Interview by Day.Az with Matteo Verda, an Associate Research Fellow at ISPI
- You have prepared for ISPI a report on The South Caucasus and its development during the last 10 years. What are your major conclusions of the current place of the South Caucasus?
Southern Caucasus is a natural border, continuously exposed to overlapping influences. The past decade proved to be no exception: conflicts and cooperation lived side by side across the region.
From a more global perspective, Southern Caucasus retained a strategic relevance for the European countries. Firstly, it proved to be a new source of energy supplies, benefitting both importing countries and investing companies. Secondly, Southern Caucasus also became a testing ground for the international action of the European countries after the end of the Cold War and the following transitional period.- How would you estimate regional place and role of Azerbaijan in comparison with its neighbours?
The past decade represented a major turning point for the regional stance of Azerbaijan. Driven by the energy sector, Azerbaijani economy experienced an average growth rate of 12%, doubling the performance of its neighbours. Now, Azerbaijan has the biggest economy in the region and this situation is likely to strengthen in the years to come. At the moment, this economic leadership did not translate into a political leadership, due to the role played at regional level by third countries.
-We have an Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius this year. What do you think about cooperation between the EU and regional countries, Azerbaijan in particular?
The European institutions are facing a difficult moment, due to the economic and institutional crisis. Nonetheless, dialogue and cooperation with the Eastern partners are continuously improving in several fields. After 2014 European Elections, we will probably see new momentum in the EU action, also in the international domain.
In the case of Azerbaijan, I think that bilateral relations will prove to be particularly important in the years to come, with new investment opportunities. Instead, at EU level I see little opportunities for an effective political action.-What do you expect from the upcoming Presidential elections in Azerbaijan?
I expect a strong victory of the incumbent President Ilham Aliyev. The extraordinary economic performance during the last term in office and the fragmentation and isolation of the opposition parties provide little chances for the other candidates.-Unfortunately international community doesn't pay much attention to the Karabakh problem, although it harms European security as well. To you, why does it happen and what do you think about prospects of the settlement?
To me, the dynamic is quite clear: Armenia needs Russian indirect support in order to keep the status quo and Russia has a strong interest in a dependable Armenia, which provides a strategic foothold for the projection of the Russian influence in the Southern Caucasus and in the Greater Middle East area. Therefore, Russia has a strong interest in keeping the status quo.
At the same time, other great powers chairing the Minsk Group have no interest in confronting Russia over this issue and they consider Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as not dangerous for their security.
Despite UN resolutions and a quite clear legal issue, I think that nothing will change in the near future, especially after the international success of Russian intervention in the Syrian crisis.