Corridor, Carrots and Sticks: Armenia between Rivaling Powers


Corridor, Carrots and Sticks: Armenia between Rivaling Powers

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova speaking at the official briefing on 24 October, has once again targeted the Western policies in and around Armenia. “The true aims of Washington and Brussels is not at all coming up with compromise and balanced resolutions but self-promotion and and attempt at expelling Russia from Transcaucasia,” the spokesperson said. 

It is interesting that Zakharova also mentioned about “substantive projects” with Armenia in transport, logistics, infrastructure and other sectors which, according to her, were “in the stage of development and implementing”. The Russian official also stated that “dozens of Russian big companies are ready to continue investment into the Armenian economy”. 

Meanwhile just on the day of Zakharova’s statement, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk warned that the “Western branch of the North-South transport corridor might go through Azerbaijan and Iran instead of Armenia if that country did not resolve the transportation blockade issue”. 

While Zakharova’s anti-Western rhetoric is anything but unexpected and even the promises of economic benefits for Armenia are also understandable, Overchuk’s blatant blackmail seems puzzling to unsophisticated viewer. It looks like Moscow hints that Armenia should alone “resolve the transportation blockade issue” and that Yerevan has either to comply with earlier offers or face the consequences. 


A corridor for Russia?

The situation becomes clear if we add here Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan’s almost direct remarks to “third parties, sometimes unexpectedly, supporting Azerbaijani position” in the so-called “Zangezur corridor” issue pressed hard by Baku. 

The question is why Russia, so far clearly opposing any “corridor” between Turkey and Azerbaijan and even publicly stating that such roads cannot have extraterritorial status (the main point of Baku argument) seems to concede to Azerbaijani demands. 

The point is that the geopolitical situation has changed for Russia dramatically since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and Moscow’s surging confrontation with the West. While currently the communication through Russia’s borders is sharply declining and even their complete halt is quite possible, other directions of communications, the southern in particular, acquire much more importance. Turkey, which is the tightrope walker in this situation, has a lot to offer to Moscow due to its geographical situation. The road to Iran is also important also because that country can offer transit routes to Turkey, however Moscow definitely would prefer communication through Armenia, due to its shortness and political predictability. The last, but not the least, Iran, which in its turn is interested in communication through Armenia, would oppose any extraterritorial corridor through the latter’s southern Syunik region while controlling its only alternative. 

Under these circumstances Russia’s ire becomes explainable, if we consider the recent Western overtures to Yerevan and the realization that Azerbaijan has become a strong player in the “corridor game” and is unlikely to give up its claims. Moscow has embarked upon pressuring the “weakest point” in its calculations, which seems to be Armenia. In light of those circumstances the recent Western overtures to Yerevan which might strengthen its positions, thus frustrating Russian plans.


Is surrendering to Moscow a good idea? 

Currently Moscow has very little to offer to Armenia in a positive way. The promises of investment are realistic only to the extent they refer to the transportation needed for Russia. Nothing beyond that is feasible and given the previous experience with Russian investments, which were mainly state-controlled businesses. These are questionable while in the same time quite likely to be used by the Kremlin as additional leverages against Yerevan. 

However, Armenia does not have the resources to confront Russia seriously. With so much of Armenia’s infrastructure under Moscow’s control the West is unlike to replace Russia any time soon. Meanwhile a power vacuum can be lethal for Armenia sandwiched between its arch-rivals in a period when international order and law seem rather volatile. 

Armenia needs first and foremost an internal consolidation against moves threatening its sovereignty. The recent move by the Justice Ministry suggesting criminal responsibility for calls against national sovereignty is quite timely. Yerevan needs also to convincingly show that attempt at resolving the “corridor” issue through force will be met with a stubborn Armenian armed resistance backed by Western diplomacy. 

Kremlin needs to be given convincing arguments that opening a corridor at the expense of Armenia’s independence will not work and it has to offer Baku something else. Only a strong and resolute Armenia will be taken as a serious partner in negotiations either by Moscow, by Washington as well as by Turkey and Azerbaijan.