BELMONT, Mass. (A.W.)—On July 9, Dr. Gayane Novikova, the founder and director of the Spectrum Center for Strategic Analysis, and currently a Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, spoke at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) on “The 2008 Five-Day War and Shifts in Security in the South Caucasus.”
Novikova is an experienced researcher in the security and politics of Armenia and the South Caucasus. From 1978-2000, she served in the department of Arabic studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, and from 1994-2000 at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies. She is the author of more than 60 articles and 4 monographs, and is the editor of 12 collections of articles published by the Center for Strategic Analysis. She is currently carrying out research on the “South Caucasus, between Russia and the West.”
Marc A. Mamigonian, NAASR’s director of programs and publications, introduced Novikova, who provided in slides a breakdown of her analysis and predictions for the future of the South Caucasus.
The August 2008 war in Georgia, she said, has excluded the possibility of the creation of any acceptable format of regional cooperation in the South Caucasus. The status quo established after the Five-Day War will be determined in the medium-term by the following factors: the final withdrawal of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the jurisdiction of Georgia; Russia’s additional political and military leverage in the region; Azerbaijan’s continued policy of complementarity; Turkey’s attempted use of this crisis to increase its overall role in the region; and Armenia’s attempts to emphasize its presence and significance in international politics.
“I admit that this talk at NAASR is a great challenge for me because I’ve never spoken to an Armenia diaspora audience,” Novikova noted personally. “I had to build up the courage in myself to take that step. But today is the eighth anniversary of our center [the Spectrum Center for Strategic Analysis] and I’m very proud of that for such a small center of eight people.”
“Our region,” she continued, “has been deemed by NATO as one of the most unstable in the former Soviet Union, and Georgia almost always poses a strategic threat to Armenia.”
“During the war, Georgia’s strategy was the reinstatement of what it deemed the territorial integrity of Georgia. However, the issue of returning territory to Georgia as justifiable was not even debated at all.”
Since the conflict, she explained, “substantial economical preferences to Georgia have been granted as practically the only viable route for energy supplies and overland regional transport communications for a long time to come.”
“The other catalyst for the occurrence of the war was the independence of Kosovo, which was Russia’s justification that similar behavior might occur in the Caucasus to send in peacekeepers, on mission to South Ossetia,” she said.
“After Georgia and [President] Saakashvili provoked one of the biggest conflicts between the West and Russia since the Cold War, the territories and future prospects of Georgia is that it must pass along the path from ‘failed state’ to well-established and democratized one once again,” she concluded.
Of Azerbaijan, Novikova first stated that “it has become obvious that the unilateral orientation to the West and its disregard for Russia’s intentions could lead Azerbaijan into conflict with Russia.”
But, she clarified, “Any military action in the area of Nagorno-Karabagh would be implemented solely by Azeri forces, which would also exact a heavy burden on both the economy and civil society of Azerbaijan.”
Novikova cited the alarming fact that Azerbaijan’s 2009 military budget is $2 billion. This means that for a country the size of Azerbaijan, “force will be used to solve the conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh, as Baku continues to propagate ‘enemy images’ and perceptions of Armenians—3,000 in the Azeri media last year compared to only 700 of Azeris in Armenia’s media by our center’s data.”
“Our center’s Azeri counterparts polling for this sort of data from the government of Azerbaijan for their military budget were horribly beaten,” she said. “So you see how dangerous it is.”
While there are no internal factors to prevent the outbreak of another Karabagh conflict, she said, “Russia exists as an external factor to prevent conflict should Azerbaijan disrupt energy transport routes to Russia, or pending any new developments in Armenian-Turkish relations.”
Recent attempts to normalize Armenian-Turkish relations, she said, “have actually created deeper rifts in Armenia society and greater political opposition within Armenia.”
Following the Georgia war, she explained, Turkey was given collateral to increase its security policies along its eastern border. “As a whole, Armenia is considered the only ‘broken link’ geo-politically between continuations of regional players. So much depends on the political shifts of Armenia… The Nagorno-Karabagh Republic continues to try to find a forum in this to declare its independence.”
During the Q&A, an audience member questioned Iran’s role in the region given the West’s stances towards its regime. Novikova responded, “Iran provides huge support to Armenia, but the U.S. understands that and provides no pressure to prevent such relations. It understands Armenia has no other choice.”
Asked point-blank whether war is imminent in Karabagh, Novikova answered, “Yes. War is a very real danger and many experts I trust are also confident that the prospect is very real.”
Asked whether, in the event of war, Karabagh’s Armenian forces could strike at Azerbaijan’s oil fields and infrastructure—leading foreign energy investors to have a stake in stopping the conflict—Novikova answered, “Strategically these sites are very far away [from the Karabagh zone]. In our center’s assessment there are not enough interests by oil companies to want to stop this war.”
Of Azerbaijan’s catalyzing policies, Novikova said, “According to our prognosis there is forthcoming further internal strife in Azerbaijan due to the government’s economic policies and the Azeri government policy will then be to turn that aggression towards Karabagh. These are simply the rules of war.”
During the 1990’s, said one attendee, Russia helped Armenian forces militarily in Karabagh and would most likely do so again in the event of war. Novikova, however, was unswayed by this notion and responded, “During the Karabagh war, Russia fought for both sides—and actually gave more support to Azerbaijan. Now Russia has a military base on Armenian soil and by international law can’t use its forces against another CIS member without provoking a response from Georgia and the West.”
Novikova ended stating that “Russia will stay where it is supposed to, this war will be internal. But I can say that there is a very strong Armenian defense line currently along Nagorno-Karabagh.”