Expert: Russian diplomacy intensification in South Caucasus is due to Vilnius summit

The current intensification of Russian diplomacy in the South Caucasus is a reflection of the preparation for the Vilnius summit where Eastern Partnership countries will shape the contours of their future relations with the EU, executive director of the North-South Centre for Political Science Alexei Vlasov told Trend today.


"The scenario in which Armenia initials the association agreement and the one on a deep and comprehensive free trade zone with the EU amid certain problems in relations with Ukraine would look as if Russia's two partners unequivocally turn in the direction of Brussels which means that Moscow's influence in the post-Soviet space significantly decreases," Vlasov told Trend.


Of course, Russian diplomacy has mobilised all available resources to stop this process and to form an alternative model where it could be demonstrated to Armenia that not only the EU but Russia has a serious impact on the political elites of the South Caucasian countries, he added.


In this context, the August meeting of Vladimir Putin and Ilham Aliyev can be seen on the one hand as an instrument of psychological pressure on Yerevan, the expert added.


Of course, the meeting was greatly stipulated by the implementation of new projects especially in the energy sector which is the main dominant theme in bilateral relations between Russia and Azerbaijan, Vlasov said.


Today the intrigue concerning the positions of Armenia and the Ukraine remain. Yerevan decided to play its part, that is to say about joining the Customs Union, he said.


"Although, in my opinion an Armenian issue under any scenario turns into a round of latent confrontation between Brussels and Moscow," he said. "But Sargsyan's statement does not close the question. I have not seen his unequivocal decision to move in the direction of the Customs Union. The Armenian President leaves the gate open for Europe."


According to him, the complexity of Sargsyan's position is that a part of the Armenian political elite is pro-Western and he had to manoeuvre among different groups.


One can say that the safety issues were more important for Armenia than the economic aspects of cooperation with the EU, he said.


"But this does not mean that nothing will change in the next two to three months," he said. "I believe that Armenia will continue its policy of diversification of risks and will try to iron out the failed intensification of dialogue with the EU."


Vlasov said that Russia was unlikely to somehow press on Armenia.


"Many understand that Armenia's economy is mainly dependent on how its relations with Moscow are established. Perhaps this decision was caused by internal reasons. The strengthening of the Euro integrators' position also worries Sargsyan. It disturbs the balance of interests and the Armenian president decided to restore it in the easiest way by loudly stating the desire to join the Customs Union," Vlasov said.


This doesn't mean that Serzh Sargsyan became a subsequent 'Eurasian', the expert said.


According to him, Sargsyan, as Viktor Yanukovich a year ago, tries "to have it both ways," proposing for Europe one type of interaction and showing quite the opposite towards Moscow.


However, the expert believes that Russia will continue to establish relations with South Caucasian republics in the coming two or three years following slow and non-linear rapprochement with Azerbaijan and equally slow cooling of relations with Armenia.


When the upcoming visit of President Vladimir Putin to Baku, the expert noted the importance of the attention paid to the humanitarian component.


"It seems to me that cooperation in this direction started to sink strongly. Communications between public institutions have significantly decreased. The new generation in Azerbaijan to some extend 'fell' from the influence of Russian culture and language," he said.


According to him, there were many pre-election speculations until the meeting of the two presidents.


"It seems to me that everything is clear now," Vlasov said.


Putin pursues the same line as Obama, or the politicians who back him. Namely opening a large access to regional resources for non-regional players, the expert said.


"In Central Asia, it is done through Afghanistan and in the Middle East, through participation in the Syrian conflict. And then Iran's turn will come. This can be a serious problem for Azerbaijan. Therefore, Putin's meeting with Aliyev became a good opportunity to synchronize watches and understand which strategy will be needed to be based on in the future," he said.


According to the expert, when coming to the issue of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, this issue was frozen to the extent that there is no point to expect any changes.


"I think that Putin has no essentially new proposals on the settlement, as Washington and Brussels. I anticipate that the status-quo will remain during the coming years," Vlasov said.


The conflict between the two South Caucasus countries began in 1988 when Armenia made territorial claims against Azerbaijan. Armenian armed forces have occupied 20 per cent of Azerbaijan since 1992, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts.


Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Russia, France and the U.S. are currently holding peace negotiations.


Armenia has not yet implemented the U.N. Security Council's four resolutions on the liberation of the Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding regions.