Armenia’s Place in the New Political Order of the Caucasus

1196
0

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Armenia became independent, it considered its borders to be secure as a result of its military alliance with Russia. And Moscow, indeed, inspired confidence in its allies in the “near abroad,” considering itself the master of the Caucasus. It was also very convenient for Moscow that Iran was under Western sanctions, thus seeking friends and allies elsewhere.

Both Turkey and Azerbaijan have ambitious plans in the region. Turkey’s goal is to drive a wedge between Russia and China, projecting its power in order to ultimately bring under its sway all the Turkic nations in Central Asia. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has other plans for expansion, by integrating southern Azerbaijan — Northern Iran — and “Western Azerbaijan” — Armenia.

Despite their misgivings with both countries, the Western powers and Israel look favorably on these plans, if not even encouraging them.

Turkey was not a major factor or concern in the region until President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed his pan-Turanic, imperial ambitions and began testing Russia’s strength and resolve to hold its ground. And as all confrontations between Ankara and Moscow have demonstrated since — in the battlefields of Syria, Libya and Karabakh — Russia gave in to Turkey’s thrust and parry and settled for damage control. However, Turkey is pushing for more by arming Ukraine with its Bayraktar drones and questioning Russia’s legitimacy in Crimea.

Erdogan’s spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, even threatened that Turkey could cause Russia to explode from within, by activating the 25 million Muslims living there. The administration of Vladimir Putin has maintained an uncharacteristic silence, proving the potential truth of that threat.

Besides the 25 million Muslims, it looks as if Putin’s circle is also beholden to the Azerbaijan oil lobby in Moscow. Lragir.am reports that Azeri dictator Ilham Aliyev has funneled a $10-billion bribe to Putin cronies through a friend of the Russian president, Ilham Rahimov, to assure Armenia’s defeat in war.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

This news could be dismissed as a rumor, were it not for the precedent offered by Aliyev to former Armenian leaders Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan ($6 billion) to settle the Karabakh problem.

The fact that Russia has failed to exercise its obligations under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) towards Armenia can be explained by two reasons or a combination thereof; one is that Aliyev’s bribe has played a role, or second, that Russia is afraid of a confrontation with Turkey which might exhibit cracks in its power structure.

Since May 12, Azerbaijani forces have crossed Armenia’s borders in Syunik and Gegharkunik and they have stayed put despite strong statements from the European Union, the United States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other world powers. And if anything, they have increased the number of their soldiers on Armenian soil from 300 to 600 and then to 1,000. They have also killed one Armenian soldier and captured six others right in front of Russian peacekeeping forces. Russia has made commitments to the Turkey-Azerbaijan tandem and those commitments embolden Baku’s hand.

In view of the upcoming summit meeting of President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16, Erdogan is making a countermove to visit Shushi on the same day, most probably to warn Russia not to give in at that meeting and thus veer from their original agreement.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan seems to be equally powerless: his appeal to the CSTO did not receive a response and he made a desperate gesture of proposing to move Armenian and Azerbaijani forces to equidistant positions and inviting Russia or other international observers to monitor the delimitation and demarcation process on the border. The OSCE responded immediately, much to Moscow’s chagrin. On the other hand, the EU foreign ministers are on their way to the Caucasus to visit Yerevan, Tbilisi and Baku.

Any outside attention to the region certainly worries both Moscow and Ankara and places their mutual arrangement under scrutiny.

Pashinyan, in his turn, was very careful not to overstep Putin’s instructions, but giving in to domestic pressure, decided to take a bold step and visit President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, and Charles Michel, president of the European Union in Brussels, on June 1-2, to find out how much substance there is in their offer to help Armenia to stand firm against Azerbaijani pressure.

This international pressure had also its ramifications on the domestic policies in Armenia, during the heat of pre-election campaign.

Twenty six groups have registered for parliamentary elections: 22 political parties and four alliances.

What is significant is that in view of Russian reluctance to meet its treaty obligations towards Armenia, anti-Russian political forces are being formed and are becoming more vocal.

Some of them are real political forces, unlike Tigran Khzmalyan, president of the European Party, which is a lightweight in Armenia’s political structures.

Prominent pro-Western groups are the Babajanyan-Shirinyan alliance, the Armenian Popular Axis, in which the heavy weights are Varoujan Avetisyan and Garegin Chukaszyan, as well as the Armenian Constructive Party led by Andreas Ghougasyan.

If anything, these voices will demonstrate that Armenia has alternatives to count on. But it is not realistic that these groups will receive much support from the electorate which always has been biased towards Russia. From experience, they also remember that Russia may not be very forgiving if Armenia really tries to move away from its sphere of influence, as happened with Georgia, which was amputated during the 2008 war with Russia.

In addition to international power play and domestic turmoil, Pashinyan has to fight his tug-of-war with Aliyev. The president of My Step Alliance, Lilit Makunts, insists that no negotiation will be held with Azerbaijan before the latter’s forces retreat from Armenian soil. Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan, who is working with his Russian and Azerbaijani counterparts on the implementation of the November 9 declaration by restoring roads and communications, and Pashinyan himself, insist that there is no discussion of an Azerbaijani corridor cutting through Zangezur, while President Aliyev insists that in no way can Armenia walk away from its agreement to build the corridor through Zangezur, which will be controlled by Russian forces.

During a visit to Baku by Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismayiloglu, President Aliyev gave a report on the work in progress and despite all denials from the Armenian side, he stated, “As you know, at the first stage after the war, Armenia expressed its protest on the issue. However, recently I have been informed that the Armenian side is already correctly analyzing the issues related to the inevitability of this corridor and there are good results.”

Pashinyan’s denial is understandable, because if Aliyev’s statement proves to be true, that may have some negative impact on election results when Pashinyan’s party still remains the favorite.

But when the dust settles, we may see that Aliyev’s statements turn out to be true, unfortunately.

In the wake of the devastating war and the turmoil raging in the region, it is insane to hold snap elections to prove that Pashinyan is still ahead in popularity. But the participation of so many parties and alliances has the potential of dividing the votes on the Pashinyan and Kocharyan camps, by not allowing any group to garner an overwhelming advantage, which may eventually lead towards a national unity government, which will be the silver living in all these catastrophic events.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: