In an interview with Aram Sargsyan for the “1in.am” electronic news site, RSC Director Richard Giragosian offered his assessment of major developments in Armenian security and foreign policy in 2017. Conducted in English but dubbed into Armenian, the interview also focused on the relationship between domestic issues and foreign policy.
Overall, Giragosian heralded 2017 as “a year of success and victories for many areas of Armenia’s foreign policy and security,” although he highlighted that the first part of 2017 was still a period of uncertainty, with the successes largely coming in the latter part of the year. Those accomplishments included such developments as “Armenia signing of a strategic agreement with the European Union, improving its positions in terms of defense and security, and deepening of the dynamics of reforms.”
According to Giragosian, “the main challenge facing the country in 2018 remains a political transition to the parliamentary model of governance,” adding that “in a wider, strategic sense, Armenia is making progress. Nevertheless, the depth, strength and speed of that progress are not enough.” He went on to note that in the coming year, “internal political factors will affect the foreign policy and it is here that the transition to the parliamentary model of governance demonstrated the beginning or symptoms of a new parliamentary foreign policy model, including control and accountability.”
Regarding Armenia’s strategic relationship with the West, he argued that “there are two strategic components in the deepening relations between Armenia and the West. The first and the most important thing is that it gives greater opportunities to maneuver relations with the West, but it is also profitable in terms of economics, from the point of view of investments. The United States is actively involved, for example, in the energy sector of Armenia. Trade volumes with separate EU countries continue to grow…..At the same time, in 2018, high-level visits to Armenia by the French President and Canadian Prime Minister will take place. This will only strengthen Armenia’s strategic position.”
In what he termed as an “inherently contradictory policy,” Giragosian contended that Armenia’s difficult relationship with Russia has been marked by “a certain crisis in relations between Armenia and Russia.” But adding that “today, Armenia is the only country in the Eurasian Economic Union which has a such a high level partnership with the European Union, so Armenia can give what Russia's President Putin needs, and what Putin desperately strives for the Eurasian Economic Union: credibility and confidence.” In that way, he argued, “Armenia can become a bridge between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.”
Yet on the other hand, demonstrating the contradiction in Russian policy toward Armenia, Giragosian admitted that “to be sincere, I do not understand these manifestations of Russian politics because they are very contradictory. It seems that at the state level Russia understands the damage caused to relations with Armenia. But on the other hand, Russia organizes a very primitive campaign against Armenia, which is not only offensive, but also a very arrogant and short-sighted step. In other words, similar attacks by Russian pro-government media send more disturbing and disturbing signal to Armenia than selling weapons to Azerbaijan. And despite these ‘defensive’ statements in Russia, these attacks show that the Russian ‘soft power’ is very dangerous and destructive against Armenia.”
In response to a question over Moscow’s reliance on the Russian media as one of the important elements of state policy, Giragosian agreed, saying that “there is no independent media in Russia any more. All media, especially the TV channels, are fully controlled by the Kremlin, so this anti-Armenian campaign cannot be justified by the Russian government or dismissed by some government circles. So, yes, this is a very serious matter. On the other hand, this shows that Armenia has regained a balance in its foreign policy, and it is better positioned to defend its independence and sovereignty…. and often I come to the conclusion that Russia, like Turkey, only respects strength and power. I think this is the best approach for Armenia is to continue to more clearly and resolutely respect and protects its interests.”
On the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, Giragosian welcomed the “return to diplomacy,” as “Armenian diplomacy remains committed to the policy of achieving a compromise solution despite trends in public opinion,” but added that “regarding the threats of war by Azerbaijan, and the threat of military attack, ultimately, the biggest issue is not what Azerbaijan will do, but what it will not do. I mean the fact that Azerbaijan’s diplomatic strategy is neither diplomatic nor strategic. Therefore, there will be very complicated negotiations as long as Azerbaijan’s commitment to diplomacy over force of arms does not inspire confidence in the diplomatic process.
He then argued that for Armenia and Karabakh, both are in a “better position” going into 2018, “although it is even more important how much Azerbaijan's position has weakened, and not simply that Armenia is in a better position. It is also a pleasant surprise that Nagorno Karabakh is in a better position today. Masis Mayilyan, who has been appointed Foreign Minister, is a professional diplomat. And this is another reason to accelerate the call, if not the demand, to return the Nagorno Karabakh authorities to the table of peaceful negotiations. This is not a matter of expectations but a fair demand of Nagorno Karabakh. In the event of a conflict, it was impossible to reach a peaceful settlement without the consent of all sides, and from this point of view Nagorno Karabakh should return to the diplomatic sphere. And there are no arguments why Nagorno-Karabakh does not directly participate in the negotiations.”
Returning to an assessment of Armenia, Giragosian went on to say that “when we analyze foreign policy, we see that in a small country such as Armenia, both foreign policy and national security are unacceptably in the hands of one or two people. Naturally, first of all we should mention the president and the foreign minister. But in any case it is unacceptable that the National Security Council does not conduct regular meetings, and the decision-making process is too personalized and is not institutionalized. These shortcomings should be corrected, but as we go through the model of parliamentary governance, the National Assembly will have greater control over the leverage and will also be required to act in the areas of foreign policy and security.”
“And whoever becomes the prime minister of Armenia, his job will be very difficult, he will continue to face the same challenges combined with unprecedented changes that have never been as serious or daunting in the modern era of Armenian history.”
In response to a question regarding his conclusion, he stressed that “first of all, the conclusion is that there is no conclusion. It’s still too early to make an assessment. Armenia is now in a very dynamic state of transformation and transformation, and this is not a sufficient basis for making an opinion. At the same time, the economy will have more influence on the sustainability and development of politics, and there is a serious concern that a number of key issues will remain unresolved. For example, such remaining challenges as business and politics, political weakness, and the underlying economic crisis. And despite the good wishes, the beautiful words and the proud promises of Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, I'm much more skeptical.”