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EurAsEC — Ukraines chestnuts, Armenias fears and Kyrgyzstans lessons: interview with Konstantin Zatulin

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Konstantin Zatulin is Member of the Russian State Duma, Head of the CIS Institute

REGNUM: Mr. Zatulin, the EurAsEC summit in Sochi is over. Experts say that its key topic is energy. What agreements could have been reached at the summit, particularly, to overcome the Ukrainian-Russian “gas conflict”?

The Sochi forum is certainly a very important event, and one of its most important points — to me — is that Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich is taking part in it. It is hardly a coincidence that the head of the new Ukrainian government has first come to Russia exactly now that it is hosting a EurAsEC summit.

Here we can see a hint from both sides that the former plans to involve Ukraine in the Common Economic Space (CES) are coming back. It was exactly because of Ukraines setback from real integration that the SEC project was stalled. Now, after some pause the orange policy in Ukraine and the comeback of Viktor Yanukovich integration projects are coming back into the spotlight. And this moment should not be missed even despite the seemingly domineering energy agenda.

Of course, energy security is a very painful problem for Ukraine, and in Sochi Yanukovich will have to raise the problem of energy supplies to make it clear — first of all, to his opponents — why exactly he is there. This is especially important as those very opponents have left him not a very good legacy: I mean not so much the contracts made as the very simple fact that there is very little gas in Ukraine and the winter is not very far. No gas has been stored so far, while Naftogaz is almost bankrupt. Thats what Yanukovich has to deal with, and even his most active supporters — somewhere deep in their hearts rely, first of all, on his ability to agree with Russia.

At the same time, I would like to note that today the key vexing factor for Ukraine in its aggravating gas problems is not Russia but Turkmenistan. Ashgabats plans to raise the disbursing price of its gas from $60 to $100 may cause quite a dramatic change in the structure of the Turkmen-Russian gas cocktail Ukraine is receiving today.

REGNUM: Is there any possibility that the policy of the new Ukrainian government or the interference of Russia in the Ukrainian-Turkmen talks may reduce the gas tariff for Ukraine?

I dont see any possibility of Russias reducing the tariff. It would be a naïve and irresponsible step on Russias part a step that would be contrary to the general tendencies in the world. On the other hand, they may well review the terms of gas supplies. For example, they may credit Ukraine or reconsider some accompanying problems, like the ownership of Ukraines gas networks or the possibility of Russia, Ukraine and Germany forming a consortium. I dont see why the sides cannot discuss these problems again, though it seems it was the Ukrainian politicians who preferred to drive their own selves into a deadlock.

As regards the talks with Turkmenistan, Russia has certain ways to interest the Turkmen side, though it will be hard for the Russians to explain why they can raise the tariffs while the Turkmens cant. The Russians should, first of all, understand why, in the first place, they are pulling others chestnuts out of the fire. First of all, they should understand the logic and the dynamics of the home politics in Ukraine. Yanukovich himself has given cause for that by saying that, for example, the status of the Russian language is a pragmatic problem because of the lack of Constitutional majority. In Sochi he made a symptomatic statement that, as soon as they form such a majority, the Party of Regions will redeem its electoral promises. So, what the Universal says is not a dogma for Yanukovich and even though in considering the status of the Russian language the Universal refers mostly to the Constitution, it also refers to the European Charter.

I would like to especially note that, besides the problems of energy and integration, Russia and Ukraine have many more problems to discuss. They in Russia realize that the Yanukovich government is a government of compromise who is capable of showing positive dynamics in relations. This is one more coin to Yanukovichs “money-box,” which will allow him to further strengthen his positions in Ukraine, especially as there are different people in the new Ukrainian government. Its no coincidence that Yanukovich has come to Sochi without Foreign Minister Tarasyuk, who is well known for his anti-Russian views.

REGNUM: How real is the prospect of Armenias joining EurAsEC and Moldovas getting closer to it?

I am not sure that Moldova will show a constructive position. There are serious grounds for not trusting the words of Moldavian politicians.

For Armenia EurAsEC membership is certainly of strategic importance. No coincidence that Armenian President Robert Kocharyan is now in Sochi as an observer. Of course, Armenia should make this decision itself, based on its own economic priorities and goals. However, we should also keep in mind that Armenia is full member to the CSTO.

Another significant factor influencing Armenias plans is the Karabakh problem, which will hardly be solved in the near future.

On the other hand, Armenias integration plans are strongly restrained by the position and behavior of Georgia, who prevents normal communication between the South and the North. Yerevan is greatly suffering from Georgias destructive policy of blockading the Armenia-Russia railroad in Abkhazia and from its revengeful plans with respect to Abkhazia and South Ossetia something Armenia has nothing to do with. It seems that the moment of truth is ripening not only in Russian-Georgian but also in Armenian-Georgian relations. Until now Armenia has been demonstratively neutral. They have tried to avoid any tensions with Georgia, they have been consciously damping down the problem of Javakheti and have even refused to support the protest actions of Armenians in that Georgian region.

I think that they in Armenia should also realize that Georgias adventurism will certainly cause complications and Armenia will be the first to suffer from them as this all is leading to drastic changes in the force distribution in the region, which is certainly bad for Yerevan. I can understand the fears of the Armenian authorities, but they should realize that this problem is caused by Georgia and does not depend on Armenia. The slapdash policy of the Georgian leaders is a big threat to all the regions countries. In fact, the Georgian authorities are implicating their own country into a new civil war that may spur up new conflicts all over the regions.

As regards Armenia, it continues being dependent not so much on its neutral relations with Georgia as on the presence of Russia and its position in the region.

REGNUM: Some Russian experts say that Moscow will use the Sochi summit for warning the EurAsEC member-states against getting much too close with the US and note that this, first of all, refers to Kyrgyzstan

They probably mean that under Akayev Kyrgyzstan was the first CIS country to join WTO. Lets admit that this membership has given no special happiness to the Kyrgyz people. The country has turned into a kind of Klondike and has gone through most severe crisis. Its very integrity is under question and is being preserved just artificially for fear of a possible chain reaction in the region. The US support, particularly, its military base in Manas, has not insured the country against such developments.

Balancing between the interests of Russia and the US in hope for results gives no results, as a rule. Kyrgyzstan should better refrain from hypocrisy and show more clarity in its attitudes. Left to the mercy of the fate, many in Central Asia hoped that the role of the US closest friend will help them to strengthen their positions, but later they understood that to be friend with the US means to give it part of ones own sovereignty. The most vivid example is Karimov. The Americans proved this with the “knack” of elephant in china-shop, which resulted in a civil war in Kyrgyzstan and Andijan events in Uzbekistan.

At the same time, I think that today Russia has no claims against Kyrgyzstan. The sides are cooperating on a whole range of issues, and Kyrgyzstan is fulfilling its commitments. By the way, it was exactly and exclusively Kyrgyzstan who officially objected to Ukraines admission into WTO even though they in Ukraine did much even against their own interests to push their country into WTO ahead of Russia. And their stumbling was due mostly to Kyrgyzstan.

As regards Kyrgyzstans own membership, once they have joined WTO, nobody is going to persuade them to leave it. True, this is contradictory to Russias EurAsEC plans, but this is up to the Kyrgyz leaders to overcome all possible contradictions.

As featured on News Now
April 2015
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