Russia’s war rhetoric has been overtaken by the explosion of bombs as the country unleashes a full-scale war in Ukraine, although Moscow defines it as “special military operations.” The terminology makes little difference to the refugees flooding the countries neighboring Ukraine.

The only difference it makes is in abstract form, in legal terms, for Turkey to close the straits of Dardanelles, since by the Montreux Convention of 1936, Turkey is entitled to ban the military naval movements through the straits, if it can define it as war.

President Joe Biden, based on the intelligence gathered, had been warning that Russia was ready for a full-scale war, while pundits in the media believed the operation would be a limited one, based on the pattern previously established, particularly in Georgia where Abkhazia and South Ossetia were occupied and cleaved, or, from the Russian perspective, declared independent and recognized by Russia and some rogue states. It was believed that Russia, after recognizing their independence, would take over Luhansk and Donetsk, and trigger a perpetual war on Ukraine’s territory rather than this outright war.

But these predictions were proven wrong and what we have now is a full-scale war. At this point, anyone’s predictions may turn out to be empty conjecture as there are so many moving parts.

Along with the military operations, a parallel media war is being conducted and, for a change, the opinions on news channels are getting narrower with little distinguishing them apart. This time around, even the West is recognizing the power of the word and thus the European Union has banned the Russian Sputnik and Russia Today networks, which are often the mouthpieces of the Kremlin.

In a useful 2014 article published in the Washington Post, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger provided an overview of Ukraine and its historic relations with Russia. He concluded: “But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other. It should function as a bridge between them.”

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Today, Russia’s brazen attack against Ukraine does not allow any space for that kind of rationale and the flow of desperate and despondent refugees makes it even harder to separate emotions from hard facts and political realities. President Vladimir Putin is caught in a frenzy similar to the one that had afflicted President John F. Kennedy when he discovered in 1962 that the Soviet Union, under Nikita Khrushchev, had deployed nuclear missiles on Cuba, 90 miles from the US mainland. That is how the Cuban Missile Crisis evolved, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. That event has not been lost on Vladimir Putin, who has become more and more belligerent as the West pushed NATO closer to the Russian border, by placing nuclear arsenals in Romania and Poland. Ukraine and its interest in joining NATO, or at least not ruling it out, it seems, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

After the Maidan Revolution of 2014, Ukraine took the path of joining the European Union and NATO’s alliance. Putin’s antics, over time, were not able to dissuade the leadership in Kyiv to take Russia’s apprehensions seriously, particularly when the West also found an opportunity to face off to contain Russia.

Now all nations will be forced to take sides; for many that are already in the Western fold, that choice will not pose a problem. But countries on Russia’s periphery and the ones which depend heavily on Moscow, will face a deadly dilemma.

At the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Armenian delegate abstained in a vote against Russia, but at the European Council decided to be in minority with Russia. Yerevan has yet to reveal its position on recognizing the independence of breakaway regions of Ukraine but how long it can walk on a tightrope? It cannot antagonize the West either when the European Union has pledged 2.6 billion euros for reconstruction projects which may fall victim to political decisions.

Turkey criticized Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and earlier it had publicly pledged that it would abide by its NATO obligations if and when Russia attacks Ukraine. Since the war, however, its only position statement has been that Turkey cannot afford to lose the friendship of either Ukraine or Russia. On the other hand, Turkey has given equivocal responses to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request to close the Dardanelles Straits to Russian warships. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu has stated that Turkey has to find out whether this is a war or a special military operation to be able to determine if the Montreux Convention applies to this situation. (Even Georgia has been scared into pledging not to participate in sanctions against Russia.)

Thus far, the end game of the war is not visible; however, during a phone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, President Putin stated that a settlement could be reached if Ukraine decides to become a neutral country and recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea. But that statement seems to be disingenuous, as Moscow’s intent is to turn Ukraine into a “union state” along with Belarus. Should that happen, next in line would be Armenia, perhaps also Georgia and some of the Central Asian Turkic republics.

To become a “union state” member means for that country to lose its sovereignty and become one of the units of a new Soviet-style federation, like Chechnya or Tatarstan.

Such an invitation has already been extended indirectly through Robert Kocharyan. Armenia certainly will shun integration into a crumbling empire.

At this time, Armenia is not asked to offer units to the Russian forces in their Ukrainian campaign, as was the case in Kazakhstan when an Armenian contingent was dragged into the conflict zone as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). That prospect still remains a possibility, depending on the future conduct of the war.

As a result of Western sanctions, Russia’s economy is imploding, even if some relief is provided by China. But that will be little consolation for Armenia, whose largest market is Russia. In the year 2021, Armenia’s exports to Russia amounted to $847 million, an increase of 24.5 percent over the previous year. In addition, 40 percent of family transfers to Armenia come from Russia. Moscow has already placed a ban on foreign transfers, which will affect Armenia immediately.

Armenia’s economy is heavily dependent on the tourist industry and the majority of its hundreds of thousands of tourists come from Russia and Iran. Even if trade and transfers resume with Russia, the 35-percent devaluation of the Russian ruble will have a strong negative impact on that sector.

The political implications will be as severe as the economic ones. Caucasus Institute Director Alexander Iskandaryan believes that the countries of the South Caucasus will feel the consequences of a stronger Russian influence and he adds, “However, the impact will be different, because all three states are at different levels of relations with Russia and NATO and have different potentials to uphold sovereignty. Armenia is in the geopolitical orbit of Russia; Georgia follows the course of NATO and EU accession and Azerbaijan is an ally of Turkey, the country with the second most powerful army in NATO.”

With the war in Ukraine raging, the political equations have shifted in the region. Armenia had pinned its hopes on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose Minsk Group co-chairs continue to pursue the status issue of Karabakh. Now that the OSCE is heavily involved in the Ukraine crisis, the Karabakh issue will be sidelined, a situation very much to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev’s liking.

And Russia’s co-chair was always drifting away from his colleagues by avoiding dealing with the status issue and was proposing to confine the OSCE’s activities to humanitarian issues. Now, Moscow will have a free hand to shape the Caucasus policies with Turkey, away from the prying eyes of Western governments.

Just two days before the war, Putin signed an alliance treaty with Aliyev, one of whose articles deals with gas exports. Azerbaijan agrees to sell its gas to Europe only with Russia’s permission. President Putin has invited Nikol Pashinyan to sign another treaty; most probably Russia will pay Azerbaijan through concessions from Armenia. Thus far, there have been two formulas to solve the conflicts in the Caucasus: the OSCE and the 3+3. It looks like the first format will be eliminated and only the second, featuring Turkey, Russia, Iran will remain to deal with the remaining two, Armenia and Azerbaijan, as Georgia has refused to take part in the deal.

As the war continues, many countries have opened their borders to receive the desperate refugees. Even Armenia invited Ukrainian refugees of Armenian and non-Armenian origin.

As survivors of a genocide and as refugees themselves many times over, Armenians fully empathize with the plight of Ukrainian refugees and offer compassion for their fates.

However, we have to be mindful that Ukraine’s current regime provided arms to Azerbaijan during the 4-Day War in 2016. Zelenskyy was even more zealous to support Azerbaijan militarily during the 44-Day War in 2020, even possibly providing phosphorus bombs that killed civilians as well as soldiers. On top of his collusion he publicly congratulated Aliyev on his “victory.”

Despite our great empathy towards the plight of the Ukrainian people, our sympathy for Mr. Zelenskyy has to match his deeds in Karabakh.

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