The interview with the US Ambassador to Armenia H. E. John Heffern was conducted on Monday, almost at the start of NATO week in Armenia. Naturally the talk commenced with the topic of Armenia-NATO relations, then followed by the crises in Ukraine, the sanctions against Russia, the Armenia-US relations and the impact of the Turkish and Iraninan developments on Armenia.
The most unexpected thing was the Ambassador’s reply - not excluding the option of military confrontation between the Russia and the West.
THE ARMENIA - NATO RELATIONS
Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for the consent to do this interview. I wished the interview to be partly devoted to the NATO and the Armenia’s relations with NATO, still I couldn’t foresee we‘ll meet during the NATO week in Armenia. Surely we’ll talk about it, but let us start from NATO Summit in Wales...
- Well, first let me thank you as well for your wish and request to do the interview. I’m honored. I guess you may have lot of questions about the Summit decisions and the NATO relations with Armenia, but let me first make couple of general remarks about the Armenia’s participation in that summit. We were very pleased and honored that President Sargsyan himself participated in the summit for this time. He partook in NATO allies and partners meeting, also in ISAF leaders meeting and we were very pleased to learn that Armenia is wishful to send troops to Afghanistan after the completion of ISAF mission as part of new NATO peace-keeping and stabilization engagement called Resolute Support.
You know President Sargsyan also met with Secretary Kerry and President Aliev at the sidelines of the summit to discuss the Nagorno Karabakh problem. Those meetings with leaders of Minsk group co-chair countries in Sochi, Wales and Paris aimed to prevent at least any escalation of situation in the region and also improve the atmosphere in the on-going negotiations.
- Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Indeed, the President Sargsyan’s participation in Wales Summit was something important, but it isn’t the very item that interested me. I’m more interested to learn about this Summit initiative - to my knowledge it was called “Defense Capacity Building Initiative” – that concerned to Georgia and also Jordan at least. The initiative foresaw either to establish NATO presence or bases in that countries or to use the existing facilities there for NATO troops’ dislocation.
- Oh, I’m not in course of such document. What I may tell you definitely there’s no plan or decision about establishing any NATO base in Georgia. No base. May be the decision you’re telling about has to regulate the transition of NATO troops through the territory of those countries. That kind of practice and agreements with different countries are common for NATO international operations.
- No, the initiative definitely wasn’t about transition, but permanent dislocation. I see I’ve to try to find the very document or at least the official information about it, if I succeed I‘ll send another copy also to Embassy. Now let me ask about the relations of NATO with Armenia. Are they developing successfully or there are problems?
- No problems. The NATO partnership with Armenia advances pretty successfully. You know Armenia participates and contributes to number of NATO peace-keeping missions in the world, particularly to the missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Everyone is pleased with the service of the Armenian peace-keepers.
Beyond this participation in the peacekeeping activities, the Individual Partnership Action Plan and the annual plans of NATO-Armenia cooperation also cover the military education, the reforms in the armed forces- aimed to make the military more accountable and transparent before the society, the enhancement of the organization and efficiency of the Armenian military, the participation of woman in discussions and decision-making processes on the security issues. In all those spheres the cooperation is successful and productive and the advancement is evident.
By the way this year 3 women have graduated from the Armenian Military Institute after Vazgen Sargsyan. Those ladies will serve as officers of Armenian Armed Forces and it’s another indication of the character and scale of reforms in Armenian military. The women participation in the security related activities is under special attention because there’s an UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that Armenia has signed to and it promotes the female participation in security sphere. We encourage Armenia to meet commitments of that resolution and even in this NATO week discussions there’s an effort to involve more female participants.
Summarizing one may tell that Armenia is a valuable partner for NATO and both the way that was passed and the partnership perspectives are encouraging and promising.
- Mr. Ambassador this week is the NATO week in Armenia. Our Foreign Ministry has released the agenda of the week events - there are discussions, information meetings, the TV Bridge with our peace-keepers abroad. All that events are generally covered by media. Was there anything more?
- Perhaps the visit of Armenian Defense Minister to Brussels. On Monday, the day of start of NATO week in Yerevan Minster Ohanyan was received by the Supreme Alliance Commander in Europe (SACUR) General Philip M. Breedlove. International and regional security issues were discussed.
Also Minister Ohanyan met with Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow who is the second highest civilian person in NATO structures. By the way he was my boss in my previous office in Brussels. These meetings are important and they demonstrate the continuance and developing partnership between the NATO and Armenia.
- It’s a pleasure to listen all that, especially from an Ambassador who has served in US mission to NATO for a long time and knows everything there thoroughly. However I’d like to ask the following. Recently a gentleman with surname Burdyuzha from that military alliance in post-Soviet territory – abbreviated as CSTO or what - had told publicly that NATO is not a partner, not an opponent but “rather an enemy to Russia”. The quote was cited by the international media…
- I haven’t heard that statement, do not have it and can’t comment it but I may definitely state the following - never ever NATO considered or treated any country as an enemy. We may declare some bad phenomena as NATO enemies, like the terrorism but even the country where the terrorism expands we do not perceive as an enemy, never.
Secondly, from its very establishment the NATO’s activities weren’t ever headed against any country, but claimed just to defend the NATO allied countries. This reality shouldn’t be distorted by any statements cut from reality.
In the particular case of Russia, in the beginning of 1990-es during the war in Iraq war, there were many disagreements with Russia but it didn’t prevent from interaction. You know a special NATO-Russia Council was established for discussing the emerging discords, problems, etc. The NATO attitude towards Russia or any other country never was or is hostile; NATO seeks cooperation and not confrontation. That’s another story that all the responsible members of the international community should respect the international law and their own commitments and not breach them.
- Frankly I myself never understand why Russia is that upset with NATO, or NATO advancement towards its borders, as since the collapse of the Soviet Union NATO only promoted democracy, stability and prosperity towards the Russian borders and former Warsaw Pact countries are the best illustration of that. However President Putin - if to believe him - broke every international law, invaded the Crimea, annexed it simply to prevent the dislocation of NATO troops on Crimean peninsula that he imagined could happen one day. No one knows how much President Putin is governed by his imaginations and illusions, still if the tensions between the Russia and the West keep to rise do you anticipate in any case a peaceful solution be found or the military confrontation is also an option?
- It’s a difficult question. No one would take to predict. But always our hopes and wishes are for the peaceful solutions.
THE UKRAINIAN CRISIS AND ITS IMPACTS
- However, so far fortunately the confrontation between the Russia and the West is not in the military but the economic field. We already see how the international sanctions damage the Russian economy, but it’s more important how they influence the minds of Russians and their friends. For these people it was almost a shock when President Obama told that Russia is a regional power which threatens some of its neighbors because of own weakness. These people used to think of Russia to be the center of universe and now they witness the falsity of their thoughts. That’s a powerful psychological breakаgе.
- It may be like that. But those people should realize that Russia created the crisis around the Ukraine and put herself in today’s unfavorable position. The international community all urges Russia to honor the international law and her own commitments to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Instead of it Russia does her best to break the international rules and to prevent any accord, signs of stability and peace in Ukraine. No any idea or motivation may justify the Russia’s irresponsible acts and aggression. And surely this situation causes complexities also to Russia’s friends.
Armenia also maintains close ties with Russia and tries her best to display neutrality in the issues regarding to Ukraine. We respect that. But couples of times the Armenian vote at UN General Assembly and in Council of Europe weren’t helpful and persuasive in sense of neutrality. Surely then we asked and the authorities explained that the self-determination of nations is the principal position of Armenia, etc., we reported it to our capitals. Still it didn’t persuade much as during any vote there’s an option of abstention.
- You know there’s a Soviet writer - unfortunately I don’t remember his name – who had approximately said: “If you can’t keep the truth, then at least keep the silence”.
- Yes, pretty the case. However these recent moves that Armenia didn’t allow a direct flight from Crimea and the flight will be made through other Russian cities is a better performance and more persuasive indication of neutrality.
- Fine, but let me turn to the sanctions again and try to figure out may these sanctions be lifted in visible future. The sanctions were imposed because of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Further Russian interference in Donbass region, of course, made the situation worse but even if Russia abandons the Donbass tomorrow may the sanctions be lifted? My understanding is that the sanctions will remain in force as far as the Russian annexation of Crimea continues.
- My understanding is the same. I also think the sanctions were initiated in response to Russia’s invasion into Crimea and as far as Russia doesn’t honor her own commitments regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine that was determined in number of international treaties, including the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, that far there isn’t much possibility for lifting the sanctions.
In some points there may be some changes. I don’t know that well the details of Minsk agreements from September, may be some steps are foreseen in that documents that in response to some concrete actions from the Russian on pro-Russian rebels’ side, some other actions will follow from the Ukrainian or European side, etc. Still in overall picture it’s evident that the sanctions will continue as long as the Crimea will remain under the Russian occupation or annexation.
- I heard the Secretary Kerry stating that after the illegal elections in the rebels-controlled area in the beginning of November, the sanctions against Russia may be revised and made even harsher. Should be that statement in line with the condemning statements of other Western leaders played a role that Russia began to maneuver with wording - first telling about recognition of elections, then about the respect its results…
- Very possible. The sanctions may be reduced, but you rightly notice - also they may be tightened. All depends on Russia’s conduct.
I know there is some anxiety in Armenia because of the sanctions imposed on Russia as they affect the Russian economy, the financial sector, the businesses, so sometimes less transfers are being sent to Armenia, other economic ties are endangered. Still it’s an indirect impact of sanctions that can’t be avoided. No any sanctions are put against Armenia and if any Armenian companies or businesses suffer from the sanctions imposed on Russia then they should reassess the situation and accordingly adapt their policies.