Dr. Mher Sahakyan is Director, China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research, Armenia. He is an AsiaGlobal Fellow, Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong. His most recent co-edited volume is China and Eurasia: Rethinking Cooperation and Contradictions in the Era of Changing World Order. Routledge, 2021.
He spoke exclusively to Aditi Bhaduri about the changing geopolitical and geo-economic landscape of Eurasia, in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. He points out that the Russia-Ukraine conflict could hasten China’s search for a new land trade route to Europe that by-passes Russia. He also speaks about the presence of thousands of Indians in Armenia, pointing out that a process of official engagement at a politico-military level has begun between New Delhi and Yerevan that rides the “very strong” people-to-people connections.
How do you see the future of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in the backdrop of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and the changing world order?
[The] Ukrainian war creates problem for the further development of Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). As Russian and Belarusian economies together are the largest part of EAEU’s economy, and Western sanctions on Moscow and Minsk are also harming economies of other member states. However, sanctions on Russia and Belarus can create not only challenges, but also opportunities for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia. However, there is a need to note, that because of Russo-Ukrainian war, not only EAEU’s economy, but also economies of the EU, UK, and US are also declining, because of Russian sanctions on them. For this reason, great, middle, small states located in Eurasian continent are also losing [out] not only economically, but also politically as the West and Russia press them to take a side.
Mher Sahakyan with his latest book (Image courtesy: Twitter/@mhereast)
On your question about changing world order and EAEU, our international team from different countries published China and Eurasia: Rethinking Cooperation and Contradictions in the Era of Changing World Order book at Routledge in September 2021, bringing answers and recommendations. Actually, in the multipolar world order 2.0, where we are now, the EAEU is in the Eastern pole, which is being built by Russia and China. In the framework of the Eastern pole Moscow and Beijing agreed to harmonize with each other the EAEU and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Greater Eurasian Partnership hinges on joining economic blocs, like EAEU with China’s BRI, ASEAN and so on. Where do you see this GEP heading now in the light of sanctions on Russia?
The Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP), initiated by Russia, is a constructive idea, which can bring development and stability to the entire Eurasian continent. However, in the era of Russo-Ukrainian war, it will be very hard to implement, as the EU, UK, Japan, South Korea and other allies and partners of the US will not join with this initiative. Russia can try to implement it with China, India, Iran, Armenia, Belarus, Central Asian Republics (CARS) and other partners and allies, but in this case, it will not become the continental project from Lisbon to Vladivostok and Tokyo and can be realized only within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The other problem of realization of the GEP is that it is not clear which states or institutions should finance this initiative. For instance, the BRI has had success, because China and its financial organizations are fully financing it. For this I recommend establishing a “Greater Eurasian Partnership Bank”, which will meet financial criteria for the GEP.
Russia was a major link in China’s BRI. But now with the sanctions China is looking for alternate trade routes to Europe. Can you shed light on this?
You are right, one of the economic corridors of the BRI, which is Called New Eurasian Land bridge, passes through Russia. It utilizes Russian Trans-Siberian railways, ports in Eastern Russia for the trade and transportation between China, Asia and Europe. Because of the Russo-Ukrainian war and sanctions, the EU states will try to connect with China and Asia without passing Russian territory. For this reason, China also created another economic corridor which is called China-Central Asia-West Asia. In our times, this route, step by step, will stand the main transportation arteries for China-Europe trade and transportation. Therefore, the roles of Central Asian, South Caucasian states and Turkey will rise in BRI.
What is Armenia’s role in Eurasia?
It is a very good and difficult question. I think that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia could not find its place not in Europe nor in Asia. Culturally and with its religion, Armenia is mostly connected with Europe and Russia, but physically it is in Asia. For this reason, it is causing problems for Armenia. Mentally most of the Armenians think that they relate to Europe, but of course on the ground they are in Post-Soviet Eurasia. This kind of thinking is bringing miscalculations in Armenian foreign policy with great losses, as it was during the last Karabakh war. Ukrainian and Georgian wars, once again proved, that no one is waiting for the ex-Soviet states in NATO and in EU. For this reason, Armenia must keep good relations with the EU and mostly with France with which it has constructive relations, but also understand that neither France nor non-Eurasian US can provide any military or security support to it. For this reason, Armenia must do its best to strengthen the Collective Security Treaty organization (CSTO) and EAEU, as it is a member of these organizations, to keep its military and economic partnership with Russia, to strengthen and improve relations with China and India in bilateral or multilateral levels. Also, there is a need to solve problems with Turkey and Azerbaijan, which will bring prosperity and peace to the entire region.
Tell us about the North South Road Corridor in Armenia. What will its function be, what is the aim, how far has it been developed? How will Armenia benefit from this?
Armenia builds its North-South Road Corridor. Yerevan aims to connect with each other’s Iranian and Georgian transportation infrastructures through its territory. The implementation of this project will connect landlocked Armenia with the routes of the International North South Transport Corridor, bringing Armenia more cooperation with India as well.
How do you see Russia-Turkey relations panning out in this changing order, especially in Eurasia?
In short, I will call Russo-Turkish relations in Eurasia as competitive cooperation. They compete in South Caucasus, Syria and Ukraine for the spheres of influence, but also cooperate. For instance, Turkey bought Russian air defence system S400 without taking into consideration warnings of its main ally US, Russia also constructs nuclear power plants in Turkey, and Ankara does not join sanctions against Russia, etc. But of course, if there were a direct clash between NATO and Russia, Turkey would join its allies.
What is the future of Armenia-Russia relations with Russia focused so much on Ukraine and its economy steadily weakening?
Relations between Armenia and Russia must be an all-weather friendship. Actually, entire world’s economy is weakening, therefore, maybe it will be constructive if Armenia tries to mediate between the West and Russia for finding ways for peace.
As someone specialising on China and Eurasia, do you think Armenia has a role to play in China’s BRI? Don’t you think Armenia can easily fall into a Chinese debt trap like Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan or Sri Lanka?
I do not think so. We have also great examples of Kazakhstan, Georgia, Serbia and dozens of other states, which joined to Chinese BRI, got investments and now develop their economies.
Armenia needs Chinese investments, technologies, innovations for developing its economy, but still there is not any activity in this direction. In this year, China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research jointly with Renmin University of China organized Armenia and China forum for finding some ways for improving Sino-Chinese relations.
Armenia is interested in defence ties with India. What kind of cooperation is Armenia looking for? Can you tell us something about this?
Armenia is interested to improve and strengthen relations with India in every sphere. Armenians live in India for several centuries, there are many Armenian churches in this wonderful country. Now thousands of Indians live, work and study in Armenia. You can find many Indian restaurants in Yerevan. I have many colleagues and friends in India, every year we have many attendees from India in our “Eurasian Research on Modern China and Eurasia conference”. We are also attending conferences organised by Indian colleagues, together we write books. Therefore, I think, that connection between Armenian and Indian people is very strong, thus we need to strengthen cooperation between states as well. We can see that during last year foreign ministries of both sides are working in this direction very actively. Hopefully they will have a success.
By the way Indo-Armenian relations cannot make problems for improving Sino-Armenian relations and vice versa, as India and China also closely cooperate with each other in the BRICS format and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). According to UN Comtrade in 2021 trade between China and India totaled approximately US$110.5 billion, it was US$23.9 more than in 2020. Therefore, Armenia needs to develop its relations with these two giants of Asia – India and China simultaneously for finding opportunities to sell its products in vast markets of these states and to develop its technologies and economy.
(Aditi Bhaduri is a columnist specializing in Eurasian geopolitics.Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)