Common folks in Egypt have a very keen sense of humor. They can create anecdotes to render the most complex political issues into simple humorous stories. One such anecdote is about President Anwar Sadat, who succeeded President Gamal Abdel Nasser. According to the anecdote, Sadat inherited Nassar’s chauffeur, who is supposed to drive him from his residence to the presidential palace. On the first day, the driver stops at a crossroads and asks the new president which way to take. After finding out that his predecessor used to take a left turn, he orders the driver to “signal left and turn right.”
In a way, this situation also characterizes Armenia’s foreign policy. Outwardly, relations seem normal. From the prime minister down to the foreign minister, all exalt Armenian-Russian relations. They reaffirm the importance of the Russian 102nd military base in Armenia and they value Armenia’s participation in the collective security pact led by Russia, yet there is an unease in the air. While on the official level, pronouncements are rare, the news media are awash with criticism and counter criticism, giving the impression that the parties are at each other’s throats.
During the previous administration, media criticism – and caustic one at that, was permissible. As a journalist, even the current prime minister did not pull his punches. But the Velvet Revolution, which has unified the population and has offered a hope for a better future, has also endowed the new administration with an aura of infallibility. It is within this paradigm that we need to analyze Armenia’s foreign policy.
Now that Armenia has overthrown bloodlessly the corrupt regime, it has all the right to guard its sovereignty jealously. But that sovereignty has its own determinants, one of which is Armenia’s relevance in the balance of power of the region. In Europe, 28 nations have forfeited their sovereignty to a certain measure, for the common good. That’s statecraft which develops with historical experience.
At this time, Armenian-Russian relations seem to be at a critical juncture. The Kremlin has been watching all the movements and actions of the new government in Yerevan, in domestic and foreign policy, and has been reacting nervously.
Robert Kocharyan’s incarceration and his pending trial do not bode well for Moscow, because he has always served as a pillar of Russian influence in Armenia. So far, Moscow has tempered its reaction in Kocharyan’s case, considering it a domestic issue. However, when Yuri Khachaturov’s case arose, official Moscow spoke. The latter was the commander of the Yerevan Garrison during the March 1 events of 2008, when 10 people died and many others were wounded. Kocharyan is accused of “overthrowing the constitution” by ordering the army to move. General Yuri Khachaturov is considered the executor of Kocharyan’s order. Cognizant of the delicate nature of Khachaturov’s case, Armenia’s government dealt rather deftly with it and released him from jail on bond, allowing him to travel to Moscow to continue serving his term as the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).