Is Armenia’s Charm Offensive Yielding Dividends?

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A Ukraine-based political analyst called Oleg Sahakyan has made a significant statement about Armenia during an interview with an online news outlet in Ukraine. The analyst said that he believes that Armenia has been making major strides on the international political front, based on the deals Armenia has signed with Cyprus and Greece. Sahakyan sees Armenia emerging from its weak post-Soviet status to take a new role in the international tableau.

That belief is also being reinforced in the convictions of the Velvet Revolutionaries who believe that adhesion to democratic norms will yield its rewards in the country’s international relations, particularly after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s successful trips to China and Singapore.

Now Armenia has set its eyes on the West. Still insisting that Armenian-Russian relations remain on solid ground, Yerevan has ruffled some feathers in the Kremlin hierarchy. The new administration in Armenia believes the new democratic credentials and subliminally perceived anti-Moscow actions deserve some rewards in the West.

There are also hired guns in Armenia’s news media constantly harping on anti-Russian rhetoric in tune with the country’s domestic and international policies

All those assumptions have convinced Pashinyan’s administration to embark on a charm offensive in the West, and particularly in the US, to test the political waters and to assess the diplomatic clout of the Armenian lobby.

Two of the brightest minds of Armenia’s new breed of leaders were dispatched to the US during July, heading their respective delegations. One delegation was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan and the other by National Assembly Speaker Ararat Mirzoyan. The Armenian representatives managed to have substantial meetings with the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, respectively, who in the past have supported Armenian issues. In addition, Mirzoyan attended the National Democratic Leadership Conference and Aviyan met with banking and business leaders.

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The visiting statesmen also made public statements. For example, Mirzoyan, speaking at the Atlantic Council, urged the US not to exert pressure on Armenia because of the former’s sanctions on Iran, “since Armenia cannot pay the price.”

We are not sure of the impact of those declarations. One thing we know is several US diplomats have assured Armenia that Washington “understands” Armenia’s precarious situation in the light of blockades but no one is certain what can happen when push comes to shove and the US decides to move further in squeezing Iran. Armenia’s predicament will be the last worry for the US.

Avinyan, in his turn, focused on climate change and its impact on Armenia. “Climate change poses a threat to Lake Sevan,” said the vice premier, speaking in New York at a conference focussed on making investments “into climate economy and energy efficiency.”

The meetings of the delegations with the local Armenian groups were less than stellar. The former administration never attempted to study the diaspora to benefit from its potentials and this new administration is still groping its way in the dark when it comes to the Armenian community in the diaspora’s who’s who.

Of course the sooner they learn the community dynamics, the more beneficial it will be to both sides.

It is yet too early to determine the impact of the delegations’ visit on the political circles of the US. One thing certain is that the US will value Armenia at its own worth in the political puzzle of the region.

Along with the two delegations in the US, Armenia’s Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan attended a conference in Washington on religious freedoms. On July 16, he met with Philip Ricker, Mike Pompeo’s deputy for European and Eurasian Affairs.

This last visit marked the third by Mnatsakanyan to the US this year and yet, he has never been able to meet with his American counterpart, Pompeo. Legislators and analysts believe that there must be a political reason behind this indifference and they have begun to speculate about the reasons.

The Member of Parliament from the Bright Armenia Party Arman Babajanyan said he believes that the reason behind this insulting approach its found right in Yerevan . “Armenia’s unbalanced political relationship with its third ally, which displeases Washington.”

Another pundit, Dr. Hayk A. Martirosyan, cites three different reasons: Pashinyan’s statement that the US has not embraced the Velvet Revolution with enthusiasm; Armenia’s multi-vector policy, which does not interest Washington and third, Armenia does not weigh too much on US regional policies.

Perhaps the last argument is the most plausible.

Yet, to add insult to injury, the US has increased military aid to Azerbaijan once again routinely bypassing Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which does not allow US military aid to Azerbaijan. Despite media bashing of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s autocratic rule and despite congressional calls to curb Azerbaijan’s bellicose behavior, realpolitik steamrolls over Armenia.

The total amount of help to Azerbaijan during 2018 and 2019 has hit the $100-million mark. Additionally, the Defense Department has informed the Congress of an additional $47.5 million allocation to Azerbaijan to secure that country’s southern border. This, of course, within the context of an eventual war with Iran, when Azerbaijan has been tapped to play an active role.

Similar treatment is denied Armenia.

Is it too early to conclude that these actions and non-actions constitute rebuffs to Armenia’s charm offense?

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