Much ado is made by some members of the U.S. government about what is in fact an inaccurately perceived partnership with Armenia. However, the facts belie the rhetoric versus the seemingly blind support given to Armenia.
Just last week, it is important to note that the European Court of Human Rights declared that Armenia controls the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan. The essence of a longer judgment is that Armenia occupies part of another sovereign nation and has left more than a million refugees. This is a long understood fact that some in government seem to gloss over.
In addition, at the recent Riga Summit of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, the EU confirmed that Armenia remains out of step with Europe and the United States. Unlike the other two countries from the South Caucasus, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Armenia remained loyal to its Russian patron and failed to support the West’s condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Armenia’s actions confirmed its complete dependence on Russia for its foreign policy. This patron-client relationship leaves Armenia in a rut and further isolates this small country.
This unequal relationship, in which Russia serves the sole guarantor of Armenia’s security and economy, leaves the smaller country no choice but to blindly follow dictates from Moscow and continue its dependence on energy supplies from another international pariah — Iran. Because of the occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan, the largest regional oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, runs from Azerbaijan to Georgia and terminates in Turkey, purposefully bypassing Armenia. Thus, due to Armenia’s intractability over Nagorno Karabakh, Armenia is excluded from a lucrative share of Caspian oil to Europe. Instead of benefitting from the bountiful energy and transportation projects supported by the European Union, Armenia persists on its “go with Russia and Iran” policy. In the meantime, Azerbaijan and Georgia are building for the future with the West.
Armenia even joined the Organization of the Treaty of Collective Security (OTSC), the anti-EU, NATO, and U.S., Russian-sponsored military and political alliance. Armenia compromised its sovereignty by allowing Russian troops to be stationed on its territory, the last of the former-Soviet Republics to allow such an infringement … even sanctioning the Russians to patrol its borders and airspace. This agreement was recently extended to 2044.
Armenia also participates in the Russian-dominated military structure that provides air defense for the OTSC member states called the Commonwealth of Independent States United Air Defense System. Armenia seems to constantly seek expansion of its military ties with Russia, despite Russia’s growing international isolation. Russian diplomat, A. Dvinyaninov in 2007 advised the Armenian politicians. “That is the Armenian approach to Russia’s security is selective, and Russia seems ready for any eventualities of development of relations with Armenia.” In the meantime, Armenia provides a bridgehead for Russia’s power projection not only in the Caucasus, but also in the Near East. Another aspect of this “close cooperation” is that Russia executes effective military control in this South Caucasian republic.
Economically, Armenian leadership showed a criminal abrogation of responsibility in its relations with Russia. Without putting up any resistance, Armenia’s precious few enterprises were transferred to Russia’s ownership. The current president, Serzh Sargsyan, was directly involved in the so-called 2003 Equity-for-Debt deal. Five major assets traded in the deal include key energy, research and development, and manufacturing facilities, such as the Metzamor nuclear power plant, which supplies about 40 percent of its domestic energy. Russia also controls Armenia’s energy sector and is dominant in its transportation, banking, and telecommunications.
Despite its avowed concept, “complementarism,” Armenian foreign policy permanently suffers from lackluster policy processes, or rather absence thereof, and skews towards its Kremlin masters. The term originated in the late 1990s, and was supposed to mean that Armenia would pursue a double policy of balancing between Moscow and the West. But this idea quickly petered out, and Moscow became the final arbiter of all Armenia major foreign policy decisions. As a Moscow Times of January 2, 2015, observed: “The Armenian government had been set to clinch a free-trade deal with the EU until, following talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan in 2013 abruptly decided to switch to the Russian-led Customs Union, a precursor to the EEU.”
By accepting the Russian dictate in defense, economy and its foreign policy, Armenia turned into a handmaiden of Russian interests in the Near East. Instead of raising the standard of living of Armenia’s people, finding a diplomatic solution in its conflict with Azerbaijan, and joining international energy projects to benefit its regional importance, the clique that rules Armenia, is leading the country into an abyss of international isolation.
It would seem that Armenia receives more than enough aid from American enemies, Russia and Iran, and that U.S. aid to Armenia is not only superfluous, but not in the best interests of U.S. strategy. The government of the United States should act accordingly. In the long term, it will help Armenia become a sovereign nation.
Alexander Murinson, PhD of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University also serves on the International Advisory Board of Outre-Terre. He is the author of many articles and books including, the European Journal of Geopolitics’s, Turkey’s Entente with Israel and Azerbaijan: State Identity and Security in the Middle East and Caucasus.