Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan's interview with The Wall Street Journal
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The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for the interview with The Wall Street Journal. I will start with the most difficult questions. Recently, we witnessed dramatic events in Nagorno-Karabakh. Do you have concerns that a full-scale war could spread to the territory of sovereign Armenia, and in your opinion, what should Armenia's allies and partners do to prevent this?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I would, however, seperate the issue of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh and the issue of more than 100 thousand new refugees and military operations against Nagorno Karabakh from the question of Azerbaijan's possible aggression against Armenia. Of course, I will not say that there are no correlations between these issues, but they are separate issues.
Of course, we hope that in the near future the agreements reached at the quadrilateral meeting in Prague on October 6, 2022, at the trilateral meeting in Brussels on May 14, 2023 and at the trilateral meeting in Brussels on July 15, 2023 will be formalized, will be reaffirmed and become the basis for the peace treaty. I want to remind those agreements expressed in the statement of the President of the European Council and the Prague statement.
The first principle is that Armenia and Azerbaijan mutually recognize each other's territorial integrity. This provision was agreed on at the Prague meeting and already on May 14, 2023, another step was taken in Brussels and it was recorded that Azerbaijan recognizes the territorial integrity of 29,800 square km of Armenia, and Armenia recognizes the territorial integrity of 86,600 square km of Azerbaijan.
The second principle is that the delimitation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan should take place on the basis of the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration. And what is special about it? Its peculiarity is that at the time of signing, the countries of the Soviet Union were already becoming or had become de facto independent countries, and with the Alma-Ata Declaration they recorded that they recognized the existing Soviet administrative borders between the republics as state borders, recognized the inviolability and territorial integrity of these borders. When we say that the delimitation of the borders should take place on the basis of the 1991 Alma-Ata Declaration, it is meant that the state maps existing at that time should be taken for the basis of the border delimitation.
And the third principle is that the opening of communications in the region, including the opening of roads and railways of Armenia and Azerbaijan for mutual and international trade, should take place on the basis of the principles of sovereignty, jurisdiction, equality and reciprocity of the countries. These principles are practically agreed upon, and it remains to conclude a peace treaty based on these agreed principles and move forward.
And, of course, there is a preliminary agreement that we will have a tripartite meeting in Brussels at the end of October. I hope that these agreements will be reaffirmed during that meeting, which will mean that about 70 percent of the necessary agreements for a peace treaty have been reached. And it remains to put those principles in the text of the peace treaty.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - In your speech to the European Parliament, you mentioned that you are disappointed with the behavior of some of your allies. Could you be more specific, what do you think your formal allies in the CSTO allies, particularly Russia, should have done differently, and what are your expectations from your Western partners?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - We are not talking about this for the first time and we have talked about the fact that in May 2021 and September 2022, Azerbaijan carried out aggressive actions against Armenia and occupied territories. The Collective Security Treaty and the Charter of the Collective Security Treaty Organization clearly state the actions to be taken when aggression against a member state occurs. What was described did not happen and, of course, it is disappointing for both the Armenian government and the Armenian public.
Also, we have a bilateral agreement with Russia in the field of security, and the actions described in that agreement also did not take place, which also raised very serious questions among both the Government and the public.
As for the relations with other partners, I will be more honest if I say that these situations, in fact, led us to a decision that we need to diversify our relations in the security sector. And we're trying to do that now.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - But actually right now you still have that agreement with Russia, there are Russian military bases in Armenia. Do you think Russia's military presence in Armenia is an asset or a liability?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know, at least at this moment I have already said that, unfortunately, we have not seen the advantages in the sidelines of the cases I have described.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - Does this mean that you are planning to call that Russia withdraws its military bases from Armenia?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - We are not discussing such a question. We are now more focused on discussing other issues, we are trying to understand what is the cause of such a situation, and of course, I also think that this will be the agenda of working discussions between Armenia and Russia, Armenia and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - Quite senior officials in Russia, including former President Medvedev, have used really insulting words against you and called for a coup against you or removing you from office. How did you respond to all this, and in your opinion, what are the reasons for this campaign against you in Russia?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know, if I'm not mistaken, I didn't directly respond to that and I'm not going to respond publicly in addition to what I have already said. But it is also obvious that those facts you mentioned at least raise questions, and the answers to those questions must be found, because such an approach violates many rules, starting from not interfering in each other's internal affairs and diplomatic correctness and, of course, it also creates problems at personal dimension, because such a wording, such a language and such a position are incomprehensible for people who have worked with each other for quite a long time.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - When you spoke about diversifying your relationships, what do you mean by that, what can other countries do? Do you expect the military presence of other partners, an American or French military base or maybe India? In practical terms, how do you see it?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I want to say that we are not doing the right thing when we mean only the army, only weapons when speaking about security, because, unfortunately, in many cases we see that there are countries that do not have a problem with weapons, but have a security problem. And there are countries that have a problem of weapons, but no security problem. Of course, it depends on many circumstances, environment, etc.
Now, our understanding of security is, first of all, based on that we should try to make our environment as manageable and predictable in terms of security as possible. And we have to be predictable for the environment. That is, the threats are generally reciprocal, and sometimes it is very difficult to find the starting point, because it is always a chicken and egg problem. And sometimes it doesn't even make sense to find the starting point, because nothing changes from it. And when we say arranging of our security relations, we do not mean that we should go and bring weapons from other places and shoot at our neighboring states. In that same security domein, we also need to build relationships with our neighbors to be able to build the right security relationships.
Look, what I was just talking about, delimitation of borders, mutual recognition of territorial integrity, etc., rules for opening communications, these are all very important components of security policy. And, especially now, I think today's world shows that the approach that you can have a lot of weapons, you can have a very strong army and produce weapons, import them and shoot them is at least outdated. It will never produce good results in the long term and it doesn't always produce good results in the short term. And when we say diversification, we also mean balanced and balancing policies in the context of foreign policy. This also includes our neighborhood, our environment, our region.
You know, the approach that we have to find allies somewhere, bring weapons and shoot at our neighbors, that is not our approach. Of course, we have fears that our neighbors will shoot at us. Those fears also need to be managed. But on the other hand, I think that any modern country should and has the right to have a modern army, it has the right to develop its armed forces, it has the right to meet its security needs with this component as well. But the meaning of my answer is that our understanding is not that it is necessary to provide security only with the army, but also to go for peace in the region.... By the way, in my speech to the European Parliament, I said what we mean by saying peace.
When we say peace, we mean that the borders of all the countries of the region are open to each other on the same principles, we mean that these countries are connected by economic ties, they are connected by political dialogue and conversation, they are connected by cultural ties. Look, there's no mention of weapons here. But this is an important security component. Why? Because this makes it possible for others to understand you better, and for you to understand others better. This is what makes it possible to establish interconnections, where the safety of the other somehow becomes important for you, and your safety also becomes important for the other, because otherwise there may be economic risks, political risks, etc. and so on.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - You talked about interconnectivity, which presumably also includes transit from Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan. The existing agreements call for the role of Russian FSB in controlling, managing this traffic. Do you think FSB should really play a role here, or can Armenia and Azerbaijan deal with this on their own, without Russia's involvement?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - First of all, I would like to emphasize that there is no separate agenda regarding the connection between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. Such an agenda exists in the context of the opening of regional communications, when all regional communications must be opened. This is the second. Thirdly, it is not written anywhere that any body of the Russian Federation should have control over any territory of the Republic of Armenia. Nowhere is it written that the Republic of Armenia agrees for any limitation of its sovereign right. It is not written anywhere that any function assigned to the state institutions of the Republic of Armenia should be delegated to someone else. It is not written anywhere and it is not intended, there is no such thing that someone else should provide security in the territory of the Republic of Armenia. No such thing was written.
In general, after the failure of the peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation in Nagorno-Karabakh, many questions arise, and these questions are legitimate, because by saying failure I mean that it is a fact that the peacekeeping troops of the Russian Federation were unable or unwilling to ensure the safety of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. Very serious questions arise here, but on the other hand, there has never been any talk of restricting any sovereign right of the Republic of Armenia and there can be no such talk.
But on the other hand, I want to say that as I already said at the European Parliament, and as we already agreed at the last Brussels meeting and which was expressed in the July 15 statement of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the opening of regional communications should take place on the basis of countries' sovereignty and jurisdiction.
As a result, should the western regions of Azerbaijan have a transport connection with Nakhichevan, including through the territory of Armenia? Yes of course. Can the Republic of Armenia use those same routes, for example, to provide a railway connection between its different parts? Yes of course: In that case, can Azerbaijan use the transport routes of Armenia for international trade? Yes of course. Should Armenia have the opportunity to use the roads of Azerbaijan for international trade? Yes of course. Should international trade participants have the opportunity to trade with Turkey, Iran, and Georgia through the territory of Armenia as a global trade route? Yes of course. And we make this proposal, we are ready for this solution and we call this proposal "Crossroads of Peace" and we invite all our partners to make this project a reality together.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - You keep saying that you and the people of Armenia have questions about the behavior of Russian troops, the behavior of Russia. What are those questions?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - I already said. First of all, referring to your question, I already mentioned the actions of the peacekeeping troops in Nagorno Karabakh, the actions or rather the inaction of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in May 2021, September 2022. The same applies to the bilateral security agreements of Russia and Armenia. But I also want to draw your attention to a nuance that we have started a conversation, a dialogue on these issues. I mean, it's not like that this conversation isn't taking place. That conversation is still taking place today, I had the opportunity to speak on that topic, our various partners are speaking, and that conversation will continue, because here it is really very important that we and Russia understand each other better and more correctly.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - You mentioned the disfunction of CSTO. Why is Armenia still a member of that organization?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - It is for the same reason that we are in the process of discussing issues, because we do not want to have misunderstood the Collective Security Treaty Organization on any issue and we do not want the Collective Security Treaty Organization to have misunderstood us on any issue. For this, we need to carry out consistent work until the time is ripe to draw any conclusions.
The Wall Street Journal by Yaroslav Trofimov - The international environment has obviously changed in the last three years. In the war in Ukraine, Russia and the USA, together with its allies, are at opposite sides. In your opinion, how did Russia's invasion of Ukraine impact Armenia's security environment?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - My belief is that all the events taking place are interconnected by internal connections, including the 44-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. Of course those impacts are very direct and now in the modern world they are felt, visible and significant even thousands of kilometers away, but the events you mention are happening in our region, near our transport routes, or on our transport routes.
But also our reaction to the events is that our region needs peace, and we consider it important to pursue this policy consistently, because you see, there is a very important nuance that I mentioned again in my speech in the European Parliament, which sometimes can remain unnoticed, unrecorded. When we say that we have a peace agenda, the Republic of Armenia can be peaceful if our region is peaceful, there cannot be such a situation that our region is not peaceful, but the Republic of Armenia is peaceful. And for that reason, we do not oppose or separate our ideas of peace from the regional interests of peace in any way. And this is a very important wording, a very important feature that I would like to emphasize.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov – We started this conversation referring to the tragic events that took place in Nagorno-Karabakh. What do you think is the future of these 100,000 people who had to leave the region?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - There is a short-term future, there is a medium-term future, there is a long-term future. In the short term, our task is to meet the most urgent needs of our compatriots who have become refugees. In the medium term we want them to have decent opportunities for living. Our approach is that if they do not have the opportunity or desire to return to Nagorno-Karabakh, we should do everything for them to stay, live, and create in the Republic of Armenia.
Of course, what that future will look like largely depends on what proposal Azerbaijan will make to them, or what position it will take, or what conditions Azerbaijan will create. And in this regard, will the international community encourage it and what will it support? But also, taking into account the fact of ethnic cleansing, starving people, in fact, forced displacement, very great efforts should be made so that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh would have the desire to return there, if the possibility of this realistically exists. That is, there are questions that can even reach a dozen. The first is how realistically this possibility exists, and if it realistically exists, to what extent people will trust this possibility? These are very serious and deep questions.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - If we look at the history of relations between the Armenian people and Russia over the centuries, this tension that we see now, I would not call it break necessarily, but maybe for many people the feeling of being betrayed, how historical is this tension?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - You know, if you emphasize the historical context, in that historical context I would not so much emphasize the relations between Armenia, the Armenian people and Russia, as I would emphasize the relations between Armenia and Turkey or between Armenia and the Turkish-speaking peoples of the region, or rather, Armenia's relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Here are all the questions and here are the answers to all the questions. And I bring forward this logic that we should work, first of all, to improve our relations in our region, with whom we have good relations, to make those relations better. This refers to Georgia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and create those relations and try to move forward step by step with those countries with which relations are strained or there are no relations.
It is a very important circumstance and, frankly speaking, I do not have the answer to that question and I am trying find the answer to the question what Armenia should do. It is very important to what extent we will be able to formulate regional interests, moreover, in this context, we can understand regional interests a little narrower and a little wider, in the context of the South Caucasus and in a wider context.
Much depends on to what extent we will be able to formulate regional interests, because when there are no formulated regional interests, tensions begin to arise between the interests of sovereign countries, which, if not managed, turn into escalations and wars. But the correct and competent way to manage these tensions is to have an understanding of regional interests, because you know, we cannot make all the countries and peoples of the region to be identical, with identical thinking, identical ideas, perceptions and so on, and there is no need to do that, because what becomes a cause of contradictions can sometimes become a cause of complementarity, not to mention that these cultures, histories, traditions can complement each other.
But it is necessary to find that formula of how to formulate and arrange them so that they do not collide, but complement one another, emphasize one another, maybe strengthen one another.
In other words, it’s not so that we have defined the task but we cannot solve it, we just have not defined the task, that is, we still do not have the title. Now I think we should have that title and try to create content under that title. I cannot say what that content will and should be like, because it can only be the result of collaboration and joint work. I cannot boast that we are doing this work sufficiently in the region, but I think that if we stay within the framework of the agreeements that are already known and that I have talked about, the chances of having something like this will increase.
The Wall Street Journal: Yaroslav Trofimov - Thank you Mr. Prime Minister for your time.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan - Thank you.