՛՛The Republic of Armenia is the guarantor of the security of Artsakh՛՛,- is stated in the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia updated last year. The current political realities which emerged after the recent war over Nagorno-Karabakh destroyed Armenia’s security system which has lasted for more than two and half decades,thuscreating absolute uncertainty. The current situation not only causes existentialmeances for the Armenianness of Artsakh, but also create new threats for the actornessof the Republic of Armenia for the long run. The problematic demarcation issues with the Republic of Azerbaijan, the reopenning of the regional communication routes and also the assymetric dependence on Russia create real threats for Armenia’s sovereignty. The ongoing concerns around these problems pave necessary ground for the spread of frustration in the society which is reflected in the statementscalling for deepenening integration with Russia, even worse to become a part of Russia.
Unfortunately, it is now really difficult for the Armenian side to acknowledge that the status quo had been succesfullty kept due to the fragile geopolitical equilibrium. But the reality dramatically changed in 2014-2015 when the USA started withdrawing from Afghanistan and the Middle East andshifting its attention towards the East Asia. Moreover, the downing of the Russian fighting jet by Turkey resulted in new state of affairsin the region. This new period was symbolized for the Armenian side by the April war back in April, 2016 and then reached its peak in the recent war of 2020. Several important traits of this new era have been either misinterpreted or ignored by the Armenian side. The most important one is the new nature of the Russo-Turkish relations which are product of the above-mentioned events starting since 2014, which are aimed at filling the power vacuum gap in the Middle East by the Russo-Turkish tandem.
The state of the art of the Russo-Turkish bilateral relations is excellently described by th MFA of Russia S. Lavrov as ‘sui generis cooperation and competition’. Ignoring this fact and presuming that the possible war could have the repetition of the April War by its scale, and the Russian side should have been interested in the maintance of the status quo albeit deviated, speaks about the Armenian side’s underestimation of the current realities around Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and the wider region in general. The existing consensus between Turkey and Russia over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, is obviously shaped by their attempts of redistributing the spheres of influence in the entire region thus trying to keep all extraregional actors and first of all the West out. Unfortunately, it led to devastating consequences for the Armenian side. The geopolitcal myopia of the Armenian side resulted in the unprecedented destruction, seen last time a century ago again by the performance of the same Russo-Turkish pair, which then led to the partition and sovietization of Armenia. The claims stemming from the Armenian side, including the ruling elite, that the war prepration rests only with the Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance and for the Russian side it was undesirable and unexpectable, causes doubt based upon the bellow-suggested explanations.
First of all, it’s necessacry to recall that the post-elections demostrations which started in Belarus, a OSCT/EAEU member state and a close neighbor of Russia, should have been worrying, if of course there were directed against the Kremlin and were sponsored by the West. And in light of these events, the opening of so-called ”second frontier” against Russia in the South Caucasus should have induced Russia to keep the balance in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at any cost, at least by supporting the weaker party – Armenia- by solving the problem of supplies in advance, avoiding possible blockades of Armenia.Another nuance which deepens the concern that the war wasn’t surprise for Russia, was the post-election revolutionary situation in Kyrgyzstan, another Russian sphere of influence, which happened in the beginning of October, when the war in Nagorno-Karabakh was at its height. Though the Kremlin-backed Russian media channels and prominent analysts were doing everything to show that there was a Western conspiracy working against Russia at the same time in Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh and Kyrgyzstan, however in reality this anti-western paranoia doesn’t find reasonable ground as in all three dimensions Russia’s stance has strengthened in the result.
Finally, the last fragment which attracts attention, is the timing of the war. The period of presidential elections campaign of the USA, when both the ruling administration and Biden’s team were fully busy with the election preparations, and France alone couldn’t counterbalance Russia and restrain Turkey at the same time. The preelection timing was an ideally calculated as the polls of the previous period showed that Trump didn’t have chances for reelection. This fact wasn’t the most desirbale option for Russia and Turkey given the isolationist nature of Trump’s foreign policy, on the one hand, and Biden’s tough stance against Russia and Turkey on the other hand. Overall, the aforementioned developments have shaped the current state of affairs in the South Caucasus having devastating effects for Armenia. It’s out of question that Russia, possessing huge amount of resources and tools at its disposal,could react to this conflict properly in order not to harm its ally’s – Armenia’s interests, if, of course, it was stemming from its intersts and agenda in the region.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenian-Russian relations have evolved in a wrong way, making Armenia’s position more vulnerable and causing assymetric dependence on Russia. This has been conditioned because of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide, which have kept borders of Armenia with these counties closed. The fact of being landlocked and having 2 out of 4 borders closed, staying out of the regional economic projects and also having tensions between Iran and the West, which makes the southern border unreliable, have created favorable conditions for Russia to establish total control over Armenia, shaping that vary mindset of the Kremlin towards Armenia:Where can they escape? (Акудаониденутся?).Moreover, after the second Karabakh war, domestic excitements, alarms and worrying in Armenia, pave the ground for the expansion of the thoughts ranging from joining the Union State of Belarus and Russia up to joining Russian Federation as one of its entities like Tatarstan or Chechnya. This delusive and apathetic discourse, which is being encouragedboth by the Russian media channels and some pro-Kremlin politicians and parties, needs to be neutralised only by increasingArmenia’s substantiveness as a fully functional subject of Internationa law. Certainly, the economic, military and political security state should have been totally different, if Armenia’s leadership lacking legality and legitimacy, didn’t aleinate the strategically important facilities to Russia back in the beginning of 2000s.The so-called program ‘property for debt’and later deals passedalmost all major and important facilities of the Armenian economy under control of Russia. Two strategically important facilities could and today also can change Armenia’s economic, political and security environment mostly reducing its isolation and increasing prospects of economic prosperity. These are Iran-Armenia railway and Iran-Armenia-Georgia gas pipeline.
Armenia’s assymetric dependence on Russia can be solved solely based on diversification and due to involvement of other actors as well, which will expand Yerevan’s area of maneuver. But this diversification shouldn’t be fragile as the one back in 2000s labelled as ‘assymetic complementarity’, which again emphasized the iportant role of Russia. In that concept Russia wasn’t regarded as ‘primus inter pares – first among equals’, but it can be deescribed as ‘Russia and the rest’. Given the existing complicated relations with Turkey, in the role of primary actors involved in the Armenia’s foreign policy spectrum are Iran, China and the EU. The construction of Iran-Armenia railway has huge potential to solve a few real problems. Firstly, Armenia gains stable access to the Iranian market. Then, with th already existing railway web in Iran, Armenia gains access not only to the Central Asia but also to China. On the other hand, joining the Iranian railway, Armenia reaches the Persian Gulf and Indian ocean. In the result, Armenia becomes an important connecting ring in this whole chain between the Georgian and Iranian ports securing links between the Eastern Europe and East Asia. Iran and Armenia solve their isolation problem in some extent, while China gets an opportunity to join the Eastern Europe by sea avoinding dependence on Russia. As a result, this project and its geoeconomical influence allow Armenia to increase the role of Iran and China in the regional affairs thus creating leverage for her benefit. The fact that the existing Armenian-Georgian railway works, there is a need to build up Tabriz-Yerevan section. Doubtless, this project should be substantiated economically, which will will increase Armenia’s economic attractiveness. Last year, China and Iran signed a strategic partnership agreement, which envisages 400 bln USD Chinese investment in the development of Iran’s infrastructures over the next 25 years. The railway and roads systems compose important part of this infrastructure complex. The upgrade of Iranian facilities are aimed at solving Iran’s isolation and openinng new opportunities for China. Iran’s MFA J. Zarif announced during his last visit to Armenia, that the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia is a red light for Iran, thus highliting the vital importance of border with Armenia. It is’ot secret that if Armenia loses its southern border with Iran, then Azerbaijan and Turkey establish land contact, which isolates Iran from the North and puts an end to the existence of the Armenian statehood in general. Therefore, taking into account security importance of railway for Iran and Armenia, as well as economic attraction for Eastern Europe and China, the question of this project should receivea majorpriority for Armenia.
The next project of strategic importance, which will change the regional politics, economy and security, is the Iran-Armenia-Georgia gas pipeline. In 2005, when the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline was in the process of negotiation, Alexander Ryazanov, a vice-president of Gazprom, declared that if Gazprom wasn’t involved in that project, it’s uncertain where this gas would flow. Certainly, this idea should have scared Armenia’s that time administration, which not only didn’t have domestic support due to corruption and authoritarian levels, but also it [the administration] had many fears that the Nagorno-Karabakh status quo could have been changed in favor of Azerbaijan by Russian intervention. As a result, the operation of the Iraian-Armenian pipeline alongside with other facilities, including the railway of Armenia, were passed to Russia thus trying to accomodate Russia in all possible ways. In the following years, Russian Gazprom also obtained the right to operate the whole gas system of Armenia. Moreover, in December 2013, then president Serzh Sargsyan signed an agreement with his Russian counterpart, according to which, Armenia was obliged to buy gas from Gazprom until 2043. It’s worthless to mention about legality and nonsense nature of this agreement. It’s worth reminding, that a similar gas deal with Russia cost Ukraine’s former Prime-Minster Yulia Tymoshenko 7 years in prison.
Thus, the Armenian side did everything to deprive itself of having diversified gas sources. The Iranian gas pipeline has huge potential not only to liberalize Armenian domestic market, establishing fair competition, but also to provide Armenia with transit fees increasing economic attractivenessof Armenia. The Iranian gas pipeline has great potential to change the energy market of Georgia as well as reducing its dependence on Azerbaijan. Moreover, given the EU depdendence on Russian gas, it’s logical to have the Iranian gas pieplines reached to Europe crossing the Black Sea. Initial destination can be Romania. First of all, given its geographical proximity with Ukraine and Moldova, these countries may solve their gas dependence problem on Russia.On the other hand, the end destination of the pipeline can be France, which can regain its balance vis-a-vis Germany. In addition, this project may attract Turkmenistan’s attention as well, as it receives an alternative channel for the TransCaspian pipeline.
Overall, this ambitious project will solve Armenia’s and Georgia’s energy, economic, political security issues, reducing their vulnerable position in the region. It will change Russia’s stance in the region, thus changing also its foreign policy behavior, perception of Armenia and Georgia as well. Armenia will solve the asymmetric devastatingdependence problem and also will have a chance to break Turkis-Azerbaijani isolation. With this project, Islamic Republic will recieve a chance to connect with Europe and to break thr isolation, which is ncessary for for the EU an Iran. Finally, the European Union can get a free hand vis-a-vis Russia.