Russia warns Armenia against aligning with Western enemies
    Moscow's soft power visiting Yerevan

    ANALYTICS  27 February 2024 - 15:32

    Murad Abiyev

    On February 24, 2024, an international roundtable on "Armenia at a Crossroads: CSTO, NATO or Non-Bloc Status" was held in Yerevan. The event was organized by the Armenian Analytical Centre for Strategic Studies and Initiatives (ACSSI) in partnership with the Russian Gorchakov Fund in Yerevan.

    The meeting featured three speakers, two of whom were keynote speakers - Dmitry Suslov, deputy director at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow and deputy director of research programs at the Council on foreign and defense policy, and Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST). The third speaker was Arthur Khachikian, Doctor of Political Science at Stanford University, an expert on international relations. On the Armenian side, the event was also attended by leading Armenian experts, journalists and heads of a number of media outlets.

    Suslov and Pukhov generally spoke from a classic stance - showing empathy for Armenia, confessing special feelings for it and even calling Karabakh "Artsakh", but at the same time maintaining an imperial intolerance for creeping accusations against Moscow. They even harshly reprimanded Armenian experts who had made such statements, not forgetting to note that they were friends. So, friendship is friendship, but vassalage is vassalage.

    However, the Russian side accused more. The key point of the accusations was that Armenia had taken a course of rapprochement with Russia's enemies, meaning the West. There are plenty of events in this row, the latest of which is Pashinyan's statement about freezing Armenia's participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and persistently circulating rumors about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's upcoming visit to Yerevan. Suslov put it quite categorically: "Armenia is moving to the side of the enemy in the conditions of existential confrontation between Russia and the West, when the West aims at inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia".

    Suslov and Pukhov, both in their reports and in their answers to questions, returned to the central leitmotif that had brought them to Yerevan: yes, it is true that Russia is very much distracted by the war with Ukraine, but this does not mean that it is possible to get rid of it so easily. Yerevan's biggest mistake, according to the friend from Moscow, is that by distancing itself from Russia, Armenia is unable to build an alternative security system. According to the Muscovites, Western partners can only pat on the shoulder and make anti-Azerbaijani statements. "They won't even impose sanctions on Azerbaijan," said one of the speakers. To demonstrate the non-seriousness of Western guarantees, Suslov cited the example of European guarantees to Ukraine.

    As a possible punishment for the disastrously short-sighted policy of the current Armenian leadership, experts have voiced not the actions of Russia itself, but alleged aggression from Azerbaijan and Türkiye - precisely because Russia will not be around Armenia. And since there will be no Western allies around Armenia either, the country will collapse. "Freezing Armenia's participation in the CSTO in the current conditions is a conscious invitation of Azerbaijan to aggression against Armenia itself," Suslov again categorically stated.

    According to experts, under conditions of good relations between Armenia and Russia, "Azerbaijan and Türkiye will not go for aggressive actions." "In the conditions of bad relations between Yerevan and Moscow, they may go for such aggression," Suslov continued to frighten Armenians in an ingratiating manner. Moreover, the speakers reiterated the Kremlin's narrative that "Armenia has already partially paid for such a policy with the loss of Karabakh." Although they hinted that in some cases Russia would have to take action: "The appearance of foreign bases will be perceived by Russia, Türkiye and Iran as a threat to their security, with all the consequences that entails.

    The real ice shower for the event participants was Suslov's thesis that Russia wants to be an impartial arbiter in the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, not an ally of Armenia, as Türkiye is for Azerbaijan. For the reason, the analyst explained, that by acting otherwise, Russia would turn Azerbaijan into its foe. Following that, the ice shower literally turned into a stream of hail when the speaker added that, among other things, the Azerbaijani people, just like the Armenian people, remain brotherly to Russia due to the Soviet history.

    And this was, perhaps, the crucial thing Armenians should learn from this meeting. Azerbaijan, by virtue of its power, legitimacy, important geostrategic position and, finally, competent foreign policy, is a country which a world power like Russia (and this is undoubtedly true) does not want to quarrel with.

    The speakers were quite cynical. Pukhov said that Moscow is unlikely to use force against Armenia even in the case of Zelenskyy's visit, at least while the war in Ukraine is underway. Russia will not even impose economic sanctions for the time being, because it itself benefits from cooperation with Armenia in terms of circumventing sanctions.

    In general, the recommendation of the speakers to Yerevan is that it should stay calm, wait for the end of the war in Ukraine, after which Russia will be able to flood Armenia with tanks up to its eyeballs, since the Russian military industry has earned a record capacity. At the same time, according to their own words, there is no end to the war in Ukraine yet.

    And one more thesis that the speakers tried to explain to the audience was that Russia's hegemony in the South Caucasus cannot be restored, it is only a question of some kind of presence.

    Those present were dejected. Yes, the Russian experts were so ruthless towards Armenians in their conclusions that once Suslov even apologized to the audience for their harshness. Yes, the soft Russian paratroopers landed on the round Armenian table rather hard. But this is the only way to realize reality for those who are used to eating at other people's expense.


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