Saturday, August 23, 2008

LTP's interview with a1plus

LTP just gave a1plus an interview, available in Armenian at a1plus. Below is the english translation.

The first president of the Republic of Armenia answers A1plus' questions

Q: Mr. President, it seems that the significance of the recent Russo-Georgian war was not assessed seriously neither by the Armenian government nor the political parties, and not even by the political experts, while it is obvious that that war indirectly affects our vital national interests.

A: I cannot disagree with your observations, but I would like to make one clarification in that respect: the war was originally Georgian-Ossetian; it was only later that it became Russo-Georgian.

Q: Do you mean to say that Georgia was responsible for the initial offense and that Russia was compelled to be drawn in?

A: I don't mean to say anything. I only want to record the obvious facts. No one can challenge the fact that the war was unleashed by Georgia, with the intention of eliminating the Republic of South Ossetia through the use of armed force. Neither can anyone question the fact that Russia, with its decisive intervention, saved the population of South Ossetia from genocide. If Russian assistance had been delayed even by even six hours, South Ossetia would not exist today.

Q: Many, while accepting the validity of the reasons of the Russian intervention, insist that Russia's response was not proportionate.
A: I do not know of any example in history where the response of the strong was proportionate to the actions against their interests. What is important, as I said, is that Russia, independent of whether the response was proportionate or not, prevented the genocide threatening the South Ossetian people.

Q: What is your opinion of the argument that Saakashvili could not have undertaken the war without having received the approval of the U.S.?

A: I consider those arguments unfounded and non-credible, since we must exclude the possibility that a serious country like the United States of America would goad anyone into this kind of an adventure. It is another thing that President Saakashvili could have incorrectly perceived or interpreted certain friendly gestures from the West.

Q: In that case, what did Saakashvili base calculations on? Could it be that he could not foresee the consequences of his actions, especially Russia's reaction?

A: In my opinion, the calculations made by the Georgian government were based first on the element of surprise; second on the non-guaranteed expectation of assistance from friendly countries that would be faced with a fait-accompli. Thus we are dealing with a typical situation of confusion between wishful thinking and reality, a very instructive example.

Q: If, as you pointed out, Georgians had placed their hopes on the element of surprise, then why didn't they try to block the Roki tunnel by airlifting special forces and with that preventing the advance of Russian forces into South Ossetia.

A: The Georgian government's intention was not the extermination of the South Ossetian people, but their relocation, which would not have been possible if the tunnel had been closed. Saakashvili would have realized that the extermination of the people would not have been forgiven by the international community, whereas relocation could in some way or another be tolerated, as it was in 1995 with the relocation of the Serbs of Krayina.

Q: Can you summarize the main consequences of the war?
A: The war unleashed by Georgia caused heavy losses for the South Ossetian people and Russian peacekeepers, but the main victim of the war became Georgia, which aside from its human losses in the thousands, lost its small enclaves of Georgian populated areas in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and ended up with thousands of more refugees. It is with deep sorrow that I record the national disaster that has fallen upon our brotherly Georgian people and wish that they rediscover, as quickly as possible, their dignity and confidence. This wish is as sincere from the human point of view as it is unambiguous from the political point of view, since Georgia’s stability, strength and development coincide with the interests of Armenia.

Q. How do you assess the mediation role of the French President Sarkozy in the resolution of the Russo-Georgian conflict?
A. That was a timely and productive mission, facilitated by the readiness of the Russian side and the fact that Georgia has no alternatives. Sarkozy’s mission was important because he represented not only France’s but also the European Union’s position.

Q. And how do you assess, in that context, the unequivocal support to Georgia provided by some members of the EU such as Poland and the Baltic Republics, as well as that of Ukraine?
A. That demonstration of concord was, of course, a moving ritual; but that should be assigned a moral rather political significance.

Q. What consequences can the militarized confrontation between Georgia and Russia have on global politics?
A. Despite the wide international resonance the Russo-Georgian war has had, it is obvious that the impact will be local or regional, and it will not have an impact, in essence, on the current strategic relations of superpowers. The harsh anti-Russian rhetoric displayed in the US can be explained by the electoral campaign. There is no reason to see it as a factor that will have long term impact. South Ossetia is not that hotspot that will revive the Cold War.

Q. Can the Georgian-Ossetian war have consequences for the other unresolved ethnic conflicts?

A. No doubt. But not in the sense of facilitating the resolution of these conflicts, but in the sense that it will complicate and prolong them. Once more this war brought out the conflicted position of major powers toward two principles of international law: territorial integrity and peoples’ right to self-determination. As long as the international community does not desist from the practicing of double standards in this respect, as long as it does not find the key to harmonize these principles, it is difficult to imagine a speedy resolution to inter-ethnic conflicts.

Q. And what impact did this war have on Armenia?
A. This war made altogether obvious how tenuous and vulnerable is Armenian’s economy. Military operations in our neighboring country that lasted just a few days immediately disrupted the regularity of transports to Armenia and produced noticeable panic in the domestic market, particularly in the realm of natural gas and petroleum products provisions. The stoppage of activities at the port of Poti, even if temporary, and an explosion on one of the bridges linking the Trans-Caucasian railroad threaten to complicate the situation even more. These should compel the authorities in Armenia to assess this state of affairs seriously and to reach conclusions accordingly.

Q. In your opinion, how should the Armenian government have reacted to the war and what steps should it have taken under the circumstances?

A. If you have in mind the official or diplomatic reaction, then the positive neutrality might have been the maximum the government of Armenia could have displayed with regard to a militarized conflict between two countries w2ith which Armenia has friendly relations. In this respect there are no grounds for complaint against the present authorities. On the practical level, the Armenian authorities should—and to some extent did—undertake specific actions: humanitarian assistance to both the Ossetian and Georgian sides, ensuring the transportation of goods through car caravans, participation in the re-activation of the port of Poti, the reconstruction of the Trans-Caucasus railway, etc.
But when I mentioned lessons to be learned, these are not what I had in mind.

Q. What lessons did you have in mind, then?
A. First, the authorities in Armenia must realize finally what danger the blockade of Armenia and the one-sided dependence on one neighbor represent for our country. That should compel them to undertake genuine steps to resolve the Karabakh conflict and Armenian-Turkish relations.
Second, it should be clear that adventure is the greatest danger for small nations, since its most likely outcome is national tragedy. Small nations have no right to make such mistakes. Such luxury may be allowed to the major powers because, regardless, it is usually not they who bear the consequences of such mistakes; it is still the small nations that suffer.
And, finally, small nations must once and for all reject the destructive policy of relying on third powers; and they must try to resolve their conflicts through their own means and capabilities while respecting rules accepted by international law and the norms of coexistence of peoples.

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