By Edmond Y. Azadian
Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet empire, global political realignments continue.
Caught in the drift are small nations such as Armenia, struggling to define their policies and pursue their national interests, most of the time navigating against the tides.
Although for some Armenia-bashing has become an interesting pastime, what Armenia’s government needs is a sober assessment of the situation in the region to be able to reorient its policies in line with its true national interests. Nor is the local media helpful in contributing to that kind of atmosphere as it is either financed by Western agencies or Russia, leaving almost no room for independent thinking and true policy analysis.
Although unreserved support could contribute to the adoption of sound policies by the government, it does not absolve its inadequate approach to counter the dangerous levels of depopulation or the plundering of the country by oligarchs.
One of the focal points of global political realignments is the Caucasus, where Armenia is located.
Overt US policy to contain Russia has had repercussions in Europe and especially in the Caucasus. The lip service by NATO that it does not intend to threaten Russia has already lost its luster. The Maidan Revolution in Kiev was engineered by the State Department to overthrow the Yanukovych regime which had refused to join the European Union, afraid of Russia’s reaction. Indeed, during the Ukrainian turmoil, the Cold War relic of the State Department Victoria Nuland was distributing cookies to the revolutionaries and discussing docile candidates to replace Yanukovych.
Recently the representative of the NATO’s public diplomacy division, Despina Afentouli, visited Armenia and stated bluntly, “NATO is now increasing its military presence in all countries having a shared border with Russia and declaring that Russia should reconsider its foreign policy.”
The US has long been prodding its allies in Europe and South East Asia to assume a heavier burden of the global defense budget. In Europe, except for Poland, which has a robust economy, the prodding did not yield any significant results. But it brought hefty dividends in Japan with the rise of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is revisiting Japan’s pacifist constitution — designed by General MacArthur at the conclusion of World War II — to pave the way for a revanchist militaristic policy.
For the US itself, President Obama’s cautious international policy is very uncharacteristic and the military-industrial complex may return with a vengeance. Hillary Clinton is gearing up to wear Cheney-McCain macho mantle in her bid for the presidency. Although no one questions America’s world power, for the hawks in the US, power resides in going around and slaughtering people, as exemplified by the Bush II administration.
The Caucasus and the Middle East are changing rapidly. Turkey has exhausted its capital as a trusted US ally by antagonizing Israel and using that capital entirely for self-aggrandizement. In that scenario, Iran becomes a major player as it cuts its nuclear deal with the US, eliminating a preemptive unilateral strike by Israel, and emerging as an economic powerhouse in the Middle East.
Although Iran and the US are on opposing sides in Syria, ironically, they have become unwilling partners and allies in Iraq, in the face of the rising group ISIS and its so-called caliphate.
The US tried to bomb captured territories of Iraq, but now, they have enticed Tehran to overstretch in Iraq through attacks there by its Quds forces that will satisfy two US goals in the Middle East: getting rid of ISIS and having an over-committed Iran possibly be more amenable to a favorable deal with the US.
Lifting sanctions on Iran will result in lower oil prices worldwide. Before the sanctions, Iran produced four million barrels of oil daily, more than half of which was exported. Since the sanctions, Iran is producing one million barrels a day.
Declining oil prices have hit the Russian budget, which depends heavily on oil exports. Recently, Moscow forbid Armenia from buying cheaper gas from Iran, because that could lead Iran to compete with Russia not only in the Caucasus, but also in Europe, which is one of Tehran’s targets.
Although Russia and Iran have common goals in Syria, they remain competitors for dominating the region and exporting energy to Europe. The rise of Iranian oil will hurt Russia, which may be one of the unintended benefits of the US regional policy also.
Armenia has become Russia’s captive. After abandoning its European Union negotiations last September, it has been languishing at the door of the Eurasian Union, where the shots are called by Kazakhstan, at the behest of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
On July 11, Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovik Abrahmian met his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in Sochi, but the meeting did not bring clarity into the terms of Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. Additionally, Minister of Trade of the Eurasian Economic Commission Andrew Slepnyov has indicated that one of the “stumbling blocks” in Armenia’s entry into the EEU is the difference in its obligations to the World Trade Organization. On the other hand, Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Galust Sahakyan, who visited Moscow, indicated that “the position of Belarus and Kazakhstan does not allow Armenia to be a member of the EEU sooner.”
Therefore, after forcing Armenia away from the European Union, Moscow has allowed it to languish in limbo at the door of the Eurasian Union indefinitely.
Adding insult to injury, Moscow is arming Azerbaijan at an alarming rate. A total of $700 million worth of military hardware has already been delivered to Baku and $4 billion worth more are in the pipeline to be delivered gradually.
Most of the armaments are not defensive; they are meant for offensive purpose. That support has rendered Aliyev’s regime more aggressive and arrogant. Azerbaijan is not only breaking the ceasefire regime on Karabagh’s point of contact, but it has been bombing Armenia in the Tavoush region and from Nakhichevan. Armenia’s strategic ally, Russia, is still silent after the numerous incursions.
After Nazarbayev insulted Armenia in Moscow, it took several days for Armenia’s president to complain at a youth rally in Tzaghgadzor. Now he has gone further to raise concerns in an interview given to Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper, to complain about Azerbaijan’s military build-up with Russia’s help.
Armenia is at the point of no return. It cannot take refuge in NATO, given the Georgian precedent in which it was attacked and handily defeated. It can only complain louder to Moscow, the latter having its own priorities to keep Baku at bay.
Economic relations with the US and France may be one way to alleviate the situation and utilize the political maneuvering space with Iran, a country which has gone out of its way to accomodate Armenia, driven by its own conflict with Azerbaijan.
Other options are limited and Armenia remains trapped politically.