What lies behind the visits of the West's spy chiefs to Yerevan?
    Expert opinions on Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  19 December 2022 - 16:05

    Samir Ibrahimov

    MI6 British intelligence chief Richard Moore recently visited Yerevan. "During his meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan the processes in the South Caucasus, as well as regional and international security issues were discussed," the press service of the Armenian government reported.

    This is the first visit of the British intelligence chief to the region. It is an unprecedented fact and speaks volumes about the importance that London attaches to the processes in the South Caucasus. Moreover, top-secret issues are discussed and confidential proposals are made during such visits.

    To recall, this July, Robert Burns, Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency paid a similarly unexpected visit to Yerevan.

    What kind of issues is the British side discussing with Yerevan? Of course, London is interested in the stability of our region, at least because BP produces energy resources in Azerbaijan and delivers them across the Caucasus to the West. America also often acts as a guarantor of European interests in our region.

    On the other hand, maybe this activity has something to do with what is happening in Iran. But why are they talking specifically to Yerevan? Is it because Armenia is still a member of the CSTO and has close relations with Tehran?

    Foreign experts have expressed their views on this issue to Caliber.Az.

    "After leaving the European Union, Britain has decisively begun to develop and implement its new global mission. It includes both the leading role of the states of the collective West in the military conflict in Ukraine and the intensification of military and diplomatic presence in the regions of the Middle and Far East," says Russian political scientist and professor of St. Petersburg State University Stanislav Tkachenko.

    The current head of British intelligence, MI6 Richard Moore, was ambassador to Türkiye for five years (2014-2018) and after starting his work as the head of British intelligence, he actively promoted increased military cooperation between the two states.

    "In the spring of 2022, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who soon left office, during a visit to Kyiv, suggested creating 'on the ruins of the European Union' a new integration union that would include Britain, Poland, and the three Baltic states, and later Türkiye. The detachment of this initiative from reality regarding Türkiye's participation was immediately apparent to most experts. However, the very idea of London's military alliance with the Eastern European countries hostile to Moscow to create a new 'buffer zone' on Russia's western borders was Britain's answer to NATO's reluctance to admit Ukraine. Therefore, Russia is closely following London's initiatives in the military conflict in Ukraine, as well as the growing direct involvement of British military and intelligence personnel," the political analyst said.

    The almost 10-month-long military conflict between Russia and Ukraine has significantly reduced Russia's diplomatic and military presence in several regions of the world, possibly including the South Caucasus, the professor said.

    "Expecting Moscow's influence in this region to diminish, a number of major states are making efforts to fill the growing power vacuum. Türkiye and Iran are the most active, but extra-regional players (France, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are also clearly indicating their participation in regional processes. Moreover, the countries of the collective West quite clearly demonstrate their willingness to take into account political appeals and diplomatic demarches made by Yerevan in the first place. Only recently, US CIA chief Burns visited Armenia, and Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan met with Richard Moore at his office in London on December 12. And now Britain's foreign intelligence chief has arrived in Yerevan. Such intensity of contacts is in itself a signal of approaching extraordinary events. Can we know which ones?

    Perhaps the tragic visit of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the MI6 headquarters in October 2020 will give us a clue. We will hardly know for sure what the same Richard Moore, who headed MI6 shortly before Zelenskyy's meeting, was talking to the Ukrainian president about. But we cannot help seeing the dramatic changes in Ukraine's domestic and foreign policy that took place soon after that visit. They were expressed at the beginning of open pressure on the Zelenskyy-opposed media and persecution of political opponents of the Office of the President of Ukraine, as well as the demonstrative refusal of Kyiv to fulfill the conditions of the Minsk agreement. Already at the end of 2020, the Ukrainian army's numbers in the east of the country began to rise sharply, with the number of dead and wounded growing along the "line of contact" fixed by the Minsk agreement. Some Russian experts are convinced that Zelenskyy received the command to destroy the Minsk agreements and escalate the conflict in the autumn of 2020 when the current division took shape: Washington makes key decisions and finances the conflict, while London manages the operations "on the battlefield". Moreover, this includes not only Ukraine, but also the neighboring states: Belarus, Moldova, and the three states of the South Caucasus," Tkachenko believes.

    "Another factor to keep in mind when assessing the reasons for the visit of the head of MI6 to Yerevan and its possible consequences is the third change of power at Downing Street,10 in 2022, and the accession of Rishi Sunak, a new generation financier and politician, far removed from foreign policy and war issues to the post of Prime Minister. His course on the Russia-Ukraine conflict lacks the radicalism of his two predecessors, but so far there is no indication that the strategy of confrontation with Russia has been revised or adjusted. Visits by the country's top security officials at such times serve to confirm or adjust previous policies. So we will soon find out in what direction British foreign policy will move," says the political scientist.

    "I have no doubt that Mr. Moore flew to Yerevan in order to make conditions and threats, as a high-ranking British diplomat or even a British Ambassador, accredited in Yerevan, would have been suited for other, more positive, purposes. I have three hypotheses regarding the subject of Mr. Moore's and Mr. Pashinyan's conversation.

    Firstly, it is a peace agreement with Azerbaijan and unblocking of the Lachin corridor. Britain is not interested in a new phase of the armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, so the British intelligence officer may issue a demand to Yerevan to refuse from raising the stakes in the current conflict around Lachin and take a more constructive position on passing Karabakh peacefully under Azerbaijani control. It's quite probable that London also addresses the demand to move to a peaceful resolution of the confrontation, but it's not certain that we will ever learn about it.

    Secondly, the implementation of the Zangazur corridor project and the use of this issue to increase the pressure on Iran. The current rapprochement between Baku and Ankara, which moved to an open phase in the autumn of 2020, has become an irritant for Iran. Today Tehran considers the Zangazur corridor project as a threat to its security and economy, as it is convinced that in case of its implementation the land communication between Armenia and Iran will be broken or completely interrupted. These fears of Tehran can be resolved during the discussion of a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia. But I think that Moore is against giving Iran any guarantees in the transport sphere, and he could easily present this position at the talks in Yerevan.

    Finally, thirdly, the most important task for London today is to halt cooperation between Russia and Armenia in the military sphere. It is unlikely that the Russian military bases in Armenia will be closed at once and that this country will withdraw from the CSTO. But work is being done in this direction. Zelenskyy's example and the sharp U-turn of Ukrainian policy in the Russian direction from negotiations to conflict show that these efforts may bear fruit, even if not very soon. But British intelligence, which has developed strategic planning skills over centuries of the British empire, and is not used to rushing," Tkachenko said.

    Igor Semivolos, executive director of the Kyiv Center for Middle East Studies, admits that the growing interest in the region on the part of the US and the United Kingdom special services is indeed related to the processes taking place around Karabakh, where the Armenian authorities are demonstrating a complex set of reactions.

    "On the one hand, the demarche of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan at the meeting of the CSTO countries and the cooling of relations between Yerevan and Moscow, on the other hand, the active interaction with Tehran, up to providing Armenians with arms and active political consultations amid the aggravation of relations between Iran and Azerbaijan.

    The region is undoubtedly important and the increased attention to the processes taking place there is an obvious thing in itself.

    Currently, given the circumstances, the conversation with Yerevan looks quite logical - Armenia is a weak link in the CSTO system and, being in a critical state, needs a point of support. It's hard to assess the results of such visits and their influence on the political trajectory of Yerevan, but the fact of such visits in itself creates a feeling of resumption of the big game in the South Caucasus against the background of Russia's military defeat," Semivolos said.


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