Peace in Ukraine depends on US-Russian agreements
Armenia, a landlocked Caucasian nation state of around 3 million people, appears in a desperate position. After the defeat in the 44-day war against Azerbaijan last fall, the country remains stuck in Russia’s geopolitical orbit and has been forced to make painful concessions to its nemesis, Azerbaijan.
On June 20, Armenia held parliamentary elections which led to the victory of the Civil Contract Party, headed by Acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Although he is regarded by many Armenians as a traitor, given that he failed to preserve Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh – a mountainous territory in Azerbaijan that ethnic Armenians have controlled since 1994 – the Pashinyan’s party won 54% of the vote. The Armenian Alliance opposition, led by former President Robert Kocharyan, came far second at 21 percent. Why did the Armenians vote for the person who signed the de facto surrender to Azerbaijan on November 10?
Choosing between traitor and old guard
From the perspective of an average Armenian voter, the choice he had was either the ‘traitor’ Pashinyan, who came to power in 2018 following the so-called ‘Velvet Revolution’, or Kocharyan, who represents the old corrupt guard overthrown.
According to Armenian analyst David Arutyunov, the opposition has offered no practical alternative to resolve the demarcation issues, a hot issue in the country. Indeed, in May, Armenian authorities accused the Azerbaijani army of advancing more than 3 kilometers (2 miles) into southern Armenia. They claimed that the Azeri state was trying to besiege Lake Sev Lich (black lake), shared by the two countries. In other words, Armenia had lost control not only over most of Nagorno-Karabakh, but also over parts of the Republic of Armenia.
As Arutyunov points out, Azerbaijan will probably continue to pressure Armenia until the end in order to get as many concessions as possible in the process of resolving the border demarcation.
Some Armenian officials have announced that Russian border guards will be deployed in areas where Azerbaijani units have advanced. At this point, however, it is very uncertain how the border will be protected after demarcation: will Russian troops remain there permanently, or will Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to guard the borders themselves? As a result of the 44-day war, some 2,000 Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh to protect the region’s capital, Stepanakert, and its environs, which is the only part of the territory still de facto under Armenian control. . From the Armenian perspective, Russian peacekeepers are considered the sole guardian of the remaining Armenian population in the region. Moreover, Armenia has become so dependent on Moscow that it expects the Kremlin to protect not only ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also the borders of the Republic of Armenia.
Russia, meanwhile, is forced to defend Armenia. The Caucasus country is a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSC), which is often described as a Russian version of NATO, born after the break-up of the former Soviet Union. The other members of the CSTO are Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. However, during the war, Russia refused to provide aid to its nominal ally, Armenia. According to key article 4 of the Treaty, “If any of the States Parties is the victim of aggression by a State or a group of States, it will be considered as aggression against all States Parties. to this Treaty. The problem for Armenia is that in 2020 Azerbaijan did not attack Armenia itself, but Armenian-backed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is why Moscow hesitated to intervene directly. But in May 2021, following the border incidents, Pashinyan wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, requesting military assistance. To date, however, no such assistance has been provided.
Meanwhile, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed an alliance protocol in an attempt to further strengthen their ties. “In the event of a threat from a third State against the independence or territorial integrity of one of the parties, the parties will provide each other with the necessary assistance,” the protocol states.
Even before the two countries became official allies, Turkey supplied Azerbaijan with modern and sophisticated weapons, including the Turkish-made Bayraktar drones that proved to be a game-changer in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Russia promises to arm Armenia, although it is still unclear what prevented the Kremlin from selling modern weapons to its ally before war broke out. Over the years, Russia has strived to maintain good relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia and at the same time continue to play the role of regional arbiter. However, indications suggest that the Kremlin has favored lucrative trade and energy relations with Azerbaijan rather than its nominal alliance with Armenia.
Although the Armenian leadership may have sensed Moscow’s unwillingness, it has little choice but to continue playing the Russian card. The country depends on Russia economically, politically and militarily.
According to the peace agreement negotiated by Moscow, signed in November between Pashinyan and Aliyev, Azerbaijan will be able to cross to its Nakhitchevan enclave, bordering Armenia, Turkey and Iran, through Armenian territory. , and the Russian Federal Security Service will secure the roads. Such action could undermine the vestiges of Armenia’s sovereignty in the south, mainly in the border area of Iran.
Azerbaijan, on the other hand, insisted on building the Nakhichevan Corridor, also known as the Zangezur Corridor, which would effectively connect the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic with mainland Azerbaijan. Since Azerbaijan, as the clear winner, has the upper hand over defeated Armenia, sooner or later Armenia will have to accept the Azeri terms and conditions regarding this trans-regional project. So, it is not surprising that Pashinyan, celebrating his electoral victory, said: “All agreements will be honored”. Its political room for maneuver vis-à-vis Azerbaijan is rather limited.
In the short term, at least until 2025, when the 5-year term of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh expires, Russia will remain the dominant regional player. In the medium and long term, Turkey should improve its positions in the Caucasus, and possibly build a military base not far from the Russian border. Azerbaijan has already benefited from its military ties with Turkey, while Armenia has proven to be collateral damage in a larger geopolitical game played by Russia and Turkey.
And the game is far from over.
Nikola Mikovic is a Serbia-based contributor to CGTN, Global Comment, Byline Times, Informed Comment, and World Geostrategic Insights, among other publications. He is a geopolitical analyst for KJ Reports and Global Wonks.