While the majority of Armenia’s population is concerned over the immediate and short-term impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine, historians and analysts look further into the future for developments of historic consequences.

The war launched by Russia against Ukraine and the subsequent international sanctions against that nation have sent shivers through the part of the world economically intertwined with Russia.

In Armenia, that change because of the war has been immediate and harsh. Armenia’s gross domestic product (GDP) for next year was forecast to increase by 5.6 percent, but now the central bank has revised that figure to 1.6 percent, in view of the elimination of remittances from Armenians in Russia accounting for 49 percent of money transfers to Armenia, and disruption of the supply chain of food and commodities, which are mostly imported from Russia.

Moscow has set restrictions on grain exports even to Eurasian Economic Union members, of which Armenia is one. Twenty seven percent of Armenia’s exports are destined for Russia, and that area will be impacted severely also. However, even in the best-case scenario, the downfall of the Russian currency rate will devastate the market.

There is talk now by the authorities as to how long the current food supplies can last and what the alternatives for Armenia are to prevent deprivation.

On the other hand, a new phenomenon has developed in the country with the flood of Russians and Ukrainians émigrés escaping their homelands. They bring with them their talents and capital. However, the question is how long Armenia’s economic infrastructure can sustain this kind of sudden upheaval. Already, the real estate market is overheated.

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All the above developments and concerns may be short-term impacts and may settle in time. But the most difficult forecast is the long-term one for the permanent impact that the war in Ukraine can bring to the world, the region and particularly to Armenia.

At least one clue to that impact is Russia’s goal for engaging in that war in the first place. Many pundits in the West believe that the impetus for Russian leader Vladimir Putin is to resurrect the former Soviet Union, in one form or another. The conditions Putin proposed to Ukraine in order for his nation to stop the war offer confirmation of that theory. Indeed, among those conditions is the stipulation that a demilitarized Ukraine has to become part of Russia, after accepting that Crimea is part of Russia and Luhansk and Donetsk are independent countries.

Mr. Putin has often publicly expressed his disappointment over Ukraine not being a part of Russia. Therefore, it is not difficult to predict that should Moscow come out triumphant from the current conflict, this push will receive more prominence with all the countries of the “near abroad” or in the zone of influence of the former Soviet Union, including Armenia.

Although the outcome of the war is anyone’s guess, the current status of the conflict does not foretell an overall victory for Russia, which is hemorrhaging soldiers, weapons and military hardware, in addition to suffering a catastrophic blow to its economy. In its early days, war strategists believed that this would be a short-term engagement with a resolute victory for Russia, but it looks like peace will come with Moscow and Kyiv sharing equally the dividends of that peace.

While the war is still raging, the parties which anticipate to be affected by its outcome have been positioning themselves to soften these impacts or, in fact, benefit from the spoils. Thus, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev signed an agreement with President Putin one day before the outbreak of the war, pledging to not engage in any activities which may compromise the interests of the other party, only to signal to the European Union that in case Russian gas does not flow to Europe, the leaders of the EU can depend on Azerbaijani oil.

At the same time, Azerbaijan is shipping to Ukraine all kinds of assistance under the guise of humanitarian aid, thus, returning the favor and arms supplies to Baku by President Volodymyr Zelensky, during the 44-day war it launched against Karabakh.

Turkey, in its turn, while blaming Russia for the war, voting against Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and supplying Bayraktar drones to Kyiv, refuses to join the West’s sanctions policy against Russia, most probably to reap some benefits from going around these sanctions, as it did during the West’s measures against Iran. On top of those political juggling acts, Turkey has emerged as the major mediator between Russia and Ukraine; the first attempt to bring together the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine did not yield any results, but Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu is continuing his relentless efforts through shuttle diplomacy between Kyiv and Moscow.

Armenia is caught in the middle of this conundrum. European Union’s pledge of a 2.6 billion euros economic aid package and President Joe Biden’s prodding of President Erdogan to initiate negotiations with Armenia to improve relations and lift its blockade have encouraged Armenia’s westward leaning tendencies, though Yerevan does not enjoy too much leeway to veer towards the West, without offending Moscow. Thus far, Armenia has fared unscathed with one vote supporting the Russian position at the Council of Europe and abstentions in other fora.

Public manifestations in Armenia are also in line with Yerevan’s neutral position.  One demonstration was organized by Tigran Khzmalyan’s European Party attended by Ukrainian officials condemning the war. The other was held in front of the Russian embassy, during which the old Soviet flag was hoisted, with speakers demanding Armenia become a member of the Union State with Russia. One positive note: the government’s tolerance in allowing these two contrasting demonstrations enhances Armenia’s democratic credentials.

This issue has been raised recently by pro-Moscow political quarters in the country, first by former President Robert Kocharyan and most recently by oligarch and benefactor Ruben Vardanyan. This movement has the potential to become a strong political trend, should Russia score a decisive victory in the current war. Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko had already dismissively said who cares about Armenia and that eventually it has no place to go but to join Russia as a Union State member.

Armenia’s devastating defeat during the 44-day war has impacted people’s perceptions negatively with regard to the country’s survival as a sovereign state. Some have even posed the question publicly to government officials, asking whether joining Russia is on the agenda and the answer has been no.

Armenia is negotiating with Turkey and thus far, some positive signals have emerged from these talks. For some despondent critics and analysts, Armenia’s future is fashioned along black and white lines. They reason that in order for Amenia to survive, it has to make a choice between joining Russia or becoming a Turkish vilayet.

Pietro Shakarian and Benyamin Poghosyan have published a joint article proscribing three choices for Armenia’s survival as a sovereign state: 1) preservation and protection of the Armenian population on the historical Armenian homeland, 2) Russian-Armenian military harmonization and 3) restriction of Turkish economic penetration and control of the Armenian Republic.

It is questionable how these recommendations may be achieved but most interestingly, the authors provide some statistics which gauge public sentiment and give directions as to which policies have better chances to succeed. Thus, they write: “Recent poll findings from the International Republican Institute reflect the growing popular mood. Forty-six percent of Armenians agree that their country is not going in the right direction, a significant blow to the republic’s sitting leadership. Of those surveyed, 88 percent stated that the top national security threat facing Armenia is the Turkish Republic. Only 5 percent say that Armenian-Turkish dialogue is necessary, while the vast majority say that the government should instead invest its greatest effort in enhancing Armenia’s strategic security alliance with the Russian Federation. The poll findings echo popular sentiments on the streets of Yerevan, as residents express comfort with the regular flights of Russian MiG-29 fighters over the skies of the Armenian capital. By contrast, the government’s proclaimed “new era of peace” with Turkey has invited considerable concern, and even apprehension, among the population, given not only the memory of Turkey’s direct involvement in the 2020 Karabakh war, but also the 1915 Armenian Genocide, which Ankara still denies.”

Considering Armenia is in a federation with Russia, many assume it will survive, if the Russian Federation proves that it is not a crumbing empire as some surmise. But with its meager resources, Armenia cannot command more clout than Belarus or Kazakhstan and will be treated in a cavalier manner by Moscow.

The mirror image can be expected in any structures in the West, again because of Armenia’s economic frailty. One lesson should be Greece-Turkey relations within NATO. There Greece has compromised its sovereignty and is treated like an underdog. Armenia cannot expect to do better.

One thing is certain: there is confusion amongst the public about the political direction Armenia must take to survive. If we believe in historic determinism, this is the perfect replication of a situation which Armenia has faced repeatedly during its long and arduous history. Every time such disarray has arisen, with different groups pulling Armenia’s national policies in different directions, Armenia has lost, with the resultant fatalism merely leaving the hope that Armenia may be revived one day.

It is time for visionary leadership to emerge either from the ranks of the current government or through a combination of forces to be able to chart a realistic and achievable future. Otherwise, we will be lost at a crossroads between Russia and Turkey.

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