Anything but peace treaty: Armenia pins hopes on EU
Serhey Bohdan's standpoint
ANALYTICS 30 January 2023 - 14:12
On January 23, the EU Foreign Ministers decided to send a new mission to Armenia to monitor the notional border with Azerbaijan. France probably played the main role in this decision. Paris is in a fighting mood. On January 26, its interior minister Gérald Darmanin stated: "Armenia's enemies are France's enemies". The minister uttered these words at the annual dinner of the Coordination Council of Armenian Organisations in France, where he was representing President Macron.
To understand the significance of each event, one has to look for its context. In the case of the Armenian government's invitation to the EU mission, this context is an attempt to 're-freeze' the situation despite the debacle of 2020 and France's great-power ambitions against the backdrop of the global confrontation between the West and Russia.
The Armenian leadership procrastinates signing the peace treaty with Azerbaijan and does it in a situation of its own utmost weakness, probably, hoping for a change of regional or global political and strategic environment favourable for them, for it is difficult to count on changes in Armenia itself; the problems there are fundamental in nature.
Yerevan's chances of keeping the Karabakh expansionist project afloat with its own resources have only been diminishing over the past two years. Armenia has not strengthened its forces, despite illusions of mobilisation. There are colourful reports about ordinary citizens playing "war" by running and shooting in paramilitary training courses, but these citizens are no substitute for either the security services or the army - they have no chance of standing up to anyone in modern warfare. Saddam Hussein trained his fidayeen for years, and the only result was to prepare them for the later years of the Iraqi civil war against each other - in confrontation with Western armies, the combat potential of the fidayeen turned out to be zero.
Armenia's situation with the armed forces is bad. The other day, Parliament Speaker Simonyan assured citizens that "everything is bought for the army". Moreover, "Armenia has no problems with money for the army; there has not been a single case since 2018 that we have not made a purchase because of money".
There is no obvious evidence of this. The balance of these years looks different for Yerevan: neither Russia nor the West have expressed any desire to rearm Armenians during this time; there is no possibility to build something useful inside the country due to the lack of a technological base; sporadic supplies from India and, perhaps, Iran remain.
Things are even more deplorable with the army itself - judging by the news, there is little order in it even after 2020. A recent case, when fifteen (!) servicemen burnt to death in their sleep in the place of permanent deployment of one of the Armenian military units, is an illustration of this - no matter what they say, it is a clear sign, to put it mildly, of extreme carelessness. Andranik Kocharyan, head of the Armenian parliamentary defence committee and an MP from the ruling "Civil Contract" party, explained: "We are not shirking responsibility. It is very difficult to build an army on rubble. This (fire) is the result of lack of education, lack of professional staff." But where is the rubble coming from? Pashinyan's team has been in power for almost five years! According to Kocharyan, "work is underway to create a smart army," but this sounds unconvincing, as he himself said in despair: "Why did the officer light the stove? How can an officer bring and pour petrol on a fire? Everyone knows that you cannot pour petrol on fire. What was the reason for the officer pouring petrol on the fire? He should have forbidden it".
However, even after this scandal, Parliament Speaker Simonyan said that Defence Minister Suren Papikyan was in no way to blame for the incident. Papikyan has been heading the Defence Ministry since November 15, 2021! What was Kocharyan saying about "lack of education"? The Armenian defence minister has a brilliant education: it boils down to studying at the history department and working as a history teacher. However, Papikyan's denial of guilt is logical - one of the leaders of Pashinyan's party cannot be removed from his post; there are people of lower ranks for that. Generally speaking, the Armenian army's ability to withstand a clash with the Azerbaijani army is out of the question at the moment.
Yerevan's grand strategy: multi-handed game or strategic schizophrenia?
Living at a safe distance from their homeland, Armenian activists like to call for unity and intransigence and call the diaspora the "second army" of the Armenian people - a metaphor recently coined by the Armenian National Committee of America. The committee intends to assemble next week in front of the parliament building in Washington, DC. Indeed, these ardent "patriots" will not be enlisted in the Armenian army!
Everything about this diaspora talk is fine. To begin with, Armenia's diaspora is not really an army, but rather another government that can play big politics, with community leaders feasting with presidents (as recently in France), but they do not have to then reap the fruits of their intrigues in the real Armenia.
The unity shown by the current Armenian leadership looks rather lame. The Armenian de facto establishment has long acted on the international stage through three conditional political projects (this is of course a simplification, they are heterogeneous and there are more of them, but for clarity, we will simplify them here) which claim autonomy - the Republic of Armenia itself, the Karabakh separatist project and the diaspora. Moreover, it was clear to some Armenian leaders that these projects could not remain equal partners in international politics because of the objective differences in interests and aspirations for dominance. In general, no successful nation in the long term has a politically autonomous diaspora.
The coexistence of the Republic of Armenia and the Karabakh separatists is even more problematic, which is why Yerevan's non-recognition of the latter is no accident at all. One must politically subdue the other or they will simply wear each other out and together bring the Armenian people to oblivion - as has happened in recent decades.
Now the Armenian establishment's multidirectional polycentricity - its multi-handed game - has intensified, with the three-headed structure tearing itself apart in different directions. With the diaspora playing with revanchism, the leadership of the Republic of Armenia wants to change its foreign policy orientation towards the West, while the Karabakh separatists are playing the pro-Russian party - Vardanyan, flesh and blood of the Russian pro-Kremlin business, has risen to head them for a reason.
Nevertheless, the current leadership of the Republic of Armenia has not given up on its expansionist-separatist project. Azerbaijan, seeing that the opposing side could not in any way peacefully part with what it had seized, began to take measures that created a new situation on the ground. In accordance with international law and even with the agreements of 2020, not besotted by victory or power. Baku could long ago have simply crushed the Armenian forces and completed the restoration of the country's territorial integrity by force - just as Croatia simply crushed the Serbian enclave in 1995. But soberly reflecting on the need to achieve a strategic objective - which is not to settle old scores with Armenian nationalists, but to build a better future for Azerbaijan and the entire region - a different path was chosen.
Therefore, Yerevan was given time to hand over the territories it had once seized, which it was unable to retain militarily after its defeat. But this did not happen. Then the Armenian leadership was given to understand that its very ties with the separatists could be cut off - Azerbaijan restored control of communications in the Lachin region for this purpose. And this did not force Yerevan to sign a peace treaty. As a result, Baku decided to deprive the separatists of their economic base (which they had, in the form of the mining industry) - by stopping the transportation of whatever was needed for the functioning of businesses linked to the separatist structures in Karabakh.
"West will help us"
In response, official Yerevan has made yet another attempt to prevent a historically inevitable settlement with the neighbouring country. It appealed to the world for help, accusing Baku of a blockade. Meanwhile, Pashinyan and his supporters continued their policy of combining the two goals of "re-freezing" in Karabakh and changing the foreign policy orientation. Commenting on contacts with the West, parliamentary speaker Simonyan said that "there is no question of changing the foreign policy vector, there is a question of ensuring security", but then hinted significantly that Yerevan is not satisfied with the "existing means" of achieving security. Varuzhan Nersesyan, Armenia's ambassador to London, was more specific and expressly stated his dissatisfaction with Russia's response to the Armenian problems with Azerbaijan.
Amid these statements, Pashinyan again demonstratively kicked the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), personally announcing on January 10 that it is inexpedient to hold CSTO exercises in the country, "at least this year". For greater effect, Pashinyan first waited until the Russian Defence Ministry announced on January 1 that CSTO peacekeeping exercises would be held in Armenia this year.
The CSTO has generally become a convenient platform for Pashinyan and his associates to signal to the West their willingness to "get away from Moscow". Everyone remembers how, immediately after coming to power, Pashinyan arrested the acting secretary general of the organisation, but the course has not changed recently either. For example, the Armenian prime minister refused to sign the draft declaration of the CSTO Collective Security Council in Yerevan on November 23, declaring the document "incomplete", and in September the Armenian side refused to participate in a CSTO exercise in Kazakhstan at the last minute.
Yerevan was apparently trying to convince the West that it was a promising partner. As early as mid-January the Western press wrote about EU plans to send hundreds of staff to Armenia to monitor the border with Azerbaijan for two years. On January 23 this became an official fact.
A related statement from the EU Council is reticent about sending civilian observers to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, saying that "at Armenia's request, the mission ... The mission will carry out regular patrols and report on the situation, which will reinforce the EU's understanding of the situation on the ground. The mission will also take part in mediation efforts as part of the process led by the presidency of the European Council." EU foreign policy coordinator Josep Borrell was more forthright, announcing that the deployment of the mission "launches a new phase of EU engagement in the South Caucasus". Yerevan first brought the EU mission to its notional border last autumn, with 40 observers monitoring there until December 19. This was said to be "one of the auxiliary mechanisms for the conclusion of a peace treaty". Although Pashinyan announced his readiness to sign peace "on the basis of the Prague agreements", this did not happen. This is not surprising - the internationalisation of conflicts is not usually conducive to their resolution.
The new mission was announced as a purely civilian one, but during Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan's visit to Brussels on January 23-25, he also held talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. They clearly strengthened Yerevan's confidence that 'all is not lost', and the Armenian Foreign Ministry's statement followed: "The importance of clear action by the international community to eliminate the inhuman siege of Nagorno Karabakh [Karabakh region of Azerbaijan] and bring Azerbaijan back to the negotiating table was emphasised".
It should be added that regardless of further developments, the very neutrality of the EU mission came into question even before the official decision to send it. On January 23, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan addressed a meeting of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, outlining his view of the situation on the Lachin road.
To the collective West, such manoeuvres by one of Russia's allies in the current semi-military situation are naturally to their advantage. Not surprisingly, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made a phone call to President Aliyev to urge him to "open the Lachin corridor to commercial traffic and prevent a humanitarian crisis".
What the West needs
However, there should be no mistaking the determination of the collective West to side with Yerevan. A key role in the creation of the new mission is probably played by France. The mood of French elites is clear. On January 23, Ara Toranyan and Murad Papazyan, co-chairs of the Coordination Council of Armenian Organisations in France, discussed with French President Macron the situation in the territories controlled by Armenian separatists and "threats to the territorial integrity of Armenia". At the same time, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna announced that France was ready to participate in an EU mission to Armenia, while the following day the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, made a phone call to one of the leaders of the Karabakh separatists, Araik Harutyunyan.
However, the current French leadership is not, to put it mildly, a Napoleon or even a de Gaulle. Macron and lower-ranking French politicians can as much as they like earn cheap glory by staging the "rescue of a small democratic Christian country" in the Caucasus. In reality, France does not have the strength for such ambitions. Paris couldn't even manage to carry out the intervention in neighbouring Libya in 2011 - it started but did not finish, and was soon forced to ask the US and NATO to finish off Muammar Gaddafi, a long-time foe of the French establishment. All the more reason not to expect France to make any serious moves in the Caucasus.
In other words, the collective West will not seriously engage because of Armenia. Firstly, we need to distinguish "pro-poor talks" with Armenian diaspora leaders or diplomatic intrigue on the one hand from serious politics on the other. The collective West has no interest in Armenia and is not even interested in Armenia's move to the global West as such. Armenia is much more useful to the West because of its hesitation within the CSTO, its restraining of Moscow's forces in the region, and so on.
The best that Yerevan can hope for now in this scenario is to use the West to drag out the peace process. But in this extremely risky game, in which everything does not look in favour of Armenian revanchist circles, Armenia too can lose very quickly. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, in an interview on January 10, warned against trying to silence the issue and "re-freeze" the Karabakh conflict: "Despite the suffering, the pain, despite the destruction of everything we hold dear, we are talking about peace. These proposals will be on the table for some time. From now on we will not be very active. They don't want it - well, don't do it. They don't want delimitation - well, don't do it. So the border will go where we deem necessary".
Yerevan's efforts to internationalise its disputes with neighbouring Azerbaijan by involving the EU in the relevant processes are painfully reminiscent of the rush of the first Armenian republic a century ago. Instead of seeking agreements with its neighbours - which, despite painful episodes in the past, some Armenian politicians have called for - Armenian elites have tried to find patrons from afar. It ended badly, with the collapse of the state. In essence, all the appeals of the Azerbaijani leadership to the Armenian authorities can be described with these simple words - do not repeat the fatal mistakes of that first independent Armenia. There can be no prosperous Armenia in a vacuum, in isolation from its neighbours and in alliance with distant, albeit mighty, states.
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