Interview with Neil Watson, a prominent political scientist and journalist, on geopolitical developments in the world

Interview with Neil Watson, a prominent political scientist and journalist, on geopolitical developments in the world

A.T:  The military intervention to Ukraine placed Russia behind the Iron Curtain of international isolation. Now the Russian government itself turns its back to global standards including the Bologna education system. Don’t you think that the Iron Curtain is the overall geopolitical aim of those in Kremlin who dream of reviving something like the Russian Empire or the USSR? 

Expansionism and influence, either explicitly or implicitly, is the primary objective of the Russian government, focusing on the former Soviet Republics, where reliance on Russia has ben retained (Armenia, Belarus), it has attempted to adjust the political regime (Kazakhstan) or sought to maintain conflicts and Russophile exclaves (Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh). However, I believe that the Russian government understands fully that it is impossible to achieve the same extent of insulation and propaganda for its population and those Russophile nations over which it retains influence, due to the impact of the Internet age and the 30 years of international trade with Russia and all post-Soviet republics that has now elapsed.

What we are seeing at the moment is a kneejerk reaction by the Russian government against the sanctions imposed. Although Russia has survived in the fact of previous sanctions by virtue of its alliances with China, Vietnam and other socialist Far Eastern nations, together with Iran, these current sanctions are far more stringent. The reality is that Russia needs trading and diplomatic relations with the west and the reverse is also true.

A.T:  The UN Programs contribute well providing support to different vulnerable groups, but the UN instruments fail to stop any military aggression. We know it well here in Azerbaijan as the UN resolutions in favour of our country were simply ignored by Armenian aggressors. Is there any hope for improvement of the UN peacekeeping regulations or the world has changed too much for being really protected by the UN?

The UN has, of course, always been rightly viewed as the embodiment of US foreign policy. The reality is that the UN only actively participates in those areas of the world that are of concern to the US. In relative terms, the former Soviet Republics are of little importance to the US. Furthermore, a major reason for the non-implementation of the four UN Security Council resolutions passed against the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven surrounding regions was the impact of the sizeable and influential Armenian diaspora in the US. They sought to dress the conflict in religious clothes and used their integration in American society, business, media and politics to ensure their perspective was readily understood.

In addition, the diplomatic settlement of the conflict was left to the beleaguered OSCE Minsk Group, Co-Chaired by the US, together with France and Russia, and thus all three countries were predisposed to the Armenian perspective due to the Armenian diaspora groups in their countries. In the case of Russia, this was exacerbated by its desire to maintain instability in the South Caucasus so it could retain some leverage over both Armenia and Azerbaijan, particularly the latter, due to its oil and gas resources. Furthermore, Russia has always been keen to impede Turkic unity, particularly between Azerbaijan and Turkey.

I cannot see the role and policies of the UN changing in any way in the short-term. Thus, it is imperative that Azerbaijan makes its perspectives better understood by other international organisations, and that is why its leading role in such bodies as the Non-aligned Movement and Organisation of Islamic Co-operation are so important, as is its refreshed and reignited relationship with the EU – which appears to have replaced Russia in its mediation role between Armenian and Azerbaijan in the post-war scenario.

A.T:  Enemy image is one of the darkest spots among various coloured bricks that form the world vision of Nations. Then, how should the states maintain dignity, prosperity and peaceful future for own citizens considering mutual enmity with some other countries? How long time it can take for Azerbaijan with Armenia for living in mutual calm like for example today’s Germany with France?

There is no scientific formula for the amount of time that should elapse after a conflict before relations between previously warring countries are healed. First and foremost, there needs to be acceptance by the populations and leaders about the permanency of the post-war situation. This may necessitate trials of the perpetrators of war crimes. Thereafter, connections through civil society and business are essential, as they create understanding and trust. Politicians and political decisions are seldom representative of their populations, and there is no substitute for personal connections. In addition, the wartime propaganda against the previously conflicting party needs to be eradicated.

I am very optimistic that normalisation between Azerbaijan and Armenia is not far away. Firstly, there is will – albeit reluctantly on the Armenian side – to finalise a peace treaty and open communications links. There is acceptance by the leaders that the current situation is final. Certainly some sectors of the Armenian population need to be pacified, but this will be achieved.  Realistically, I am of the view that complete normalisation will take place within five to ten years, particularly if Russia does not manipulate the situation, due its distraction with Ukraine and international isolation. The populations and leaders ultimately know that collaborating for the greater good of the South Caucasus will benefit them all, give them greater independence and positively impact their economies.

A.T:  Azerbaijan enjoys positive cooperation with all countries except Armenia. Oil and gas sector of our economy traditionally attract many international partners. Our international transportation facilities are very attractive as well. Besides, Azerbaijan’s being open and tolerant to all international political actors, public movements, religious visions and military blocks has added another scope of attractiveness to our country. How this balanced geopolitical position of our country can be improved further on?

I am of the view that Azerbaijan is ploughing the correct furrow in terms of its relationship with Russia, the post-Soviet republics and the Turkic world. Its tolerance is a model for the world. However, nearly 30 years enmeshed in a conflict with Armenia – a proxy of Russia – have taken an enormous amount of resources, which should now be used to achieve a greater degree of internal equality. It is time for the rise of the educated middle-class in Azerbaijan, and with this will come a greater degree of western-styled democracy. This will enable Azerbaijan to make the west understand where it sits economically and geopolitically and to engender support from western countries and organisations. Its current and potential relevance to the west will thus become more widely understood, as will its provenance over the liberated territories.

A.T:  Most strong business ties link our oil industry to the UK, as BP operates here in Azerbaijan more actively than others. And successful cooperation between Azerbaijan and the UK is not limited just within our business partnership. Would you please speak about today’s relationship between our two countries and your expectations of the future of this cooperation?

This year, 30 years of Azerbaijani–UK diplomatic relations are being celebrated. Since the signing of the Contract of the Century in 1994 between Azerbaijan and a BP-led consortium, Azerbaijan has prospered and progressed due to UK involvement. The UK remains the greatest contributor of Foreign Direct Investment into Azerbaijan.

The UK has always been very supportive of Azerbaijan with regard to the Karabakh conflict, and there is a very active Azerbaijan All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in the UK Parliament. However, there is greater scope for Azerbaijan as a trading partner outside of the oil and gas sector and needs to be meetings at the highest level to increase comprehension of what Azerbaijan currently and potentially offers. There is a need for harmonisation of the UK and Azerbaijani banking systems.

Furthermore, there are great opportunities to harness music, arts, sports and literature to make Azerbaijan’s reality and stance understood and respected in the UK and to dispel any misconceptions or preconceptions about the country.

June 02, 2022