As a result of Russia's growing military role in Armenia and the Caucasus, the self-destructive peasantry (and some of Washington's stooges) in the so-called "opposition" there have been calling on officials in Yerevan to withdraw Armenia from the CSTO, expel Russian troops from Armenian soil and look for "alternatives". There have even been shouts of "betrayal"! The ARF is demanding "explanations" and Raffi Hovannisian has gone public with his demand that Moscow needs to start treating Armenia as an "equal partner" (sorry, but this is as silly as a cat demanding from a lion that it should be treated equally). Had the shallow rhetoric of these chobans-in-suits not been so dangerous or suicidal for our embattled republic in the Caucasus they would have been funny. As a self-respecting Armenian patriot, not only am I happy that Russian forces have been given a greater role in protecting Armenia's territorial integrity, I can actually say that for the first time in twenty years I am able to sleep easier knowing that our republic's borders are well protected. To the uninitiated these "pro-Russian" sentiments of mine may sound awkward, but those who are capable of understanding the complex nuances of regional geopolitics, those who understand the nature of Moscow's foreign policy formulations and those who maintain a realistic perception of Armenia's capabilities (as well as its inabilities) will readily understand what I am saying.
Besides, I really don't understand what all the hysteria is about. Russia has been defending Armenia's border with Turkey for the past twenty years. Deepening its role will only serve to strengthen Moscow's resolve in its mission and will act as a stronger deterrent against Armenia's regional antagonists. Suggestions that "Armenia is loosing its independence" are nonsense. Whether we admit it or not, for the foreseeable future, Armenia will be dependent on one power or another for survival - I would rather that power be Russia. Moreover, Moscow is the real reason why Ankara and Baku have not yet attempted to march onto Yerevan during the past twenty years (did any of you actually think that Armenia's tiny military or the big-talking-under-performing diaspora was the reason why?). Therefore, since the Caucasus still remains a volatile powder-keg, since we already have Russian troops protecting Armenia's border with Turkey, and we all realize that for the foreseeable future we will need them to be in Armenia, why not make them invest more in the effort? Considering the circumstances we are dealing with here, what Russia and Armenia have going on today is a healthy symbiotic relationship.
Russia does not owe us Armenians anything, Moscow is simply looking after its strategic interests in the Caucasus. If Armenia is a geopolitical asset for Moscow, Russia is a crucial life-line for Yerevan. The point is, we need them much more than they need us. Moreover, we fail to realize that if push comes to shove Moscow can literally force Armenia to do absolutely anything it wants - including forcing Yerevan to abandon Nagorno Karabakh - and Moscow would still manage to keep Armenia within its orbit. One must be on serious hallucinogenic drugs if they think Armenia has any choices in this matter. Having said that, it must also be admitted that Kremlin officials have been sustaining Armenia (politically, technically, financially, economically and militarily) for the past twenty years. Their crucial support for Armenia cannot be over exaggerated nor can it be ignored even if it has come at the expense of selling to them Armenia's dilapidated Soviet era industry. In my opinion, in the big picture, Moscow has actually treated Armenia with white gloves.
Recent media rumors that Moscow is planning to sell Baku S-300 surface-to-air missile systems has caused some concerns in Armenia and the diaspora, and it also seems to have given ammunition to those who seek to put a wedge between Yerevan and Moscow. I have heard so much silly/hysterical/absurd comments about this matter that I feel compelled to make the following comment:
Those of you who do not have military experience, those of you who do not understand military matters, those of you who do not comprehend the complexities of regional geopolitics - I ask you to please refrain from developing crazy ideas or making silly comments regarding this matter.Even if the report is true, the weapon system in question will not tip the balance of power in the region in Baku's favor. The S-300 (a weapon which Armenia already operates) is designed to be effective against militaries of developed nations that maintain formidable air forces - not a nation like Armenia, who's air force possesses some two dozen antiquated aircraft. Moreover, Azerbaijan is fully capable of taking down Armenian warplanes with weapons systems they currently have in their arsenal. If Baku has the reported $300 million to waste on a new weapons system, I rather them spend it on the S-300 than on some other weapons system that can actually do harm to Armenian forces.
I recall when some of our "all-knowing" Armenians simply hell-bent on criticizing the Sargsyan/Kocharyan administration were sorely complaining that Armenia is in grave danger today because its military leadership does not understand the need for a powerful air force. Needless to say, maintaining an air force that is both modern and powerful is a monumental task, both financially and logistically. Having an effective air forces requires a lot of time (many years) and a lot more money (constant flow of billions of dollars). A modern air force is well above and beyond Armenia's minuscule national budget. Relatively few nations today can actually afford the luxury of having a real air force. With Russian support, Armenia's military planners have rightfully concentrated on building their ground forces, which is considered to be the finest in the region. Thus, an advanced anti-aircraft system like the S-300 will do Baku no good against Armenia or Artsakh in any future military conflict.
There is yet another aspect to this political equation that Armenians seem to be missing. Moscow will sell military hardware to Azerbaijan because if it does not someone else like Turkey, Israel or America will. Russian officials do not want to totally alienate Baku, especially at a time when Moscow has had a series of political successes in the region. It would be utterly foolish of Moscow if they alienated or antagonized Baku any further than they have already been for the past twenty somewhat years. It's bad enough that Moscow and Yerevan are in a strategic embrace, it's bad enough that Nagorno Karabakh is off-limits to Baku as a result of Russia's presence in the region, to add insult to injury by not having any dealings with Baku would make no political sense. Warming of relations between Moscow and Baku or Ankara is not going to diminish Armenia's strategic value in the Kremlin.
With growing political tensions throughout the region in question, let's be thankful that Moscow has now committed to modernizing Armenia's aging military arsenal, something Yerevan simply cannot do with its current state budget. Moreover, Armenia's defense minister recently announced Yerevan's desire to purchase advanced long-range weapons. And there is also talk that Russian forces stationed in Armenia will be gradually transferring their military hardware to their Armenian counterparts as they embark on a massive modernization program that is said to last until 2015. Kremlin's actions here are a clear message to Ankara and Baku and the message seems to be - we may have cordial relations with you but know that Armenia shall remain off-limits for you. The progression of Russo-Armenian relations is a reflection of the growing importance the Kremlin has been giving to Armenia. You can rest assured that Turks are terrified of this situation as it should also abate various Armenian concerns, but for some strange reason it seems to be having an opposite effect on some Armenians.
As I have said, we Armenians may be excellent artists, businessmen and intellectuals - but when it comes to politics we seem to act like stupid little children.
As long as ethnic Russians are at the helm in Moscow, Armenia has nothing to worry about and a lot to look forward to. Russians and Turks have been and will continue being natural enemies/competitors in Eurasia, sooner-or-later they will clash once again. And regardless of any lucrative trade deals they may have with Turks, Kremlin officials today realize that a powerful Armenia in the Caucasus is their best bet against pan-Turkism, Islamic fundamentalism, NATO expansionism and American imperialism. Moscow's partnership with Yerevan is also interesting in that the closer Armenia gets to Russia the more dependent Turks and Azeris become on Russia. In a certain sense, Armenia today is Moscow's sledge hammer hanging over Turkish heads in the Caucasus. The geopolitical insurance Armenia provides Russia in the Caucasus region will be jealously protected by Moscow officials for the foreseeable future. This is a great historic opportunity for us. As a result of its relationship with Russia Armenia has for the first time in perhaps a thousand years become a major political player in its region. With a little foresight and some pan-national effort, we can exploit this unique opportunity to strengthen Armenia and to finally pacify the Caucasus.
Grossmeisters in the Kremlin are continuing to play a brilliant game of geopolitical chess and I'm glad to report that Armenia is no longer a helpless pawn in the game. The current administration in Yerevan has also played the game quite well. As a result, from Washington to Brussels to London to Paris to Moscow to Ankara - officials have begun taking Yerevan seriously. These recent developments in the Caucasus have naturally struck a sore nerve in Washington.The following are several relevant articles that have appeared in the government press here in America, including one by one of Washington's men in Yerevan, Raffi Hovannisian.
The amendments will reportedly extend Russia's basing rights by 24 years, to 2044, and upgrade the mission of its troops headquartered in the city of Gyumri. Interfax reported on July 30 that a relevant "protocol" submitted to Medvedev by the Russian government makes clear that the troops will have not only "functions stemming from the interests of the Russian Federation," but also "protect Armenia's security together with Armenian Army units." It also commits Russia to supplying its regional ally with "modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware."
Some Armenian opposition figures and commentators have expressed concern about the planned changes to the treaty, saying they could make Armenia even more dependent on Russia. Giro Manoyan, a senior member of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), said on August 13 that the changes will be "worrisome" as long as the government has not convincingly explained their rationale. "My impression is that Russia has found an opportune moment to clinch from Armenia an extension of its basing rights in return for satisfying some of Armenia's demands," Manoyan said at a news conference.
But Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party (HHK), defended the deal, saying that it will strengthen Armenia militarily and deter Azerbaijan from "unleashing a new war." He claimed that the new mandate for the Russian base would oblige Moscow to support the Armenian side in case of renewed fighting in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. "If war again breaks out between Karabakh and Azerbaijan, Armenia will naturally directly intervene, and if Armenia has the right to use the Russian base for its security, it means that Russia has to join the war on Armenia's side," Zohrabian told RFE/RL.
Commenting on the agreement's reasons and timing, Zohrabian suggested that Moscow is seeking to secure its long-term military presence in Armenia and keep the latter from joining NATO in the foreseeable future. "Perhaps the Russians have a sense that Armenia may seek to join NATO," he said. "And that is normal [for the Russians to want to strengthen military ties with Armenia], if they want to retain and strengthen their influence in this region."
Closer Military Ties With Armenia To Boost Russia 's Regional Clout
Russia looks set to strengthen its foothold in the South Caucasus by means of a new defense agreement with Armenia that will formally make it a guarantor of the country's security and pave the way for more Russian arms supplies to Yerevan . The deal, which may well be sealed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Armenia next week, will have important repercussions for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the No. 1 threat to peace and stability in the entire region.
In what could be an effort to placate, and gain more leverage against Azerbaijan , Moscow is at the same time reportedly planning to sell sophisticated air-defense missiles to Armenia 's arch-foe. The Azerbaijani government has so far been silent over this new twist in Russian-Armenian military cooperation that could further limit its ability to win back Karabakh and the Armenian-controlled territories surrounding it by force.
The deepening of Russian-Armenian military ties will take the form of amendments to a 1995 treaty regulating the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia . Armenian officials have essentially confirmed Russian media reports that Moscow will have its basing rights extended by at least 24 years, to 2044, and that the mission of some 4,000 Russian troops headquartered in the northern Armenian city of Gyumri will be upgraded.
The Interfax news agency reported on July 30 that a relevant "protocol" submitted to Medvedev by the Russian government makes clear that the troops will have not only "functions stemming from the interests of the Russian Federation ," but also "protect Armenia 's security together with Armenian Army units." It also commits Russia to supplying its regional ally with "modern and compatible weaponry and special military hardware."
Russia Offers Arms
Less than two weeks later, an Armenian government commission on defense approved plans to modernize the country's armed forces and expand the domestic defense industry. Speaking to journalists after the commission meeting on August 10, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said Armenia would specifically seek to acquire and even manufacture long-range precision-guided weapons that would "allow us to thwart free enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities."
Although Ohanian gave no further details, it is obvious that Russia is the only plausible source of such weapons (presumably surface-to-surface missiles), as well as technology for their production. Their acquisition by the Armenian military could be facilitated by separate plans to forge close cooperation between the Armenian and Russian defense industries. Senior security officials from both countries announced unpublicized agreements to that effect after two-day talks in Yerevan in late July. According to Armenian National Security Council Secretary Artur Baghdasarian, those agreements include the establishment of joint defense ventures.
The military alliance with Russia has always been a crucial element of Armenia 's national security strategy, allowing the landlocked country to receive Russian weaponry at knockdown prices or free of charge and precluding Turkey 's direct military intervention in the Karabakh conflict. It is taking on greater significance now that oil-rich Azerbaijan is increasingly threatening the Armenians with another war. Fresh (and more sophisticated) arms supplies from Russia would put Armenia and its ethnic kin in Karabakh in a better position to offset Azerbaijan 's ongoing military build-up fuelled by massive oil revenues. Some observers speculate that Moscow would use the new mandate of the Gyumri base to intervene militarily on the Armenian side in the event of a resumption of hostilities.
Nonetheless, not all politicians and pundits in Yerevan are happy with the planned changes in the 1995 treaty. Some of them say that the Kremlin could exploit its security guarantees to exert undue influence on Armenian government decisions and even limit Armenia 's sovereignty. Baghdasarian on August 11 dismissed such claims as "absurd."
...But Also To Azerbaijan
Moscow is facing a stronger Armenian uproar over the possible sale of S-300 antiaircraft systems to Azerbaijan . The Russian daily "Vedomosti" reported on July 30 that the Azerbaijani military signed a deal in 2009 with the Rosoboroneksport state arms exporter to purchase two batteries of the surface-to-air missiles worth $300 million. Although the report was denied by Rosoboroneksport and not confirmed by the Russian Defense Ministry, it is considered credible by many in Armenia .
Opposition leaders and independent analysts there warn that the deal would change the balance of forces in the Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan 's favor. Some have accused the Russians of betrayal.
The S-300 systems may be purely defensive weapons, but the danger for the Armenian side is that they would enable Baku to secure its vital oil and gas infrastructure in the event of renewed war. Those facilities, which form the backbone of the Azerbaijani economy, are widely seen as a likely target of Armenian missile strikes. Ohanian may well have had them in mind when he noted Armenia 's desire to obtain "super-modern weapons" that would enhance "our long-range strike capacity."
The reported sale of S-300s to Azerbaijan seems at odds with Russia 's stated readiness to boost military support for Armenia , and is raising questions about its true intentions. Ashot Manucharian, a veteran politician who held security posts in the Armenian government in the early 1990s and has long been known for his pro-Russian political orientation, believes that all this is part of a cynical plan to keep Armenia anchored to Russia and discourage it from forging closer security links with the West. By strengthening Azerbaijan militarily, Moscow leaves Yerevan even more dependent on Russian military aid, Manucharian claimed in an August 4 interview with the daily "Hraparak."
Whatever the truth, Russia is clearly consolidating its presence in the South Caucasus, two years after effectively thwarting Georgia 's accession to NATO with the 2008 wars in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is now digging in for the long haul in Armenia and should continue to have more influence on the Karabakh conflict than any other foreign power.
Armenia Seeking Long-Range Weapons
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian says the Armenian government plans to acquire long-range, precision-guided weapons for possible armed conflicts with hostile neighbors, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports. Ohanian's announcement today followed a meeting of an Armenian government commission on national security that approved two programs envisaging a modernization of the country's armed forces. One of the documents deals with army weaponry, while the other details measures to develop the domestic defense industry. Ohanian said the programs "will qualitatively improve the level of the armed forces in the short and medium terms."
"The two programs envisage both the acquisition of state-of-the-art weapons and their partial manufacturing by the local defense industry," Ohanian said. "The main directions are the expansion of our long-range strike capacity and the introduction of extremely precise systems, which will allow us to minimize the enemy's civilian casualties during conflicts."
Ohanian said that "their application will also allow us to thwart enemy movements deep inside the entire theater of hostilities." He did not specify whether Yerevan will seek to acquire surface-to-surface missiles capable of hitting targets in historic rival Azerbaijan . The Armenian military is believed to have short-range tactical missiles. But little is known about their type and technical characteristics. The army command gave a rare glimpse of such weaponry in September 2006, when it showed new rockets with a range of up to 110 kilometers during a military parade in Yerevan .
Ohanian acknowledged that the modernization plan is connected with the risk of another war with Azerbaijan over the disputed breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh. It is not immediately clear whether Yerevan 's desire to obtain more powerful weapons is connected with a new Russian-Armenian military agreement expected to be signed soon. The agreement will reportedly take the form of significant changes to a 1995 treaty regulating the presence of the Russian military base in Armenia .
Russian and Armenian sources have said in the context of that agreement that Moscow will also commit itself to providing Armenia with "modern and compatible weaponry and [special] military hardware." Armenian National Security Council Secretary Artur Baghdasarian, who co-chaired the August 10 meeting together with Ohanian, confirmed this last week. Armenia and Russia announced plans last month to significantly step up cooperation between their defense industries. According to Baghdasarian, that cooperation includes setting up Russian-Armenian defense joint ventures.
Ohanian could not confirm Russian media reports that Moscow has agreed to sell S-300 air-defense systems to Azerbaijan in a $300 million deal. "I think that acquisition of any new weaponry will have a certain impact on the balance of forces [in the Karabakh conflict], but want to note that the S-300 systems are defensive systems," he said. "At the same time, we can't say we have information about their possible purchase [by Azerbaijan ]."
Whither CSTO: Russian Power, Armenian Sovereignty, and a Region at Risk
The second anniversary of blitzkrieg between Russia and Georgia underscores the unresolved geopolitical undercurrents in this region among the seas. Landlocked by the forces of history from the Caspian, the Black and the Mediterranean, Armenia ’s pivotal position remains encircled by a neighborhood in strategic turmoil. The inherent jeopardy flowing from Turkey ’s now obviously disingenuous engagement of Armenia , the challenges posed by Azerbaijan ’s graduation from its threatening language of war to its launch of a deadly attack in June, and the general escalation of tension across the Caucasus have combined to define the greater region as one at immediate risk of deepening instability.
Against this backdrop of system-wide insecurity, Armenia is now facing a dangerous alignment of outside interests and internal shortcomings. While Yerevan ’s “strategic” relationship with Moscow continues to serve as the bedrock for regional peace and security, the nature of the Armenian-Russian embrace is unduly lopsided. The asymmetry of the Russian-Armenian relationship is most manifest in the fundamental lack of equal and mutually respectful cooperation.
After all, Armenia ’s hosting of the only Russian military base in the area is no simple act of kindness, and must be anchored in a shared regard for each other’s interests. What is more, the Russian base is the only such facility outside of the Russian Federation where the host country receives neither rent nor reimbursement. Armenia pays for the totality of its costs and expenses. Such a mortgaging ofArmenian national security is unacceptable and demands immediate redress. In the new era, Armenian-Russian partnership, in order to be strategic without quotation marks, must be sincere, really reciprocal and based on horizontal respect, despite the differences in size and experience between the two nations.
A case in point is the information recently leaked by the Russian media and reactively confirmed by official Yerevan that the two states, either bilaterally or under the auspices of the CollectiveSecurity Treaty Organization (CSTO), intend to extend up to 49 years the treaty arrangement for the Russian base and the deployment of forces there. Matters of dignity aside, this flies in the face ofArmenian sovereignty, foreign policy independence, and vital national interests. It also flouts the unlimited future potential of an actually strategic partnership between us.
This holds especially true in view of the fact that the existing base agreement does not expire until 2020 and can, if necessary, be extended upon expiration for five or even ten years. Of further consternation is the Kremlin’s military rapport with and sales to Ankara , which stands in occupation of the historic Armenian patrimony, has imposed a modern-day blockade of the Republic of Armenia tantamount to an act of war, and continues to deny and shirk responsibility for the Genocide and GreatArmenian Dispossession of 1915.
A more contemporary source of outrage is Moscow’s military support for Azerbaijan, which having launched a failed war of aggression against Mountainous Karabagh and Armenia is today threatening renewed hostilities, completing its occupation of theArmenian heartlands of Shahumian, Getashen, Artsvashen, and Nakhichevan, and continuing with impunity to destroy and desecrate the Armenian cultural heritage at Jugha and elsewhere. In this connection, in the event that Russia indeed carries through with the reported sale of its S-300 weapon systems or other equivalent armaments to the aggressive, belligerent, and revisionist regime of Azerbaijan, Armenia should withdraw forthwith from the CSTO, of which it is the sole member from the region, or at the very least require full fair-market rent for the Russian base together with reimbursement for water, electricity and other relevant expenses.
And finally, the ultimate achievement of Partnership between Russia and Armenia , and between Russia and the West, will necessarily entail an actual application of the Rule of Law—not only domestic but also international—and hence the recognition of the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh within its constitutional frontiers, as well as of Kosovo and Abkhazia. Anything else is partisan politics, petty political gain and sui generis dissimulation, all of which might make sense for some and for the moment but at bottom run counter to the aims of peace, security, justice and democratic values for the critical landmass amid the seas.