Prospects for peace in Caucasus and Pashinyan’s strategic adventurism
Belarus pundit’s analysis
ANALYTICS 17 September 2023 - 12:41
Doctor of Political Sciences from Belarus Sergei Bogdan’s exclusive analysis for Caliber.Az.
Armenian-American military exercises in Armenia started on September 11. On September 13, Pashinyan made a loud declaration of his intention to abandon the alliance with Russia. The Armenian leadership is busy with spectacular geopolitical manoeuvres and is in no hurry to sign peace with Azerbaijan. Priorities are more than doubtful: Yerevan is stalling for time to attract help from afar, but it is unlikely to succeed. The more dangerous are the illusions growing in Armenian society.
Pashinyan is only interested in Russia and the West
And the peace process is stalling. Speaking at the Armenian National Assembly on September 13, Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan confirmed that the Azerbaijani side had responded the previous day to the fifth version of the agreement on establishing peaceful relations and presented new proposals. But "there are important issues on which the positions of the sides are still quite far apart".
The peace treaty has become a kind of background issue for Pashinyan. He regularly discusses it and even starts a debate - the other day he even pulled out a forgotten interview with Ter-Petrosyan from 1992 from the archive to justify his correctness in the general approach. But real steps in solving specific problems related to the agreement and in moving toward signing are not noticeable on Pashinyan’s part.
The Armenian leadership does not find the time or will to deal with the legacy of its own late-Soviet expansionist movement. But Pashinyan on September 13 lashed out at Russia in an interview for the European liberal publication Politico. In other words, this is not just a position, but a serious curtsy by the Armenian prime minister towards the Western liberal mainstream, a demonstration of his readiness to perform a number from their repertoire on their stage.
If Pashinyan really wanted to deal with the dependence on Russia, he should not talk to the Kremlin's enemies but put an end to the adventure that has tied Armenia to Russia - Garabagh separatism. We could also withdraw Russian troops from Armenia and agree with our neighbours to unblock Armenia's routes to the outside world. But Pashinyan's theatrical anti-Russian statements have already ended in trouble for Yerevan: on September 16, the Russian authorities announced their intention to urgently begin repairing the Upper Lars checkpoint from September 18 (!), drastically reducing the capacity of the most important road for Armenia.
But instead of taking real steps to reduce dependence on Russia (and these steps should be taken towards Azerbaijan and Türkiye - everything else is demagoguery), the Armenian leader on September 13 again lamented that the Russian forces had failed in their peacekeeping task in Karabakh. More precisely, the task of protecting the separatists remained unresolved, even though the Russian peacekeeping forces were supposedly responsible for it. Translated from diplomatic language, his statement means that despite the current confrontation with Azerbaijan, Armenia intends to refuse Russian security guarantees.
This was another move by Pashinyan towards the West after another recent interview he gave to an Italian newspaper in which he said that Armenia's dependence on Russia for security was a mistake, Russian peacekeeping forces are not fulfilling the terms of the trilateral agreements and it is time to talk about Russia's withdrawal from the region.
This drift of Pashinyan away from Russia is clearly reflected in Armenia's recent foreign policy course. For example, faced with the impasse over the Lachin road, Pashinyan spent all day on September 16 on the phone - talking to Macron, Scholz, Raisi, Garibashvili and Blinken. On September 11, the Armenian prime minister also made a phone call to Erdogan.
But Pashinyan did not call Putin, and then explained on the air of the Public Television of Armenia that he had already talked with the Russian President more than a dozen times since December, and now there is no “necessity”. Putin countered, saying on September 12 that he also saw no need to talk to Pashinyan: “He sent me a detailed letter.”
On September 11, Pashinyan sent another greeting to Putin, again touting - clearly with a Western audience in mind - the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. That would create formal grounds for the arrest of Russian President Putin in Armenia. On September 1, the relevant draft law was submitted to the Armenian parliament, in response to which the Russian side requested clarifications. Pashinyan repeated with naivety that they had long ago started ratifying the statute and that there was nothing anti-Russian about it.
What do you want?
The Armenian leadership, justifying its attempt to jump "to the West" now, persistently makes references to the current confrontation between Russia and the West. In an interview with La Repubblica, Nikol Pashinyan said that now "Russia needs weapons and ammunition", so "even if it wanted to, it would not be able to meet Armenia's security needs".
It's not about the military difficulties of the Russian Federation, it's about ideology. Pashinyan and his team (from Ararat Mirzoyan to Alen Simonyan, etc.), in the 2010s, started their way to power with slogans of Armenia's withdrawal from all integration associations with Russia and generally moving away from Moscow - the name of their Yelk bloc was once even avoided to be translated into Russian in the Russian Federation, because it meant "exit" (from all associations and blocs with Russia). Now these politicians adhere to the same ideas, but do not dare to take a clear position. Therefore, they increasingly resemble not politicians, but businessmen, haggling and making excuses on any occasion.
By the way, if Russia cannot help Armenia, can the West? After all, not only Russia is preoccupied with Ukraine, the West is also preoccupied with it. In addition, the West is increasingly occupied with China. And what place can Armenia occupy in this arrangement for the West? Is it able to offer the West something to invest in it?
Of course, there are Armenian and American military exercises this week and next week and it's a major event for Armenia. Not for the West, not for the United States. But how are things with something more tangible than this military spectacle - deliveries of Western weapons, for example? Nothing and that is why Armenian media this week happily reported that India has supplied Armenia with the first 155 mm ATAGS artillery systems. As many as six of them. Armenia became the first country to buy these systems. Their quality is evidenced by the fact that it is unclear whether the Indian army itself bought these howitzers or decided to wait for the results of their operation in Armenia. And the Armenian side has not purchased more serious weapons since 2020.
The only Western country inclined to get involved in the Armenian adventure is France. On September 14, Jean-Louis Bourlanges, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Commission of the French National Assembly, appeared in Yerevan. Against the backdrop of France's loss of first Niger and then Gabon, Macron needs to demonstrate some achievements in the international sphere - in the domestic sphere everything is quite sad, protests and scandals. But what can Paris do? Even in the best of times, when Macron's friend, President Sarkozy, planned to destroy the government in neighbouring Libya, he had to ask for help from NATO and the United States.
A series of retreats
Yerevan is attempting a risky geopolitical manoeuvre by unilaterally entering into an alliance with the West. By breaking with Russia, the Armenian leadership wants to gain Western support and strengthen its position in the confrontation with Azerbaijan. In order not to make all this look like an unprincipled rush to find a new master, the Yerevan politicians cover themselves with loud words about the desire to defend themselves without relying on external forces.
On September 13, Pashinyan called for reducing "dependence on other" countries for security. "The model according to which we have problems with our neighbours and we have to invite others to protect us - no matter who these others are - is a very vulnerable model," he said
It sounds like a call for strategic self-sufficiency. But a landlocked state will not have the strength to ensure its security if it falls out with its most important neighbours. Even if it were to put its entire population under arms or build nuclear weapons. It is strategically obvious that the Republic of Armenia vitally needs good relations with Azerbaijan and Türkiye. Such relations with them are a prerequisite for Armenia's security and development.
Therefore, no matter how you look at it, this militarism of Pashinyan is worthless. It seems that this is why his government does not invest in it even in the short term - just look at Yerevan's military purchases. Pashinyan realises the senselessness of military confrontation and is not going to engage in it. The point of all current actions is to put pressure on Azerbaijan in the negotiation process. The Armenian leadership is bluffing, as there is simply no one and nothing to fight on the Armenian side. No matter how many mock videos with the training of certain "patriots" and the construction of certain "fortifications" are posted on Armenian websites, these actions do not strengthen Armenia's military power, but only endanger the lives of those involved and believing in these "patriot games". It is clear that the Armenian leadership will not go to war, and Iranian Defence Minister Mohammad-Reza Ashtiyani recently expressed full confidence that war is not expected in the region.
Because the Armenian government's bluffs are not backed up by real material capabilities, Armenian leaders are constantly having to retreat. For example, on September 12 the separatists had to retreat again: a truck with humanitarian aid from the Russian Red Cross arrived in Khankendi from Aghdam. This is despite the fact that the new head of the separatists Samvel Shahramanyan, who has worked in the special services all his life, was known for his uncompromising position regarding the continuation of the blockade of the Aghdam road. However, speaking at a meeting of the Armenian government on September 14, Prime Minister Pashinyan urged his "colleagues" in Karabakh to "engage in dialogue" with the Azerbaijani government.
Revanchism under the guise of European integration rhetoric?
The Armenian side speaks about the pressure of force on it, which prevents peace talks. They say that Azerbaijani troops are concentrated along Armenia's borders and separatist positions. It sounds convincing and even works on some members of the European Parliament and other pop politicians. But the situation has a nuance. It is the separatist armed formations associated with Armenia that continue to hold part of the territory of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. And the Armenian government is creating political cover for these forces by delaying the negotiation process.
After the defeat of 2020, Pashinyan and his team had a chance to take a decisive step, pointing out to their fellow citizens the defeat and futility of the legacy of Gorbachev's "perestroika" in the form of the separatist structures in Karabakh. If Pashinyan and his associates had been politicians and not political businessmen, they would have done so, and Armenia would have already embarked on the path of development together with neighbouring countries. But they decided to continue the endless bargaining, to the accompaniment of which they maintained the armed presence of their formations on the territory of Azerbaijan.
It was Yerevan and the separatists it supports that decided to play with Azerbaijan using force. This was a rash decision, given the imbalance of power. And it immediately made itself felt when, a year ago, Baku began to respond more seriously to this policy of Armenian nationalists by force and increased military pressure on the separatist forces and the Armenian army to remind them of the need to end their expansionist adventure. This did not help, and then, after warnings, in December the illegal export of Karabakh's natural wealth via the Lachin road, which partly financed the separatist structures, was put an end to.
Then, after warnings and lack of response from the Armenian and Russian sides, Azerbaijan set up a checkpoint on the Lachin road in April to stop the supply and rotation of separatist forces in the Karabakh region and to achieve the unblocking of communications between the Karabakh region and the rest of Azerbaijan.
As we can see, all these were well-thought-out measures, logical and proportional to the goals set. But even after all this, instead of a political solution to the problems of Armenia and the region - and such a solution can only be a peace treaty with Azerbaijan - Pashinyan continues to haggle and build combinations in the international arena.
Instead of explaining to their fellow citizens that if Armenia does not dismantle the separatist structures, Baku will do it itself, the Armenian leadership started pushing its old ideological programme - Armenians will find salvation from all their troubles and sorrows only in the West (Europe or at least France). As a result, instead of overcoming the heavy legacy of expansionism and building peace with its neighbours, the current Armenian leadership has successfully spread dangerous illusions in its society.
According to the results of a public opinion poll published on September 15, sympathy for the EU has seriously increased in Armenia: by 17 per cent to 60 per cent in two years. At the same time, 72 per cent of respondents expect military assistance from the EU! At the same time, even assistance in healthcare and education is desired by a minority - 40 and 32 per cent, respectively. These are unexpected but vivid symptoms of the potential revanchism that Pashinyan and his team are fomenting under the guise of slogans of "leaving Russia" and integration with the West. Alas, they warn against excessive optimism about the negotiation process for normalisation in the South Caucasus.
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