Biden in the White House

Biden in the White House

What Could Armenia Expect?

After an unprecedented tight race and contested vote counting the US has a new president Joe Biden. Without going into details on Biden’s internal and external policies, it is interesting to concentrate instead on the prospects of changes in the new administration’s policies towards Armenia and the region it is located in. 

Text : Tigran Zakaryan

The political situation in and around Armenia has dramatically changed since the war that broke out on September 27 and it would be interesting to see what changes it might introduce in the initial plans. What Biden as a presidential candidate could have promised on issues like the Armenian Genocide, US-Armenian relations, promises to harness the increasingly aggressive Turkey – which has embarked on its ambitious project of rapid regional expansion – all this might be revised under the new reality which has been unfolding since the 9 November agreement on Nagorno-Karabakh. 
The presidential candidate Biden twice reacted to the ongoing war in Nagorno-Karabakh, making two statements over the month of October, which could give an idea of his visions on the conflict. Not unexpectedly, the statements called for a cessation of hostilities and urged to curb chiefly Turkish, as well as Russian and occasionally Iranian involvement in the conflict, yet in the meantime suggesting that Armenia could not “occupy indefinitely” the territories surrounding former Nagorno-Karabakh autonomy. From these statements it can be inferred that Washington’s attitude is unlikely to change dramatically while in the meantime it can undergo certain transformations, like a revision of the previous disengagement policies and also, considering new facts on the ground be more ready to resist its regional rivals in the greater Middle East (which Armenia increasingly seems to be a part of). 
Another hint at a comeback to the Middle East under the Biden Administration can be found in a statement by Biden’s choice for the state secretary Antony Blinken who called the previous administration’s handling of the Syrian crisis as “failure”.

What most analysts believe is that Joe Biden will follow a more value-driven policy, as usually is the case with the Democratic presidents, however this should not be overestimated and it should not be done so even more in the case of Armenia. What Yerevan and the Armenian community could count for is some expression of sympathy (including financially, morally on the level of some statements) and perhaps some steps in the Genocide and Karabakh issues, which are nevertheless unlikely to tip the existing balance in those matters. 
It is important and helpful to view the Biden Administration’s expected policies towards Yerevan against the larger background of the policies towards Armenia’s neighboring countries. 
It can be expected to a reasonable degree that Washington would be set to play a more active role in the Greater Middle East (including the Caucasus, with a focus on Georgia) and reverse Trump administration’s disengagement policies in the region.

A certain pressure on Turkey could be expected in order to keep it under control and this certainly is not lost in Ankara as well, as Erdogan, just like Putin did not rush – to put it mildly – to congratulate the US president elect. A key point of Washington’s discontent is certainly over Ankara’s choice of purchasing Russian S-400 air defense systems. Meanwhile any Armenia-related matter, such as the Armenian Genocide recognition by the administration or pressure on Ankara on Nagorno-Karabakh war, including its humanitarian aspects and the presence of the Jihadi fighters in the war scene could be used as leverages against Ankara. Apart from that, Yerevan could expect US pressure on Turkey to open its borders unconditionally which under the current circumstances it quite realistic. 

On the other hand one should bear in mind that Washington’s aim is not by ay means to alienate and antagonize Turkey, but rather keep Ankara under control. Turkey has been and most probably will be an instrumental partner for Washington in other key areas of the world, including Central Asia where it can serve as a bulwark against both China and Russia. In this respect Washington is highly unlikely to resent Turkey’s increased presence in the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan in particular, from where it could prject its influence further into Central Asia. 
In the meantime Washington’s task will be to make every effort to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey, also using Ankara’s certain dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Karabakh war, even if it greatly bolstered its own role in Azerbaijan as well as with Moscow’s attitude in the problems in Syria. 
In this context the Biden Administration might be expected to make efforts to challenge the de facto Moscow-Ankara format of the conflict resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh while sending low-key pro-Armenian messages on one hand (just like the French Senate did recently) and on the other hand insisting on the primacy of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs in mediating the talks, however – make no mistake about it – these could only be viewed as tools for pressure on its regional and global rivals rather than a serious attempt at fixing the situation and let alone reversing to the status quo of September 26 2020. 

As to Armenia’s two important regional partners, Russia and Iran, Washington can be expected to spare no effort on isolating Russia and Iran and this is where Turkey as well as Azerbaijan could become partners to Washington. Yet the promised US reinvigorated presence in the Middle East sounds better than it could be done, because of Trump’s fluctuating and erratic policy in the region is unlikely to contribute to the solid image of the superpower. Meanwhile continued support to the Kurdish forces in Syria seems to be frustrate and anger first of all Ankara and it would be a hard task for the Biden administration to convince Turkey to supportits own initiatives. 
There is not much to say about the relations with Iran. Albeit there is a slight potential for improvement and an new nuclear deal, this time it will require much more efforts and sacrifices than it did back in 2015 when the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed under Obama administration. In any case Iran is moving closer towards a nuclear weapon, while expectedly US pressure from different directions and on many levels are only increasing and these are unlikely to stop any time soon. In this respect Yerevan could count on Washington’s understanding of the vital importance of relations with Iran to Armenia. On the other hand Yerevan could press for alternatives to Iranian transit routes via Turkey and also ask for an effective US mediation for improving relations with its two key partners – Israel and Saudi Arabia – in order to avoid a regional isolation. 
And the last, but not the least: the US would most likely seek to increase its influence and presence in neighboring Georgia with Tbilisi more than welcoming such a choice. This would also ensure Washington a more practical leverage on the Ankara-Moscow volatile relations, which at times of rapprochement bode ill to the US foreign policy makers.
With all the above-said in mind, it should be noted that against the background of a new round of US-Russian tensions globally, and the Karabakh war showing a clear retreat of the US and the West in this region, Armenia will firmly stay in the grip of Moscow for the following several years. The nature and firmness of that grip will determine a lot in Washington’s policy towards Yerevan.

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