March 7th. Topic of Discussion: "An Alternative to European Integration"
Rasim Musabekov: The Issue of European Integration
European integration, in fact, does not have any alternative for the countries of the South Caucasus but, unfortunately, we cannot yet say that we are guaranteed to succeed on this path; moreover, we cannot call this process irreversible. As to the fact that integration into the EU seems preferable to many party leaders in Azerbaijan and Armenia to integration into NATO, I think that here we're dealing with slyness or lack of thought. Basically, all the post-Soviet and post-Socialist countries that joined the EU joined NATO at the same time or even earlier. The thing is that agreeing with the EU and rejecting NATO, the Moscow- or Tehran- oriented party leaders of the South Caucasus countries are re-translating the dominant views in their capitals. The ruling circles of Russia and Iran do not publicly object to coming closer to the EU, but see the expansion of NATO as a threat to them and a decrease in the exclusive zone of their own influence. As to standards, NATO, like the EU, presumes adherence to the legal and democratic organization of the state and the society, civil control over the army, and respect for human rights. Stable security is needed to achieve economic and social progress in the South Caucasus. The only international instrument that can guarantee it today is NATO. That is why I believe that the processes of integration of the South Caucasian states into NATO and the EU should not be aborted; moreover, they should not oppose each other.
Turkey has common borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. It is also a member of NATO and will be accepted into the EU some day, regardless of Islam and massacred Kurds. But the difference between Georgia and Azerbaijan, and even more, Georgia and Armenia, is obvious. Decisions that are technical for Georgia are political for Armenia. Armenia is much more cautious and careful and "complimentary", as Mr. Oskanyan likes to say. Why should we bark at Russia? It might give us a good beating (the Georgian example is right in front of our eyes). We'd better wait. One way or another, Russia's influence is decreasing, there's nothing they can do about it, and all three countries will be accepted together. And Azerbaijan is somewhere in the middle, "Armenianizing," so to speak, in recent years. It understands that a one-sided and extremely radical position in favor of unreserved integration into the West away from Russia hinders integration itself and may be bad for the health.
Laura Baghdasaryan: Civil control over the army
Mr. Musabekov, I'm interested in your views on the possible accession of the South Caucasus states into NATO earlier than, for example, their accession to the EU on the one hand, and civil control over the army here on the other hand. I think that in order to really join NATO (and I will agree with Mr. Iskandaryan here) the degree of democratization in the country may become a decisive factor. Don't you think that civil control over the army is a matter of the very distant future? To Mr. Iskandaryan: If we base our thinking on the views of political figures in Georgia, the issue of their country's accession to NATO is more political than technical in nature. I am always surprised to hear, for example, statements by political scientists in Georgia that Georgian-Russian relations are only Georgian-Russian relations, and not geopolitics at all. From my point of view, the decision by the Georgian leadership on the country's joining NATO is pure geopolitics.
It depends on what we mean by "technical".
"We want to join NATO, but they don't accept us," - this is not as big an issue as "What are we willing to offer in exchange for accession to NATO?" For instance, are Armenia and Azerbaijan ready to give up Karabakh for NATO's sake? They at least need some time to think about it. Whereas Georgia has already lost its "Karabakhs." By the way, some people think that this was because being next to Russia, Georgia was hurrying to the West too fast.
Alexander Rusetski: Simultaneous or individual accession
Do we mean the accession of individual countries or "simultaneous" accession of the states in the South Caucasus region? I think that Georgia can actively develop its relations with NATO, even up to joining this organization. As for the countries of the South Caucasus, and I include Turkey here too, a new four-faceted format should be worked out, "AGAT" (Azerbaijan - Georgia - Armenia - Turkey), tentatively, which will be able to work out a single program of EU integration. As all these countries have declared their desire to be integrated into the EU, why not present this desire as a common document? This format can create completely new possibilities for the resolution of conflicts, too. In this dimension, the EU integration process can be more stable.
Laura Baghdasayan: to Rasim Musabekov
The " single-vectoredness of the direction towards the EU and NATO." This depends on which perspective we are viewing it from. If the perspective is of getting away from Russia then yes, I agree with you. Undoubtedly, where can you escape to from Russia if not to NATO and the EU? But, on the other hand, in the European structures themselves-in the same Alliance-not everything is clear-cut, either. I understand that in order as a counterbalance we can also say there is a strategic commonality and tactical differences, as was the case with the attack on Iran. And who knows: maybe the USA, as the locomotive of NATO, will not be able to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of its own allies. The declarations by a set of European countries that many countries will have to seriously consider strengthening their armies after the war in Iraq have not yet lost validity.
Alexander Rusetski: to Alexander Iskandaryan
I think you're right when you write that Georgia hurried into the European home too fast. Very many mistakes were made. And mistakes are being made up to now. However, I do not think that Georgia has lost its "Karabakhs." The ethnocratic regimes scattered all over the region will not be able to survive long. This refers to all the regimes that do not have a sufficient degree of legitimacy including the "central" ones.
Alexander Iskandaryan: to Alexander Rusetski
The thing is not the terms. I don't know about anyone else, but Armenia has more than suffered from the conflict in Abkhazia. The thesis that the conflicts can only be resolved all together, I am afraid, seems debatable to me.
Rasim Musabekov: to Alexander Iskandaryan
The thing is that independent of Armenia's participation, Ukraine, Georgia, and probably Moldova and Azerbaijan will be increasing and coordinating their efforts towards establishing connections up to membership in NATO and the EU (if accepted and minimally matured enough for that). GUAM is becoming the instrument of coordination, judging by all events (Uzbekistan will continue to remain detached.) The inclusion of Armenia into this coordination scheme (if only it is possible to lessen the tension around the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, at least partially) is completely realistic. If we regard the ruling elite in Armenia as exclusively dictated to by Moscow, then everything I am saying is nonsense. But in the context of changing geopolitical realia, and they presuppose consolidation of the position of NATO in the region step by step, everything I am arguing is already on the agenda.
Alexander Iskandaryan: to Rasim MusabekovWho dictates to whom is a big question. Of course, I am saying this partly as a joke, but still. Believe me, Armenian politicians are extremely rational. And they will make use of whatever's available as long as there is something to be made use of. And then we'll wait and see...