Armenia Only Strategic Ally For Russia in South Caucasus - 2007

Armenia Only Strategic Ally For Russia in South Caucasus

A significant breakthrough occurred in the Russian-Armenian relations during past eight years, said Nikolay Ryzhkov, member of the RF Federation Council, co-chair of the Russian-Armenian commission for interparliamentary cooperation. “Frequent presidential visits as well as conduction of the Year of Russia in Armenia and the Year of Armenia in Russia helped the relationship, he said. “Russia and Armenia enjoy good political relations. Undoubtedly, the atmosphere is created by our leaders. There are possibilities to fortify our military base in Gyumri, to develop economic and humanitarian contacts,” Mr Ryzhkov said. “At the moment we are all awaiting the February 19 presidential election. The shift of power in our countries will take place almost simultaneously and I am hopeful that the policy of past eight years formed owing to activities of Presidents Kocharian and Putin will undergo no changes,” he went on. “When I was Prime Minister I treated all of three South Caucasian republics equally. Now, the situation is different. Armenia is Russia’s only strategic ally in the South Caucasus. I am confident that the RF leadership will not allow losing such a partner,” Mr Ryzhkov said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

Armenia: Russia's Strengthening Hand


Armenia’s Feb. 19 presidential election pitted two pro-Russian candidates against each other. Armenia is crucial to Russian strategy in the Caucasus, and Russian political and economic influence there has been on the rise.


The presidential election held Feb. 19 in Armenia is over, and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisyan has emerged as the clear victor. His main opponent was former President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Both candidates are pro-Russian, and each recently paid political “tribute” to Moscow: Ter-Petrosyan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 11, and Sarkisyan hosted Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov in Yerevan on Feb. 6. Of the two candidates, Moscow prefers Sarkisyan. As a war hero and a native of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, he is not looking to give an inch of ground in Armenia’s dispute with Azerbaijan over the territory. Russia wants to keep its options open regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, especially now that it is deciding how to respond to Kosovo’s independence declaration — and, therefore, Ter-Petrosyan, who has a history of attempting to resolve the conflict, is not the best man for the job, in Moscow’s opinion. Armenia is a crucial piece of Moscow’s geopolitical puzzle in the region: It is a Russian “advance post” in the South Caucasus and the central cog of Iranian-Russian cooperation. Indeed, Russia’s influence is on the rise in Armenia, with both political and economic trends pointing to an ever-tighter alignment between the two.

No matter who won Armenia’s election, it would not have changed Yerevan’s geopolitical imperatives. Armenia is flanked by a hostile Azerbaijan and an equally hostile Turkey, and thus has to develop close relations with its powerful neighbors Iran and Russia. Considering the recent and ongoing Azeri military buildup, neither presidential candidate had any intention of abandoning the alliance with Russia. Armenia has rejected NATO membership as a goal and has strained relations with the United States over its own close economic relationship with Iran. (However, the strong Armenian lobby in Washington has thus far prevented any substantial cuts in U.S. military and economic aid, something the Bush administration has pushing for since March 2007.) In addition to political affinities, the strong geopolitical pull between Moscow and Yerevan has produced a considerable increase in Russian economic influence in Armenia, through both infrastructural investments and business ventures:

* Russia now controls ArmRosGazprom, operator of a pipeline that transports Iranian natural gas to Armenia to operate Armenian power plants — which produce electricity on which Iran depends.
* Gazprom oil subsidiary Gazpromneft is planning to construct an oil refinery near the municipality of Megri, in southern Armenia, that also will supply Iran with much-needed gasoline and oil derivatives.
* Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom has proposed its services for the construction of a new nuclear power station in Armenia to replace or supplement the aging Metzamor plant.
* Russia and Armenia signed a deal Feb. 6 to create a joint uranium exploration venture.
* Through Rusal, one of the world’s largest aluminum producers, Russia also controls Armenal, an aluminum foil mill in Yerevan that accounts for 40 percent of total Armenian annual exports.
* Russian state railway monopoly Russian Railways has a 30-year contract to run Armenia’s national railway network — which, crucially, extends into Iran.
* Russian mobile telephony operators Vimpelcom and Mobile TeleSystems essentially own Armenia’s entire cellular network.

It should be noted that many of the larger investments (such as the proposed nuclear power plant) could run into funding problems; Armenia is practically broke, and Russia has a poor track record of financing infrastructure projects. Furthermore, Moscow has in the past rarely invested money directly in Armenia, choosing instead to use Armenia’s debt to Russia as a way to foreclose on Armenian national assets. That is still the case, but now there also is an increase in Russian businesses and state-owned enterprises investing directly in the country. Russia sinking actual money into Armenia is notable and signifies that Yerevan is being further locked into Moscow’s sphere of influence.


Armenia, Azerbaijan: Russia, the West and Nagorno-Karabakh


Azerbaijan accused Armenia of stoking unrest in the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after a gunbattle that killed 15 people March 5. Azerbaijan is using its petroleum wealth to arm itself for a potential conflict with Armenia over the separatist region, which on paper belongs to Azerbaijan but in reality is controlled by Armenia. The West does not want to see this conflict re-emerge, but Russia does — to a point.


Following a gunbattle in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan said 15 soldiers were killed and it accused its neighbor Armenia on March 5 of deliberately stoking unrest in the breakaway region. If true, 15 dead would mark the worst clash in recent years between Muslim Azerbaijan and Orthodox Christian Armenia, which technically remain at war. Renewed conflict in the disputed enclave would displease the West, but would suit Russia just fine unless Azerbaijan scores a decisive win — something becoming increasingly likely, however, as Azerbaijan converts its petroleum wealth into armaments. Pro-Armenian forces seized the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in a war in the 1990s. The two sides have remained in a tense deadlock over the territory ever since, but the conflict has been relatively dormant since a 1994 cease-fire. Technically, Nagorno-Karabakh is still part of Azerbaijan, even though Armenia controls it. International pressure, lack of support from every nation but Russia and Iran, and fear of Azeri retaliation have kept Armenia from annexing the territory. Azerbaijan has been held back from retaking the land due to pressure from the West and the Azeri military’s relative weakness.

But the situation slowly has been changing as Azerbaijan has grown stronger and richer following the 2006 completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, which Western companies developed to feed oil to Europe. The BTC led to a more pro-Western Azerbaijan, and the tremendous new wealth it generated has helped the country increase its defense spending from $175 million in 2004 to more than $1 billion at the start of 2008. This, of course, has Armenia more than nervous, but the much poorer country can barely increase its spending to follow Azerbaijan’s lead. In the past year, Armenia has increased its defense spending by 20 percent, from $125 million to $150 million — almost all of which was spent on boosting its defensive capabilities. The Azeris constantly speak about wanting to take Nagorno-Karabakh back by force, and now actually are closing in on the ability to do so. And there is another force pushing for a conflict: Russia.

Following the 2004 eviction from its military bases in nearby Georgia after the Rose Revolution, Russia has been slowly withdrawing its vast military equipment from Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s fellow country in the Caucasus. Officially, Russia said the last of its equipment was removed from Georgia in the summer of 2007 and much of the hardware was shipped back to Russia. But quite a bit of it was relocated to Russia’s large base in Gyumri, Armenia. Uncertainty remains about the relocation of 40 armored vehicles and 20 tanks; Russia says they are back home, but Azerbaijan suspects they are in Armenia. Armenia has accused Moscow of helping fuel Azerbaijan’s military buildup. It alleges that quite a bit of the military equipment from Georgia found its way to Azerbaijan. Russia has myriad reasons to fuel another conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. First, the Kremlin is still smarting after the West recognized Kosovar independence from Serbia despite Russia’s and Serbia’s vigorous objections. In the run-up to Kosovar secession, Russia insisted that the breakaway province’s independence would cause flare-ups in other separatist regions. A renewed scuffle over Nagorno-Karabakh would represent a major told-you-so for Moscow.

Second, Russia is very interested in destabilizing Azerbaijan and in having the West become displeased with Azerbaijan. The United States and Europe have warned Azerbaijan not to restart conflict with Armenia — especially the United States, which has a very large Armenian diaspora with a great deal of clout in Washington. During an election year, U.S. politicians cannot afford to offend constituencies, so they are liable not to ignore pressure from Armenian-Americans. The West worries that renewed conflict could destabilize their investments in Azeri energy infrastructure. Third and last, Russia would just relish the opportunity that renewed conflict would create for it to sweep in as the great mediator. Moscow repeatedly has said it wants to send troops, perhaps as part of a peacekeeping force, into Nagorno-Karabakh. More fighting would give it the perfect opportunity to do so. Ultimately, having the southern Caucasus in flames greatly increases Russia’s leverage with every player previously mentioned. However, Moscow does have one concern: what if Azerbaijan actually wins the fight against Armenia? A victory by Baku would be a palpable blow against Russian power, allowing Azerbaijan to continue on its Westward push without fear of Moscow.


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.