Interview with Arutyun Ulunyan
Russia Today: Kosovo independence issue has been tackled by the G8 leaders. What's the U.S. stance on the matter and what's the Russian opinion on it?
Artyom Ulunyan : There are two different positions between the U.S. and the Russian Federation, because one of them, I mean the United states, backs the independent status of Kosovo. Russia tries to sort of shield Serbian interests in this case – of course, considering its own interests, Indeed, Russia does have some kind of interest in self-proclaimed but internationally unrecognised states on the territory of the Commonwealth of Independent States. That’s why Moscow wants this problem to be resolve in line with its interests.
RT: The two positions are well known. Russia doesn’t want Ahtisaari’s plan. What do you think is going to happen? Do you think it is bound to be discussed at the G8, do you think any progress will be made?
A.U.: I suppose that some progress will be made, if Moscow gets something in exchange for concessions in this field, for e.g. concession in national security. You’ve mentioned Putin’s proposal concerning the deployment of anti-missile weapons in Azerbaijan. And I guess it is some kind of bargaining between Washington and Moscow on this problem, and of course, it also leads to the problem of Kosovo.
RT: Do you think we will see any breakthrough on the Kosovo issue in the next couple of days?
A.U.: No, I don’t expect any serious breakthrough, because the positions are very different and the situation is very difficult.
RT: Let’s briefly talk about the proposed plan to site the part of the missile defence shield in Azerbaijan. What would it mean to Russia? Why would Russia be happy with that?
A.U.: Because Russia will have its own hand in this particular scheme, since Azerbaijan is part of the CIS and has special relations with Moscow. It also has special relations with Washington. So Vladimir Putin is interested in having a kind of mediator between Washingon and Moscow.
Earlier, Artyom Ulunyan spoke to Russia Today about the current visit of the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, to Russia.
Russia Today: Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power in December 2006 and Russia is one of the first countries that he has visited as Turkmenistan leader. Let us take a look at the relations between the two countries in the past. We know that the two countries had close ties. What does it likely to be in the future?
Artyom Ulunyan: Frankly speaking it is rather difficult to say now what kind of relations will be between the two countries because during the rule of Saparmurat Niyazov, the first Turkmenistan President, the deterioration of the relations was very serious. Nobody knew what would be in the future. But now, after Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power, these relations have changed seriously. It is practically the second official visit by the President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, after his first visit to Saudi Arabia and I suppose that Moscow is interested in the political support of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and his policy inside the country. It is one of the most important things to Mr Berdymukhamedov himself and practically the basis for continuation of the relations.
RT: What about the premises for relationship with the Commonwelth of Independent States? As we know Turkmenistan has reduced its status in the CIS to an Associate Member. So, how do you see this relationship developing in the future? Will it further distance itself or, on the contrary, it will a sort of closer co-operate with Russia and the other countries of the CIS?
A.U.: The status which Saparmurat Niyuzov practically set an official status of Turkmenistan, the neutral status, was very important to Ashgabat because Mr Niyuzov could fluctuate from one country to another for support. I suppose that this particular status of neutrality will be continued even after his death because Mr Berdymukhamedov is interested to have free hands inside his country and to have a free choice outside the country and Russia should play an important role in this particular policy of neutrality of Turkmenistan. And the tightening of the relations I think will not happen in the future.
RT: Also economic relations will feature on the agenda of the talks between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. What can you say about that as we know that after President Saparmusat Niyazov’s death some countries were urging Turkmenistan to distance itself from Russia talking about the Caspian Sea pipeline. What can you say about that? How will the relationship in this field develop between the two countries?
A.U.: The gas problem in the foreign policy of Turkmenistan and in particular for its domestic policy is very important. Gas plays an important role not just in foreign economic relations but also in domestic affairs of Turkmenistan. It was some kind of a tool which was used to press the the opposition out of the country. I suppose that unsettled relations between Turkmenistan and some other countries, for example with Iran and of course with Azerbaijan, will not allow Turkmenistan to implement all its plans to bypass Russia when shipping gas from the country. Mr Berdymukhamedov is interested in having several different vectors in gas export, particularly for China, Europe and so on. But Russia will play an important role as the main transit country for Turkmenistan, although Mr Berdymukhamedov is interested to decrease, I suppose, this kind of dependence on Russia.
RT: So, as you have said, he is interested in diversification of contacts but Russia will still be the key player?
A.U.: Yes. The diversification of contacts is one of the most important points of his policy.
Earlier, Artyom Ulunyan spoke to Russia Today on the political turmoil in Kyrgyzstan.
Russia Today: These rallies in Kyrgyzstan have been going for some time already. Why do you think they suddenly turned violent?
Artyom Ulunyan: I suppose that the protestors were already afraid that they could be pressed by the government, first of all. And the second one, I suppose, they were tired of waiting for the moment they can storm the constitution, as I call it. This time the Kyrgyz government considered the protesters difficult to disperse because they were concentrated on one slogan only which was a disposal of the President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. And that was the moment the government could act.
RT: Do you think that now Kyrgyzstan is any closer to resolving its constitutional crisis?
A.U.: You know, the situation remains unchanged. To resolve the situation will be very difficult because the hardliners among the opposition lines will of course support the idea of disposing of Bakiyev's government. In this way the situation will aggravate. But as I know the opposition now is not going to storm the governmental building as it was some kind of a shock – the dispersal of the mob. What type of activity will occur in the future is difficult to predict.
RT: We have already touched on the future scenarios but can you just outline the two or three or maybe more possible scenarios?
A.U.: There are a lot of scenarios, of course, but I suppose that two main scenarios are appropriate for the situation. One of them is that the government will have some kind of concession to the opposition and they have done it already and the Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, as we know, was among those who supported opposition and called for the opposition to cease their activity. In this case the government will have some kind of support among those who are not hardliners. And the second scenario, the violent one, in case the opposition concentrates on the slogan to oust President Bakiyev and act violently.
RT: How do you think this situation can affect Kyrgyzstan’s neighbours and Russia, for instance, as well?
A.U.: I do not think that the Kyrgyzstan situation will inflame the whole Central Asia region but of course there is some kind of a patron to the whole Central Asian republics who is not very satisfied with the situation in those countries. As I know the governments of Central Asian republics are following the situation and would like in some way to propagate the idea of some kind of chaos in Kyrgyzstan and they are not interested in promulgation of this kind of pattern in their countries.
RT: You have mentioned there may be two scenarios? Which scenario do you think would be better for Russia or does it not matter?
A.U.: Of course, non-violent one will be better because otherwise it will demand involvement of Russian forces and I think the involvement of the Organization of the Collective Defence also.
RT: Do you suggest there may be any international organizations behind these violent clashes?
A.U.: I do not think so because nobody is interested in promoting the situation in a violent way. But of course some people, I suppose in the Central Asian republics and outside the region are interested of some kind of chaos in this country because it will give them the free hands to get involved in the situation and have an upper hand in it. It is difficult to predict some direct involvement but I suppose some sort of involvement could be.
Earlier, Artyom Ulunyan commented on the latest development of the political crisis in Kyrgyzstan, where police have dispersed the opposition rally.
Russia Today: The opposition rallies have been peaceful for the last two weeks. What could have led to this sudden upsurge in violence?
A.U.: The main problem of course was that the opposition has realised at last that they have no ways to achieve their goals by peaceful means. The leader of the opposition Mr Kulov, decided to, say, radicalize his slogans and called to oust President Bakiev from his post and practically to oust the former regime and to replace in with a new one.
RT: What does the opposition want to achieve now?
A.U.: In the beginning they wanted some kind of reforms, but after President Bakiev made some concessions, they decided to turn more radical. They want to change the whole political system at the top of which Mr Bakiev is. There are certain people standing behind Mr Kulov, and they now see they cannot reach their goals by what the opposition was doing so far – thus the change in Mr Kulov’s tone. And the crowds felt the time has come.
RT: How strong is the president's position? He's already made concessions – isn't that a sign of weakness?
A.U.: It seemed that he is rather weak in the beginning. But now we can say that it was some kind of a gamble between him and the head of the parliament; they must have reached some kind of an agreement to stabilise the situation, and only after it to proceed with reforms. Prime Minister Kulov, head of the opposition, decided to follow this line. He said that the new constitution may produce pacifying effect of the situation in Kyrgyzstan. Mr Bakiev demonstrated his flexibility in this situation. I believe he is very interested now in the support of security forces, and they in turn are interested in him taking the situation under control.
RT: What outcome of this crisis can we expect?
A.U.: It’s difficult to make any forecasts now, but I suppose it’s a beginning of a new course of events in Kyrgyzstan. Anything can happen. After the resent events, I expect Mr Bakiev to use the force to disperse the crowds, and a lot of things will now depend on the opposition’s readiness to stay firm and pursue their goals or to help ease the tensions. We will se how the situation develops in just a few hours.
RT: If force is used against the opposition, do you think we might expect foreign involvement in the conflict?
A.U.: Certainly. I think that the Collective Security Treaty Organisation might get involved, and also the Shanghai Organisation is likely to pay close attention to it. It will all depend on reports from foreign observers in the country and their intension to either help Mr Bakiev’s regime or not to do that.
RT: Do you think the amount of the media attention to the crisis contributed to inflaming the situation?
A.U.: Maybe in some way. But the speculations some media voiced that Kyrgyzstan will be divided following the crisis have no grounds. It is a political crisis, not a territorial one, despite some people trying to present them as such.
Earlier Mr Ulunyan observed how the situation in Kyrgyzstan developed.
Russia Today: Tell us more about the concessions made by the President – and how significant they are.
Arutyun Ulunyan: Tulip revolution has not been completed until now. The distribution of power between legislative and executive branch is very contradictive. Bakiev has to recognize the new position of the legislative branch. He decided to make his concessions hoping to destroy any kind of protests against him and his particular desire to stay in power all his legitimate term until re-election.
RT: He made concessions but the protests are still going on. Do the protestors have the upper hand in this?
A.U.: I suppose they do not because we should know that the protesters are not united and of course different fractions of them demand the resignation of the President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. But in reality all of them pursue their own purposes and I would like to say that they are not united in the desire to oust President Bakiyev.
RT: Another development is that the Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev has come out against early presidential elections, he says he is concerned the country would split in two along the North and the South lines. Is that fear justified?
A.U.: It is a long story. Unfortunately, many observers until now has said a lot about the cleavage between North and South. But in reality the supporters of the President and of the opposition are practically disposed throughout both regions and nearly all of them have their own political understanding, not the regional one though the regional peculiarities has their upper hand in Kyrgyzstan's political life.
RT: How much of this is truly about the reform and how much is the personality feed is playing into this?
A.U.: Of course there is the personal contradiction between Mr. Kulov and Mr. Bakiyev. Mr. Kulov is a very strong person and he is certainly interested in protecting his position in political life. Until now he was No1 in Kyrgyzstan's politics and practically he was the defender of the opposition. Until now it was very serious. But I presume that now his influence in Kyrgyz policy is dwindling.