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Armenia's Shift West Draws Ire from Moscow and Baku

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Eurasianet

Eurasianet

Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on…

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Armenia-Russia Relations Are Deteriorating Fast

  • Armenia has criticized Russia's inaction against Azerbaijani "aggression" and is reconsidering its security dependence on Moscow.
  • Armenia's recent actions, including humanitarian aid to Ukraine and a proposed joint military drill with the U.S., indicate a potential shift towards the West.
  • Despite tensions, Prime Minister Pashinyan has sent the Rome Statute to parliament, which could obligate Armenia to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin, intensifying diplomatic strain.
Armenia

Relations between Armenia and its traditional strategic partner Russia are deteriorating fast. 

In the past week, Yerevan has boldly criticized Russia's "absolute indifference" to Azerbaijani "aggression" against Armenia and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has expressed regret over his country's near-total dependence on Moscow for its security as a "strategic mistake." 

And now Yerevan is sending a package of humanitarian aid to Ukraine for the first time since Russia's invasion.  

RFE/RL's Armenian service reported that the aid (whose precise nature and amount have not been announced) would be delivered by Anna Hakobyan, the prime minister's wife, as she attends the Ukraine-initiated Third Summit of first ladies and gentlemen in Kyiv. 

Armenia-Russia relations have been steadily worsening since September 2022, when Azerbaijani forces attacked Armenian territory and seized several square kilometers of land in clashes that left about 400 dead on both sides. 

Armenia is a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and has a bilateral defense agreement with Russia. But both Moscow and the CSTO refused to intervene on Armenia's behalf or condemn Azerbaijan's incursion (only a small CSTO monitoring mission was sent). A few months later Armenia refused to host a CSTO exercise and further downgraded its participation in the bloc. 

More recently, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on September 2, Prime Minister Pashinyan criticized the "failure" of Russian peacekeepers to protect Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, where they were have been deployed since the 2020 war with Azerbaijan. He also lamented Yerevan's "strategic mistake" of depending on Russia almost entirely for its security and mused about cooperating more extensively with the West. 

And that followed a statement by the Foreign Ministry three days earlier criticizing Russia's "absolute indifference" to what the ministry called Azerbaijan's acts of aggression, including the September 2022 incursion and the June 15, 2023 incident in which Azerbaijani troops advanced towards Armenia from the border checkpoint on the Lachin road, which connects Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

On September 5, Armenia's Defense Ministry announced that Armenian and U.S. troops would hold a 9-day drill later this month. The exercise will focus on "stabilization operations between conflicting parties during peacekeeping missions," the ministry said. 

Russia "cannot leave Armenia"

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded on September 7 by saying, "In this situation, it is certain that holding such exercises will not facilitate the stabilization of the situation - in any case, it will not facilitate the strengthening of an atmosphere of mutual trust in the region." 

Two days earlier Peskov rebuffed Pashinyan's remark in his La Repubblica interview that Russia was "leaving" the South Caucasus region. 

"Russia is an integral part of this region, so it can never go anywhere. Russia cannot leave Armenia," he said. 

Armenia currently hosts around 10,000 Russian troops, 5,000 of which are stationed at Gyumri's 102nd Russian military base. Others are stationed in Yerevan, including at Zvartnots International Airport. 

Russian border troops have long overseen the Armenia-Turkey and Armenia-Iran borders and have been deployed more recently to sections of the Azerbaijan border in response to tensions there.

An additional 2,000 Russian peacekeepers are stationed in the ethnic Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh region for a 5-year term set to expire in 2025. 

(Russia is also Armenia's biggest trade partner by far, and Yerevan's economic dependence on Moscow has only grown since the start of the Ukraine war.)

The Rome Statute 

On top of everything else, Prime Minister Pashinyan this week sent the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court to parliament for ratification, despite the objections that Russia has been expressing for months. 

Armenia's motivation is to be able to sue Azerbaijan in the ICC for its alleged abuses of Armenians. But ratifying the statute would mean, theoretically at least, that Armenia will be obliged to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he visits, as the court issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March over the abduction of Ukrainian children. 

Russia expressed "dissatisfaction" over Armenia's decision, demanding explanations for the move.

Tigran Grigoryan, the head of the Yerevan-based Regional Center for Democracy and Security think tank, says that Russia has levers to pressure Armenia into not ratifying the statute.

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Grigoryan told Eurasianet that Russia may take action to "punish" Armenia as it did in April, banning dairy imports from Armenia after the latter's Constitutional Court approved the treaty. 

The analyst added that he doesn't expect any drastic changes in Armenia's foreign policy in the near future, nor any dramatic Russian moves against Armenia. 

At the same time, he said, Russia is unlikely to help Armenia in case of military escalation with Azerbaijan, in particular since Moscow is now directly speaking of Karabakhi Armenians' need to accept Baku's rule over the disputed territory.

"Armenia has sharpened its rhetoric a bit regarding Russia because it seems that Russia has accepted Azerbaijan's position over the issues concerning Nagorno-Karabakh, which means that Armenia does not have anything to lose," Grigoryan said. "Russia's proposals are currently identical to Azerbaijan's proposals."

By Ani Avetisyan via Eurasianet.org

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