Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), In the complex geopolitical terrain of the South Caucasus, recent events have thrust Armenia into a pivotal moment of reassessment and recalibration. Against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Middle East, the aftermath of Azerbaijan’s unprovoked assault on Nagorno-Karabakh has not only left the region in turmoil but has also sparked a profound transformation in Armenia’s foreign policy landscape.
This article delves into the multifaceted dynamics of the Armenia-Russia relationship, shedding light on the geopolitical intricacies and strategic manoeuvres that have propelled the nation towards a recalibration of its traditional alliances.
Historical Context: Roots of the Alliance
Historically, Armenia has stood as one of Russia’s staunchest allies, actively participating in Russian-led organisations such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). This alliance is deeply rooted in areas such as energy, economy, and defence, evident in the mutual assistance treaty signed in 1997.
Moreover, Russian military bases and outposts dot the Armenian landscape, with troops stationed on both the Turkish-Armenian and parts of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. The roots of this alliance trace back to the tumultuous period of the 1991-1994 Nagorno-Karabakh war, where Russia’s indirect involvement played a pivotal role in Armenia’s victory over Azerbaijan, leading to the de-facto independence of the Armenian-populated region.
However, the once unwavering alliance has witnessed a subtle but significant shift over the past year, culminating in a geopolitical landscape where Armenia finds itself at a crossroads, contemplating the trajectory of its future engagements.
The ‘Velvet Revolution’ and Its Implications
The turning point arrived in 2018 with the ‘Velvet Revolution,’ a transformative political upheaval that brought Nikol Pashinyan to power. Despite the revolution’s open embrace of pro-Western sentiments and calls for Armenia’s exit from the EEU, Pashinyan’s government, in its early days, tread carefully, maintaining a delicate balance between Moscow and the West. Armenia continued to purchase Russian arms and non-combat military personnel were dispatched to Syria to assist Russian troops stationed in the war-torn country.
However, the revolution also marked the fall of the pro-Russian political elite, symbolized by the imprisonment of former president Robert Kocharyan, a personal friend of Vladimir Putin. This signalled a departure from the established norms, leading to a gradual erosion of the traditional power structure that had defined Armenia’s political landscape for two decades.
The Cracks Begin to Show: Nagorno-Karabakh and the 2020 War
The real test of the Armenia-Russia alliance came with the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020. Despite historical ties and the ostensible alliance, Russia’s role during this conflict proved to be a turning point. The 2020 Trilateral Statement, signed by Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Russian leaders, ostensibly committed Russia to guarantee the security and safety of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians.
However, the subsequent events unfolded in a way that deepened Armenian dissatisfaction. Despite this dissatisfaction, the Armenian government avoided confrontation with Russia; it continued acquiring Russian weapons, sent troops to the Russian-led CSTO mission to Kazakhstan in January 2022, and voted against the expulsion of Russia from the Council of Europe following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Putin’s Gambit: Reasserting Influence in Armenia
In response to the perceived drift, President Putin appears to have decided to recalibrate the political landscape in Armenia. The Kremlin’s strategy involves removing Pashinyan and reinstating a pro-Russian regime, a move deemed crucial to curtail Russia’s waning influence in the South Caucasus.
Not only did Moscow fail to prevent the Azerbaijani takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh in the autumn of 2020, but it also allowed the Azerbaijani forces to close the Lachin Corridor, causing a humanitarian crisis in Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh, and then gave the green light for the September 19 offensive which led to the expulsion of the remaining Armenians from the region.
Despite these events, it was Russia’s refusal to intervene when Azerbaijan attacked Armenia in September 2022 that served as a catalyst for Armenia’s foreign policy shift. Russia and the rest CSTO members refused to assist Armenia, even though the Armenian government triggered Article 4 of the Treaty, according to which an aggression against one signatory would be perceived as an aggression against all members. The dormant suspicion of Nikol Pashinyan and Putin’s ‘special relationship’ with Erdogan’s Turkey and Azerbaijan’s Aliyev further fuelled the rupture.
Armenia’s Assertive Response: A Delicate Balancing Act
Faced with increasing pressure and a perceived abandonment by its traditional ally, Armenia’s response has been assertive and calculated. Pashinyan’s open criticism of Moscow, labelling reliance on Russia a ‘big mistake,’ reflects a departure from diplomatic nuances. Refusing to participate in CSTO joint drills, Armenia engaged in military exercises with US troops, signalling a clear divergence from its traditional alliances.
Moreover, Armenia is actively seeking new partnerships on the international stage. The changed stance on the Russian-Ukrainian war, increased interactions with Western powers, and participation in international forums outside the Russian sphere demonstrate a concerted effort to break free from historical dependencies.
There are many examples proving the above statement: Armenia recalled its permanent representative to the CSTO and shunned a meeting of the defence ministers of the Organisation’s member states. Moreover, the Armenian premier did not participate in the Summit of the Council of the Leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) recently held in Kyrgyzstan.
Last September, the wife of the Armenian Prime Minister participated in the Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen in Kyiv and met with the Ukrainian president and his wife. Armenia also delivered humanitarian aid to war-affected Ukrainian children. A month later, Prime Minister Pashinyan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy briefly met on the sidelines of the European Political Community Summit in Granada.
Moreover, the Armenian Security Council Secretary met with the Chief of Staff of the President of Ukraine during the third Peace Formula Summit in Malta. Later, he engaged with EU politicians in Brussels instead of attending a meeting of the Security Council Secretaries of CIS in Moscow.
Furthermore, the Armenian National Assembly ratified the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court that issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine.
The Geopolitical Chessboard: Armenia’s Strategic Diversification
Amidst these geopolitical recalibrations, Armenia is strategically diversifying its alliances to mitigate dependency on Russia. In the defence sector, the nation is actively exploring collaborations with countries such as India, France, Greece, and Cyprus. This effort aims to reduce reliance on the Russian defence industry, marking a significant departure from decades of geopolitical entanglement.
The recent meeting between the Armenian Chief of General Staff and the Deputy Commander of the US European Command in Germany exemplifies Armenia’s endeavour to forge new strategic ties with Washington DC. This signals a willingness to engage with Western powers on matters of mutual interest, marking a departure from the traditional Russo-centric approach.
The European Union’s Role: A Pivotal Opportunity
This geopolitical recalibration presents an opportune moment for the European Union to play a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of Armenia’s geopolitical future. As Armenia seeks credible allies amid ongoing regional challenges, the EU’s assistance can be instrumental in fostering geopolitical independence, democratic governance, and a European future for the country.
The EU’s involvement in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process and its investments in regional security highlight a tangible commitment to the region’s stability. Additionally, Armenia’s efforts to upgrade diplomatic ties with EU member states, such as Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, but also with other Western states like the United Kingdom and Canada underscore the nation’s commitment to diversifying its alliances.
Conclusion: A Complex Tapestry Unravelling
In conclusion, the Armenia-Russia relationship is undergoing a profound transformation, with geopolitical realignments and strategic recalibrations shaping the contours of the region’s future. The intricate dance between historical alliances, geopolitical pressures, and Armenia’s assertive response creates a complex tapestry of shifting geopolitical dynamics.
As Armenia navigates this intricate landscape, its pursuit of new alliances and partnerships reflects a quest for geopolitical autonomy and a departure from historical dependencies. The European Union, with its commitment to democratic values and regional stability, has a unique opportunity to become a key player in this evolving narrative, influencing the trajectory of Armenia’s geopolitical future. In this delicate geopolitical dance, the strategic moves of each actor will not only shape the fate of Armenia but will reverberate across the South Caucasus, leaving an indelible mark on the region’s geopolitical landscape.
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