Russian-Armenian Relations - Caucasus Update Part-V
Many Armenians today no longer seem able to recognize or appreciate political developments that are beneficial for the long-term well-being of the Armenian republic. It's as if we Armenians need another disaster or a tragedy to feel good about ourselves or our homeland. I guess this is what happens when an entire generation gets drowned in genocide based obsessions. We in the diaspora did not prepare our new generation to lead or to serve Armenia, we instead prepared a generation of ignorant, self-hating individuals suffering from victim mentality.
There has been a lot of silly talk lately about Armenia "loosing its independence" as a result of Moscow's prolonged military presence in Armenia. Those who are afraid of Armenia losing its independence need to understand that with the exception of a handful of nations, overwhelming majority of nations today are dependent on larger powers for survival - and they host foreign troops on their soil. Some examples of dependent independent nations include: South Korea, Mexico, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Syria, Lebanon, Cuba, Columbia, Germany, Britain, Greece, Cyprus - as well as Israel, Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Nations much larger and much wealthier than Armenia have dependency problems these days.
Let's face it, with the qualifications (or the lack of qualifications) Armenia currently has, for the foreseeable future, Armenia will be numbered amongst the world's most dependent independent nations. Besides, did we ever have full independence? Even during ancient times Armenian kingdoms and principalities were dependent on larger powers for survival. After the fall of the Araratian kingdom (Urartu), Tigran the Great's kingdom was perhaps the only Armenian state that was not dependent on a larger power for survival; and it lasted only several decades. All the rest of our kingdoms and principalities were dependent on one regional superpower or another for survival. Therefore, there is nothing new here for us. So, if gaining independence was a problem for us then, when relatively speaking Armenia was much larger and much more powerful than it is today, why is anybody surprised about Armenia's dependency problems today?
A tiny, impoverished, resourceless, remote and landlocked nation surrounded by enemies located in one of the most unstable and violent places on earth like the Caucasus, simply put Armenia CANNOT be fully independent. Yet Armenia is expected by our Gung-Ho nationalists to dictate terms of its relationship with the Kremlin. Moreover, anybody that even vaguely understands the political inclinations of the West understands that Armenia will never serve Western interests. The West is not and it will never be an alternative to Russia. Armenia is simply too small, too desolate, too weak, too poor, too isolated and too problematic to be taken seriously by policy makers in the West. Besides, Western interests in the region are more-or-less limited to energy exploitation. Thus, they are temporary and limited in scope. The West is simply not an option for Armenia. For better or for worst, Armenia's fate today is connected to that of Russia's.
Those who think that the relationship between Russia and Armenia is one sided, in other words more favorable to Moscow (which in my opinion would make perfect sense since Russia is vastly more powerful than Armenia), they would do themselves a favor by taking the following into account.
Moscow convinced Yerevan (some may say forced Yerevan) to sell it much of Armenia's Soviet era inherited infrastructure. A question arises here. Were there political entities other than Russia looking to invest in Armenia? The answer is no, there wasn't any. Besides which, Russia's intelligence apparatus would not have allowed anybody else to set-up shop in Armenia. Moscow had the strong desire as well as the hard cash to buy into Armenia. Moscow had set its eyes on several strategic parameters it wanted to control. As a result, various government controlled Russian entities bought (at market value) Armenia's abandoned and dilapidated infrastructure that Armenia's minuscule state budget simply could not afford to operate, upgrade or maintain on its own; items like energy distribution, telecommunications, railroads and nuclear power plant. Understanding the seriousness of Russia's strong desire to establish itself in Armenia, no sane investor, be it western or eastern, would dare attempt to step on Russian toes in Armenia. So, in a certain sense, for Yerevan, it was either sell it to Moscow or sell it to Moscow. And whether or not our lovely oligarchs in Armenia pocketed the money in question is altogether another matter. Our human-garbage is our problem, not Moscow's, not anybody else's. The point here is: the Kremlin has invested large sums into Armenia primarily to cement Armenia's dependence and to utilize its acquired assets for future economic projects.
What does Armenia get in return for this types of a relationship with Russia? To begin with: free and cheep modern armaments, border protection against Turks, affordable nuclear fuel, affordable natural gas and oil, billions of dollars in trade and investments, billions of dollars in migrant worker remittances. Despite what we diasporans think, Armenia would not survive past a year without the above mentioned benefits its relationship with Russia brings it. Besides the aforementioned real-estate and technical assets it bought, what else does Russia get in return for its alliance with Armenia? It gets a firm foothold in the Caucasus where it can execute its regional policies.
On a side note: once in a while we hear complaints by some of our nationalists that Armenia allows Russian troops to base themselves in Armenia free-of-charge (which is true). However, what our nationalists either do not understand or choose not to make public is the well established fact that Armenia is one of the few nations on earth today that receives large amounts of advanced weaponry for free or at cut-rate prices. Some estimates suggest that several billion dollars worth of Russian arms have poured into Armenia during the past fifteen years - free-of-charge. What's more, I'd like to see our nationalists attempt to put a price figure on the military protection Armenia has been receiving against Turkey from Russia. With the kind of nationalists Armenia seems to have these days, we don't need enemies.
No matter how one chooses to look at it; for Russia, Armenia is simply a geopolitical asset, albeit a very important one. For Armenia, however, Russia is a crucial life-line.
Yes, our nation's Russophobes were correct in that the current Russian-Armenian relationship is indeed a one-sided one. However, they are wrong in that Armenia and not Russia is actually the side that is benefiting the most at this time. Yet despite all this, a growing number of Armenians today are of the mindset that Moscow does not do enough for Armenia, and that Yerevan should play hard-ball with Moscow. It's almost surreal watching these people bite the hand that sustains them. Some important public figures in Armenia such as Paruyr Hayrikian want the expulsion of Russian troops from Armenia... Some, like Washington's man in Yerevan, Raffi Hovannisian, wants Armenia to pull out of the CSTO... Some, like Washington's other man in Yerevan, Richard Giragosian, is claiming that Russia is "colonizing" Armenia... And some, like Armenia's genocide museum director Hayk Demoyan thinks that historically it has benefited Armenia when Russia has been expelled from the Caucasus...
Where is this Hayk Demoyan character getting his history lessons from, the university of Ankara? In reality, Armenia actually suffered a genocide essentially because Russia had been forced to retreat from the region as a result of the Bolshevik revolution.
Despite our people's treasonous and/or foolish tendencies, despite our people's irrational perception of history, despite our people's political shortsightedness, and despite our people's wild fantasies regarding our capabilities as a nation, thank God there are sober minded officials in Yerevan and Moscow today that genuinely understand Armenia's serious predicaments in the Caucasus. Lawrence of Arabia is said to have stated the following about us Armenians about a century ago: "the Armenians were the last word in human impossibility". I see that not much about us has changed.
Our armchair diplomats and wannabe warriors seem to be forgetting that is was only 1993 when Ankara massed combat-ready troops along its border with Armenia and threatened to invade. And it wasn't Europe or America or Iran or China or Greece or the big-talking Armenian diaspora that rushed to Armenia's aid (it's funny that the all-mighty diaspora wasn't even aware of the situation at the time). It was the Russian military that quickly intervened and threatened Turkey with a world war if it attempted to cross the Arax river. I should also remind the reader that Russia at the time was on its knees, a mere shadow of what it was or is today. Yet, despite its internal political turmoil, despite the devastating Western/Islamic inspired separatist insurgency in the northern Caucasus and despite its total economic collapse, Russian officials jumped to protect our strategically significant but vulnerable republic. Even then, even when it was in no position to effectively project its interests beyond its borders, the Kremlin's strategic calculations trumped all other factors as it moved to rescue the Armenian republic from an immanent Turkish invasion. Without Moscow's support, not only would our nationalists be lamenting the lose of Nagorno Karabakh today, they may also have been lamenting the Turkish occupation of certain parts of the Armenian republic as well.
Regarding Nagorno Karabakh: It's ignorant to think that Russia only wants Armenia and that it will not assist Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh. First, let me remind the reader that there has not been a major military offensive by Baku against Nagorno Karabakh primarily because Moscow has not allowed it. Second, we need to understand that Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh are interlocking political matters for officials in Moscow. By implication, protecting Armenia also means protecting Armenia's historic Artsakh. More importantly, from a military perspective, Russia's announcement that it is guaranteeing Armenia's territorial integrity, frees Armenia to concentrate its small military against any future Azeri threat without worrying about Turks opening up a second front to help their cousins. Those who understand military matters understand the crucial significance of Russia's actions in Armenia today. Although our Russophobes are still ranting about losing independence, Moscow may have actually prevented a major war in the region as it continues to create a geopolitical climate within which Armenia can survive as a nation-state.
As I said in my previous Caucasus Update, realizing the unforgiving and bloody nature of the Caucasus, not only do we Armenians want Russia to be with Armenia - we want them to be IN Armenia.
Events in the region have proven that the Russo-centric path Robert Kocharyan and Serj Sargsyan paved for Armenia during the past decade was the right one. Needless to say, the Levon Ter Petrosian years were a disaster. Although Yerevan was enticed into entering the Moscow led CSTO during the mid 1990s, Petrosian's administration, however, gradually began favoring better relations with Washington, Ankara and Baku. Moreover, Vazgen Sargsyan's and Garen Demirjian's flirtations with the West as well as their seeming acceptance of the infamous "Goble Plan" may have triggered a nasty response by Russian special services when the top two political figures in Armenia at the time, along with six other senior officials, were gunned down in spectacular fashion.
The bottom line is this: Armenians in general are not pro-Russian by nature as many erroneously think. A significant portion of diasporan Armenians in the Middle East and in the western world today are still living in the Cold War era, and a considerable number of Armenians in politics or in public service in Armenia collaborate with or are agents of the West. Kremlin officials know this all too well. Russia almost lost it's grip on Armenia in the 1990s. If Armenia is firmly in the Russian camp today it's primarily due to the efforts of Robert Kocharyan and Serj Sargsyan - as well as Moscow's strong arms tactics. As a result, despite all their domestic flaws, with their steadfast Russo-centric policies Kocharyan and sargsyan may have actually ensured the survival of the Armenian state in the 21 century.
But I don't expect the average Armenian to understand or appreciate any of this. When it comes to political matters Armenians suffer from perception and comprehension problems. After merely two decades of independence and with all its internal and external problems, Armenians expect Armenia to be like the West - even though it took the West hundreds of years of genocides, civil wars, slavery and immense war plunder to reach where it is today. Political rhetoric of Armenians these days seem to be based primarily on emotions, self-interests and egos. Our ignorance of world affairs and history, our crippling emotions, genocide obsessions and our massive egos are blinding us to realities of the world we live in. There seems to be a serious deficit of rational and a misconstrued sense of Armenia's place in the world today.
I would like to again remind the reader that Armenia is located in the CAUCASUS, and not in western Europe or in happy-go-lucky Scandinavia. Our neighbors are not tree-hugging Swedes, espresso sipping Italians, lederhosen wearing Austrians or chocolate making Swiss - they are Turks, Azeris, Kurds, Iranians and back-tabbing Armenophobic Georgians.
There also seems to be a serious problem with Armenian self-perception or self-esteem these days. How else can one explain the silly notion floating in Armenian minds today that thinks by simply "uniting" or "playing tough" Armenia can overcome its region's many political dangers and economic hurdles without being sorely dependent on a neighboring power like Russia? These types of people remind me of characters like Don Quixote or our very own, Qaj Nazar. Needless to say, when our dreams of grandeur fade into the cold realities of the world we live in, then and only then will we begin to see ourselves for what we really are.
I repeat. Have patience. Turks and Russians are destined to clash, it's only a matter of time. During the past fifty somewhat years NATO was the factor that discouraged such a clash. The NATO factor is slowly diminishing as Turkey moves closer to the Islamic world. Although what I'm suggesting here may be somewhat of a gamble, we Armenians must understand that the ONLY realistic chance we will have at liberating portions of Western Armenia is a future Russian-Turkish conflict with Armenia fully on the Russian side. This political calculation must be an integral part of our nation's long-term strategic formulations. Something similar to what I'm suggesting nearly became a reality in 1915 when Czarist and Armenian troops successfully liberated large portions of Western Armenia. Bolshevism ruined it then for us and for the Russians. Barring any future calamity within Russia (and there is nothing on the radar screen to suggest such a thing), Russian forces will crush Turks in any future conflict as they have always.
In the meanwhile, as Armenia moves closer to the Russian Federation, Yerevan should also continue trying to normalize its relations with Ankara. As Ankara becomes more dependent on Moscow, the less of a threat will Turkey be for Armenia. As Russia becomes more established in the Caucasus, Armenia will be in a position to extract economic dividends. Pax Russicana holds economic promises for Armenia. President Serj Sargsyan's foreign policy brilliantly reflects this longsighted strategy. Armenia must continue engaging the West as well as its neighbors, while staying firmly within the Russian camp. We need to stop fear mongering and complaining and start working to extract benefits from this historic opportunity. Nonetheless, the aforementioned are reasons why I emphasize Russian-Armenian relations. Anyway, listening to Armenia's so-called "opposition" and their supporters talk about politics these days feels like taking a long arduous walk in absurdistan.
Russia And Security in the South Caucasus
The recent military agreement signed between Turkey and Azerbaijan, which came a few days after Russia and Armenia signed an agreement to prolong the Russian military presence in Armenia until 2044, has led to some speculation that Turkey is pushing to secure greater clout in the region. While Turkey has been attempting to carve out something of a larger role for itself, Ankara has only been able to do this because of its own up-grading and warming of relations with Moscow. Ankara’s relationship with Moscow is a careful balancing act -- particularly given that Turkey is a long-time NATO ally -- and Ankara is aware that it needs to be very careful to maintain this balance. Indeed, it would be quite unrealistic to believe that Turkey could even begin to compete with Russia.
As in other parts of the former Soviet Union, Russia is striving to reassert itself as the dominant power. While to a degree this process has been slightly frustrated by the consolidation of fully sovereign and independent national states, such as Azerbaijan and Georgia, pursuing independent foreign policies (backed by the West, particularly the US) which sometimes are not to the liking of the Kremlin -- both Azerbaijan and Georgia left the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 1999, clearly refusing to be part of any Russian sphere of influence -- Russia can live with this as long as the countries concerned do not “overstep” the mark as Georgia did in August 2008. Since then Russia has steadily pushed beyond its borders into the South Caucasus and Black Sea region, thanks to its increased presence in Abkhazia and the prolongation of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.
In Georgia, Russia has increased its military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and continues to consolidate it, including the recent move to place S-300’s in Abkhazia. The West has pretty much accepted this new status quo and, for the most part, stays silent. Bigger issues such as Iran and Afghanistan are more important. When it comes to Armenia, they have little choice but to cooperate with Moscow given that two of their borders are closed. While Armenia is involved with NATO via the Partnership for Peace Programme and with the EU through the European Neighborhood Policy, neither of these processes are currently comparable to Armenia’s relations with Moscow. Whether Armenians like it or not, the country is dependent on Russia. There has been a security alliance for years including being part of the CSTO. Russia has almost full control over its border management. Both the Iran-Armenia border and the closed Turkey-Armenia border are manned by the Russian military. The new agreement strengthens the Russian-Armenian military alliance Five thousand Russian military personnel stationed in Gyumri have Mig-(2)9 jet fighters and S-300 air defense batteries at their disposal. Under the new agreement they can be engaged in operations outside the former Soviet Union.
The agreement gives Armenians a feeling of confidence, particularly when the Russian’s talk the talk -- Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said that Russia would “meet its commitments” within the CSTO if Azerbaijan were to threaten Nagorno-Karabakh militarily. Five thousand heavily-armed Russian troops are viewed as a “bucket of cold water” on hot heads in Baku who Yerevan insists are preparing for war to regain control of their territory. However, given that legally Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan -- not Armenia -- Russia would have no such right. Only if Azerbaijan were to hit Armenia could Russia intervene, and the chances of Azerbaijan doing this are slight. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Russia has any intention of entering into a direct war with Azerbaijan -- or vice versa. However, if hostilities were ever to break out over Nagorno-Karabakh the position of Russia would be quite complicated.
As for the agreement between Azerbaijan and Turkey, there has been military cooperation between the two states for a long time. Since 1992 Azerbaijan and Turkey have signed more than 100 military protocols. While on his recent trip to Baku President Abdullah Gül reiterated his country’s solidarity with Azerbaijan one should bear in mind that Turkey is still trying to win back the complete trust of Baku following its reconciliation process with Armenia last year (which has now run aground), which raised serious concerns in Baku. There are also rumors that Turkey is planning to have a military base in the Azerbaijani Autonomous region of Nakhchivan, but so far nothing has been confirmed and, again, I would imagine Turkey would take into consideration its relationship with Moscow before entering into such an agreement.
In reality the chances of the Turkish military entering into a war against Armenia (and possibly Russia) are highly unlikely, not least because Turkey wants to be viewed by the international community as a reliable and cool-headed actor, but also because Turkish foreign policy has evolved moving away from hard power to a soft power approach. As for Azerbaijan, they maintain a relatively pragmatic relationship with the Kremlin, but the country is loath to let the Russian military back on to its soil. The only Russian presence is currently at the Gabala radar station. However, the Russians’ continue to push for more and have tried for years to get Russian border guards on the Azerbaijani-Iran border -- so far unsuccessfully. Azerbaijanis still harbor a deep resentment toward Russia for the considerable assistance given to Armenia (although denied by Moscow) during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
There can be no doubt that Russia still rules the roost in this region and continues to want more influence, with the West having very little say. The consequences of this strategy remain to be seen. The future remains highly unpredictable and, because of this, we should hope nobody will “overstep” the mark.
Gagik Harutyunyan: Armenia is more independent than the neighbors
"Dmitry Medvedev’s official visit to Armenia and the prolongation of Russian military base presence in Armenia increase our security and do not hinder our national independence," President of the “Noravank” Foundation Gagik Harutyunyan told a press conference today. "In 1992-1993, after the liberation of Lachin and Shushi, Turkish army moved to Nakhijevan boundary lengthwise. The Prime Minister Tansu Chiller threatened to attack Armenia. Marshal Shaposhnikov’s announcement about the possibility of beginning the Third World War suppressed the Turks," he reminded. He finds that Turkey is now more independent than in the past, hence, more aggressive. "I think the new contract, which supposes not only defending Russian interests through the base, but also provision of Armenia’s security comes from Armenia’s national interests," Gagik Harutyunyan said. "US has about 600 military bases in the world, 365 of which in Europe. However, neither of these countries is concerned about losing independence. As to Armenia, by the results of the international famous newspaper "Foreign Policy" our independence is more than Georgia’s, Azerbaijan’s, Turkey’s and Iran’s independence," the political scientist noted.
Russia Outclasses NATO Over Armenia
This summer has not seen any special political events except for the Armenian-Russian agreement prolonging the Russian military base’s presence in Armenia, Chairman of the People’s Party of Armenia Tigran Karapetyan told a press conference on August 28. Happy about the agreement, Karapetyan is sure the Russian military presence “at this hard time is a guarantee for us not to be afraid of Turks and be able to respond strongly to Azerbaijan.” “The Russian base’s presence in Armenia is more important that import of weapons,” Karapetyan said. He pointed out that the Armenian-Russian agreement thwarted the U.S. ambitions to introduce peacemakers into the region. “By its step Russia closed the southern gate and showed the U.S. it cannot introduce NATO into the region through Georgia. Russia also helped Iran,” Karapetyan said. As regards to the Heritage Party’s statement that Armenia should, if necessary secede from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), he said that “this party is an American project and is interested in American priorities in the region being superior to Russian priorities. The fact is that the forces involved in American projects always do disservices,” Karapetyan said.
No War With Armenia, Moscow Says to Baku
The recently signed Armenian-Turkish agreement is evidence of Moscow’s long-term strategy in the post-Soviet area, said Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Speaking of the key points of the agreement, he said that Moscow guarantees Armenia’s territorial integrity, without focusing on the security of the Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Iranian borders alone. Russia’s steps is also a signal to Azerbaijan, which is speaking of returning Nagorno-Karabakh at any cost, that war with Armenia is ruled out, RFE/RL reports, quoting the expert. According to him, Armenia, which is strategically isolated, received security guarantees from Russia.
As regards the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Trenin said that the Armenian-Russian agreement may inaugurate CSTO reforms. “Actions aimed at conflict prevention require serious CSTO reforms. This is a prerequisite for the CSTO to become a serious security-ensuring agency,” Trenin said. The most complicated situation is in Nagorno-Karabakh, the expert said. “By providing broader guarantees to Armenia Russia warned Baku a war could not be a means of defending political interests. At president, Moscow has to encourage Armenia and Baku to reach a peace agreement,” Trenin said. Russia, assisted by the other OSCe Minsk Group Co-Chairs, as well as by the regional power Turkey, is supposed lead the parties to a final settlement of the conflict.