Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, October 17, 2023.

Armenian PM Sees ‘No Advantage’ in Russian Troop Presence as Ties with Moscow Deteriorate Further

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By Ani Avetisyan

As Armenia seeks Western help in coping with the influx of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh, its relations with Russia continue to deteriorate.

Last week Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the Wall Street Journal that he saw “no advantage” in the presence of Russian troops in Armenia. In the same interview, Pashinyan also ruled out any impending withdrawal from the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Despite his previous criticism of Moscow and the CSTO, Pashinyan has maintained a restrained approach when it comes to actual action against these two security allies.

Armenia currently hosts approximately 10,000 Russian troops, of whom around 5,000 are stationed at the 102nd Russian military base in the city of Gyumri, near Turkey. Other Russian forces operate at Zvartnots airport, Erebuni military base, and in the southern and eastern regions of Armenia.

Russian troops are stationed at various points along the border with Azerbaijan, and Russian border guards control Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran.

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Two thousand Russian peacekeepers were stationed in Nagorno-Karabakh after the 2020 Second Karabakh War. Pashinyan said in October, after Azerbaijan took over the region and its entire Armenian population fled, that the peacekeepers would not be allowed in Armenia if they were to leave Karabakh.

Pashinyan was the subject of an extended hit piece on Russian state TV on 23 October that contained numerous easily disprovable falsehoods. The Armenian Foreign Ministry filed a note of protest with Russia and summoned Ambassador Sergei Koprikin over the anti-Armenian statements and insults against Prime Minister Pashinyan in the program.

Pashinyan has been a frequent target of Russian propaganda in recent months. In October, an unnamed top official cited by the TASS news agency claimed that Pashinyan was emulating the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and attempting to turn Armenia into ‘another Ukraine’. Former President Dmitry Medvedev, who is also the deputy head of Russia’s national security council, criticized Pashinyan on social media during Azerbaijan’s September attack on Nagorno-Karabakh. He accused him of “flirting” with the West and sarcastically asked, “Guess what fate awaits him?”

Russian state-owned media and propagandists regularly agitate for a change of Armenia’s government. Pashinyan has repeatedly emphasized that such calls go against the principles of the countries’ alliance. He told The Wall Street Journal that “such an approach violates many rules, starting with non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and diplomatic correctness”.

The recent anti-Pashinyan broadcast on Russian TV has triggered calls for Russian channels to be banned in Armenia. Tigran Hakobyan, head of Armenia’s Television and Radio Commission, said that talk of cutting of Russian channels have been brewing for years but that “political considerations” have prevented such a move. In response to the Armenian Foreign Ministry’s decision, Moscow summoned the Armenian charge d’affaires to discuss what it called an “anti-Russian movement” in Armenia led by the Armenian authorities.

In a move that appears to be aimed at punishing Armenia, the Russian State Duma has decided to postpone consideration of a bill that would recognize Armenian driver’s licenses. Russia reportedly expected Armenia to reciprocate by giving the Russian language a status, just like Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan have. There have been no public discussions in Armenia on according Russian such a status, though both Russian and English are mandatory subjects in Armenian public schools.

In the interview with WSJ, Pashinyan said that Russia’s and the CSTO’s failure to uphold their security commitments to Armenia had led Yerevan to seek to “diversify [its] relations in the security sector.”

Indeed, India has already begun selling weapons to Armenia and more ammunition is expected to be dispatched soon. France, too, has agreed to sell Armenia defensive weapons, including in the realm of air defense.

Armenia is receiving extensive help from the West to deal with the crisis that followed the mass flow of Armenian refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh who fled Azerbaijan’s 9-month blockade and September military assault. A number of Western countries and the EU have already sent millions of dollars to address the needs of those displaced.

While turning its back on Moscow, Yerevan has appeared more eager to conclude peace talks with Azerbaijan through the mediation of the European Union, rejecting Moscow-brokered meetings and expressing a willingness to participate in EU-led ones. Baku, meanwhile, has shown the opposite preference, rejecting several high-level meetings initiated by the EU.

The war of words between Armenia and Russia has been going on for some time, with Armenian officials criticizing Russia’s inaction during escalations in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. And Armenia’s move to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – which has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin – has further strained the two allies’ relations.

On October 25, the Charge d’Affaires of Armenia in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry over “odious” publications in the Armenian media against Russia, Official Representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova said at a briefing with journalists today.

“On October 25, the Charge D’affaires ad Interim of the Armenian Embassy in Moscow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry. His attention was drawn to the most odious publications about the Russian leadership, Russian diplomats and Russian peacekeepers who risk and sacrifice their lives, including for security of the people of Armenia. He was pointed to the unacceptability of an unbridled anti-Russian campaign in the information space of the republic,” the diplomat noted.

On October 24, the Russian Ambassador to Yerevan, Sergei Kopyrkin, was summoned to the Armenian Foreign Ministry over an a program aired on Channel One, which, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said contained “offensive and completely unacceptable statements” about Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Kopyrkin was handed a note of protest.

(This article originally appeared in Eurasianet.org on October 31.)

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