Armenia and Russia: Bottlenecks on the Way to the Future

On April 23, Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned in response to mass protests. On March 2, 2018, the presidential elections took place in Armenia. According to the amendments to the Armenian Constitution adopted at the December 6, 2015 referendum, initiated by the ruling Republican Party, the president becomes a symbolic figure, while the real power goes to the prime minister.

However, despite Serzh Sargsyan’s assurances that he was not going to occupy the chair of the prime minister, the majority of voters in Armenia were confident that it was the incumbent president who would become the next prime minister, which would allow him thus to retain all the power in his hands.

However, neither the irremovability of power, nor the personal motives of the opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, who put forward the “Unity minus Sargsyan” slogan, nor the desire for full-scale political changes and the renewal of power through fair elections, as well as the reforms necessary to modernize the economy, not became the main reasons for such mass protests. It seems that the main desire of the opposition was aimed at putting an end to the complementary policy of Yerevan in the face of growing confrontation between the Russian Federation and the West. According to the opposition, Armenia’s final choice of its main foreign policy partner, in this case the West, would facilitate an early settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which would ensure Yerevan's full involvement in Western structures.

The desire of Yerevan to solve this problem has always stimulated and continues to stimulate Armenia’s integration with the Euro-Atlantic structures, as well as the growing appeals of the voters to establish closer relations with the West against the background of fatigue of the Russian influence and doubts over the soonest resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is no accident that on November 24, 2017, during the fifth summit of the European Eastern Partnership between Armenia and the European Union, the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement was signed. The treaty contains an updated political and, to a greater extent, economic components of the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU (DEFTA). Moreover, the European vector of Armenia is dictated by economic considerations. That is why Yerevan seeks and will strive to make full use of its ties with external players in those areas that are of interest to this country – expanding the market for goods and services, strengthening democratic institutions, and attracting large-scale investments and new technologies. All of this expands the possibilities of modernization of the political and economic system in the country on the background of an extremely active civil society.

However, according to the opposition, it is not enough to solve the main task of Yerevan – the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Today Yerevan should clearly outline its foreign policy priorities.

For its part, the US, acting within the framework of the Transatlantic Partnership, will continue to provide assistance and support to Armenia aimed at implementing the agreement with the EU as a basis for strengthening internal stability, improving economic prospects and expanding the Euro-Atlantic ties.

Today, Washington has identified some shortcomings, primarily related to overestimation of the Caspian Sea’s energy resources and revised its approach to Armenia. This is due to the following factors: the possibility of strengthening ties between Armenia and Iran, which can open new prospects in the region, as well as China’s growing interest in Transcaucasia with its large-scale economic projects in the region. Thus, at present the US approach to Armenia will be adapted in the context of changing the entire US strategic course throughout the South Caucasus.

At the same time, it seems that the US will try to take every possible step to resolve the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. In the face of an unprecedented confrontation between Russia and the West, it seems that the complexity of this task will not stop Washington from acting on its own. Anyway, for Armenia it will be extremely difficult to diversify its relations in the military-political area, taking into account the fact that Armenia is the only country in Transcaucasia that is member of both the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Being linked to Armenia by the CSTO treaty and having the Gyumri military base, Moscow has specific obligations to this country and is the guarantor of its security.

Moreover, at present neither the EU nor NATO can provide Armenia with the security guarantees that Russia provides both on the border with Turkey and regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The settlement of this complex ethno-political conflict is an important direction of Russia’s foreign policy efforts, and Moscow plays a key role in its solution, trying to make both sides observe the cease-fire regime in the conditions of the conflict transformation.

Maintaining the status quo is extremely beneficial for Moscow now, because neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan is ready for compromise, which means that any changes are fraught with unpredictable consequences. In this context, the main problem is the opposing sides’ recalcitrance, and not the influence of external forces, so today Moscow does not force a solution to this conflict. Nevertheless, Moscow, while sharing the efforts of the Minsk Group, at the same time tries to outline its special role in the process of peaceful settlement. This is due to Russia’s reluctance to face serious challenges, which can include a forced unilateral settlement of the conflicts in the South Caucasus, a sharp deterioration of relations with key regional players – Turkey and Iran, which is possible even despite the current common position of Russia and Turkey on Syria.

It is indicative that Moscow’s ability to maintain a balance of power under these conditions is still supported by the West now, which once again confirms Moscow’s special role in the process of peaceful settlement, even in the face of the acute crisis between Russia and the West.

At the same time, it seems that Moscow needs to take into account all the “bottlenecks” to strengthen its positions in Armenia, containing particular criticisms against it, in order to ensure more effective integration with this country in practical terms.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.