Staunton, December 15 – It was common ground during the recent fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan that Moscow wanted Azerbaijan to gain enough ground to punish Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan for his independent line but did not want to see Azerbaijan win so much that the Armenian leader would be completely discredited and ousted.
Azerbaijan’s gains were far greater than Moscow appears to have expected, Turkey’s role in this region increased far more than the Kremlin anticipated, and Pashinyan as a result has faced rising public pressure to give way to someone else who can more successfully defend not only the Armenians in Qarabagh but the Republic of Armenia as a whole.
From Moscow’s perspective, a weakened and chastised Pashinyan is useful, while his replacement by someone bent on revenge or Armenia’s descent into chaos is not. In the first case, the war would likely restart with Baku seizing even more of the occupied territories; and in the second, instability in Yerevan would further undermine Russia’s regional role.
Neither of those outcomes is desirable, Moscow commentator Stanislav Tarasov says, especially given Turkey’s increasing influence in the region. And that explains “why Putin is saving Pashinyan,” not only by offering praise to the Armenian leader but by restraining those who might work to overthrow him (iarex.ru/articles/78860.html).
Having a chastised Pashinyan in power gives Russia three advantages. First, Yerevan under him is far more likely to listen to Moscow than any nationalist successor would be. Second, he is unlikely to restart the war anytime soon thus allowing Moscow to root its peacekeeping contingent on Azerbaijani territory and thus increase its influence there.
And third, Moscow can use a Pashinyan-led Armenia as a base to counter the rise of Turkish influence without the threat of military action Moscow doesn’t want and doesn’t want to get involved with. Pashinyan will remain an Armenian patriot, but he will be more ready to talk to Moscow and possibly Baku and Ankara than any obvious alternative.
Tarasov is careful to suggest that his argument on this point comes not from someone close to the Kremlin but rather from a Bulgarian publication, Duma, which recently suggested that Russia has “taken Pashinyan under its defense because it fears the de-delegitimization of the authorities in Armenia” and thus the possible expansion of US and NATO influence there.
But it seems clear this is only a feint by Tarasov to avoid being criticized in Moscow for giving away too much information as far as Russia’s evolving strategy in the Caucasus and not a reason for thinking that what the Moscow commentator is saying is not the view of many close to the center of power in the Kremlin.