Where will Armenia's bargaining with the CSTO lead?
    Belarusian expert Peter Petrovsky talks to Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  22 May 2023 - 15:24

    Samir Ibrahimov

    The issue of Armenia's withdrawal from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) was previously discussed but is currently not on the agenda. That's how Deputy Foreign Minister Mnatsakan Safaryan responded to the journalist's request to comment on Armenian Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan's recent announcement that Yerevan had previously discussed withdrawal from the CSTO.

    It would be more accurate to ask Grigoryan himself when exactly this issue was discussed, but it may have been after the September escalation last year, he said. It was then decided not to do so and to continue working together. The Armenian side presented its questions at the CSTO summit in Yerevan in November, the diplomat recalled.

    "The work continues. Discussions on the situation in the South Caucasus will also take place, and we will inform you about this in due course. The situation is difficult and as a member of the CSTO, we have obligations and hope that our work will bring some results," the Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister said.

    As to whether the issue of withdrawal from CSTO will be raised in the future, he said that it all depends on the specific situation.

    Asked about Yerevan's attitude towards the Russian Foreign Ministry's statements regarding the readiness to deploy a CSTO mission in Armenia, Safaryan recalled the stance of the Armenian leadership: the organisation should give a political assessment of the situation. The issue here is clearly that in September 2022 Azerbaijan allegedly invaded and continues to "occupy" part of Armenia's territory.

    Yerevan's grievances against the CSTO have not gone away. But, as we can see, some hopes remain. However, this whole situation looks strange. Some kind of bargaining is going on. When the Russian Foreign Ministry said that "Russia expects its Armenian partners to take proactive steps to resume substantive work for the deployment of a CSTO mission in the republic," the response was similar to what Safaryan said: "Admit publicly that Azerbaijan has committed 'aggression' against Armenia, then we will talk". Yerevan's ultimate goal and intentions regarding this military alliance are not very clear.

    So, does Armenia want to leave the CSTO, or does it still consider it dangerous for itself? Is Moscow ready to "let go" of this country, or is it afraid that this will cause centrifugal tendencies in the CSTO and that the bloc will eventually collapse?

    Caliber.Az asked Peter Petrovsky, Belarusian political scientist and expert at Northern Eurasia Integration Studies Centre, to assess the true meaning of what is happening.

    Our interlocutor thinks that the issue of Armenia's withdrawal from CSTO is not on the agenda today. And the fact that earlier such a question was raised in the Armenian media is due to several factors.

    "First, Yerevan wanted to put pressure on Moscow to be more proactive in defending the Armenian interests in the region.

    Secondly, it was a signal in bargaining with Armenia's Western partners. Yerevan decided to demonstrate its readiness for deeper engagement and Western involvement in resolving the conflict with Azerbaijan, including through the involvement of Western missions and maybe even peacekeepers.

    And thirdly, it should not be forgotten that around a quarter of the Armenian population shares to some extent the ideology of the previous authorities, the so-called 'Karabakh clan'. And this, in contrast to Pashinyan's policy, is much more radical and revanchist. Pashinyan thus decided to secure himself from internal political turmoil," Petrovsky notes.

    However, such a policy has caused distrust in Brussels, Moscow, and Washington, the expert said.

    "Brussels and Washington, in the context of the Ukrainian case, have not seen and do not see any real opportunities to oust Russia out of Armenia, as Moscow has now become more vigilant about the West's breaking into its zone of interest in a situation of narrowing pathways Russian influence and the existence of an anti-Russian coalition.

    For Moscow, in the context of its confrontation with the West, the role of the South Caucasus has increased and is now a "lifeline" to Iran and Türkiye. And it would be absurd to expect Moscow to give up its allies, such as Armenia, which may be problematic but are still allies.

    Moreover, Moscow increasingly understands that its alliance with Yerevan should not be based on a scheme of confrontation between the latter and Baku, but, by virtue of the new geopolitical situation, should be a tool for normalising relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as between Armenia and Türkiye. Russia is now interested in overcoming the armed confrontation while maintaining the balance of interests in the South Caucasus. The main thing here is to prevent countries that have nothing to do with the region from entering it. And today, not only Western countries, such as Britain, Germany, the United States, and France but also, for example, Israel are trying to get in, which does not suit Moscow at all.

    Therefore, the ideal scheme for new normality in the region is the "3+3" formula, where three big players (Iran-Russia-Türkiye) provide stability with three small players (Azerbaijan-Armenia-Georgia). Against this background, Moscow's desire to normalise the situation not only in the Karabakh case but also in its relations with Tbilisi is visible.

    This directly affects Russia's interest in turning the South Caucasus into a strong logistical hub in the North-South corridor, which would stably connect Iran and Türkiye with Russia.

    In this context, Armenia, due to new geopolitical circumstances, is trying to build a new formula for cooperation with the CSTO, while Russia is trying to strengthen the organisation institutionally. Under its charter, the CSTO cannot interfere in the Karabakh issue without a decision to do so by Azerbaijan, but it can solve Armenia's security problems. We should also not forget about the existence of a Russian military base in Gyumri, which is a certain red line for Moscow. Russia will unilaterally react outside the CSTO in case of a threat to its personnel or any of its tasks.

    Based on this, today neither Russia nor Armenia is interested in abandoning cooperation between the countries in the CSTO format. Armenia realizes where Russia's red lines are, and Russia realizes the importance of Armenia for itself in the overall geopolitics of the South Caucasus," believes the Belarusian political analyst.

    Caliber.Az

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