This was first published in the March 14, 2009 Armenian Reporter
U.S.-Russia agenda and stability of Armenia’s region
An interview with Andranik Migranyan
Andranik Migranyan heads the New York office of the Russian Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. Often described in the West as a “pro-Kremlin pundit” and one of the thinkers behind a more assertive Russian foreign policy, Mr. Migranyan is a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Foreign Ministry, a member of the state-funded Public Chamber of policy experts, and a board member of the Union of Armenians of Russia.
Since 1975 Mr. Migranyan has been a teaching and research professor at several Moscow universities, and a visiting professor in the United States. He came to prominence in the late 1980s as a vocal critic of Soviet policies. In the 1990s Mr. Migranyan served as a senior foreign policy advisor to the Russian parliament and President Boris Yeltsin. Born in Yerevan in 1949, he graduated from MGIMO and earned a candidate’s degree (Ph.D.) from the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Workers’ Movement.
Mr. Migranyan spoke by phone with Washington Editor Emil Sanamyan on February 24.
Armenian Reporter: What are Russia’s priorities for the Caucasus? What does its government want to achieve there?
Andranik Migranyan: Russia is interested in peace and stability in the Caucasus because this is one of the most sensitive areas for Russia. [This is a kind] of a “soft belly” for Russia because Russia’s North Caucasus is not very stable [considering the wars in] Chechnya and Islamic radical movements there.
Russia is interested in cooperation with the European Union, Turkey, the United States, and other interested countries – Iran of course – in bringing stability to the Caucasus.
There are some problems concerning Georgia, but with other countries – including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey – Russia has good and stable relations.
Watching Armenia-Turkey dialogue
AR: What has been Russia’s reaction to the high-level Armenia- Turkey dialogue over the last six months? Has Russia played any role in this process?
AM: Russia is not directly involved [in the dialogue], but Russia of course is following how these relations are developing. Russia has very good multidimensional relations with both Turkey and Armenia, which is Russia’s strategic partner and a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. For these reasons, Russia is certainly interested in improvement of relations between these two countries.
AR: In your view, what are Turkey’s intentions in this process? Does its government genuinely seek to normalize relations with Armenia as its officials have stated?
AM: I think at this moment Turkey is closer to a breakthrough in relations [with Armenia] than before. While I was a member of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), [its Turkish members] Gunduz Aktan, Ilter Turkmen, and others emphasized that there is a linkage between Turkish-Armenian relations and Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. And as far as I know, Turkey is now ready to go forward and not to link these two sets of relations.
This means that without preliminary preconditions Turkey could come to normalization – establishing diplomatic relations and opening the border with – Armenia. This in turn could create favorable conditions for solution of all conflicts and problems inherited from the past.
AR: Why do you think the shift you described occurred?
AM: Turkey is interested in addressing its own problems, first of all. This unsolved problem with Armenia hurts enormously the image of Turkey in Europe and in the United States.
Perhaps they are thinking that the United States under this new administration could recognize the [Armenian] Genocide, imposing additional pressures on Turkey. That is one reason. On the other hand, there is growing sense among Turkish elites that this is an abnormal situation between the two countries and the two nations.
The two are neighbors and there is a need to improve the relations.
No Russian unilateralism in Karabakh
AR: Following the war in Georgia, there was much speculation in Armenia that Russia was pushing for a deal in the Karabakh conflict that would involve the introduction of Russian forces in Karabakh. Do you know if in fact something like that was being considered?
AM: I don’t think this was the aim of Russia. ere are three co-chairs [mediating in the Karabakh conflict] and Russia cannot act unilaterally. I don’t believe any such ideas are circulating in Moscow.
AR: And what was then the purpose of the November declaration between the Russian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani presidents, with Moscow stepping up its role above the two other co-chairs?
AM: That was quite a natural thing for Russia to do, since its government wanted to – especially after the Georgia events – have stability in the region. So it was not something exceptional. A joint declaration of presidents [sought to] formulate the idea that a military solution to the problem was not a good idea.
Just previously we witnessed the terrible events between Georgia and Ossetia. And I think the less-than-favorable outcome for Georgia helped disincline Azerbaijan [from acting in a similar manner].
The fact that Azerbaijan signed the declaration was recognition that no military force could be used to solve the problem. That was a good achievement and it was not
intended to undermine either the United States or France.
AR: Following U.S. and European recognition of Kosovo, there has been Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Serbia and Georgia have been forced to live with the respective outcomes. Who do you think will be the first to unilaterally recognize Karabakh – Russia or the West?
AM: In this [Karabakh] process, I think either all sides [France, Russia and the United States] are going to recognize [the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic] or none of them.
AR: Unlike the United States, Russia does not have a direct aid program in Karabakh. Is there any reason why Russia has stayed out of Karabakh more than the United States?
AM: It is not true because Russia is a partner with Armenia, because Russia is doing a lot to [strengthen] Armenia’s economy and military. This is indirectly or even directly creates support for both Armenia and Karabakh. Because although Karabakh is not recognized as part of Armenia, in economic and military sense everybody knows there are no serious barriers between the two.
Under Obama, a stronger emphasis on Russia partnership
AR: The new administration is now putting together its foreign policy, in particular seeking the ways to, in the words of President Obama, “reset” relations with Russia. What changes do you detect in the new administration’s approaches toward Russia and the Caucasus?
AM: Not too many serious changes are visible so far. [The conversation took place prior to the March 6 meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – Ed.]
In my op-ed in the Washington Times, I listed some of the ideas on the bilateral agenda. Because President Obama is shifting the center of gravity [of U.S. policy] from Iraq to Afghanistan, Russia and Russia’s allies become more important partners for the United States in terms of supplying its forces there; perhaps more important than many of the NATO allies.
Russia is also a critical partner for the United States on the policy toward Iran and Iran’s nuclear dossier. And Russia could contribute to U.S. efforts to address instability in Pakistan and nonproliferation concerns.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in his recent Foreign Affairs article that while America’s resources are enormous, they are limited when it comes to solving many problems unilaterally. That is why multilateralism will be the new administration’s line, making Russia more important for the United States.
AR: How is the economic crisis changing attitudes in Moscow in terms of foreign policy?
AM: [Russian Premier Vladimir] Putin’s speech in Davos is a good answer to this question. Russia’s position is that this crisis is global and requires multilateral actions to get out of it. No selfish or individual activity could solve the problem.
This is why the G20-type of meeting is the proper way of dealing with these problems. [The G20 is made up of the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the European Union, which is represented by the rotating Council presidency and the European Central Bank. President Obama and other world leaders are expected to attend the G20 summit in London this April -Ed.]
First Russian Institute in America
AR: What is the role of your institute in shaping U.S.-Russia relations?
AM: It is a normal attempt to establish a place where Russians and Americans could come together to discuss different problems and try to better understand each other’s aims and goals.
Our first event last November was a seminar on how relations could improve under the new Obama administration. And on February 15 we had a seminar on problems of democracy, discussing the situation with democratic institutions in the West and rest of the world.
We are planning to study local governance in Russia and the United States and media issues.
We are a nongovernmental organization and this is the first such attempt to have such an entity outside of Russia. We have a branch here in New York and one in Paris.
AR: Why New York and not Washington?
AM: Might be because we have the Embassy in Washington, which is an official place. New York is the place for nongovernmental organizations. New York is a great city that has, in addition to political, a lot of great media, financial, and cultural institutions. This is why we are here. But we are certainly in contact with all major think tanks in Washington.
AR: A couple of years ago, while speaking in Washington, you said that Washington is your favorite city after Moscow and Yerevan. Is that still the case?
AM: Not Washington, New York!
Russia raising its U.S. profile:
Long an outsider to the American political establishment and still often treated with suspicion and hostility, the Russian government recently began to emulate other foreign governments that have long attempted to “buy-in” into the Washington policy-making process.
Last month, the New Republic in an article, “Pravda on the Potomac,” described the evolution of Russia’s public relations efforts.
Since 2004 Russia has regularly invited Western experts to Moscow through the “Valdai Discussion Club” for meetings with senior leaders and visits throughout the country.
In 2005, the Russian government launched the 24-hour English- language Russia Today channel, now available via major satellite and cable providers.
In 2006, for the first time in history, the Russian government paid a leading Washington public relations firm, Ketchum Inc. (which has represented Kodak, IBM, Nokia, and FedEx), to promote its policies.
Most recently, the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation was launched in New York in January 2008.
But some less than sophisticated methods have yet to be phased out.
In a recent Atlantic Monthly article, one Washington journalist described a blatant bribing attempt by Russian Embassy staff in an alleged effort to publish stories favorable to Russia.
At another extreme, the World Russia Forum, an annual conference intended to broadcast the importance of Russia for the United States, has a “quota” system that limits media access.