Our Analytics 14 february — 15:00

Igor Korotchenko: For Putin, Azerbaijan is more valuable, important and problem-free than Armenia

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INTERVIEWED BY MURAD SAMADOV, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

During the 44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh, almost all of the information space of Russia was filled with Armenian propaganda. Only a few impartial Russian experts and journalists have barely managed to break through the barrier of the Armenian lobbying network, telling the Russian public about Azerbaijani truth. Indeed, during the culmination of the military conflict, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has repeatedly called for impartial coverage of the positions of the parties, specifying that each side has its own truth.

One of the impartial experts who shattered the arguments of the occupying side of the conflict was the editor-in-chief of the National Defence magazine, founder and director of the Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade LLC Igor Korotchenko. Today the war is over, the Karabakh conflict has been resolved, and the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, as President Ilham Aliyev specified, is buried in the dustbin of history.

However, at the same time, many questions remain regarding the future peaceful coexistence of the two peoples, in particular in the mountainous part of Karabakh itself. What does the new geopolitical reality in the region promise Azerbaijan and Armenia? How can two peoples learn to live in peace after decades of irreconcilable confrontation and military conflict? How to find common points of contact? And won't Armenia slide into revanchism, which at the same time largely depends on the answer to another question - will the Pashinyan government stay in power?

Igor Korotchenko himself answers the questions of Azeri Daily. It should be reminded that these days a well-known Russian journalist and expert is on a visit to Baku.

Igor Korotchenko

- You are one of the few experts whose forecasts for the development of the Karabakh conflict have almost always come true. Even before the outbreak of hostilities in Karabakh last autumn, you have repeatedly made statements in defence of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. And your speeches in the Russian media during the war, on the one hand, brought you great popularity among Azerbaijanis, and on the other, criticism of Armenians. What was the reason for your position, given that the majority of Russian media and experts spoke with pro-Armenian rhetoric?

- I would even say not some, but specific criticism from the Armenian side (laughs). Well, first, the position of Azerbaijan in terms of its territorial integrity is presented in our information space by President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly said that Russia recognises the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. During the conflict, Putin stated that the hostilities were not being conducted in the territory of Armenia, and, therefore, there were no prerequisites for the intervention of Russia or the CSTO in this conflict. My position on this conflict is fully correlated with the position of the Russian president. I have supported Putin since he came to power and I continue to support him now. When he was just appointed Prime Minister of Russia, I accompanied him on a trip to Botlikh during the defeat of Basayev's gang and Ichkerian terrorists, who invaded Dagestan from the territory of the then separatist entity and wanted to blow up the Russian North Caucasus. In fact, in Botlikh, Putin stopped the collapse of Russia. There I saw what separatism and military revolt on the territory of the state lead to. So my position is based on the fact that territorial integrity is the foundation of the state, and the norms of international law must be observed.

We knew very well that it was the Armenian separatists who became the detonator of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Long before the Baltic republics, Armenian separatists, with their demands and claims to a certain exclusivity, provoked bloody events in the region. I negatively perceived the collapse of the USSR, I saw in the North Caucasus what separatism leads to. Therefore, my position on this conflict is not anti-Armenian or pro-Azerbaijani. It is based on the national interests of Russia, which are formulated by the president of our country.

Indeed, in the course of the conflict, we observed certain information distortions, especially in socio-political programs where this war was discussed. The opinion I voiced was based on the official position of the Kremlin. It's just that, let's say, there were more opinions that were voiced from the opposite side.

The military victory of Azerbaijan is also important for Russia, because this conflict has been put to an end and the arc of instability around the Russian borders has been broken. And so we understand that it was a just war on the part of Azerbaijan, which fought for its territories and ensured territorial integrity. It is quite obvious that President Ilham Aliyev in the course of this war was solving the same problems that President Putin was solving in the late 1990s - early 2000s.

- The Armenian society still cannot come to terms with the crushing defeat. Everyone is blamed, from Pashinyan to Turkey and mythologised Syrian militants. What factors did, in your opinion, determine the victory of Azerbaijan in this war?

- The victory of Azerbaijan in this war was historically predetermined and inevitable. The fact is that Armenia was held captive by illusions about its invulnerability. For 30 years, the Armenians mined the border territories and built engineering structures, which, as they thought, would be insurmountable. There was such an 'Armenian Maginot Line,' which, as they believed, Azerbaijan would not be able to break through. This was the source of the myths about Armenia's invulnerability.

The territorial conquests of Armenia were carried out when Azerbaijan was weak and there were forces in power, incapable of national consolidation and state building. We are talking about the Popular Front. After the return of Heydar Aliyev to power, the country was saved from disintegration and received the prospect of a clear movement forward. A strong presidential power was built in Azerbaijan. After the country was headed by Ilham Aliyev, it was obvious that the course of protecting sovereignty would be continued, and an effective Azerbaijani economy became the basis. The economy is the foundation, the basis, on which society can develop, strengthen its defences and create modern armed forces.

The Almighty and fate also decreed that Azerbaijan has rich oil and gas reserves. However, not every country can competently dispose of such a national treasure. We see this in the example of many countries, for which the rich reserves of oil and gas have literally become a curse. Take the same Venezuela. The combination of natural resources, their skilful development, a strong presidential power, an authoritative head of state allowed Azerbaijan to create an effective Armed Forces. Azerbaijan took all the best that is on the world arms market today. There were carried out massive purchases of modern weapons from Russia, acquired modern weapons systems in Israel, Turkey and a number of other countries. But buying modern weapons is not enough, you still need to learn how to use it competently and effectively. Therefore, at the moment when the war was imposed, Azerbaijan was ready for it. In response to the Armenian provocations with shelling of its territories, Azerbaijan began to implement a counter-offensive operation. The country very competently used tactics in this war. It will go down in history as the first war of UAVs and drones. That is why everyone will study the military experience of Azerbaijan. And this was achieved for a reason - the combat control system was improved, the coordination of the activities of dozens of vehicles, the use of new combat tactics. Well, the high morale of the soldiers too.

As for Armenia, it was also let down by the fact that it had false goals and false idols. Armenians worshiped Nazi collaborators, elevating them to the pantheon of national heroes. Therefore, even from the point of view of historical justice, this war could not be won by a country in the centre of the capital of which there is a monument to a Nazi criminal. From a moral standpoint, such a country cannot win.

- The defeat in the war aggravated the socio-economic crisis in Armenia, adding to it political discord. Revanchist calls are heard everywhere, scattered political forces do not abandon their attempts to consolidate and overthrow the Pashinyan government. Such odious politicians as Vazgen Manukyan and Robert Kocharyan are returning to the scene. What is your vision of the current socio-political situation in Armenia? Will Pashinyan's government withstand?

- The fact is that the rallies of the dissatisfied in Armenia are not gaining critical mass. Moreover, the wave of protest is declining. And the fact that Robert Kocharyan came to the fore in Armenian politics is a consequence of the fact that Vazgen Manukyan could not become that uniting figure, that banner with which Pashinyan could be overthrown. Yes, in the early days there were pogroms in Yerevan. The crowd lynched a third person in the state - Speaker Ararat Mirozyan, like Gaddafi. It's amazing how he survived at all.

As for the calls for revenge, it seems to me that for the majority in the Armenian society it is already obvious that there will be no revenge. I think the Kremlin clearly explained the rules of the game to Pashinyan, and now he plays by these rules. In addition, there is a trilateral statement signed by Pashinyan, and he is obliged to comply with everything that is written there. In addition to this, there are some agreements that were reached at the meeting of the three leaders. Yes, Pashinyan is today accused of being both Turkish and British agent. This is very similar to the 1937, and the Armenian society is simply looking for Japanese spies. Of course, all this is nonsense and demonstrates the degradation of the Armenian society and the country's political system. Therefore, the idea of ​​revenge is a historical impasse that will simply lead to the loss of centralised government and the collapse of Armenia.

At the same time, from the side of some people from Pashinyan's entourage, some sensible reasoning is heard in favour of improving relations with neighbours and developing trade, but such people are immediately declared traitors. But we will wait for the development of events, it seems that the next rally is scheduled there on February 20. A number of Armenian politicians and publicists openly urge to do with Pashinyan as they once did with the Ceausescu couple. It is obvious that this is why Pashinyan's wife hastily flew to the United States, clearly afraid of reprisals. But Pashinyan is still in Yerevan. And no matter how you treat him, he is still the legitimately elected head of the Armenian state. He openly stated that there will be no early elections. Earlier, Kocharyan announced his readiness to participate in early elections. But he is now the same marginal figure as Navalny. I do not see for him a political future and, most importantly, support from the population.

As for the fact that some position Kocharyan as a personal friend of Vladimir Putin, the choice is made by the Armenian people, not Russia. Therefore, even the friendly relations between the President of Russia and the former President of Armenia are not a reason for Kocharyan to come to power in Russian tanks. It will not happen. The choice must be made by the Armenian people.

- The end of the war created new geopolitical realities in the entire South Caucasus region. For decades, Armenia has positioned itself as Russia's only ally in the Caucasus. However, over the decades of independence, Armenia, both economically and politically, has given Russia everything that it could give. What can Yerevan today offer Moscow in order to preserve the imaginary status of the main ally in the region?

- First, I want to say that Armenia is still a sovereign state, and not the Armenian federal district within the Russian Federation. Therefore, we are building our relationship with it, as with a sovereign state. Second, we must not subsidise Armenia and sustain it. If this country does not have the money to pay for some supplies, then Russian companies are included in the structure of property management located in its territory. In this case, this is by no means a gesture of goodwill on the part of Armenia, which has given us something there.

Sorry, but this is a normal economic relationship between two partners, one of whom is capable, and the other is not. As a result, Russian companies are establishing control over certain sectors of the Armenian economy. This is a worldwide practice.

But, as we can see, Pashinyan decided to show his teeth and initiate criminal cases, including against a number of Russian companies. In fact, he tried to get cheap gas in this way in exchange for the fact that he would leave them alone. But as you know, this primitive blackmail did not work. With Putin, such things do not work at all, so Pashinyan did not receive any discounts or preferences. As for Armenia's claims to a certain exclusive role in protecting Russian interests, we ourselves are in a position to protect our national interests. Such tricks will no longer work. Moreover, we have the Caspian Flotilla, which with its potential, including long-range missile strike, makes the factor of our military presence in Armenia not as important as it was before. Armenia is still trying to position itself as Russia's main ally, but this is a crafty game. If they are such allies, then let them first at least halve the largest American embassy in the post-Soviet space. We don't like the presence of so many American diplomats there. These are not friends of Armenia and Russia, they are staff members of the State Department and intelligence under diplomatic cover. After all, Pashinyan did not settle them there, Sargsyan did it. And it was Sargsyan who erected the hero of the Nazi criminal Garegin Nzhdeh on the pedestal. These are all calques of politics at the beginning of the 20th century. The modern world is completely different, and the old understanding of the value of allies and partners is changing due to the fact that the world is changing. Who, for example, would have thought that Russia and Turkey would cooperate and Ankara would buy such serious Russian weapons as the S-400? Who could say that Russia will build a nuclear power plant in Turkey? This is a new reality, it is different. We should not live in captivity of the ideas imposed on us by Armenia and the Armenian lobby. Russia should look at the world not through Armenian glasses, but through the prism of its national interests.

- My next question is about this new reality. Russia owns many economic entities in Armenia. Russia and Armenia are members of the same military-political bloc - the CSTO. Russia has a military base in the territory of Armenia and supplies it with weapons. But did this help to stop the so-called 'Soros men' coming to power? And on the other hand, there is Azerbaijan, which is not a member of the military-political bloc, but presides over the Non-Aligned Movement, while preventing infringement on Russia's interests on its southern borders. Azerbaijan buys a lot more Russian weapons than Armenia, and for real money. In Azerbaijan, they honour Russian culture, teach Russian in schools and do not erect monuments to Nazi criminals. Isn't Azerbaijan in this respect a more valuable ally for Russia than Armenia?

- You should not forget about the activities of the Armenian lobby in Russia, which, in particular, has a powerful position in the information sphere. We still see amazing broadcasts, during which black is called white and white is black. Where is the demonisation of Russia's 'worst enemies' - Azerbaijan and Turkey, and now Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan, it turns out, is now also an 'agent of Erdogan's influence' and is doing everything to create Great Turan. At the same time, neither Kazakhstan nor Erdogan knew this (laughs). Listen, don't scare us with Turan. Russia, taking into account the way the Turkic world is represented in it, is itself the Great Turan. This is a response to the Armenian lobbyists who are shouting about this imaginary danger today.

Your words that today Azerbaijan is more valuable and important, and most importantly - unlike Armenia, it is problem-free - is an objective truth. I think that is why President Putin took this position during the war. The position is not to support the territorial claims of Armenia and to refuse the participation of the Russian armed forces to intervene in the war on the side of Armenia. Although if we recall the statements of the Armenian lobbyists, they openly called for intervening in the conflict. That is, we were offered a full-scale Cuban Missile Crisis #2. They were ready to drag Russia into a nuclear conflict with the West in order to save the regime in Nagorno-Karabakh from defeat. Therefore, Russia has taken such an equidistant position, weighing and analysing the situation. The first two weeks of the conflict were the most dangerous, because the Armenian lobbyists prepared Russian public opinion for the Russian expeditionary force to go to fight for the Armenian interests in Nagorno-Karabakh. But I will repeat once again that the President of Russia makes decisions not based on statements made on talk shows.

- How did the settlement of the conflict and the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan affect the Azerbaijani-Russian relations? How do you see the potential for their development?

- I think we have excellent prospects. Our relations are not subject to political conjuncture. It is very important. There are two presidents who, as they say, have personal chemistry, mutual sympathy and trust. This is very significant for international politics. There is also a factor of Russians in Azerbaijan - they are in a privileged position in this country: Russian is taught in schools without any problems. The Russian community has great authority and respect in society. I must note that the first persons of Azerbaijan are absolutely secular people. Both the president and the first lady studied in Moscow. We respect these people, and they respect us. Accordingly, there is mutual sympathy and respect between our peoples.

- As you know, according to the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020 on the cessation of hostilities, a contingent of Russian peacekeepers was brought into the conflict zone to ensure the maintenance of peace in the region. When do you think peace will finally come here? How long will the peacekeepers have to support it?

- First, it is necessary to fulfil the most important, in my opinion, point of the trilateral statement - the complete withdrawal of Armenian armed formations from the territory of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. Armed Armenians should not be there by definition. Only civilians should remain. Armed Armenians must leave the territory of Azerbaijan.

Second, it is necessary to dissolve the structures of the illegal power of the so-called 'NKR.' Moreover, the leaders of this illegal entity are war criminals who have committed a number of crimes during this war. These people should be detained and handed over to the Azerbaijani justice. Such things cannot be forgiven. War is always a bloody and dirty business. The soldiers are face to face with the enemy, and they know that either they kill or be killed. Quite different - civilians during any war, they are protected by the Geneva Convention, which regulates the rules during hostilities. And there are no exceptions here. Rocket attacks on peaceful Azerbaijani cities, which are also far from the front line, are, on the one hand, a planned military-political act of intimidation, a war crime on the other, and, finally, on the third hand, an attempt to provoke Azerbaijan to retaliate. to then turn to Russia for help and try to drag it into the war. Therefore, everyone who gave criminal orders, and the military who carried out them, should be established and brought to justice.

And peace will come when the illegal armed formations of Armenia and parallel Armenian power structures do not remain on the liberated territory. After all, the Azerbaijani refugees will return to their homes, but how will they return if there are armed Armenian thugs with machine guns? We saw footage from the Armenian wedding, where the newlyweds did not find anything better than to pose with a Kalashnikov assault rifle in their hands. Do you understand how crazy this is?! They have to give birth to children, and what, they will hang a machine gun around the neck of the infant? This is a flawed logic, which is unacceptable and must be destroyed. This is antihuman.

- A week earlier, a joint Russian-Turkish monitoring centre was opened in Aghdam. This is the first such military format of cooperation between Russia and a NATO member country. How do you assess the tasks of this centre? Can cooperation in Aghdam affect relations between Russia and NATO as a whole?

- Relations between Russia and NATO will remain tense. Here we should only talk about Russian-Turkish relations. I unambiguously separate Russian-Turkish cooperation from Russia's relations with NATO. Moreover, today Turkey itself has quite a few problems with NATO. In the end, it was the United States that was preparing a coup d'état in Turkey, the assassination of President Erdogan and the coming to power of the worst enemy of the Turkish people, Gülen, who, as a CIA agent, is now residing in the United States. They were ready to send him to Turkey to replace Erdogan. Therefore, I separate the position of Turkey from the position of NATO. These are two different things.

As for the Russian-Turkish Monitoring Centre, this is an important element of stability and predictability of the situation. First of all, this is monitoring so that the Armenians do not inflict a treacherous blow in the back of the Russian peacekeepers and the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan. So, as an element of stabilisation, the Russian-Turkish centre is essential.

Another thing is that the Armenians do not like it. But excuse me, this is the territory of Azerbaijan, and the rules of the game here are not set by Yerevan or Armenian separatists.

- According to the same trilateral statement, the Armenian population lives quietly in Nagorno-Karabakh, which retained the functions of self-government. But at the same time, both in Yerevan and in Khankendi (Stepanakert), demands continue to be heard to determine the status of the 'NKR' and even to reanimate the army of Karabakh separatists. At the same time, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made it clear that the issue of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh was sent to the dustbin of history. Share your perspective on this situation.

- There is no status and cannot be. There are peaceful Armenians who will live on the territory of Azerbaijan. They will receive Azerbaijani passports and become full-fledged citizens of the country. They will work and live in peace. It's just that their standard of living in Azerbaijan will be much higher than that of the same Armenians in Armenia. I believe that Azerbaijan has a very wise political leadership, and if it has assured that the Armenians will live in peace in this country, then this will happen.

I don't know if the Armenians are ready for this, but I believe the statements made by the leaders of Azerbaijan. These are people who are responsible for their words. They said they would return the territories - and they did. Whoever put pressure on President Aliyev, he did not give in and did not give up. So if French President Macron first called and tried to threaten, now the tone of his statements has changed dramatically. He realised that spoiled relations with Azerbaijan would turn into problems for French business. Today the restoration of Karabakh is a tasty morsel for a number of companies. A billion dollars have been allocated and additional funds will be channelled. So many people want to get contracts and take part in the restoration of Nagorno-Karabakh. But if someone is under the influence of the Armenian lobby, then, accordingly, they cannot count on any contracts. So we see how Macron's rhetoric is changing. It looks like he wants French companies to take part in the restoration of Karabakh too.

As they say, the dog barks, but the caravan moves on. Aliyev today is calm and consistent, while Armenia is fussing about something, rushing about, threatening someone. Who are you threatening? The situation, in which the country finds itself, has only one way out: you need to crawl away and start establishing relations with neighbours. Engage in trade and economic cooperation. There will soon be no Armenians in Armenia, everyone will emigrate from there, which can lead to the destruction of the Armenian state. Therefore, it is better to try to pull themselves out of this swamp. If they can, then well done, and if not, everyone will leave from there.

- According to a number of experts, the liberation of the occupied territories by the Azerbaijani Army deprived the puppet regime in Nagorno-Karabakh of even the slightest chance of independent development. Now, connected with Armenia by a thin umbilical cord in the form of the Lachin corridor, 'independent Karabakh' can exist only in the dreams of Armenian revenge-seekers. Do you think that the results of the 44-day war will inevitably lead to the integration of the Armenian population of Karabakh into the rest of the Azerbaijani society? If so, when and how will this happen?

- De facto, this is Azerbaijan. Armenia has no leverage left even to save itself. The Armenians cannot even change Pashinyan. What kind of revenge can we talk about here? Who will do this revenge? The Armenian people are tired of war.

As for the remnants of this notorious administration in Nagorno-Karabakh, one part of these people should sit on the dock, and the other should leave the territory of Azerbaijan and go to Armenia. As for the Lachin corridor, I am convinced that a full-fledged regime of the state border is still needed here.

Any persons entering there from Armenia must be identified. It is necessary that there be some kind of border structures, even if the FSB of Russia, but which for this five-year period will be connected with the border service of Azerbaijan. That is, Azerbaijan should receive information about who is entering. And, if necessary, be able to block the entry of certain unwanted persons.

- Or leaving?

- Or departure (laughs). Although for now we are talking about entry. So, I repeat, there should not be any armed Armenians. All foreign citizens are required to obtain accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan. In the near future, as part of the implementation of the trilateral agreement, working groups should be created where all problematic issues will be discussed. There should not be any backyard here, because this is a matter of the security of the Russian peacekeepers. Tomorrow terrorists who emigrated from Syria to Armenia, received Armenian passports, can easily enter from the territory of Armenia in order to make provocations to further shake the situation.

I repeat once again, the territory where the Russian peacekeepers in their zone of control ensure the security of the Armenian population is the territory of Azerbaijan. It is not the land of a certain 'NKR,' it is Azerbaijan. And, accordingly, the laws of this state should operate here. Persons living there must obtain Azerbaijani passports. There can be no parallel power structures. And, of course, there is no place for any armed militants, even under the guise of police detachments. There are Azerbaijani Police and Azerbaijani Armed Forces, which perfectly provide security together with Russian peacekeepers.

- Unblocking of all communications, creation of a corridor to Nakhchivan, opening of borders between Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. How do you view these bold predictions about the geopolitical situation in the region in the near future?

- To be honest, I have great doubts that Armenia will become a responsible member of regional partnership and cooperation. But, on the other hand, nothing is impossible. Ideally, Armenia will turn into a country that will deal with internal development. The resources that were previously spent on war will be directed towards peaceful and constructive purposes. But for this it is necessary that external players, including the Armenian lobby in France, the USA and Russia, do not exert their adverse influence on the political processes in Armenia. There are a lot of rich Armenians in the world, so let them get together and make an analogue of the Marshall Plan for Armenia, if they are so concerned about the fate of their homeland. Let them collect at least $20 billion and invest this money in the Armenian economy. They will provide stability and create jobs. The end of the war is a prerequisite for increasing investment attractiveness. Armenia can become a tourist mecca of the South Caucasus. Therefore, let them work if they want the good for their country, and not engage in inflammatory activities. There will be no revenge. Any attack by Armenia on Azerbaijan will be qualified as a military aggression with all the ensuing consequences.

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