…

The United States has always had a very modest record of achievements in Armenia. This is a one-way street. The U.S. seeks a resolution to the Karabakh conflict, but Armenia is resisting. I cannot remember what Armenia has given to the States but it has received a lot from the States, including hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and the 902 that restricts the aid to Azerbaijan. So, Armenia and Yerevan are greatly benefiting from this relationship.

You have recently mentioned that the Kremlin is screwing Sargsyan… Could you comment on this?

My sources in Moscow say that Sargsyan’s uncompromising attitude towards a compromise over Karabakh irritates Putin. Putin may be compensating for reputational damage to Russia in the conflict in Ukraine by trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict and getting Azerbaijan into the Eurasian Union. First and foremost, Russia is trying to get Azerbaijan to give up its pro-Western stand. Russia wants Armenia to withdraw its troops from a few districts of the Corridor (between Azerbaijan and Karabakh) and then move to the final resolution of the problem. Moscow’s strategic goal is Azerbaijan’s accession to the EAEU. For that end, Russia will have to force Armenia to return Karabakh to Azerbaijan, otherwise, the latter will not change its pro-Western stand with a pro-Russian one. Sargsyan and the Karabakh clan are viewed as obstacles to that scenario.

Would you comment on the situation in the Middle East amid the atrocities by the Islamic State fighters? Can these developments change the geopolitical landscape in that region?

The Middle East has come down to the ‘moment of truth’. The Islamic State test will reveal who is who, as Gorbachev would say. America, Europe and Arab countries are fighting against the Islamic State, while Turkey is bombarding the Kurds. I returned from Europe last week. People in Europe are horrified by Erdogan’s policy. Like Qatar, Turkey positions itself as a sponsor of the Islamic State. The U.S. and Qatar were like two peas in a pod, but now Qatar’s policy is being scolded in the New York Times and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is also under threat.

 I should also point out that the Islamic State is a dire threat to Armenia and Russia, especially in the North Caucasus. Looking objectively, Moscow would need to wind up the current anti-Western policy. Otherwise, it is the Islamic State savages, not the Ukrainian (Christian Orthodox and Eastern Slavic) ‘brothers’ that Russia will confront. ISIL has over 2,000 people from the North Caucasus and the CIS states. Today the West, Russia, Israel and Arab countries are being tested for strength.  God grant us strength and firmness!

 Will the United States be able to tangibly weaken Russia’s positions in the Caucasus and isolate it due to the current strong sanctions and pressure?

 The sanctions affect the economic situation in Russia rather than Russia’s positions in the Caucasus. But these are the most serious sanctions since the USSR’s war in Afghanistan.

 Thanks for the interview

Ariel Cohen, PhD, is Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, Principal, International Market Analysis Ltd, a political risk advisory, and Director, Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security