Ülviye FİLİYEVA ERKEÇ
In a written statement on the anniversary of the Second Karabakh War, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that they were in favor of establishing good neighborly relations and developing regional cooperation with the South Caucasus countries. On November 26, 2021, the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia came together in Sochi, Russia to discuss the peace process in the Caucasus. During the meeting, issues of drawing borders, opening transportation lines and cooperation within the framework of the “3+3” (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia + Russia, Turkey, Iran) format were discussed, and Russia once again strengthened its leadership and mediator role in the region.
In this context, The Asia Today, brings to your attention of the views of the famous political analyst of “Kto Protiv?” broadcast on the “Russia 1” state television channel, Grigory Trofimchuk, Chairman of the Council of the Scientific Research Support Foundation of the “Eurasian Ideas Workshop”, on the latest developments in the South Caucasus region in order to learn the role of Russia in the context of ensuring regional cooperation and building stability.
Mr. Trofimchuk, how do you evaluate the normalization of relations between Azerbaijan-Armenia and Armenia-Turkey after the war in the region?
In 2008, there was an attempt to establish a dialogue between the countries of the South Caucasus and Turkey. The Turkish side brought the “Caucasian Stability and Cooperation Platform” initiative, which started the consultation process between Yerevan and Ankara, to the agenda at that time. At the same time, certain action protocols and steps to be taken in this direction, including the opening of the Armenia-Turkey border, were discussed. Unfortunately, none of them were implemented. Today, the military-political situation in the region has changed significantly. Armenia has suffered a military defeat and apparently does not accept this fact. Theoretically, it should be emphasized that if the leading Western countries persuade Nikol Pashinyan to such a scenario, the Armenian government may agree to get closer with Turkey. It seems that they are engaged in such an initiative. Pashinyan can generally sign anything, but the majority of Armenian people hold an opinion that differs from that of the Prime Minister. In the mid-2000s, as an expert, I told the Karabakh Armenians of Baku that they could take steps to spread the idea that they could live in better conditions under the rule of the Azerbaijani state among the Armenians. But time passed and the war has changed everything. Therefore, considering that Turkey is still a NATO member, it is only possible for Armenia to approach Turkey with the help of the USA. As for the Armenia-Azerbaijan relationship, it is almost in the same situation as the Turkey-Armenia relationship. This is b ecause for the Armenians who lost, Turkey and Azerbaijan, in their own words, have the same meaning as being “Turks”.
What do you think will lead to the improvement of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia? Are the Armenian people ready for this? How does the Armenian diaspora in the West react to this? If the people and the diaspora are not ready for this yet, what path should Armenia and Turkey follow?
As I mentioned before, the Armenian people are not ready for this, considering the difficult historical context for them. The Second Karabakh War, which can become the “Third” war at any moment today, has been added to this story. However, at the same time, the Yerevan government seems ready to engage in dialogue with everyone. In addition, after Nikol Pashinyan’s visit to Georgia, a positive signal was received from Yerevan in the past few days. Pashinyan is ready to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, Erdogan primarily wants to see positive progress made by Yerevan. In principle, no progress can be seen. Pashinyan often uses the Azerbaijani Turkish names of settlements and geographical points that still bear Armenian names. In addition, it has started to shift the highways to the west for the benefit of Azerbaijan. Therefore, Turkey will now decide whether Pashinyan is ready to meet directly.
As for the Armenian diaspora, before the last war it was thought that its voice and influence would be stronger and would have a much greater influence on events. However, it is seen that the diaspora is in confusion about supporting Pashinyan. Someone should lead Armenia to sort things out. The problem is that Pashinyan is influenced by other powers, not by the Armenian diaspora, who ordered him to cause as much chaos in the region as possible. However, with all this, peace between Turkey and Armenia is an absolute necessity. No one, including Russia, needs that there is always a state of war around Karabakh. However, the activity of the authorities alone is not enough for this. The war will continue without the initiatives and contributions of experts at the level of the American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski. In the meantime, I would like to point out that in the most difficult period of Russia-Turkey relations, in the first half of 2016, when Turkey was seen as an “enemy” in Russia, the “Eurasian Ideas Workshop” center, extended roundtable meeting, was held in Moscow with the participation of Turkish political scientists and business people.
So, what can be done in the name of public diplomacy in order to establish peace among the peoples and make it permanent in the region?
The reconciliation process must involve more than just officials, politicians and cultural figures. People who think outside the box should be sought and they should be included in this process. Only then will there be hope of changing things. Public diplomacy emerges and begins to work effectively when there are clear and exciting goals. Authorities unfortunately do not inspire the public. Remarkable roundtable meetings should be held on different topics that I mentioned earlier. Then the situation will move towards peace, not war. Otherwise, the South Caucasus may drag all sides into constant wars, as happened a few centuries ago. I don’t think this is likely to happen.
How do you evaluate Russia’s role in the region in the current situation?
The strengthening of the role of the Russian Federation in the region is due to the fact that, thanks to Russian peacekeepers, a ceasefire was achieved in the Karabakh region on November 10, 2020. Unfortunately, this is not yet seen as complete peace, as many problems remain to be resolved, including the problem of unblocking regional transport infrastructure.
Removing infrastructure barriers in the region will also be beneficial for Russia. This is because the Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region will not stay there forever. In addition, the Azerbaijani side indirectly and informally tells them more and more that their time is running out fast.
In general, Russia’s position here is unique. Moscow can interact with both Baku and Yerevan. Among other things, it is Moscow that can strike the balance between its presence in the region and the presence of Western structures. However, in recent years, peacekeeping forces have been faced with problems such as the violation of the ceasefire. However, the inability of the controllers, observers and peacekeepers to identify the “attacking” side and not taking responsibility for such a definition leads to the questioning of the reputation of the Russian Federation as a peacekeeping force.
Let’s come to Georgia, the other country in the region. Speaking at the Georgian Parliament recently, Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani said that Georgia does not plan to participate in the “3+3” negotiation format. How do you evaluate the “3+3” platform proposed by Turkey and planned for regional development?
The “3+3” format is supported by all possible participants, with the exception of Georgia. Georgia insists on maintaining its stance on this issue for obvious reasons. In addition, Georgia is an objective window to reduce the impact of Armenia’s blockade. Even without former President Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia remains the platform of the West and the USA. If the old political forces in Georgia come to the government, the country will again take on the role of the key to the region. Therefore, Georgia always has a special position. In addition, Georgia has proposed to apply a different regional formula.