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Analysis

Russia-Armenia Relations Hit by Differences over Karabakh Dispute

Monday 11 September 2023
Russia-Armenia Relations Hit by Differences over Karabakh Dispute

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Alwaght- Continuation of Karabakh dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia has escalated the tensions in the region and is harming the relations between former allies. Armenia as the discontented party in the dispute is angry with diminished Russian role in Caucasus developments and so has taken strong-toned stances against Moscow, to an extent that on Friday the latter summoned Armenian ambassador for some explanations. 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “the Armenian leadership had in recent days taken a series of unfriendly steps” that included US military drills on Armenian territory,” a trip to Kiev by the Armenian Prime Minister’s wife and Yerevan’s decision to join the International Criminal Court. 

The relations between Russia and Armenia have begun to escalate in recent days following Armenia delivery of the first humanitarian aid shipment to Ukraine, walkout of Armenian envoy to Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and announcement of military drills with the US. In recent days, the Armenian media announced that between September 11 and 20, joint exercises, codenamed Eagle Partner 2023, will be held with the US. The government of Armenia has announced that the purpose of the drills is to prepare the country’s forces to participate in international peacekeeping missions. 

These exercises run counter to Armenia’s obligations within the framework of the CSTO that consist of former Soviet republics, and at a time when Russia and the West are each other’s throats in Ukraine, they increase the security risks on Russia’s borders. In reaction, Moscow has warned Yerevan about the consequences of such actions. 

The exercises with Washington were announced after PM Pashinyan in a speech last week maintained that Russia alone is not capable of maintaining the security of this country, adding that Moscow is withdrawing from a large part of the South Caucasus. He continued that dependence and reliance only on Russia for its security was a strategic mistake by Armenia. 

Continuing its anti-Russian actions, the Armenian government detained on Thursday pro-Russian blogger Mikael Badalyan and Sputnik Armenia analyst Ashot Gevorkyan in the city of Goris in the south of the country, prompting a sharp reaction from Moscow. 

The Armenian government recently presented the Rome Statute for ICC to the parliament for approval, which, if approved, would require the country to comply with its provisions, including the arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a move infuriating Kremlin. 

Divisions between traditional allies 

The relations between Russia and Armenia have always had an important role in the foreign policy and strategy of the two countries in South Caucasus. Russia has a military base in Armenia and 10,000 Russian peacekerpers guard the Armenian borders with Turkey and Iran. Despite this, after the second Karabakh war in 2020, Yerevan went a path of distancing from Moscow. 

Armenian officials have stepped up their rhetoric against Russia as it seems that the latter has accepted Azerbaijan’s stances concerning mountainous Karabakh region, and this means that Armenia has nothing to lose, and Russian proposals are currently similar to those of Azerbaijan, something worrisome to Yerevan leaders. 

After the Karabakh peace agreement in 2020, Armenia expected the Russians, as the guarantors of this agreement, to put the brakes on Azerbaijan’s ambitions, including the attempt to construct the Zangezor corridor, but according to the Armenians, if it were not for opposition of some regional sides, the project would have been concluded by now under the Russian silence. 

About 5,000 Russian peacekeepers were planned to be deployed on Karabakh borders to defuse possible clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but according to reports, these forces have been sent to the battle fronts in Ukraine, and that is why Baku has been trying to execute its plans over the past year, and by holding hostage the Lachin Corridor, which is the only lifeline to 120,000 Armenians living in Karabakh, Azerbaijan is seeking to conclude its project. That is why, Pashinyan said that Russia does not want or cannot maintain its control over Lachin. 

Though Armenia accuses Russia of diminishing role in Karabakh developments, Russia on Thursday announced that it works to de-escalate tensions in the region as part of its role as guarantor of security in Caucasus, as heightened tensions will be mostly dangerous to Russia. 

US fishing in troubled waters 

Having been seeking loopholes for influence in Central Asia and Caucasus after Ukraine war to open new fronts against Russia, the US finds tensions between Russia and Armenia the best opportunity to advance its plans. First joint military drills with Armenia bears a kind of warning to Russia that the West is next door and pushing forward with NATO eastward expansion. 

Although NATO wanted to get a toehold in the former Soviet republics after the Afghanistan war, due to the sensitivity of the Russians, this plan was not implemented until now. However, after the Ukraine war, NATO has been inching towards the borders of its traditional without any reservations, to the extent that recently the Chair of the European Committee for NATO Enlargement Gunther Fehlinger called on Armenia to join NATO and asked Washington to help Yerevan with potential accession process. 

The US is striving to wreak what is called alliance of Russian friends and lure Armenia to its side by promising NATO coverage for Yerevan. Washington is aware that inflaming hostility between the two allies will strain Caucasus atmosphere and Russia will not sit on its head and have to react to Washington’s adventures and this will involve it in a new front. 

Hosting Azerbaijani and Armenian officials in Washington and European capitals over the past year have borne the fact that the White House officials do not care about the people of Karabakh, rather, the main aim of all these games are to strike Russian interests, and they have been successful to some extent. The deployment of 30 EU border monitors to Karabakh under the pretext of preventing a conflict and now planning a joint exercise with Yerevan are steps to deepen influence in the Caucasus and then Central Asia to re-enforce the Cold War Iron Curtain policy against Russia. 

The US officials think that they can occupy the Russian place in Caucasus and secure this strained region, but experience of 19 months of Ukraine war and global developments indicate the failure of the Western policies. The US and Europe have spent $170 billion so far equipping Ukraine with modern weapons to beat Russia, but they lost 15 percent of Ukrainian territory to the Russians. Actually, these aids have yielded nothing but high military costs and empty arsenals for the West. 

The US allies, including the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies, have understood the decline of the American hegemony and are no longer interested to rely on Washington for their security. On the other hand, China and Russia, which have united to beat the American hegemony and unilateralism, will not allow Washington to get a foothold in the Caucasus since this region is the linking ring between the East and the West and is supposed to play a central role in better implementation of the major projects of the emerging Eastern powers. 

Russia’s key purpose behind Ukraine campaign was to check NATO expansion to its borders, and Moscow’s sensitivity to Caucasus is much higher than to Eastern Europe, and, indeed, the Russians will not stay silent to the Western adventures. The Russians have already shown by Georgian war in 2008 that convergence with the West has consequences. Therefore, Armenian setting hopes on the US will not bear fruits, as over the past decades the Americans have proven that wherever they step in, security steps out and Caucasus is no exception. 

Tags :

Russia Armenia Karabakh War West Ukraine

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