Russo-Armenian relations according to a US based Think Tank.
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.
In other news:
Russian-published “Encyclopedia for Children” shows Azerbaijani, Turkish, Iranian and Georgian territories as Armenian
Armenian map in the middle centuries in South Caucasus was reflected in the “Encyclopedia for Children” published in Russian “Avanta+” publishing house, APA reports. Azerbaijani, Turkish, Georgian and Iranian lands were shown as territories of Armenia in Geography volume of Encyclopedia published in 2007 (editorial staff: M. Aksyonova, A. Eliovic etc.) Moreover, there are many distortion and mistakes in the article. Jabi Bahramov, Deputy Director of Institute of History in ANAS told APA that there was not any Armenian territory in middle centuries.
“Local people of South Caucasus remained beyond and article on Geography in Armenia in middle century was included in Geographical part. There were Byzantine, Arabian invasion, Mongolian and Saljug periods in middle centuries, but there was not any Armenian state in the history till 1918. There was not shown Armenian country in South Caucasus in any historical sources. XV-XVIII centuries are the period of Safavi Empire of Azerbaijan. We come across the name of Armenia in the territory of Turkey’s Van Lake. Armenians were brought to South Caucasus during the period of tsar Russia systematically in 1804-1813, 1826-1828”, he said.
The historian also stated that it was wrong to say science and literature were flourishing in Armenia, while in all counties science and culture were perishing. "Any nation, ethnic group should have its state, economic, stable socio-political situation so that its culture can flourish. How can science and enlightenment improve in the unknown area called Armenia, which lacks all this? According to the article, father of Armenian history Movses Khorenatsi said that beginning from the fifth century these territories belonged to Armenian state. French philosopher Auguste Cahier in his book “Extracts from ancient history” written in 1805 called “father of Armenian history” the greatest swindler among historians. It is not even known when he lived. Some sources say he lived in the 6th and others say he lived in the 7-8th centuries,” he said.
The names of Anania Shirakatsi, Claudius Ptolomeus are mentioned in the article. The source of the map is not shown. Azerbaijani scientist said there was no state called Armenia in Ptolomeus’ map. “It is uncertain in what language the map is. This is Latin script, but language is not clear. Russia is shown as the neighbor of Armenia in the map. The word “Russia” appeared in the 18th century. This name was given to Rus state in the reign of Peter I. How can the name of Russia fall under medieval Armenian map, while before it had been called Kievan Rus, Moscow? How could the word “Russia” be written in Armenian map, while Russian state is not written in the historical literature of Russia by the 18th century? It is also written Persian Empire in the map. This expression has been known as “Parsia” since the 9th century B.C. and means far. This phrase has been used in Western and Russian history since the Middle Ages (16th century). Persians had not been in power after the occupation of Arabians until 1924. Only in 1924 Persians mounted a coup and seized the power,” he said.
The next false information in the article is about the great geographical discoveries in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. It turns out that Armenians had a great dockyard, ships and they discovered that period. Bahramov said that publication of such books in Russia was not accidental and Armenians used all opportunities of Russia in anti-propaganda towards Azerbaijan. “282 such false books published in the US and Europe were found when Armenians raised genocide claims against Turkey in 1919. Armenians have already published over 4 million books to falsify Azerbaijan’s history and translated into many languages. The only way to fight against them is to publish books of Azerbaijani scientists and release in different countries through embassies and Diaspora,” he said.
SEASONS OF RUSSIAN CULTURE TO BE HELD IN ARMENIA UNTIL LATE 2008
Mikhail Shvidkoy, the Head of the RF Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography, is in Armenia at the invitation of the RA Ministry of Culture. Within the framework of the visit, on April 23, an agreement on organization and holding of Seasons of Russian Culture in Armenia in 2008 was signed between the Ministry and the Agency. As RA Minister of Culture Hasmik Poghosian mentioned, Armenian-Russian cultural relations have always been high-level. The Minister said that many events will be organized both in Armenia and in Russia within the framework of bilateral cooperation. In particular, Armen Jigarkhanian's and Fomenko's theaters will perform on tours in Armenia. The latter will present the War and Peace and Family Happiness performances to spectators. And Moscow A. Chekhov Art Academic Theater will take part in the Shakespeare Festival to be held in Yerevan presenting the Hamlet performance. Besides, according to H. Poghosian, a series of events dedicated to the memory of renowned Armenian composer Mikayel Tariverdiyev will be organized within the framework of the agreement. M. Shvidkoy, in his turn, said that companies of actors, who have never been to Armenia, will also perform on tours in Armenia this year. "Cooperation of Armenian and Russian artists continues and we try to find new ways of cooperation, as well as to deepen and strengthen bilateral cultural relations for even more," he said.