Exclusive interview of the Dr. Stepan Grigoryan, Chairman of the Board, Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC), Armenia
1 - How would You describe current Armenia-Russia relations?
I think, currently, the attitude of Russia towards Armenia is constructed based on the principle of the ruler and a slave. Of course, primarily, it is the fault of the ruling elites of Armenia, who accepted all the initiatives of Russia, without any hesitation. Armenian elites signed all agreement with Russia, without any due elaboration (this is related especially to the military sector). Armenian government handed 80% of Armenian energy sector, railroads, communications field to the Russian state run companies.
Apart from that, Russia under the presidency of V. Putin does not think about the authority/name of its strategic partners. Thus, Russia, during the last several years, sold to Azerbaijan military arms (including lethal weapons) for several billion dollars. This step was done, even without thinking about its strategic partner Armenia – the member of the CSTO – and the only country of the South Caucasus where Russian military bases are located legally. Moreover, during the 4-day Karabakh War of April 2016, neither Russia, nor CSTO did not make statements that would support Armenia, despite the fact that it was clear, which conflicting side violated the status quo of the Nagorno Karbakh conflict.
These mean, that the relations between Russian and Armenia are not like between equal partners, but rather elder and younger brothers. And it is not by chance that the survey conducted by our organization (ACGRC) in summer 2017, showed very low trust towards Russia among the citizens of Armenia (http://www.acgrc.am/Final.pdf).
2. What can be expected from the oncoming NATO Summit in Brussels?
The main hope is that NATO continues its cooperation with Armenia and with Armenian expert community. It is also important for us, that the process of accession of Georgia as a NATO member starts. As it is known, Georgia carried out serious reforms and deserved to be a NATO member, and the political obstacles connected with the reaction of Russia must be put aside. Without doubt, all events in Georgia (e.g. visa free regime to EU granted to Georgia) had a big positive resonance in Armenia in favour of the EU and NATO.
3. Which position of Armenia in the projects of energy transit and security?
As it is known, there are only two open borders for Armenia – with Georgia and with Iran (Turkey and Azerbaijan keep their borders closed with Armenia). This fact limits Armenia’s opportunities to be a transiting country. But, still, even the opportunities that exist for Armenia, are not used by Armenian government, because of strong dependence on Russia. So, Iran is ready to increase its export of gas to Armenia, apart from that, Iran is ready to export gas to Georgia through the territory of Armenia. The gas transporting system of Armenia is capable of realization of these initiatives, however, Russia acts against these projects. And as Armenian authorities granted monopoly on all issues related to gas to the Russian Gazprom, Armenia today finds itself outside of the regional projects. The same situation is with the possible construction of a railroad from Iran to Armenia. Iranian government is ready for cooperation in this field, China has shown it interest as well, as this railroad may become a part of the Chinese plan of restoring the Silk Road. However, Russian railways are against it, as Armenian authorities have given Armenian railroads to the governance of the Russian Railway Company.
Certain possibilities have been opened for Armenia after signed the CEPA agreement with the EU, in November 2017, which also includes cooperation in energy and transportation sectors. Time will show to what extent Armenia will be ready to implementation of such possibilities. The situation of security of Armenia, including energy and economic security, have dramatically got worse after Armenia’s joining the Eurasian Economic Union in 2015. The question is not only that this is a new organization, where there are no well elaborated rules for trade and economy, but also that Russia is under sanctions, Russian economy is in crisis there are high corruption risks, and that Armenian does not have any land border with the members of Eurasian Union. Apart from that, many members of CSTO and Eurasian Union often do not have same position with Armenia. This was visible during the recent war of April 2016 when a number of CSTO and Eurasian Union members supported Azerbaijan.