YEREVAN (Sputnik)—The deployment of Russia’s Iskander missile systems in Armenia was a necessary measure to ensure regional stability, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian said in an interview.
Iskanders were first demonstrated on September 21 at a military parade in Yerevan marking the 25th anniversary of Armenia’s independence. They were reportedly adopted by Armenia’s Armed Forces earlier and were put on combat alert during the escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh in April this year.
“I think this [deployment of Iskanders in Armenia] was a necessary measure to somehow balance the military situation in our region,” Sarkisian said.
“It is no secret that Azerbaijan has regularly purchased state-of-the-art weaponry in the past few years. We do not have such financial capabilities as Azerbaijan, but we are constantly trying to balance the situation by finding an antidote. I think Iskander is such an antidote in this case,” he said.
Azerbaijan’s Armenian-dominated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh proclaimed its independence in 1991. After the military conflict ended in 1994, Azerbaijan lost control over the region. Violence erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh on April 2, 2016 and led to multiple casualties. The parties to the conflict signed a Russian-brokered ceasefire on April 5, but mutual accusations have not stopped so far.
“There is a solution, and we realize that it should be based on compromises, it is not the case when Armenia, Azerbaijan or Karabakh would win,” Sarkisian said.
He said Yerevan was ready to resume talks with Baku, but “only on the basis of the three principles,” which include non-use of force, territorial integrity of states and the right of peoples to self-determination. Sarkisian confirmed to Sputnik his readiness to meet with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, if such talks would be useful.
“We have never refused any meetings. Whether it is [a meeting] on the presidential, foreign ministerial, even working level. But we always call for these meetings to be useful, bring progress. If there is no progress when we meet, and agreements do not get implemented, what is the benefit of meetings?” Sarkisian said.
According to the president, Armenia is ready to sign an agreement on investigation of ceasefire violations in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone “even tonight.”
“We want the co-chairs [of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] and the international community to know who is violating the ceasefire regime,” he added.
Armenia Recognizes Azerbaijan’s Territorial Integrity
Armenia recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, but believes people’s right to self-determination needs to be taken into account in resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Sarkisian said.
“We recognize the territorial integrity of any state, including Azerbaijan. But people’s self-determination does not contradict in any way the principle of territorial integrity, because territorial integrity concerns relations between countries while self-determination [is related to] the capital and the people that live compactly in the civilized world, all issues are resolved without the use of force, especially in the historical motherland,” Sarkisian said.
According to the president, if Armenia rejected the principle of self-determination, then it should not have left the Soviet Union on its basis. “Therefore, these principles do not contradict each other,” he added.
No Need to Establish New Russian Military Bases in Armenia
There is no need to establish new Russian military bases in Armenia, it would be enough to expand the capacity of the existing one in Gyumri, said the head of state.
“I do not believe that there is any need in this because the military base is able to take in all elements which may be needed. Therefore, one military base is enough for the small Armenia, it is just necessary to give it military power,” Sarkisian said.
The Russian 102nd Military Base is located in the Armenian city of Gyumri. On August 20, 2010, Russia and Armenia agreed to prolong the agreement on the base location until 2044.
Armenia Fully Supports Russia’s Actions in Syria
Armenia is supportive of Russia’s actions in Syria, said Sarkisian. “We fully support Russia providing help to the Syrian government upon its request. There can be no doubts here. This is a legal right of the Syrian government to ask for help, and Russia’s legal right to provide this help,” he said.
According to the president, Yerevan would like to see the Syrian crisis resolved quickly, but it can only be settled by the Syrian people.
“Of course, we would like for this issue to be resolved quickly, however, as I can see, there can hardly be a quick solution. There are 20,000 of our compatriots living [in Syria]. We do not have exact information,” Sarkisian continued.
Armenian-Turkish Border Can Be Opened Only by Mutual Consent
The Armenian president said that the Armenian-Turkish border can be opened only with the agreement of both sides without any preconditions.
“One cannot say that the issue is 50 percent resolved, that is not the case. Nothing depends on us in this respect,” Sarkisian said.
He said that despite tensions in the Armenian-Turkish relations in 2008 Armenia initiated negotiations with Turkey and in 2009 the countries signed protocols on opening the border.
“But unfortunately some time later Turkey turned out not to be ready to ratify these protocols and in fact to establish ties with Armenia without preconditions,” he said.
The president said that Turkey demanded to exert pressure on Nagorno-Karabakh so that it transferred one of the districts it controlled to Azerbaijan. From Sarkisian’s point of view such preconditions should have been announced before signing the protocols. “After that we have no relations with Turkey,” he added.
The Armenian-Turkish relations are negatively influenced by what is recognized as genocide of Armenians by Armenia and some other countries. Around 1.2 million Armenians were killed or starved to death by the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I. Turkey has repeatedly denied accusations of committing mass murder of Armenians, claiming that the victims of the tragedy were both Turks and Armenians.
Armenian President Optimistic About Eurasian Economic Union Membership Almost 2 Years On
Sarkisian said he never regretted his country’s entry into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) almost two years ago, in an interview with Sputnik.
Armenia’s accession to the economic bloc of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan came into effect in January 2015, months after Russia was hit by US and EU sanctions over Ukraine. “Armenia’s entry into the EAEU coincided, unfortunately, with post-sanctions economic downturn in Russia, the union’s powerhouse,” Sarkisian said, adding that his country “did the right thing” and “lost nothing.”
The fallout from anti-Russia sanctions worsened Armenia’s performance, which has a market of three million people and is tied to the Russian economy “with a thousand strings,” the president said.
“By joining the Eurasian Economic Union, we became part of a market of 170 million or even more. As soon as we reach the union’s main goal of streamlining the flow of goods, services, workforce and capital we will win a lot,” he said.
The EAEU promotes economic integration of Eurasian countries and tighter cooperation between the bloc and other trade unions. In May 2015, it signed a preferential trade deal with Vietnam, the first such pact with a non-member country. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev said earlier this month a similar deal could be signed with China’s Silk Road Economic Belt.
Armenian Exports Rise Almost 50% in 2016
Armenia’s exports have increased nearly 50 percent in 2016, Sarkisian said.
“We significantly increased exports this year and last year as well. This year, we increased exports by almost 50 percent. Most of it headed for the Eurasian Economic Union, or course. And this fact is very, very important,” Sarkisian said. The South Caucasus country’s relatively small economy has performed well over the past several years despite some members of the Eurasian bloc having gone through economic hardship.
Armenian exports increased over 25 percent year-on-year in September after soaring to over $160 million, the highest figure since the all-time peak of over $162 million in 2012, according to the country’s National Statistical Service. GDP growth has also exceeded most other EAEU members.
Armenia’s Shift to Parliamentary System to Improve Security
Armenia’s planned transfer to a parliamentary republic from the current semi-presidential system will improve the country’s security, said Sarkisian.
The current system allows for a deadlock between the presidential executive authority and the parliamentary majority in case the latter is from a rival political bloc. Vesting political power in the parliament will allow for a more efficient distribution of decision-making in terms of security issues, according to the president.
“The [current] constitution says that the president is responsible for the security and the territorial integrity of the country. The president is the commander-in-chief…. The commander-in-chief is tasked with ensuring that the state is working to solve military-political issues. And how could he do that without having the right to spend some of the budget?… So I think that this [parliamentary] form of government will lead to Armenia’s security being better ensured,” Sarkisian said.
Armenia plans to transition to a parliamentary system between 2017 and 2018 after the 2017 parliamentary election takes place. The election will be the first since Armenians voted to adopt a parliamentary system in a referendum on December 6, 2015. Over 66 percent approved the necessary constitutional amendments.