For the first time in the history of the CSTO, Armenia will ignore the organization’s Collective Security Council, in whose meetings it has continuously participated since 2009.
Even the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, could not believe it since Minsk is the host country and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is the chairman of the Council. Lukashenko rushed to call his Armenian counterpart, but the latter only repeated his decision to him,” the press service of the Armenian government reports.
The Kremlin is furious; judging by the reaction of Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, they could not even expect such a decision by Yerevan. But what did Moscow hope for after they forced Armenia to sign a humiliating agreement with Baku on November 10, according to which a complete withdrawal of Armenian Armed Forces units from Nagorno-Karabakh and the introduction of 2,000 Russian “peacekeepers” in their place would follow?
What preceded the Russian-Armenian row?
Since Russia refused to help its ally repel an Azerbaijani attack, Russian-Armenian relations have continuously deteriorated. In January 2023, for example, Armenia refused to allow Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to hold CSTO exercises on its territory. Then Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that he considered it unwise, DW reports.
Even more surprising was the fact that Armenia allowed the US military on its territory. From September 11 to 20, 2023, the joint military exercise EAGLE PARTNER 2023 took place based on the training centre “Zar”, with 85 American and 175 Armenian military participants.
The US took the event so seriously that it sent two of its generals to Armenia,” the press service of the US Embassy in the country reported. The armies trained to conduct stabilization actions between the opposing sides during peacekeeping missions.
Against the backdrop of the exercises, Nikol Pashinyan gave an extended interview to POLITICO in which he said that after Russia invades Ukraine, Armenia can no longer rely on Russia as a guarantor of its security.
Events developed so quickly that in early October, several public figures and political forces, as well as individuals, called on Pashinyan to immediately initiate the process of Armenia’s withdrawal from the CSTO, EAEU, and CIS and apply for EU membership” Radio Azatutyun reports.
Already on October 3, the Armenian Parliament voted to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which issued an arrest warrant for dictator Vladimir Putin in March 2023,” DW reported. At the time, Dmitry Peskov said Moscow had “additional questions” for Yerevan.
In response, Russia decided to hit Armenians working on its territory. Thus, the State Duma, according to Radio Liberty, on October 24, postponed indefinitely the consideration of the bill on the recognition of driver’s licenses of Armenian citizens, which would allow Armenians to work and do business in Russia more conveniently.
The very next day, in an interview with the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that he did not consider the presence of Russian bases on his country’s territory to be reasonable.
If events continue in the same vein, Armenia’s withdrawal from the CSTO and the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from the country’s territory will be possible shortly. This may provoke a permanent reaction, and after Armenia, Kazakhstan, which also has many claims to Russia, will leave the CSTO. Earlier, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan had already left the CSTO.
What is Russia ready to do in response?
According to Armenian political analysts, Azerbaijan’s invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, if not directly supported by Russia, became possible only after its tacit consent.
The Kremlin has used the conflict for years to keep both sides under geopolitical control. After all, Yerevan could only have achieved something with Moscow’s participation. At the same time, due to the conflict, Baku became dependent on the same Russians for its oil supplies, bypassing Armenia. However, it was most profitable to build a pipeline through Armenian territory.
In the conditions of the new reality, when 2020, the Kremlin was preparing for war in Ukraine and looking for future international support for its invasion, the game in favor of Azerbaijan provided specific opportunities.
Firstly, an international precedent was created; secondly, support for Turkey and Azerbaijan appeared in return against the backdrop of the revival of Turkish-Russian cooperation, and most importantly, Armenia’s dependence on the Russians was demonstrated. This contributed to the Second Karabakh War.
Things were quite different in 2023. Russia had switched entirely to fighting in Ukraine, and helping Armenia meant war with Turkey and its satellite Azerbaijan, which would have meant opening a second front. So, Moscow was forced to play again in favor of Ankara and Baku.
In the end, the Russian peacekeepers have done nothing to protect Armenia. Although the Russian military is still on the country’s territory, they feel the new attitude of the Armenian society, and even on the street, they try not to appear in military uniform, which political scientist Ruben Mehrabyan emphasizes in an interview with the European Pravda.
But Russia’s influence in the Caucasus should not be taken off the agenda. Although the Kremlin suffered terrible losses in the war in Ukraine, failing to meet any of its initial objectives, isolated by international sanctions and acknowledged as a war aggressor, the political ambitions of Russia’s leadership will not allow the Russian military to retreat further.
All Ukraine’s leadership understands this since it sees that the Russian invading army might be ready to retreat, but the Kremlin’s order is to stand to die. Only after the Russian troops are annihilated will Ukrainians be able to liberate their occupied territories.
The Kremlin is also ready to take revenge on Armenia for any attempts to “turn to the West”. In this context, Armenian politicians fear that the country will be fighting on two fronts: one against Azerbaijan and the other against Russia.
After all, if Russia has already let the Central Asian countries go the protectorate of China in return for some military and political preferences from Beijing, the Caucasus, and especially Christian Armenia, is historically a geopolitical zone of influence for Russia.
What is Turkey’s role in the conflict?
Muslim Turkey is the historical enemy of Christian Armenia, while its satellite Azerbaijan is the incumbent. Without Turkish military and political support, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh would not have changed in principle since 1994.
Wishing to strengthen its position in the Muslim world as a counterbalance to Iran, Turkey, by supporting Azerbaijan in 2020, as well as Russia, acquired certain dividends. Firstly, it gained the image of a fighter for the “righteous cause” in the Muslim world; secondly, it improved Russian-Turkish relations, but most importantly, Azerbaijan, with its oil falling under geopolitical influence.
In 2023, due to Russian defeats in Ukraine, there was an opportunity to resolve the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh finally. And Azerbaijan and Turkey have taken advantage of this opportunity.
But while many international experts assume that the peace agreement reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan through Russian mediation will finally bring peace and stability to the region, according to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Azerbaijan has no intention to stop. It may invade Armenia soon.
The goal of the Azerbaijani-Turkish coalition may be to penetrate the land corridor to Nakhichevan. After that, it will be possible to realize the project of direct supplies of Caucasian oil without intermediaries from Azerbaijan to Turkey and further to the EU.
Also, according to Turkish expert on international relations Ayşegül Ketenci, “the realization of the Zangezur corridor will create a new route across the Caspian Sea, which will make it possible to establish the fastest cargo deliveries between Turkey and the countries of Central Asia,” Anadolu reports.
In such a geopolitical situation, Armenia should work even harder to achieve guarantees for its security.
According to Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, “If we take technical aspects, our (Armenian) key partners in security issues are India and France – countries that sell or transfer weapons to us. But if we consider strategic aspects, the key partners in the security sphere are the EU and the US – their mediation in the dialogue” with Azerbaijan that leaves the possibility of concluding a peace treaty on terms that more or less suit us”.
But whether the US and EU will stop the Muslim coalition of Azerbaijan and Turkey is still unknown. But Yerevan politicians should also make their pro-Western stance more straightforward. Otherwise, Armenia will get in for even more troubled times than it looks now.