Lieutenant General Vagharshak Harutyunyan, a former Armenian minister of defense, says he doesn’t see any threat about Azerbaijan’s possible accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU).
In an interview with Tert.am, the ex-minister said he expects the contrary effect from such a scenario, considering Russia’s influence a restraining factor for Azerbaijan’s military ambitions (over Nagorno-Karabakh).Mr Harutyunyan, Russia is inviting Azerbaijan to join the Eurasian Economic Union. Though [the proposal] has been rejected on a ministerial level, don’t you think anyway that such a possibility would be a threat to Azerbaijan?
No, I do not see any threat in terms of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement, because Armenia will be a member state of the union in a month and will have the right to veto. All the EaEU decisions are made based on a consensus, so in case there is a threat to Karabakh, Armenia can exercise the right to veto. And besides, the Karabakh threat would realistic in one case only – when Armenia and Karabakh are weak in terms of military protection and unable to ensure their own security.
So, are you sure that [Armenia] is not weak because it has an ally like Russia?
Sure, this is an in-depth question. I give a brief answer, because it needs to be analyzed from the regional and global perspectives. But such a move is not a threat at all to either Karabakh or Armenia.
And how do you estimate Azerbaijan’s chances of joining the EaEU?
I don’t think Azerbaijan will join it at the current phase, because it does not have any chances or a desire, at least at the present moment. But [such a possibility] cannot be ruled out in future, of course.
Don’t you think attempts are now being made to win Azerbaijan’s heart, with Russia making reverences in an attempt to talk the country into joining the EaEU and the West trying to block such chances on the other hand?
It isn’t true. Winning a heart would imply every possible to return Karabakh to Azerbaijan. But there are no such steps. As to the fact that the West and Turkey are doing all their best to prevent Azerbaijan’s membership in the EaEU, that obviously stems from their own interest. Russia proposes that Azerbaijan join the EaEU, and that, by the way, is in the interests of Armenia too. It is better for Azerbaijan to be under the influence of Russia rather than Turkey and other states which have no interest in preventing a renewed war in our region. Hence, it is a normal political process, and Armenia is in an advantageous position.
You say ‘no renewed war’, but the same Russia keeps selling military supplies to Azerbaijan in big batches, with the recent consignment of tanks being the last deal? Do you also think that it is nothing more than a business, and that Russia’s failure not to sell [the weapons] would cause Azerbaijan to buy them from the United Nations?
I have responded to that question many times before, and my position hasn’t changed. Yes, if Azerbaijan didn’t have money and Russia gave it arms and arms supplies, that would be a step directed against us, but because Azerbaijan will nonetheless buy – and it does actually buy – arms supplies from Ukraine and Israel, it is likely to buy them from other countries too. I say again that a technical military cooperation has its own objectives. That’s also reflected in the Russian law on military cooperation. So one of the objectives is to reinforce influence on the state it cooperates with. If you sell weapon, the purchaser thus becomes dependent on you, because it is never restricted to the sale of weapons alone. Hence, Russia is strengthening its influence on Azerbaijan to the maximum possible extent. Of course, the sale of weapons – whatever it is – does strengthen Azerbaijan, and naturally, I don’t like it at all. But Azerbaijan will buy weapon anyway, so it is better for it do that with Russia, because Russia has no interest in a renewed war in our region. That’s the first thing to say; and secondly and most importantly, Russia has taken a responsibility which also stems from its interests: to ensure Armenia’s security and provide Armenia with up-to-date technologies. That’s laid out in the final protocol signed in 2010. Russia’s objective is to maintain the military balance in the region.
And do you think Russia manages to maintain that balance? Besides, the possibility of a renewed war over Karabakh is very often on the agenda; do you see such likelihood?
No, I do not. Azerbaijan is not capable of waging a war today, the Armenian army’s efficiency being a key [inhibiting] factor; and also the fact that we have a military cooperation treaty with Russia. So all this reduced the likelihood of war to zero.
Is a customs checkpoint between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh possible? Astana seems to be against to accept Armenia into the EaEU together with Karabakh?
[Kazakh President Norsultan] Nazarbaev expressed his opinion [at the Eurasian Economic Summit], saying that Armenia has to sign its membership [treaty] by July 1. And in the meantime, he expressed support to Armenia’s membership. Further, he said that it would be better for Armenia to sign the treaty with reference to the borders outlined by the UN. Besides, have we recognized the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic? No, we haven’t. Have we said Nagorno-Karabakh is to join the EaEU? No. There are no hazards for Armenia and Karabakh. As to whether or not there will be a customs checkpoint, it’s something to be decided by us. There is no obstacle to Armenia’s membership in the EaEU, and all the sides have confirmed that. The fuss raised over the topic was just an element of that war.
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