Staunton, May 22 – In the wake of Nikol Pashinyan’s meeting with Putin in Sochi and his declaration that Yerevan will not change from its Moscow-centered foreign policy, many in the Russian capital are “moderately optimistic” about the future of Russian interests in the southern Caucasus, Aleksey Fenenko says.
But they shouldn’t be because there are compelling reasons to think that Armenia’s drift away from Russia will not only continue but intensify, the Moscow State University specialist on international relations says, and that this will force the Kremlin into a Hobson’s choice over what it will have to sacrifice (ng.ru/ideas/2018-05-22/5_7229_erevan.html).
If it backs Yerevan, it will lose much of what it has gained in recent years with Baku and Ankara; but if it doesn’t, the Russian Federation will have to watch as yet another former Soviet republic moves from the Russian camp into the Western one, something that Moscow may have fewer levers to prevent than it currently believes.
“Over the course of the last decade,” Fenenko says, “Armenia’s pro-Western course has constantly intensified.” It has signed agreements with NATO even though it is in the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty, and it has signed an accord with the EU even though it is a part of the Eurasian Economic Community.
According to Fenenko, “American and European NGOs freely operate in Armenia.” The government of Serzh Sargsyan couldn’t stop this, and “now Sargsyan has been overthrown by a primarily pro-Western opposition,” consisting of “an entire generation of young and not so young politicians educated on American and European grants.”
“This stratum has exploited the growth of alienation from Russia in Armenian society,” an alienation that intensified after Moscow made clear in 2016 that it would be a guarantor of the security of Armenia but not of Nagorno-Karabakh. That added to the social tensions in Armenian society.
“In a well-known sense,” the Moscow analyst says, “Sargsyan repeated the fate of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze who also attempted to balance between Russia and the West, raised up a pro-Western elite and as a result was overthrown by it.” As in Georgia, the successor regime will be more pro-Western than its “balancing” predecessor.
The new regime in Yerevan isn’t about to break with Russia anytime soon, but there are three “crises” on the horizon in which its “gradual distancing” from Moscow are likely to be manifest, Fenenko continues. First, Armenia’s cozying up to the EU creates serious problems for the tariff borders of the Eurasian Economic Community, problems that can easily spread.
Second, Pashinyan’s tougher position on Karabakh puts Moscow in a difficult position especially if the US and France, the other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, decide to move in his direction in order to weaken Russian influence in the region. If Russia backs Yerevan, it will lose its positions in Baku and Ankara; if it doesn’t, it will lose in Armenia and the region.
And third, Yerevan’s involvement with NATO calls into question its participation in the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty, not only by making Armenia’s future role in that less clear but by providing a model others could follow in moving away from the Russian Federation.
Thus, Fenenko concludes, “Russia risks finding itself in a politically difficult situation. Support for the new pro-Western government in Yerevan will undercut all the positive results of dialogue with Azerbaijan and Turkey.” But failing to support Yerevan will lead Armenia to move even further in a pro-Western direction.
The Russian government consequently is in the position of a chess player who must decide which piece to sacrifice because he and it is in a position where regardless of what the opponent does, he and it will lose one of them and perhaps even be on the way to being checkmated.
Few in the Russian capital want to think about this possibility for the Caucasus now, Fenenko suggests; but ever more are going to have to because of what Moscow has done up to now and how Armenia has reacted and decided to move forward.