Kavkaz Files ISSN 2975-0474 Volume 18 Issue 1
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
Nikol Pashinyan’s recent statements on Armenia’s ‘erroneous’ dependence on Russia may reflect a new direction in Yerevan’s foreign policy, signalling a desire to seek alternative solutions, particularly by cultivating stronger relationships with Western nations.
Pashinyan also leveraged Russia’s perceived slowness or inaction in addressing the Lachin Corridor’s current humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the Azerbaijani blockade, to raise concerns and place blame on Moscow.
Since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, the Armenian government has engaged in discussions with the European Union and the United States to garner their support in managing South Caucasus affairs and ensuring regional stability and security.
Pashinyan’s Interview with La Repubblica
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan believes that Armenia’s security dependence on only one country, namely Russia, was a “strategic mistake.” In an interview with La Repubblica, which was also shown on Armenian television, Pashinyan criticised the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that it is not fulfilling its task.
The Armenian politician emphasised that historically the country’s security has been closely tied to Russia, especially to acquire weapons and ammunition. However, he acknowledged that Moscow’s current need for such resources may hinder its ability to fully meet Yerevan’s security requirements. He admitted his country has suffered the consequences of this strategic dependency, particularly clear during 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.
Additionally, the Armenian Prime Minister raised concerns about Russia potentially withdrawing from the South Caucasus region. He indicated Moscow has had a presence there for a significant period, but instances of sudden departures have occurred in the past. He suggested that certain actions or inactions by the Russian Federation may drive its departure from the region, regardless of external influences.
In this regard, Pashinyan noted that the Russian peacekeeping forces introduced into the area in the fall of 2020 do not control the so-called Lachin Corridor, which was supposed to connect Armenia with the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh.
For almost a year, however, first Azerbaijani activists, and then official Baku, have blocked this road. Pashinyan complained about the status of the Lachin Corridor, which was supposed to be under the control of Russian peacekeepers.
He raised two explanations for this situation: either the Russian Federation lacks the capability to maintain control over the Lachin Corridor, or it has chosen not to do so. Pashinyan deemed both scenarios problematic from Armenia’s perspective.
Armenia-Russia Relations Under Pashinyan’s Leadership:
A Geopolitical Scenario
The fluctuating nature of Armenia’s relations with Moscow has been a recurring theme since Pashinyan assumed office. The Kremlin has viewed with scepticism the Armenian Prime Minister’s ascent to power through the so-called ‘colour revolution.’
Indeed, Moscow has often perceived him as a leader potentially inclined to align Armenia more closely with Europe and the United States, thereby reducing Russian influence in the South Caucasus, a region the Kremlin considers its blizhnee zarubezhe, or near abroad, and part of its lebensraum (vital space).
These suspicions have led to periodic tensions and mistrust in their bilateral relationship. What adds an intriguing dimension to this development is Pashinyan’s decision to share his views about Russian with La Repubblica, an Italian media agency well-known for its critical coverage of Moscow, particularly in the context of the Ukraine conflict.
In addition, the Armenian Prime Minister judged the strategy of relying only on Russia as erroneous, an obvious reference to a mistake made by his predecessors. Pashinyan’s words are even heavier if we consider that, during these days, CSTO members are conducting joint military exercises in Belarus to face a potential threat coming from Europe.
Looking at the past years, it should be noted that the current Prime Minister of Armenia took power in 2018 by promising to tackle corruption, improve the country’s socioeconomic conditions and better managing the issues related to the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh.
However, significant challenges have plagued his tenure, such as the devastating defeat in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, economic hardships because of the Covid-19 crisis, and continuing security threats from neighbouring Azerbaijan, as shown by the events of September 2022.
These challenges have further strained his leadership and tested the resilience of Armenia’s domestic and foreign policies, pushing Yerevan to consider the naturalisation of the relations with neighbouring Turkey to avoid the country’s isolation.
The Armenian Prime Minister’s recent criticism of Russian peacekeepers and Moscow’s management of the situation in the Lachin Corridor underscores the complex regional dynamics. Pashinyan voiced concerns, but it is essential to remember that the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict was ultimately brought to an end through Russian mediation.
The delicate balance of the Armenian reliance on Russia for security while seeking to diversify its foreign partnerships has created a nuanced situation in the South Caucasus. Since 2020, and particularly following the onset of the Ukraine conflict started in February 2022, Armenia has made concerted efforts to diversify its foreign partners by engaging more with Washington and Brussels.
This strategy should reduce dependency on Moscow’s support and broaden its geopolitical options. Nevertheless, Moscow has been quick to assert that, in the South Caucasus, there is no alternative solution without Russian involvement, a message aimed at reminding Yerevan of the practical realities of its geopolitical position.
It is also important to note that Armenia remains a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance that includes Russia and several other countries. However, the member countries of CSTO have largely slowed down their cooperation within the framework.
Armenia has refused to host CSTO exercises on its territory, and during last year’s organisation’s summit in Yerevan, it declined to sign joint documents, citing inadequate support from its allies during the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.
Nikol Pashinyan’s recent remarks hold significant implications for the country’s defence strategy and its foreign policy. His words can be seen as an invitation to foreign nations, particularly European Union member states and the United States, to deepen their engagement and cooperation with Armenia in the defence and diplomatic field.
Therefore, the possible Armenian diversification of its strategic partners poses a challenge to Russia’s influence and strategic interests in the South Caucasus. The Armenian Prime Minister’s characterisation of relying solely on the Russian Federation as a ‘strategic mistake’ could jeopardise Moscow’s foreign policy objectives and defence cooperation, especially with other CSTO members of regional allies such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Pashinyan’s affirmation about Russia withdrawing from the South Caucasus region could have a ripple effect. It may encourage other regional actors, such as Turkey and Iran, to become more deeply involved in local dynamics. For instance, Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has expressed support for the restoration of the Iran-Azerbaijan-Turkey format to enhance peace and stability in the Caucasus.
Turkey’s increasing role in the South Caucasus, particularly since the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, has not gone unnoticed. Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged Ankara’s growing influence in recent meetings with his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan.
Therefore, Pashinyan’s declarations not only challenge Russian influence in the region but might also endorse Turkey’s role and potentially pave the way for greater European or US involvement in the South Caucasus.
In conclusion, Armenia’s desire to diversify its defence partners is driven by a strategic imperative to reduce dependence on a single ally, namely Russia. However, the question arises whether Yerevan can and should turn to Western partners, particularly Washington and Brussels, given the complex dynamics in the region.
A noteworthy factor is Azerbaijan’s role in the EU Energy Security Strategy, aimed at diminishing Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas. With the ongoing Ukraine conflict, European countries have been actively seeking alternative energy sources. This situation introduces a unique geopolitical dimension that Armenia must navigate carefully, as it seeks to expand its defence partnerships beyond the traditional alliances.
Prime Minister Pashinyan’s criticism of Russia’s response to the Azerbaijan blockade of the Lachin Corridor underscores the complexity of the situation. However, it is important to note that Brussels has also faced criticism for its response to the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh. Indeed, despite being a strategic partner, Azerbaijan’s actions have not prompted an extremely active response from the EU to ease the situation.
Pashinyan’s words could be part of Yerevan’s strategy to exert pressure on Moscow and encourage Russian peacekeeping forces to be more active in countering Azerbaijan’s actions in the region. As explained earlier, inevitably, the Armenian Prime Minister’s expressed need not to rely on a single international actor, namely Russia, could translate into an invitation for other international players such as the United States and the European Union to strengthen cooperation and diplomatic understanding.
Although the Kremlin did not comment on Pashinyan’s interview yesterday, his statements are bound to further fuel Moscow’s doubts about the Armenian Prime Minister and exacerbate the existing disconnect between the Armenian leadership and the Russian one.
This diplomatic and communicative strategy adopted by Pashinyan not only confirms Armenia’s wavering foreign policy but could also lead to more severe consequences if this Caucasian republic loses the trust and full support of Moscow and concurrently fails to see the various promises made by Brussels and Washington fulfilled. In a period characterised by the conflict in Ukraine, it is unlikely that Western actors will decide to engage in a confrontation with Baku and prioritise Yerevan’s needs.
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