Internet press conference with Analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs Konrad Zasztowt (Poland)

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On October 19, an online conference for Armenian mass media with Konrad Zasztowt, analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs was held on the topic "Russia, South Caucasus, Turkey (including Kurdish issue and Turkey’s problems resulting from the Syrian conflict)".
The Internet press-conference was organized within the framework of the project "International press-center "Dialogue": Diversification of the sources of international news for Armenian media". These "first-hand" comments Armenian journalists will publish in their media outlets.
This project of the "Region" Research Center is supported by the OSCE office in Yerevan.


Armen Minasyan,
Question – In your opinion, is the Cold War possible in the 21st century, roughly by the parameters that occurred during a confrontation between the USSR and the west?
Answer – No, of course not. It’s impossible due to many reasons. First of all, however, economic, political and military potential of Putin’s Russia is not comparable to USSR during the Brezhnev era. Kremlin is pretending that it reconstructed previous empire, but it’s more an attempt to convince its own public, and possibly some “Russia-friendly” circles in the West, than posing real challenge to the West as serious as the Soviet threat was.
Question – If it is possible, can we assume that the latest agreement on the Syrian issue may to some extent exclude such development?
Answer – No, the latest agreement is not a kind of pact, which will set a new long lasting trend. Although the Kremlin would like to start geopolitical discussions with the US and begin to divide spheres of interest like it happened during the Yalta conference in 1945.  This is the main reason Russia decided to interfere in Syrian civil war.
Question – Will in your opinion the incidents on the contact line between the forces lead to large-scale hostilities in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Answer – Such a scenario cannot be excluded. Since there are no peacekeepers between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces the situation is very dangerous. The deadlock in negotiations between the two sides makes it even worse. 
Question - In your opinion will there be an escalation of frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space, in particular, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
Answer – The Karabakh conflict is already increasingly turning into “hot” conflict instead of being “frozen”. Escalation in other post-Soviet regions is not excluded. Last year we witnessed outburst of such a conflict in Donbass. It was artificially created by Putin’s Russia. Contrary to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict there was no language, religious or cultural divisions. The conflict was instigated by Russian propaganda and media, which constantly threatened local Russian-speaking population using myth of “American” or “NATO invaders” or myth of bloodthirsty western Ukrainians allegedly planning to attack and kill their Eastern Russian-speaking compatriots.
Question – Do you think the current US policy in the Caucasus and Armenia in particular is pragmatic?
Answer – The US foreign policy is pragmatic. During Obama presidency the Americans focused on Pacific and East Asia regions, which is understandable taking into account the economic aspect. However, Obama’s mistake was to underestimate Putin’s Russia’s desire to reconstruct the Soviet empire, which led to the tragedy in Ukraine, and may led to even bigger disaster in case of destabilization of Russia. Obviously, the US should be more active in the Caucasus region to contain Russia’s influence, which is detrimental to Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijani statehoods. 
Question – Does Armenia have a possibility to maintain normal relations with the West because of its membership to the EEU?
Answer – Armenia still has normal relations with the West even as member of the EEU. On the other hand, Yerevan withdrawing from negotiations concerning Association Agreement with the EU lost chance for strengthening, reforming of the state and economy. As result of this choice Armenia remained a Russia’s satellite state with weak economy, corruption and oligarchic monopolies. Yerevan still has quite good relations with the West, but unfortunately they remained on very superficial level.
Question – What impact will the agreement on Iran's nuclear program have in the South Caucasus region and Armenia? What is Moscow's position on this issue?
Answer - The agreement on Iran's nuclear program is good news for Armenia and Georgia. In near future that may translate into deeper economic cooperation between the West and Iran (including in the energy sector). The South Caucasus countries may also profit from such developments.
Question – What, in your opinion, the prospects for Azerbaijan's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) are, and is such a development possible without a final resolution of the Karabakh conflict?
Answer – Azerbaijan’s accession to the EEU is possible. However, it would be only an act of further freezing of the relations between Baku and the US and the EU. Still it’s not likely that Azerbaijan will really integrate closely with the EEU countries. Moreover, even the integration process of the current members of the organization is very problematic.
Artak Barseghyan,
Question – Pan Zasztowt, how do you assess the prospects of the renewed European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership in view of the forthcoming new negotiations between the EU and Armenia?
Answer – The EU’s policies towards the neighborhood are unfortunately too much reactive as we see in case of migrants’ crisis. Logically, it would be in the EU’s interest to deepen relationship with the South Caucasus states in order to stabilize them and prevent such problems as the migrants’ crisis or local wars. Unfortunately, there’s lack of strategic thinking in many European capitals. On the other hand, the processes initiated by the Eastern Partnership program will be slowly continued. Regarding Armenia, it will receive a new offer from the EU and probably continue to deepen mutual cooperation again. 
Question – From time to time there is an escalation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. In this context, what prospects for a peaceful settlement of the problem do you see?
Answer - There are no scenarios for quick solution of the Karabakh conflict, but in the current circumstances any progress is highly unlikely. At the moment Russia is the most influential external power having impact on the Karabakh issue. However, Moscow is not interested in any solution of this issue. The conflict is a useful tool for Kremlin to play political games both with Yerevan and with Baku.
Question – In anticipation of the upcoming early parliamentary elections in Turkey on November 1 the situation in the country is tense also due to the confrontation with the Kurds. Can the political crisis in Turkey affect the foreign policy priorities of the country and strengthen Ankara's position in the South Caucasus, in particular, cause the intensification of military-political relations with Tbilisi and Baku?
Answer - I don’t expect any significant changes in Ankara’s policies towards the South Caucasus after the elections. However, if the coalition with nationalist Milli Hareket Partisi (MHP) would be formed and with Islamist Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP), one can expect stronger Pan-Turkist approach, tough stance towards Armenia, and even deeper cooperation with Azerbaijan. The strong presence of pro-Kurdish Halk Demokratik Partisi (HDP) in the parliament may help, however, to restart someday talks with Yerevan on establishment of diplomatic relations. HDP is more liberal and open towards the ethnic minorities in Turkey. It will probably be also less hawkish in foreign policies. 
Question – In connection with the Syrian crisis, there have been negative trends in Turkey's relations with Russia and the United States. On this basis, shall we expect Ankara’s withdrawal from the anti-ISIS coalition?
Answer - It’s not likely. Ankara has to cooperate with its NATO partners, first of all with Washington. However, Turkey ruled by AKP will continue to pretend that it is fighting with ISIS in reality fighting only Kurds. The same as Russia which pretends it is fighting with Moscow, but in fact it is fight moderate Sunni Islamist opposition against Bashar al-Assad.
David Stepanyan,
Question – Can you, please, evaluate the prospects of the September 30th military operation against the ISIS militants by the Russian Air Force, considering that consultation between the defense agencies of the Russian Federation and the United States for the coordination of joint actions against the ISIS is still far from the overall results?
Answer - Russian interference in Syrian civil war is risky in many aspects. It’s a risky game for the Kremlin as the current propaganda effect may quickly diminished by Russian casualties in the conflict. Then, the Russian public will start to perceive Syria as a new Afghanistan. However, Russians are acting totally irresponsibly provoking also tensions with Turkey and the US. The EU is also skeptical about positive results of Russian intervention. Actually, bombings of Sunni areas lead to even bigger flow of refugees escaping from Syria to Europe.
Question – What, in your opinion, do the main causes of war lie in, declared by Ankara to its own Kurdish citizens?
Answer - The PKK is a terrorist organization, but in the same time it’s still the most serious political force representing Turkish Kurds. That was the reason why Ankara started negotiations with the PKK’s leadership some time ago. Now, Turkey decided to attack the Kurdish forces, mainly due to internal political reasons. The AKP is hoping that the nationalist, anti-Kurdish voters will vote for Davutoglu’s party, perceived as guarantor of strong, nationalist state.   
Question – Russia continues to arm the parties of the Karabakh conflict, which according to various estimates does not at all confirm its status as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group to resolve it. Do you think Moscow has real leverage to resolve the conflict or can it be done only by the parties themselves?
Answer - The conflict has to be resolved by the parties themselves with the help of the US, the EU and Russia. Since Moscow is not interested in permanent solution there are no chances for lasting peace in the region - even if Baku and Yerevan were capable to compromise, which is not the case.
Question – The cooling of relations between Baku, as one party, and Brussels and Washington, as the other, allows many analysts to argue about the imminent retraction of the Aliyev regime in a qualitatively new format of relations with Moscow, with the prospect of joining the EEU. What prospects can you envisage?
Answer - There many important politicians in Azerbaijani elite interested in restitution of the Soviet-type of state, which is of course the main goal of Putin too. On the other hand, Azerbaijan’s vital interest is to sell its oil and gas to Europe, not to Russia, which is not that good customer. That’s why no matter how much Aliyev criticize Europe; he will continue business as usual with the European partners.
Question – Regardless of its membership to the EEU, Yerevan is continuing to try maneuvering between the North and the West with the prospect of signing the Association Agreement with the EU, as evidenced by regular statements made by the accredited European diplomats in Armenia. Can you please evaluate the prospects of the Armenian complementarily, in general, and the signing of the AA between the EU and Armenia in particular?
Answer - The AA with Armenia is not on the agenda now, but it may come back at some point. The EEU is not functioning well, it’s rather harmful for Armenian economy. It’s possible that the EU will decide eventually that formal membership of Armenia in the EEU is not an obstacle to deepen cooperation and integration. However, that may happen only in case of Russian leadership’s decision to end propaganda war with the West and aggressive actions in Ukraine. Unfortunately, that’s not very likely soon as Kremlin always used the image of the West as enemy to consolidate its power in Russia. 
Question – Who needs a new war in the Caucasus, given the destabilization of the situation in the neighboring region (Syria, Iraq)?
Answer - I will answer generally, the more autocratic regime, the more it is interested in military solutions. Georgia is the only state with free and democratic elections in the region. All the other governments are using image of the enemy to consolidate their power, which is only partially legitimized or completely not legitimized by the elections and real expression of the will of the nation.
Question – The example of Iran most clearly demonstrates the futility of attempts to influence the foreign policy of Tehran through economic sanctions. Please share your vision of success of the application of sanctions in the confrontation with a more powerful Russia?
Answer - Here, I don’t agree. The sanctions were successful in case of Iran, as eventually Tehran decided to cooperate with the international community. The same may be expected in Russia’s case.
Aram Sargsyan -, The Zhamanak
Question – How different and how dangerous were the latest clashes in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in September? And what conclusions should the parties and the mediators draw to avoid new, more dangerous escalation?
Answer - Unfortunately, even if the situation is becoming more dangerous every year, the international community is not able to offer new solutions. It’s impossible without Russia’s will. As long as Kremlin continues its new “Cold War” approach towards the West any positive developments in the Nagorno Karabakh case are not likely. There will be no international consensus.
Question – In the recent years, Russia is increasingly blamed for the fact that it provokes clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. How would you comment on that and to what extent do you think the policy of Russia in the South Caucasus has changed in the recent years?
Answer - Actually Russia is not provoking directly any clashes on the Armenian Azerbaijani border, but the fact its sells weapons to both sides of the conflict makes Kremlin responsible for possible future war.
Question – Is the uprising of the Kurds in Turkey is caused only by internal factors or are there external influences, is there external support? Are these events somehow connected with the Russian-Turkish tension?
Answer - The internal factors are crucial, but Ankara obviously fears that the Kurds in Syria (allied with PKK) will build their own state on the border with Turkey. Russia will probably help the Syrian Kurds to weaken even further Turkey’s position in Syrian conflict. However, Russia is not that powerful actor in the conflict to be able to change totally situation on the ground. 
Question – What the challenges and opportunities does the lifting of the Kurdish question in Turkey create for Armenia?
Answer - The Solution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey would be good news to all Turkey’s neighbors including Armenia. Peaceful, economically strong Turkey will have positive impact on neighboring countries. 
Gagik Baghdasaryan,
Question – It is no secret that Turkey almost openly supported many armed groups operating in Syria. Can this support return to Ankara as a boomerang and become a real threat for it or are these groups confidently controlled by the Turkish secret services?
Answer - It already happened. Most probably such was the case with terrorist attacks in Ankara on 10 October. The Jihadists organized many secret, clandestine cells in Turkey, which will continue to organize terrorist acts in the future.
Question – Do you think that the establishment of an independent Kurdistan is only a matter of time? What new political realities will this state form, who will it cooperate with and who will it threaten? 
Answer - In case of declaration of independence by Iraqi Kurdistan, this state will have still good relations with Turkey, which is the main investor in the country. Obviously, the relations with Baghdad will remain tense. In case of Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan, Turkey will not be that tolerant. We may expect even Turkish military intervention against Syrian Kurds, especially if there will be safe havens for PKK militants operating in Turkey. 
Question – The question is about the current political status of Europe. How true are the allegations that today the European countries, including those as large as Germany or France, are, in fact, deprived of political independence, are unable to make their own decisions and are forced to obey the dictates, even if it is contrary to their national interests?
Answer - Such allegations are typical for the far-right and far-left parties. Perhaps, it’s not the coincidence that such parties willingly support Putin’s aggressive policies. Why such strange link exists? Some of the radicals truly believe in Russia’s innocence in Ukrainian crisis, others are simply sponsored from the Russian sources.
Tatev Harutyunyan,
Question – Russia is negotiating with Azerbaijan over the supply of Russian military equipment. And this is when the international community is trying to lighten the tension along the contact line, at least until the end of year meeting between Sargsyan and Aliyev to ensure the continuity of the negotiation process, and is applying some of the pressure on Azerbaijan. Isn’t the Russian policy of satisfying Azerbaijan is dangerous for regional peace and the peaceful resolution of the conflict?
Answer - I fully agree with such opinion. It is dangerous, but selling weapons, besides hydrocarbons,  was always the best business for Russia since the Soviet times.  On the other hand it’s also a political tool for Moscow to attract Baku. The Azerbaijani elite hope for Russian support in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, so they are eager to strengthen their relationship with Kremlin.   
Question – The former assistant on the South Caucasus, the former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matthew Bryza said that the upcoming meeting of the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflictwill not have any effect, since there is no trust between the parties yet. What do you think should be expected from the meeting of the presidents of the two countries?
Answer - Unfortunately, Ambassador Matthew Bryza is right. Both sides of the conflict are engaged in the game, in which the rules are set by Moscow. The latter is interested in maintenance of the status quo or even controlled escalation, but definitely not long-lasting solution of the conflict.
Emil Babayan,
Question - How will the Russian-Turkish confrontation on the Syrian issue effect the energy cooperation between the same Russia and Turkey?
Answer - The energy cooperation between the two countries was already problematic before confrontation in Syria. Turkey is over-dependent on Russian gas and it’s not willing to buy additional gas if it’s expensive and it cannot resell it to the EU. Turkish Stream project is a huge challenge; most probably it will be impossible for Turkey and Russia to build such a pipeline without the EU support and Western financing.
Question – How much does the strength of the incumbent Turkish authorities depend on the country's position on the Syrian issue? Could the failure of the Turkish foreign policy in the Syrian direction undermine the foundations of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime?
Answer - I agree, the Syrian quagmire is also an existential threat to AKP government. The opposition accuses Erdogan and his party for the destabilization, including ISIS terrorist attacks in Turkey. In the opposition view, these attacks happened in result of the AKP’s policies of engagement in Syrian conflict. When Ankara decided to support Sunni anti-Assad forces, it didn’t predict that these forces will turn to be jihadist and attack Turkey someday.  
Question – Just recently, the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister said that his country's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union "is not excluded." It would be interesting to hear your opinion on this issue is it excluded or not, and if it is possible, under what conditions?
Answer - Yes, it’s possible. However, I would interpret his declaration rather as sort of political bargaining with the EU and US than as a real plan to integrate with Russia. For Baku it’s better to be cautious when it comes to alliance with Moscow. Although some politicians in the Aliyev’s close circle are definitely pro-Russian, survival instinct will not allow Aliyev to agree for stronger Russian influence in his country.


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