Armenian snub to Putin in the early day of 2023 has been the single biggest upset of diplomatic relations between the states. With the war in Ukraine predicted to continue for many months, is it time to look for second fronts on the diplomatic doorsteps of Russia?
The Western attitude to Armenia has been largely based on their historic ties with Russia and the long standing conflict with Azerbaijan, a close friend and ally of Turkey, a NATO member. But with the Russian stagnation and defeats in Ukraine, we are increasingly seeing a change in the behaviours of the eastern most states in Europe, suggesting an opportunity to review British relations with the states who were once so close to Russia.
Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a failed attempt by Russia to oppose NATO with an alliance structure of their own. It is also a long standing buyer of Russian armaments, including Iskander missile platforms, to much international displeasure. For the past five years, the countries also operate a joint military contingent that was designed to stabilize the security of the region.
Despite the longstanding commitments that Russia has provided to Armenia, and in a rather traditional fashion, if has reneged on all. The 2020 war with Azerbaijan was disastrous for the country, territorially, militarily and politically. Naturally, Russia did little to assist. And while the 10 November piece signed in the presence of Putin may have been sold as the panacea for the region, elevating him as a geopolitical genius on Russian television, the losses for Armenia show a different situation.
It is no wonder, then, that the attitude of the Armenian president, Pashinyan, changed and led to two snubs of Russia at the CSTO meeting in November, when Armenia did not ratify agreements decided at the meeting. However, nothing prepared for Putin’s colossal loss of face this week when Russia announced joint CSTO exercises in Armenia, only for Yerevan to state that no such agreement was ever made. No Russian led military exercises in Armenia will take place this year.
Such a public putdown of Putin is a rarity, especially from a state that is so aligned with Russia. The state is Armenia’s primary trade partner and Russian military personnel operates as a peacekeeping force in the country. Yerevan’s move, however, is a sign of a more deeply rooted shift in the understanding of political strengths and power-players by the smaller countries.
Despite Russia posturing, the losses in Ukraine and the forced purchases of military equipment from Iran, North Korea and elsewhere weakened Putin’s image. While the dust has not settled, there is an opportunity to present Armenia, and other nations bordering Russia with an alternative base with which they can align. While this is no easy task, considering the geographic peculiarities and historic animosities of the region, it is time to be more proactive in the Caucasus.
Much of Armenian discontent is derived from the Azerbaijan conflict, and while this is a long standing issue that cannot be resolved in a day, there are moves that can be made in an attempt to defuse the tension in the region and remove Russia from its position of influence. Russian peacekeepers have shown their worth to the Armenian people, failing to secure peace since 2020, with some reports of the Russian troops routing with the first sign of conflict.
Whether it be the UN, or NATO (especially as Armenia is a long standing contributor to NATO led peacekeepers in Kosovo), an international force is the source for a solution to the regions worries and a means of diminishing Russian influence. The Armenian president has already voiced that such an option is possible, considering Russia’s failings. It is time the West pursues this and finds more pressure points on Russia, while also assisting in securing stability and democratic processes.