Alexey Naumov: Both Azerbaijan And Russia Are Opposed To Attempts To Increase Western Influence In The South Caucasus.
Exclusive interview with Mr. Alexey Naumov, Expert at Russia’s International Affairs Council
AT: What is your assessment of the current level of interstate relations between Azerbaijan and Russia? In your opinion, are, the opportunities available, been properly exploited to expand all-out relations further?
A.N.: Relations between Russia and Azerbaijan are already at a very good level and are poised to improve even further: firstly, the Karabakh question has been settled once and for all, and a major source of contention — Russian peacekeeping force — will soon be gone from the region. Secondly, both Moscow and Baku are perceived as a part of the ‘authoritarian axis’ by the West (the United States in particular), and this external pressure bands the two countries together. Both Azerbaijan and Russia are opposed to attempts to increase Western influence in the South Caucasus, which are currently being undertaken by Armenia. That makes both countries natural partners — I think, however, that Azerbaijan will not be touting these improving ties publicly to avoid enraging the West amid the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. Relations thus will be improving steadily yet without pomp.
AT: Since February 2022, Russia has woken up to new realities. The collective West has slapped dozens of sanctions on Russia over Ukraine in the hope of paralyzing its economy. Has any of the plans the West hoped to gain been successful?
A.N.: If we take a look at sanctions, their main goal is to deter the sanctioned entity from certain behavior or force is to change course.
As we may see, Russia was not deterred from taking military action against Ukraine, and it is not on course to change its behavior any time soon. The plan to inflict sufficient economic damage on Russia also failed: according to World Bank estimates, Russia’s GDP is poised to increase and exceed its prewar levels. The practical impact of sanctions is thus very limited.
If we, however, analyze sanctions from a perspective of critical theory (Gramsci and Mannheim both come to mind), we may very well say that the aim of the restrictions is not to impose a behavior change, but to underline existing Western (American in particular) hegemony.
The West demonstrates that it is to decide who is acting in good faith as a responsible member of the international community and who shall be sanctioned and condemned. This line of argument has taken a major hit since the outbreak of the war in the Middle East, however, and we see appeals to a ‘rules-based order’ fall flat among the countries of the Global South. Thus, we may say that sanctions have not been effective neither at changing Russia’s behavior nor at keeping Western hegemony intact.
AT: Russia’s road towards Europe seems closed for years to come in view of sanctions and Russia is looking for ways to overcome hardships triggered by the Western restrictions and it now opens up to the South where it was less active for geographical and other reasons. What does the collective South promise to Russia and will it not come across obstacles there, say by China or any other states?
A.N.: Firstly, we should not be mistaking the European Union for Europe. Russia is Europe, one of the established grands of European politics and culture, with Chaikovsky, Dostoevsky, Mendeleev and Pushkin being major pillars of the European cultural and scientific worlds.
Secondly, if we speak of the Global South, the countries there understand and support the rationale that Russia is offering. Moscow offers a very simple approach, based on an inviolability of internal sovereignty and international cooperation in areas which suit every part involved. Russia does not seek to export an ideology or impose a rigid world order, proposing a very understandable quid pro quo approach of mutually beneficial deals, which is finding popularity among the countries of the Global South. The global ‘rules-based’ order that the West is trying to impose — with the West being the sole judge of who is worthy and who is not — is beginning to pale in comparison not only because the West refuses to hold everyone to the same standard (the crisis in the Middle East comes to mind), but because the dominant economic position of the West is being increasingly eroded by countries of the Global South such as China or India.
Since everybody agrees not to impose external ideologies upon each other and act only according to everyone’s own national interest, I see no obstacles to Russia coming from, say, China.
AT: Coming back to the South Caucasus, where new realities have now emerged, and Azerbaijan is undertaking complete and determined steps to fully restore its state sovereignty that was violated for nearly 30 years, what is your take on the overall situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia?
A.N.: The realities on the ground now reflect the balance of powers among the two parties. Azerbaijan has achieved an overwhelming advantage in military and economic spheres. Armenia has to face new realities to become a successful regional player.
a) Will the parties overcome obstacles and sign a peace deal by the end of the year as often stated by Armenia?
Peace deal may be concluded only if Armenia ceases to act as a proxy for Western influence in the region. Increasing influence of the US and NATO is opposed by Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran and to some extent Georgia. Yerevan apparently calculates that Western support could be a force multiplier in its struggle for influence in the South Caucasus, but the balance of power is too shifted in the other direction for Armenia to have a hope in this confrontational approach. However, PM Pashinyan seems determined to keep this course intact: that is why I think chances of concluding a wholesale peace deal are rather slim.
b) As for a venue, where, in your view, the future peace accord might be signed. At first sight, the sides do not want to agree on Moscow as a venue for the peace accord. In addition, chances of Washington and Brussels being host countries are diminishing in view of the anti-Azerbaijani moves.
Azerbaijan has the upper hand in this conflict, and it seems Moscow has become the preferred venue for Baku in light of anti-Azerbaijani moves by Brussels and Washington. Yerevan will have to follow suit.
c) Do you see glimpses of hope for the peace deal in the months to come?
Yes. Armenia, however, seems determined to explore the futility of the confrontational approach. One has to keep in mind that this course is the only way for PM Pashinyan to stay in power — by blaming Moscow for Yerevan’s misfortunes, he succeeds in deflecting blame from himself.
This course of action, however, could not be sustained forever.
AT: Azerbaijan has fully restored its sovereignty over the entire territory though the Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh and no talk about their withdrawal. What is your take on the overall situation around Karabakh?
A.N.: Russian peacekeepers may serve two purposes. Firstly, their presence may be used by Baku to deflect accusations of unfair treatment of remaining local Armenians: presence of Russian peacekeepers was agreed on by Yerevan, and that is why it could be presented as sufficient defense of local Armenians. Secondly, they may help Azerbaijan to integrate local Armenians (which is officially President Aliev’s policy) who have stayed or who may return in the future, to help them ‘get used to the flag’. If their presence would be considered superfluous by Baku, I am sure the withdrawal will be promptly agreed on by both parties.
AT: The ninth item of the Tripartite Declaration, signed by the Azerbaijani, Armenian, and Russian leaders, has not been implemented, and it is about the transit corridor to Nakhchivan via Armenia, often referred to as the Zangazur Corridor. Do you have anything on it?
A.N.: Armenia seems opposed to implementation of the said procedure: I think there are two ways forward. A cooperative Armenia willing to engage both Azerbaijan and Russia could see another, more beneficial variant designed and implemented in agreement with Baku and Moscow. A hostile non-cooperative Armenia may not be so lucky and will be made to implement the deal it signed.
AT: The North-South Transport corridor project is often talked about and the Kremlin seems keen on though the Iran segment is still not ready. What is Moscow’s position on it?
A.N.: The corridor has taken a new importance for Russia since the start of its military operation against Ukraine. It is seen as a vital alternative to traditional shipping lines.
AT: Relations between Russia and Armenia are currently going through ups and downs with Yerevan becoming outspoken in anti-Russian remarks and determination to re-orient to the West. What can be expected from unfolding developments?
A.N.: Armenia cannot afford a diplomatic course hostile to Russia and other countries in the South Caucasus. It is not able to change the balance of powers or its own geographical boundaries. As I’ve said, the anti-Russian stance is the only available political position of PM Pashinyan, and Yerevan’s approach will see changes when he steps down from power one way or another.
AT: Would you also please share your thoughts on the Ankara-Moscow relations that seem not intensive now?
A.N.: Ankara and Moscow are natural partners in this ‘multipolar world’ approach both countries are propagating. This approach involves strong local leaders engaging in mutually beneficial relations, localized in their nature, and concluding ‘situational alliances’. This naturally implies having a certain degree of differences. I think these relations could be one of the pillars of the multipolar world