Armenia Walking on a Tightrope

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Azerbaijan and Turkey have been able to isolate Armenia from all regional development projects by blockading its borders. While Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Union seems to provide some relief from that isolation, many recent developments in the region indicate otherwise.

Russia, after having hampered major economic deals between Armenia and Iran, at this time is trying to take Armenia under its wings through the creation of the Eurasian Union, where, at best, Armenia will become a silent partner, not necessarily an equal one, because of the paucity of its resources and its Karabagh baggage. Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s president, seems to be more the spokesman of the new union, rather than President Vladimir Putin himself.

After his remarks at the inaugural ceremony of the Eurasian Union, slapping Armenia on the face figuratively on Azerbaijan’s behalf, he has further continued his pan-Turkic campaign by inviting Azerbaijan and Turkey to join the Eurasian Union.

Turkey’s accession seems less probable, given the fact that for centuries it has been Russia’s rival for influence in the Caucasus. But Azerbaijan’s case may be different. After all, it is solidly anchored in all strategic, economic and political structures of the west. Baku may join the union as a spoiler on behalf of the west, very similar to Turkey’s drive to join the European Union for the very obvious plan to weaken it. The strong US support for Ankara’s accession to the EU derives from that very strategic move, because, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which created a unipolar power structure in the world, Europe was in the process of weaning itself from its dependence on Washington to develop a new independent pole which could end up balancing the US global hegemony.

Azerbaijan, indeed, can play the same spoiler role in the Eurasian Union, despite its energy deals with the West and its strategic partnership with Israel.

At the present time, Europe is far from forming a new and independent pole, given its crippling economic woes and recent parliamentary elections, which introduced a self-destructive element in its structure. Therefore, the race is between the US and the rising Russia for the control of the Asian landmass with its abundance of natural resources and strategic significance, per Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security advisor to President Carter.

Azerbaijan may play a crucial role in this superpower chess game and even if its leadership is not mature enough to realize that potential, its Turkish mentor can guide it through this political maze.

The above realization seems to boost the Baku leadership’s recent aggressive posture vis-à-vis Armenia.

Up until now, the confrontation with the Armenian forces was on the Karabagh contact line. But in contrast, on June 5, Azeri forces made a strategic move to create more panic in Armenia: they began hostilities on the Nakhijevan-Armenia border. That was perhaps encouraged by Turkish forces which were brought to Nakhijevan under the guise of holding joint military exercises. Two Armenian soldiers were killed and angry statements were issued by Armenia’s Defense Ministry about “serious consequences.”

Azeris are even thinking about the unthinkable: On November 21, 2012, the director of the Azerbaijan Center for Political Innovation and Technology, Mubariz  Ahmadoglu, stated that the bombing of Metsamor nuclear plant in Armenia by Azerbaijan is a rather logical act within the framework of the Karabagh war and is an even more effective step for “the liberation” of the territories. Earlier, in February 2010, Azerbaijan’s military expert Uzeyir Jafarov had stated that Azerbaijani troops may use “retaliation over Metsamor.”

This situation begs for a new question: all along when Azeri forces broke the ceasefire agreement on the Karabagh border, our strategic partner, Russia, kept a very revealing silence, indicating that the umbrella of Russian military presence in Armenia does not cover Karabagh as a disputed territory. Then what about the incident on Armenia’s border with Nakhijevan, which is not under any dispute as far as Russia is concerned? Also, Azerbaijan has been violating the ceasefire agreement in the Tavoush region of Armenia, again without hearing any word of anger from Moscow.

But Russia’s actions speak louder than its silence; delivery of sophisticated military hardward is not business as usual, as some pundits try to convince us. Rather, it is an existential threat to the very future of Armenia.

Adding insult to injury, Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich said at a recent press conference that “Azerbaijan is Russia’s strategic partner in the south Caucasus” and that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would be heading to Baku on June 17-18 for the fourth meeting of the year. Russia has been playing a double game at the expense of Armenia. Whether Azerbaijan joins the Eurasian Union or not, it will remain an important factor in determining Armenia’s fate by its other partners.

Armenian officials are optimistic that Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Union will also benefit Karabagh. The chairman of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Financial Affairs, Gagik Minassian, said he is confident that Karabagh will become a de facto member of the Eurasian economic space without joining the union. He further noted that “Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh form a common economic space and that there can be no customs checkpoint between the two.”

Some analysts even use the analogy of Moscow’s agreement with other unrecognized regions, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which will benefit from the activities of the Union through Russia. But what is permissible for Russia may not necessarily be permissible for Armenia.

With all these external political woes, Armenia also faces insurmountable internal problems, including economic decline, depopulation, political stagnation and desperation.

Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian recently published an article titled “Serge Sargisian’s Road Map for Armenia’s Destruction.” He made some sensible and valid points but if he could overcome his rancor, he could have a larger audience.

Surrogates of the western media campaign combined with some voices in the diaspora call for a regime change in Armenia. However, the west conspired to bring down the corrupt regime of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine only to install another oligarch, Petro Poroshenko. The outcome will not benefit the Ukrainian people. Any change in Armenia will be the same — different faces, same end game.

The government, through its insensitivity to the plight of its desperate populace, is continuing to destroy Armenia’s future, in an inadvertent, unholy alliance with its detractors in Armenia and the diaspora.

Armenia is walking on a tightrope. We have to watch its march with trepidation, expecting the worst and hoping for the best.