Espen Barth Eide. Photo: Universitetet i Tromsø (UiT),

19 November 2012, 12:40

Espen Barth Eide: "My best advice to countries of the Caucasus is to progress towards the Western democracy"

The head of the Norway's Foreign Office has commented – in his exclusive interview to the "Caucasian Knot" (CK) – the outcomes of the October 1, 2012, parliamentary elections in Georgia, presented his vision of the prospects of Norwegian-Georgian cooperation and Georgia's accession to NATO, and highlighted the main directions of  Norwegian-Azerbaijani cooperation in developing the fuel-and-energy complex and the international transport corridor, and the state of things with human rights in Azerbaijan. Mr Minister has also touched on the issues, problems and recent achievements in Russian-Norwegian relations, and on the initiative for development of the civil society in Northern Caucasus.

You can also read this interview in Russian.

Georgia: Elections and Implications

Grigory Shvedov (GS): First of all, thank you for your time to talk about the latest developments in the Caucasus. The Georgian elections have just finished. It is a very new process for Georgia – peaceful negotiations about the transfer of the power. Do you think that anything might change in the realm of regional security as a result of this process?

Barth Eide (BE): No, I don't think so. We are very happy to see the successful democratic elections, and we welcome the change as long as it is the will of the people. It is very important that our support is to the country and to its institutions, not to individuals. We respect the will of the people. We congratulated the winners, but we also congratulated the losing side for conceding defeat. The true test of the democracy is not to organize and run the elections for the first time, but when people are leaving the power, when their term is over. Statistics of electoral processes clearly shows that it mainly occurs within the elections after the expiry of second term of the official power. In Georgia, it is the first election with the real change of power, and we see the real democracy.

We have extensive relations with Georgia by our Ministry (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, – note of the Editor of the CK) as well as by my former Ministry – the Ministry of Defence. I think, we will continue to do the same, as long as the Georgian side would like to continue.

GS: It is an important note, because I've read about the cooperation in the military field. Probably, for Russian state, not for Russian people – it was one of the most vulnerable and sensible issues. Is it going to be developed with the cooperation in the military field via bilateral relationship or through the NATO integration process?

BE: Norway is a member of NATO. In NATO we decided at our meeting in Bucharest in 2008 that the door will be open to the Georgia's membership, and one day in the future Georgia will be able to join the Alliance. It is impossible to say exactly when it going to happen, but nobody closed that door on the NATO side.

So, Norway, my predecessor here Jonas Gahr Store, and it was also supported by me and others, were quite instrumental in establishing the Georgia-NATO Commission, which was a way to handle the fact that we have made the Bucharest statement without actually being able at the moment to bring them in; so that we'll have a dialogue and have contacts. In that framework we have both multilaterally through NATO and bilaterally Norway-Georgia had some military contact. It's not very big, I think the press has made it much larger than it actually is.

GS: How big is assistance of Norway?

BE: Few instructors for the seminars, some exchange and the support – not in a traditional military sense. We show the Ministry of Defence of Georgia how to learn some techniques in terms of civilian control over the military forces. Many countries have already realized that it is not enough to have civilian Ministry of Defence. If he or she has no apparatus and tools to control, the military men will always do what they like to do. Thus, we need rich instrumental control, transparency and oversight. You need experts to be able to be in charge. If you do not have control over military, the military will control you. Hence, make sure that civilian instruments come up.

That's the kind of things we've been doing. I think, it is our real contribution to the democratic changes. It is not as big as in the press, Russian and Norwegian press made more out of it. It was more an assign way to maintain contact; and I'm more than happy to continue that with the new majority in the Parliament of Tbilisi. It is not directed, because every country has its sovereign right to have military strategy, and we expect Georgian practice to comply with the international rules and relations. Thus, I can state that it was a fruitful partnership, including in my previous capacity.

GS: Was it before 2010 or after?

BE: After. It was a point to continue it after…

GS: What role does Georgia play in providing the European security or security for South Caucuses region? To what extent does it make impact on the Russian-Georgian cooperation?

BE: Georgia itself is still developing, and we made a statement after the election. There we say that it was a sign of democratic society in the country, and it is very inspiring. People can be elected, but they also can leave the power; it is a good sign to the region. So, in that sense it has a positive role.

Then I should also say that we were critical of certain moves in 2008. I mean it was not all about Russia, it was also, you know, mismanagement on the Georgian side that… Yes, it's a very complicated story, but it takes too much time; and it was illustrated what happened in 2008.

We always were not only critics or friends; we were critical friends for Saakashvili and Georgia in those years. It was playing in both directions.

I'm also very concerned about what's going on in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, obviously both, for principal reasons. When I talked to the leaders of the North Ossetia in 2010 (it was one and a half years after the 2008 conflict), South Ossetia is now land-locked non state, recognized only by Moscow, which used to live on trade between Russia and Georgia. Now it is no trade and nothing to live on, because there is a transport barrier.

We have a long-list of frozen conflicts; recently we received a few more.

GS: Do you think the situation might be developing with the new government of Georgia? New person, responsible for conflict resolutions is famous human rights activist Paata Zakareishvili. He was in charge of hostages during Armenian –Azerbaijanian conflict in Nagorny Karabakh, in Abkhazia. He has probably a new look.

BE: Yes, he has a new look and probably it could be a change. Sometimes change is good, because it brings people out of established position and gives the platform for the new approaches. But unfortunately I do not have the recipe as nobody else.

GS: You know that in Europe there are different views on Georgia in NATO. What is the official position of Norway in issue of Georgia?

Well, you are right. I'd say there different sentiments in Europe about it.

Actually our position is very similar to NATO. We took common position in 2008, and since then it has never been substituted by different positions. There is an open-door policy, approved in Bucharest, in October 2010. At the same time it is a collective NATO policy, in order to the joining country should be ready for it. The purpose of NATO is to enhance security, not to undermine security. There is always a contextual issue, even if we talk about the open-door.

And I think Georgia will become a member of NATO, if they wish. And it is a long term prospect and in the meantime we need constant dialogue, in order they do not feel forgotten. It is fair to say that developments in Ukraine are complicating factor, and it is not Georgia's fault. Of course, if you have Ukraine and Georgia membership, it will be geographical continuity, which we will not have, if Georgia will join only by itself. It is not a changing position, it s a complicated factor that today we do not see much enthusiasm in Ukraine. Preparing and moves last year show the change in Ukrainian position and did not enhance their position in the West. Timoshenko's case, for instance.

GS: In a way is it a regional issue beyond it?

BE: Yes, the formal answer is yes. It is an open-door policy. The core NATO principle: any European country that meets the standards is welcome. There is no geographical end to that statement.

GS: But there is no specific date. Some Georgian experts have been looking for the title of the next NATO meeting, which is about enlargement. It is probably not about Georgia?

BE: To be honest, I think that the enlargements happened before Georgia. It is about the Balkans. There are countries in Balkans like Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, surrounded by NATO.
1 Once upon a time we looked at it out of area. Now we move to the East. Today we have Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, we have the whole belt in the North and South-East of Balkans. Please, don't take me wrong. It's an observation, not a political statement. The enlargement will be toward Balkans, not toward Georgia. But principal position is the same.

Norway-Azerbaijan: Interest and Concern

GS: Let us talk about Azerbaijan, where the Statoil Company has a long-term project. 2 What is the current status of the relationships, and if there is new prospects to investigate new fields in the northern part of the Caspian Sea?

BE: It is a large Statoil engagement and it is a big interest not only in the oil fields, but also in the transport corridor, which we follow closely. But it is not my role to answer on behalf of Statoil. You should ask them.

GS: But Statoil has 51% of a state involvement…

BE: Yes, it is very important point that in Norway we have state ownership of the oil company. It is board of directors, and it is business, not government decision where Statoil will go. If we did that, we should get rid of the state ownership. We have different approach than in Russia. I want to be principal on that – we do not decide. My job is to help and facilitate Statoil access with the foreign policy issues.

In Azerbaijan, I think you are interested in the human rights dimension, we recently discuss that theme with Norwegian Helsinki Committee 3. We have Embassy in Baku, because we have the energy engagement there. But since we have Embassy we have platform to work with Fatullaev and human rights people and Human Rights House, which will be much more difficult if we were not there.

My opinion is our economic engagement could be helpful in the enhancing the development of our abilities in the domestic issues. Certainly, we can sit calmly in Oslo and criticize everyone else the whole world, but it has the limited effect. The world leaders get accustomed to it and live well. It's more interesting, if you are a relevant partner.

GS: You mentioned Human Rights House, which has difficulties with its office operation. After Eurovision it was a lot of debate on human rights violation in Azerbaijan.

Yes, indeed. I was in Baku, accompanying our Crown Prince...

GS: Do you mean the famous visit before Eurovision?

Yes, before Eurovision.

It was a very interesting visit 4, because our Crown Prince had talks with the President and whole leadership on geopolitical issues, on energy, but also on the human rights issues. We talked about the need for both countries – Azerbaijan and Norway – to represent their obligations in the Council of Europe following the rules.

GS: The Georgian example is important for Azerbaijan. For the last few years they were looking at reforms in Georgia. Currently it is a change of political elite and it's a great sign how Georgia is different from Russia as well as from Azerbaijan. Is it an issue of the political elite development? Or is it an issue of state development in various parts of the South Caucasus – Georgia, Azerbaijan…

BE: …And Armenia.

We are principally in favour of democracy everywhere. And, you know, our advice to any country in the world is to have regular elections and transparency.

Also I think we should recognizes – not to understand, but to recognize – that Azerbaijan lives in a complicated neighbourhood. The Iranian influence is very real. I think that human rights activist often thinks that is just an excuse, but I think it is very genuine, substantial Iranian involvement in Azerbaijan. And it is not democracy promotion.

Turkmenistan is on the other side, serious troubles with Armenia…

So, I think it is fair to say that we recognize the complicated circumstances of the surroundings of Azerbaijan. As friends of country, where a lot of our people work, we also see the gradual development. The best advice is to advance gradually towards the Western democracy. That's what President himself claims. His declaration assumes that the direction is westwards, not south or east – in the political sense.

GS: Unfortunately we have non-Western examples, particularly in the field of human rights. We hope that the Human Right House will operate more freely. It was great expectations of the Eurovision's impact, but you mentioned the tension in Baku in the issue of human rights.

BE: Yes, there is a lot of tension. And the most famous was at the press conference of Einullah Fatullaev, who was released just before we came there. He came out prison and we brought him the official celebrations.

We use our presence for geopolitical issues, but, definitely, for human rights as well.

GS: I just met the Hungarian Ambassador in Norway, and we discussed the case of Safarov, who was released and welcomed in Azerbaijan. To what extent could it be unaware about the possible future of the person after the extradition? What is Norwegian position on that case?

It is a hypothetical question. We have a strong attention on rule of law. I think I will not speculate on what had happened; it is more for experts and for Ministry. But I think you can make your own assumptions and you might be right.

North Caucasus: Crimes of Impunity?

GS: I saw the European Parliament's on that case, and I thought it is not a hypothetical question for Europeans. The case is also interesting, because Russia was acting like this for a long time. The Yamadaev's murderer case had recently received some formal agreements. Although they are guilty by court decision, they got free in Dubai and they might be already in Russia. Before that GRU agents were convicted in Qatar for assassination of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, but they also were extradited to Russia, where they were released and awarded. It is kind of a trend for some states to extradite the people, involved in crimes.

BE: We believe in no impunity. It is difficult to comment on these cases. But the general rule of law is for everyone, regardless who they are, who support them; it should be no impunity for crime.

GS: There are a lot quite specific cases like the dramatic assassination of Umar Israilov in Austria. He was famous because he personally witnessed in the European Court against Ramzan Kadyrov. It is important, since the case is still at the European Court, waiting for the decision. What is the position of Norway to that kind of cases?

BE: Of course, we strongly support the national criminal court – both in general cases with the ICC 5, but also in specific criminals. We've just arrested a Rwandan citizen who had been living here (in Norway) for many years. He is accused of massacres.

We do under our jurisdiction what we can.

If you want to have a well functioning national criminal system, you also should have protection of witnesses. It is an important part under national and international jurisdiction to protect your witnesses. Otherwise you have not enough witnesses and it is hard to make a decision.

GS: Do you believe that work of civil society in South and North Caucuses is important and it needs to be developed?

BE: Yes, absolutely. It makes the essence in addition to formal democracy like regular elections. You need to have civic culture. You have to know how to organize, how raise the voice of media. Media not as the number of TV stations, but the content, press, and the Internet. The true modernization of the society could happen only through the civil society. In the Caucasus as well as in the Eastern Europe we try to focus on civil society development and help the people.

Norway and Russia: Faces of Cooperation with Northern Caucasus As an Example

GS: I know that the Norwegian NGOs cannot get access to Russia, including the famous head of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee Bjorn Engesland.

BE: Yes, you are right, but we keep tracing it and won't stop. I use my next opportunity to raise it again. It is not wrong not to allow, because it is legally possible for any country to deny access. But we, for our part, we continue to keep on tracing that issue.

GS: Norwegian company StatOil together with Rosneft have recently got a contract in the North Caucasus to develop new fields 6. Do you think it could help in development the human rights issue?

In my understanding, yes. Although it is a bit controversial issue. The more we get engaged, the more platforms we have for communications, the more questions we can affect.

GS: The Olympics might stimulate the reopening and development of the discussion in the region?

BE: Yes, any channel can be good.

It is important for me to say that our state-to-state bilateral relationship with Russia is now probably better than ever. It is going very well in the High North, and we see Russia as a good partner, when it deals with management of the fish stocks and the Arctic issues.

We have many common positions. It is very commendable that Russia was able to find the solution of that economic zone division 7 that we had been negotiating for forty years. It is good for us, and it is good for Russia too, Russia's image in the world. The experience of Norway and Russia inspired Denmark and Canada; Canada and USA are about to find similar solutions. We are very positive to that.

Also there are developments in Russia proper, where we see the increased concentration of power; the Pussy Riot trial, which seems heavily politicized.

So, we have that dual image of the country we work with very well as a neighbour, better than ever. We are friends of Russia and Russian people, it is important to combine two dimensions – economic cooperation and human rights.

October 10, 2012

  1. Bosnia and Herzegovina are the participants of NATO Action Plan from 2006. Serbia is the participant of the programme "Partnership for Peace" (also from 2006). Both republics are still out of NATO.
  2. Statoil is an international energy company active in 40 countries.
  3. Bjorn Engesland is the Secretary General of the NHC
  4. The visit of Haakon, Crown Prince of Norway, was on July 6-7, 2011
  5. The International Criminal Court (ICC) – is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression; established in 2002
  6. On June21, 2012, Statoil and Rosneft signed an Agreement on joint technical evaluation of the fields in the Khadumskaya Svita in the Stavropol Territory. In case of joint positive decision about the development, StatOil and Rosneft will set up a joint venture with Rosneft holding 66.67% and Statoil holding 33.33%
  7. On September 15, 2010, the Kingdom of Norway and the Russian Federation signed a treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The 2010 Agreement defines a single maritime boundary that divides the States Parties' continental shelves and exclusive economic zones ("EEZ") in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean; obliges the States Parties to continue their cooperation in the sphere of fisheries; and contains provisions on the coordinated exploitation of trans-boundary hydrocarbon resources

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