Ukraine Crisis Proves Tense for Armenia

Yerevan faces uncomfortable choice between political and diplomatic alliances.

Ukraine Crisis Proves Tense for Armenia

Yerevan faces uncomfortable choice between political and diplomatic alliances.

Prime Minister Pashinyan during a recent visit to Brussels.
Prime Minister Pashinyan during a recent visit to Brussels. © Official Site of the Prime Minister of Pashinyan

Analysts in Armenia warn that the standoff between Russia and NATO over Ukraine may impact deeply on the South Caucasus nation, whose foreign policy is a balancing act between socio-economic ties with the West and security relationships with Moscow.

Yerevan’s relations with Russia, NATO and the EU place it in a difficult spot, explained Tigran Grigoryan, former member of the Armenian Security Council. Yerevan has yet to respond to Russia’s February 21 recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as independent states.

“The intensification of confrontation, when small and vulnerable countries will have to make a choice, is the most undesirable scenario for Armenia,” Grigoryan said.

Moscow is Yerevan’s closest military ally. Armenia hosts the Russian 102nd military base in the country’s second largest city, has about 3,500 Russian troops on its soil and depends on the Kremlin’s mediation in its fragile relation with Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh.

It is also a member of two Russia-led entities – the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), which deployed peacekeepers to Kazakstan in the wake of violent riots in early January, and the Eurasia Economic Union, which Yerevan chose to join over the association agreement with the EU.

There is still resentment in Armenian society over the CSTO intervention during the recent unrest in Kazakstan, whereas it refused to become involved when Azerbaijani troops entered the Armenian territory six months after the second Karabakh war.

The EU, meanwhile, is a key socio-economic partner as Brussels provides critical funding to implement reforms and build infrastructure. In March 2021, the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) entered into force, paving the road to cooperation in a wide range of areas from improving legislation, rule of law and human rights to strengthening businesses and education.

Then there is NATO. Armenia is a partner of the Alliance, through the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), which provides assistance especially in the field of military education, and has contributed troops to NATO missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Caucasus Institute director Alexander Iskandaryan said that the countries of the South Caucasus would now feel the consequences of stronger Russian influence.

“However, the impact will be different, because all three states are at different levels of relations with Russia and NATO and have different potential to uphold their sovereignty,” Iskandaryan said. “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.”

On February 22, the day after officially recognising Ukraine’s breakaway regions as independent states, Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Alyiev in Moscow. Putin stated that “Russia supports the sovereignty of its neighbours…Ukraine is different… the territory of this country is used by third countries to create threats against the Russian Federation.” 

Armenians question why Russia has recognised Donetsk and Luhansk as independent, whereas in the case of Karabakh concurred with international opinion regarding Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.

Stepan Grigoryan, head of the Analytical Centre for Globalisation and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC) said that the declaration on allied cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan was a “serious document” and may have a “decisive role in Moscow’s position on the ‘ownership’ of Karabakh,” the security of which after the 2020 war is provided by Russian peacekeepers, while Armenia’s capabilities in the region are significantly limited.

Grigoryan distinguished three main factors in Russia’s policy.

“First, a certain historical inertia persists in Russian policy. In this case, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a way, continues the policy of the Bolsheviks of the USSR, when they decided to incorporate Karabakh into Azerbaijan. The second factor is Turkey, which is very important for Russia, especially amidst the geopolitical confrontation with NATO; Russia wants to use Turkey in its disagreements with the West- similar to the times when Turkey was very important for Soviet Russia in its confrontation with the Entente. And the third is Azerbaijan, which has become very important for Russia over the past 30 years,” Grigoryan told IWPR.

For now, Yerevan appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the crisis in Ukraine.

Iskandaryan said the Armenian authorities would not rush to take a position, adding,

“There will be an official response, it will be calm, restrained and measured.”

“There is no unified position on the issue and I don’t think that we should definitely respond to processes that we have no influence on,” a member of Nikol Pashinyan’s political team told IWPR on condition of anonymity.

The day after Russia’s recognition of the self-proclaimed republics, the Euronest parliamentary assembly - the forum bringing together members of the European Parliament and lawmakers from Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – met in Yerevan.

Maria Karapetyan, the head of the Armenian delegation and a deputy from the ruling Civil Contract party, abstained from voting when the forum adopted a resolution on the situation in Ukraine.

She said, “I hope it will be possible to maintain peace and ease tension with the help of dialogue. I will not comment on other issues yet.”

Responding to IWPR’s questions about developments in Ukraine, Andranik Kocharyan, chairman of the standing committee on security and defence, said only, “We hope that the situation around Ukraine will stabilise.”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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