Ažubalis: There are Positive Moves but the Parties Retrench Themselves

By Konstantin Ameliushkin

Within the issue of Nagorny Karabakh we can observe “some space for the move forward”, and Georgia should be more brave and trust its partners, declared the during the interview to DELFI the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Audronius Ažubalis after his trip to Caucasus. With regret he noted that Russia and Georgia “retrench themselves seriously and for long”, and Belarus gets close to self-isolation “successfully”.

The Head of the foreign policy department of Lithuania answered the questions of DELFI on the issue of his recent tour as the acting Chairman of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

А.Ažubalis commented on the situation around Belarus, having said that, the country “successfully” moves towards its self-isolation, and noted that he doesn’t understand the blames of Russia on visa regime in relation to  Kaliningrad region and explained  the unanimity of the West coalition on the events taking place in Libya.
- What are the main results of your trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia and the general situation in the region?

- First of all, I would like to say that today is the 88th day of Lithuanian Chairmanship in the OSCE. I would like to emphasize that during this period we had more than 120 meetings and that I have already visited 12 countries. I think that all the trips were balanced in the sense that in each country I concentrated on the issues of all the three baskets: democracy, human rights and freedom of speech, security issues, including energy one, and also frozen conflicts solution.

Talking about the last trip – Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, then this “field”  trip allowed to gather information and evaluate the possibility of individual moves and to meet personally the Co-Chairmen of the Minsk Group. Analyzing the events development in each individual country, we may observe a definite positive move forward to reforms and democracy. They have various speed and troubles but the move is positive in each country.

The processes could promote faster provided there would be no trouble spots and conflicts freezing. Considering the problem of Nagorny Karabakh, personally I have got assured that after the Sochi Summit there is a definite space for step forward. The Minsk group works despite that its Co-Chairmen are being criticized as they don’t possess information on its activity.

The things they suggest the Parties with the intermediary of the President of Russia is  a serious ground for promotion. But the Minsk Group will not solve the problem of the parties. It can suggest various plans, but if there is no political will of all the parties, no one will push the situation towards the solution.
- How did Azerbaijan and Armenia react on your suggestion on sniper?

- The kind of assumptions – are those small steps to trust, about which I told earlier. It coincided  that when I came, an Azerbaijani boy was killed, the next day, when I was going to Armenia through Georgia, Armenian soldier was killed. Snipers of either of the parties will not lead to military or political success. On the contrary, without them positive result could be achieved. I suggested Armenia unilaterally to withdraw snipers to give an example for others but I received refusal as in Azerbaijan.

It’s good that the both Parties in Sochi have agreed to start consultations procedures on the mechanism that would allow investigating incidents within a contact line. After above mentioned sorrowful events I asked the representative of mine on Nagorny Karabakh issue to go there to investigate the events.

Being there (in Azerbaijan and Armenia) I also expressed my deepest care of that how intensively the both Parties arms, which points out the absence of trust, and negotiations take place only during the periods free of tension.
- Another frozen conflict locates in Georgia. Russian contingent has never withdrawn from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

- I visited Georgia a year ago, also within administrative line. I saw that the both parties Russia and Georgia retrench themselves seriously and for long. This is sad and I called my Moscow colleague Lavrov for Russia to claim that is doesn’t observe the ways for conflicts resolution if military force is implemented.

International community has already supported the declaration of Georgian President. These issues are raised within the format of Geneva talks. The both parties refer to the political rhetoric of each other. But political rhetoric, as we know, always exists, and the statement of Russia helped to eliminate definite moments.

From the other hand, I suggested Georgia to start implementing trust measures, for the people of regions not to suffer. For example, in South Ossetia there is water and gas issue, but up till now they haven’t managed to reach an agreement.
- Within the freedom of speech rating Georgia has lost its position, other democratic institutions also not always evaluate the situation in Georgia as positive. How do you assess the changes in Georgia?

- I met the opposition. They say: we have no oppositional TV, but I have the documents lying on my desk, proving that there is private TV. I think that being in opposition one should charge really reasonably. In Georgia there are 8 oppositional parties working with governmental coalition on the new law on elections. I think that this is a good example, naturally, within the development of democracy a lot should be done and this should be done permanently as democracy is a process.
- How do you estimate the prospects of Georgia in the EU and NATO?

- To my mind the talks that are lead on the free trade treaty, are not that intensive as we would like them to be. In course of the visit I tried to pass them the message that the EU implements one method for the kind of talks independently of who the parties are. And exclusions are out of the EU practice. I tried to inspire Georgia to move more decisively and trust its partners, as Lithuania went though the same way.
- The region you visited incites obvious interest of many countries, economic interest, energy interest. How do you observe the situation within energy security in this region? And how can Lithuania benefit from this situation?

- I wouldn’t talk about Lithuania, I would talk about Europe. Any diversification is good. The last visit of Barosso and conclusion of the treaties with Azerbaijan enhances the possibility to gain energy from other sources but not only from Russia. We welcome this. We also welcome the agreement of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Romania on the issue of terminals for condensed gas construction. This grants more variety, diversification of supplies. We welcome these processes, as we know, how it is to exist within soft embrace of the monopolist, as Lithuania at the moment finds itself within “soft” embraces of “Gazprom”.
- Previous week, the Ambassador of France in Minsk  declared that NATO nullifies its cooperation with Belarus. Please comment on that?

- I can say only one thing: Belarus “successfully” moves towards self-isolation. On March 31st the OSCE Mission in Minsk will formally withdraw its activity, which is sad naturally.
- Except for sanctions is there another method to influence the authorities in Belarus? They still pursue convicting the opposition leaders.

- Sanctions is one thing, but well directed economic sanctions would also be the way out. But this should be thoroughly balanced and considered. I think that the wind of changes still blows, the example we may observe in North Africa. Which is left is to support civil society by all means, for it to extend and grow stronger, for the whole society to acknowledge the urgency of principal changes.
- The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that, all 28 states-allies of NATO join the operation in Libya. Which way is Lithuania ready to participate?

- The joining to the operation is purely legal meaning that Lithuania during the NATO Council meeting voted “for” it. It’s obvious that now Lithuania has no possibility to participate in this operation. Not all the states are involved directly. NATO decision was urgent as the alliance has a unique capability to plan and hold such operations. In the very beginning Lithuania suggested that we give our five air hours for humanitarian and evacuation purposes. I consider this as a serious contribution. We don’t talk about other kind of Lithuania participation in the operation.
- How would you explain the unanimity of western coalition towards the events in Libya. As there were other conflicts earlier, not less serious, however West has never reacted the way it does now?

- One European diplomat has recently said: it’s for you Libya is that far, for us it is as close as Kaliningrad for you. This is the answer.
- During his recent visit to Kaliningrad the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov dropped blame towards Lithuania, having said that Lithuania is not that active within the process of visas abolishment for Kaliningrad citizens as Poland. What would you answer?

- I met him and heard nothing of the kind. I won’t comment on this but say already in 2009 we harmonized the text of the treaty on the relaxation of crossborder movement. This year our negotiators have met again on technical issues. And this all was agreed with the EU, but Russia sets a condition: let’s do this valid for the whole region. We answer, sorry the EU Regulation hasn’t been changed.

Amending the Regulation is a long process and Russians know it well. Russia perfectly orients within procedural issues of the EU. If that treaty would have been signed in 2009, Russian and Lithuanian people for already two years could cross the border within a radius of 50 kilometers. The Regulation amending process lasts already for two years, and how much will that take is not known.
- Why do they raise this issue then?

- That is why I consider these statements with caution. Lithuania has officially declared, that it doesn’t object this, if it (visa-free regime) will cover the whole Kaliningrad region, provided it is formalized in accordance with the Regulation and all the rules. Our line is quite clear. And the activity is defined by procedural customs. When the kind of things happen one can’t be more active or passive in the EU. In this case we can say that Spain is less active over this issue.
- The disaster on the NPP “Fukushima-1”. Except for international bodies, how else is Lithuania able to affect the NPP construction by its borders? And is it at all possible to influence the decision of Russia and Belarus?

- The conclusion of the EU Heads clearly states and obliges the Commission together with national regulators to develop a methodology how to check the NPP inside the EU, by its borders and around it. This is the task of whole Europe, to assure radiation security and all the demands on environment protection. This is a serious step. “Fukushima” tragedy gave a powerful impulse to Europe to start concerning greatly over energy security. That is why I think that this is a beginning of serious and very responsible process among neighbors. But now the conversation will already include the EU.
Translated by EuroDialogueXXI from ru.delfi.lt