Interview of the Foreign Minister of Armenia Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to the Interfax News Agency

31 August, 2020

Question: The recent escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border is not the first one in the history, but it seems to be the first time that it was accompanied by ethnic clashes between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis in various cities around the world, including Moscow. How would you explain that? And what steps should be taken to avoid such clashes in the future?

Answer: It is regrettable to see the instigation of an atmosphere of hatred not only in our region but also the attempts to export it beyond our region. A fundamental principle for Armenia in the peace process is to do its utmost to create an environment conducive to peace. It is impossible to conduct a peaceful negotiation amids an atmosphere of hatred, warmongering rhetoric, and the threat of the use of force. It is pointless to expect progress in the negotiation process when Azerbaijan, on one hand, incites hatred and, on the other, seeks peace in name only. It is impossible to assume that we can make serious progress in the negotiation process amidst Armenophobia and bellicose rhetoric.

Question: So, what should be done to avoid such clashes in the future?

Answer: First of all, there must be an understanding of the need for a peace process. There must be political will, and certain measures must be taken. We also negotiate on various certain steps to reduce that rhetoric and the escalation. This direction has a clear substance: the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and we have introduced a number of proposals. All these ideas must be implemented. 

We have a good example when last year we were able to implement the exchange of journalists from Baku, Yerevan, and Stepanakert. The results might have been modest, but they were very important. This was an essential part of the peace process.

Question: However, the latest escalation seems to be the most intense in the last 30 years. Why do you think the Madrid principles do not work? What is the reason for the constant aggravations?

Answer: What happened on July 12 was, in fact, the second attempt after April 2016 to impose unilateral concessions on Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) through the use of force and hostilities. On July 12, an attack was carried out in the northeast of Armenia on our border positions in the Tavush region. A significant amount of weapons, military equipment were used, the civilian population and civilian infrastructure were shelled. Armenia resolutely repelled the aggression, reaffirming that there is no military solution to this conflict. Both Armenia and Artsakh have enough power, enough capacities to ensure their defense and security and the crushing counterattack to Azerbaijan's July aggression once again attested to that.

Question: There is an opinion that, in fact, Armenia does not need to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, as if the lands have been taken and the status quo is favorable. How can you comment on that?

Answer: I can not agree with that opinion. Both Armenia and Artsakh are interested in having a lasting peace in the region, which is possible through a compromise-based peace agreement. Unilateral concessions are excluded: they have no prospect. And we are not interested in a situation where peace and security in the region do not have a stable long-term foundation. In this regard, the peace process was and remains for us a key priority in resolving this conflict.

Question: How do you assess the role of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs? It has operated for a long time. But the conflict is not resolved yet. What do you think is the role of Russia as a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group? Do you agree that it is necessary to change the format of negotiations?

Answer: Since the mid-1990s, the format of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, which includes Russia, the United States, and France, has been the only format of the negotiating process. And it has clear results. It is a format recognized by the international community and includes three permanent members of the UN Security Council. Three countries that have enough strong capacities - political, diplomatic to implement the mediation process. The involvement of these countries remains very solid.

Over these years, a whole mechanism, an entire database of guidelines and approaches have been developed, which provides the framework where it is possible to work out a compromise. Tangible and real compromise. In this sense, we will continue to support this mediation format. The Russian Federation is one of the Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group. The efforts of the Russian side were very effective, and it was demonstrated both during and before the July events. I am confident that Russia's involvement at all levels emphasizes the importance of Russia in this process, the solid contribution of Russia in the peace process together with the other Co-Chairs. We have no doubt here that any attempt to question the work of the Co-Chairs, which, among others, is an important factor in restraining the escalation, anny attempt to question the existing format or to put pressure on is unacceptable.

Question: The Foreign Minister of Russia said that the Minsk Group Co-Chairs work towards organizing a meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Are you ready to meet with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan? 

Answer: Over the past period, especially in the last two years, a lot of work has been done by the Co-Chairs in different directions. It included issues related to the settlement, issues related to the key formats of reaching a compromise, as well as issues related to the environment conducive to peace, in particular, programs that can help to prepare peoples for peace. Strengthening the ceasefire and introducing international monitoring mechanisms remains a very important direction. We stay ready to continue the whole spectrum of the work and, indeed, I am ready to continue that work.

Question:  In other words, can you, relatively speaking, meet with your Azerbaijani counterpart tomorrow without any conditions?

Answer: Of course, we are ready to meet, and, of course, we are ready to continue that work. And here, I would like to emphasize again that the importance of our work lies in the need to find compromises, ensure security, denounce the use of force, and maximalist approaches. There are certain and important priorities for Armenia. For us the status of Artsakh is an absolute priority. Exercising the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination without any restrictions, ensuring real and tangible security for Artsakh is an important priority. And we are ready to work with both the Co-Chairs and the Azerbaijani side to determine those formats that will allow us to compare and measure the scope of a possible compromise.

I would like to emphasize another important issue related to Artsakh: over these thirty years, Artsakh has demonstrated its absolute capacity to organize its public life, ensure its security, and take international obligations. The full involvement of Artsakh in the negotiating process is a very important question and is practical in nature, as it will strengthen the sense of ownership over the negotiating process by the leadership of Artsakh, which, being elected by the people of Artsakh, has the appropriate mandate to represent their interests. 

Question: What do you think about the idea of holding a referendum in Artsakh?

Answer: As for Armenia, the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination, without any restrictions, is one of the main approaches of Armenia to a peaceful settlement.

Question: Russia actively cooperates with both Armenia and Azerbaijan in the sphere of military-technical cooperation. Do you see any ambiguity in this, given the recent escalation of Armenian-Azerbaijani relations?

Answer: Armenia and Russia are allies. Our relations are quite comprehensive, and our interview's limited nature will not allow us to present the full range of issues of the Armenian-Russian cooperation, which covers all areas of life, including security cooperation. Military-technical collaboration between Armenia and Russia is an allied mutual partnership. So, there can be no question or limit here. 

Question: But is it true that military cooperation started to expand after the July escalation?

Answer: Our cooperation in the military-technical sphere is based on mutual security interests and is carried out on the basis of existing treaties, agreements, work programs between Russia and Armenia. Russia does not undermine the balance in the region. Armenia is a responsible participant in the regional security. And our military-technical cooperation is in no way directed against third countries.

Question: And you are not concerned that Russia also cooperates with Azerbaijan in the military-technical sphere.

Answer: The military-technical cooperation between Armenia and Russia has its own logic of collaboration: it is built on the solid allied foundations. What refers to Azerbaijan and its cooperation in this sphere, I would like to note that Azerbaijan is strengthening its military capacity in every way, trying to persuade its own population and the international community that it has the potential to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by military means. And it is introduced in a way that Azerbaijan is making “concessions” to Armenia and Artsakh by not launching military actions, in return expecting "unilateral concessions" by the Armenian sides in the negotiating process. The Azerbaijani logic of building its military capacity is aimed at a military solution to the conflict, which poses a threat to the security of Armenia and Artsakh.

Question:  Do you discuss this with the Russian side? 

Answer: Certainly, we openly and sincerely discuss all the issues with the Russian side. We have allied relations.

Question: Do you agree with the opinion that Turkey's active position, Ankara's unequivocal support for Baku "adds fuel to the fire" and delays the possibility of resolving the conflict?

Answer: Since July 12, the international community has issued a number of calls for  reducing the tensions and ceasing hostilities. The only country which attempted not to ease tensions but to further destabilize the region was Turkey. Turkey's policy of destabilization and aggression is a threat to all its neighboring regions, including the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. Today, Turkey is trying to export this policy of destabilization to the South Caucasus. Turkey pursues a non-constructive and dangerous policy. And Turkey with its actions continues to pose a threat to Armenia's security. In this regard, Armenia will work to further strengthen its security, including through cooperation with its partners. 

Question:  Does Armenia plan to appeal to Russia for a new loan for armaments? And when will Armenia be ready to repay the loan for the purchase of weapons and equipment?

Answer: We have relevant formats and platforms for discussing military-technical cooperation issues between Armenia and Russia, where all issues of our cooperation are being addressed. I will not go into details. In general, this is an area that has its own platform.

Question: But are you going to buy new military planes and helicopters?

Answer: We are ready to do everything to consistently strengthen our country's defense capabilities. I have already mentioned that Armenia and Russia are allies.

Question: Is Yerevan interested in maintaining the Russian military base in Gyumri?

Answer: Armenia does not pose a threat to anyone in the region. Armenia and Russia have common security interests, on the basis of which we pursue a common goal of ensuring security. The military base, in its turn, contributes to achieving that goal.

Question: Regarding the internal political situation in Belarus, there is a lot of talk about providing assistance to that country within the CSTO, an organization of which Armenia is a member. Do you consider such development acceptable or possible?

Answer: As for the CSTO and allied mutual assistance within the latter's framework - all these issues are regulated by the legal framework of the Organization, which outlines the clear regulation of cooperation between the member states, including issues related to security and mutual assistance. Here we rely on the legal framework of the CSTO.

Question: Let’s suppose that the issue of assisting Belarus is being voted in the CSTO tomorrow. Will Armenia vote for or against it? 

Answer: The key role in initiating such an issue is reserved to the country that raises the issue of mutual assistance. However, Belarus has not raised such a question. Belarus and Armenia are ally countries in the CSTO and have a rather rich bilateral agenda. We work together on many different platforms. Particularly, we participate in the integration processes within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union. 

A strong friendship unites the peoples of Armenia and Belarus. It is expressed in people-to-people contacts. And, of course, we can not be indifferent to what is happening in Belarus.

Question: Prime Minister Pashinyan came to power after a "Velvet" non-violent revolution. Now it turns out that Armenia supports the leader of Belarus.

Answer: There can be no doubt that the key to resolving the situation is in the hands of the people of Belarus. Armenia underwent its own path, and it is not correct to draw parallels on that basis. Yes, there might be some common parameters, but those are generally different situations. The most important thing is to accept and realize that the people of Belarus hold the right to resolve the issue. We hope that this situation will be resolved peacefully.

Question: Does Armenia officially recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus?

Answer: Prime Minister Pashinyan congratulated the President of Belarus. We will follow how the people of Belarus will solve this issue. We intend to continue working with Belarus in all directions, both within the framework of bilateral and international formats.

Question: Armenia applied to Russia to reduce gas prices. Do you think the issue of "gas" can damage the allied relations between Armenia and Russia?

Answer: Energy issues, gas supply issues play an important role in the bilateral relations of our two allied countries with their quite broad agenda. We have a common agenda, regarding both security and economic development and we work together on it. We have a good potential to negotiate and reach an agreement. The most important thing is to reach an agreement.

Question: In other words, is there mutual understanding today? What were the results of the negotiations?

Answer: We are working in that direction. I am absolutely convinced that we can reach an agreement. It is at the level of intergovernmental commissions and I think the probability of reaching an agreement is quite high.

Question: In July, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Armenia announced that Moscow and Yerevan continue to discuss the issue of extending the loan for the modernization of the Metsamor Power Plant. Are there any discussions now and how do you assess the outcomes of those discussions?

Answer: We intend to re-equip the nuclear power plant with our budget funds. And in this respect, the possibility of new loans is considered through the very prism that we do the above-mentioned operation with our own means.

The discussions are ongoing. Our two countries have clear interests, deep relations and have the potential to reach an agreement.

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