YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia’s former Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian, signaled his disapproval of Armenia’s low-key stance in the Russian-Georgian conflict on Wednesday, saying that Yerevan should have been more vocal in articulating its neutrality.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Oskanian also said rising tensions between Russia and the West will make it harder for Armenia to carry on with its long-standing “complementary” foreign policy.
“Armenia certainly can not choose [between the two warring sides,]” he said. “Nor can it be indifferent. We should be able to find the right balance and I think that can be achieved through an upgraded complementarity.”
“That means our foreign policy should be much more public,” he added.
The Armenian government barely reacted to the August 8 outbreak of fighting in South Ossetia that developed into a full-scale Russian-Georgian war, with President Serzh Sarkisian refusing to cut short his vacation in China despite strong criticism from his political opponents. Sarkisian held a meeting of Armenia’s National Security Council only on his return to Yerevan on August 14. He also discussed the festering crisis in separate phone conversations with the presidents of Russia and Georgia.
“Saying nothing when the situation is difficult might be a solution,” said Oskanian. “What the authorities have done in connection with the latest developmen’s is understandable. I don’t want to voice any criticism.”
“But my preference would have been somewhat different,” he said, adding that Yerevan should have displayed a “more public neutrality.”
“I think that as soon as this problem arose we could have ; publicly told Russia and the U.S. that what is happening does not stem from anybody’s interests, is bad for the region and in the global political sense,” continued Oskanian. “Armenia would have had a clearer stance by telling everyone that Armenia is not going to choose between its two allies. Indeed, if Russia is our strategic ally, Georgia is our natural ally.”
According to Oskanian, the Sarkisian administration’s “silence” could also reflect negatively on Armenia’s negotiating position in the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He said Russia’s decision to unilaterally recognize Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s de facto independence from Georgia will erode Western support for the principle of peoples’ self-determination championed by the Armenian side.
“As I said, our silence or low-key stance on the other issue is understandable. But I think that we could lag behind on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue,” warned the man who served as Armenia’s foreign minister and chief Karabakh negotiator from 1998-2008.
“If we fail to enter these processes and clearly express our position on Karabakh’s self-determination, I’m afraid we will find it harder to achieve results desirable to us,” he said.
Oskanian went to on to imply that Armenia’should draw parallels between the conflicts over Karabakh and Kosovo and exploit Georgia’s botched attempt to win back South Ossetia for stressing the importance of non-use of force in the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute. He said Yerevan should also go as far as to threaten to formally recognize Karabakh as an independent state if Baku rejects international mediators’ existing peace plan.
The plan calls for a gradual settlement of the conflict that would enable Karabakh’s predominantly Armenian population to determine the disputed territory’s status in a referendum. It was drawn up by the US, Russian and French diplomats co-chairing the OSCE Minsk Group. The crisis in Georgia and its geopolitical implications have left observers wondering whether Russia and Western powers will continue to work together in trying to have the conflicting parties accept the framework peace deal.
“This is also a problem,” admitted Oskanian. “Those countries have frequently said that the Karabakh issue unites them and that they have no differences on that issue. I am really concerned that those disagreemen’s [on Georgia] could also manifest themselves in their positions on the Karabakh conflict.”
Oskanian reiterated in that regard his calls for Russia, the US and the European Union to help create a “regional security pact” comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In an article published by “The International Herald Tribune” on Monday, he made a case for a “nonaligned Caucasus, free of security memberships and adversarial alliances.”
When asked by RFE/RL whether that means Armenia’should be ready to end its military alliance with Russia, Oskanian said, “That should be discussed by those six players, in the 3 plus 3 format. Other neighbors–and Turkey in particular–should also be involved.”