Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fighting for Armenia

04/ 04/ 2007
RIA Novosti
By Alexander Mkrtchian for RIA Novosti

In all civilized countries people see elections as an opportunity to improve their lives, to build a stronger state and improve security. Similar attitudes prevail in Armenia today because the outcome of the forthcoming parliamentary elections will largely determine changes in government and society, prospects for settling the Karabakh crisis, and success of the efforts to overcome the consequences of the Armenian genocide. These are major regional and international issues.

But ordinary Armenians have more faith in real power than promises. It is no accident that the public preferences are with the parties of power - the Republicans and the newly-established Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP). The opposition parties are obviously weak.

The PAP was set up with the support of the current administration and is headed by local oligarch Gagik Tsarukian. In the forthcoming presidential elections, he is unlikely to put up a serious fight against the only favorite Serzh Sarkisian. Even the name of Prosperous Armenia sounds more like a declaration. In effect, its leader is a man whose business has prospered largely due to the benevolent attitude of the current authorities.

The Armenian Revolutionary Federation deserves special mention. This party has made a great contribution to the success of the Karabakh movement; it is widely respected by the numerous Armenians who live outside the CIS, and has been trying to restore its positions in Russia and other former Soviet republics. It looks like this party will receive about 10% of the votes and have a voice in parliament. It will probably support the Republican presidential nominee Serzh Sarkisian, and a Russia-oriented strategy.

The prospects of Russian-Armenian strategic partnership are rather bleak since the modern geopolitical alignment of forces in the Caucasus does not favor Armenia and Russia. The U.S., Europe and Turkey are confidently paving the way for NATO into Central Asia through Georgia and Azerbaijan. The West has been closely watching the Caspian oil-and-gas projects and construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum pipelines, railways and highways bypassing Armenia, and may decide to stage a major geopolitical experiment in the region.

The United States and its allies want to stay in the region in the long term not only because the Caspian is rich in energy and Central Asia in strategic raw materials but also to gain control of the most important territories and communications, exert pressure on the oil-bearing Iran and eradicate Russia's traditional influence there. Regrettably, Orthodox Georgia is turning into a vehicle of implementing Western strategy and geopolitics in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Hence, fighting for Armenia will determine who controls the South Caucasus, and can exert certain influence on Asia Minor. For this reason, the West and Russia are equally interested in Robert Kocharian's successor.

For us the best choice will be Serzh Sarkisian, defense minister and secretary of the Armenian Security Council. As a government official, he has climbed the career ladder starting from the bottom, and held key positions in security-related bodies of Nagorny Karabakh and Armenia. He knows the domestic situation well and has built a good working relationship with his Russian colleagues. All these factors should contribute to the consolidation of strategic partnership.

There is no united opposition in Armenia, which does not mean that the presidential elections will be uneventful. The Western favorite is Vardan Oskanian, who has been Armenia's foreign minister during all these years.

In order to promote their strategic partnership Russia and Armenia should look for new opportunities to expand trade and economic relations, and military-technical and cultural cooperation. Armenia requires additional security guarantees in the event of an armed provocation in the Karabakh conflict area. In turn, Armenia should have a clear-cut concept of national security. Russia, on the other hand, must clearly see the framework of a common security system in the region in general, and in Armenia, in particular.

The inter-government commission on economic cooperation between Russia and Armenia should probably step up its activities. It could include reputable representatives of civil institutions from both sides.

Russian companies have bought Armenian energy facilities, and are not enthusiastic about investing in the local economy, especially in small and medium-sized businesses. By comparison, in the period between 1992 and 2001,Turkey set up 1,327 businesses of different status on the territory of its main South Caucasian partner, Azerbaijan.

Armenian society is hoping that the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will contribute to the promotion of bilateral ties. Yerevan understands that the present and future of Russian-Armenian relations largely determine political stability in the South Caucasus. Despite intensive activities of NATO and the European Union in the region, Armenia continues to be Russia's reliable partner. Yerevan is maintaining relations of trust with Russia when it comes to national security, and is trying to avoid problems that may require force majeure solutions. This is my view of Armenian foreign policy. Its positive development largely depends on Russia's position, and on its predictable and resolute action in the region.

Alexander Mkrtchian is a member of the Union of Armenians in Russia board.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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