Why Did Armenia Choose a Tactic of Gradual Turning Towards West?

Wednesday, 15 November 2023

"Armenia is ready to be closer to the European Union, as much as the European Union considers it possible," said Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in the European Parliament a month ago.

These words were perceived in Moscow as a clear shift in Yerevan's foreign policy, especially since this is far from the only statement by the Armenian leader that can be interpreted in this way.

Whether the Armenian government is really ready to break ties with Russia and turn towards the West is discussed in the article by Yurii Panchenko, EuroPravda's editor (from Yerevan): "Away from Moscow: When and under What Conditions Armenia Will Turn Towards the West."

After the second Karabakh war in 2020, the presence of Russian military personnel in Yerevan became more noticeable than ever. Russian military personnel with blue armbands with the letters "MS" (Peacekeeping Forces) were visible everywhere just some years ago.

"They are still here, but the attitude towards the Russians has changed significantly over the past few months. So now they walk around the city only in civilian clothes not to feel the 'gratitude' of the Armenians," says political scientist Ruben Mehrabyan.

By "last months" he means the final taking of control of Karabakh by Azerbaijan and the mass migration of Armenians from there. At the same time, the "Russian peacekeepers," who were supposed to ensure the safety of Armenians in Karabakh, did nothing, as suspected in Armenia. The actions of Azerbaijan were allegedly coordinated with Russia.

"If anyone still had illusions after 2020 (the second war for Karabakh), it is now obvious to everyone that there are no security guarantees from Russia, and Armenia will have to look for them elsewhere," agrees Alexander Iskandaryan, the director of the Caucasus Institute.

Most criticism from Yerevan is directed towards CSTO, a security organisation created by Russia, a kind of Russian analogue to NATO.

The possible withdrawal of Armenia from CSTO and the Eurasian Union was discussed with several Armenian politicians belonging to the ruling party by EuroPravda.

A very interesting moment: the overwhelming majority of them agreed to talk only off the record. This illustrates how sensitive this issue is for Armenia. Especially now.

According to one of the politicians, a demonstrative break with Russia could turn into a war on two fronts.

"We understand very well that our chosen tactic of a gradual turn towards the West has its risks. Perhaps, a better option for Armenia would have been to act in the opposite way — to immediately terminate all agreements with Russia and quickly move towards the West. However, we chose this path not because we like it but only because we see many more risks in the other direction," says one of EuroPravda's interviewees.

So, is it possible that Armenia's turn towards the West will become evident to everyone pretty soon?

Of course, the absence of a peace agreement with Azerbaijan is an obstacle to this. It is impossible to count on a similar agreement with Türkiye without it.

Sargis Khandanyan, an Armenian MP (almost the only one who agreed to speak on record), notes that after gaining full control over Karabakh, Baku's interest in a peace agreement sharply decreased. It simply took a break.

Other interviewees of EuroPravda make it clear: Baku's pause may be a preparation for a new war. Besides, it is not ruled out that it will have Moscow's silent support. After all, the Kremlin understands that the escalation of the conflict remains almost the only opportunity to prevent Armenia's "escape" to the West.

Therefore, hoping for a peaceful agreement, Yerevan is preparing for Plan B — buying weapons and trying to reduce dependence on Russia both in energy and exports.

"We need to survive the winter and prepare for economic blackmail from Russia. Events may accelerate after that. We cannot rule out that Nikol Pashinyan will announce early elections next year to obtain public support for country's turn," suggests political scientist Ruben Mehrabyan.

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