War Globally, Non-Peace Locally

War Globally, Non-Peace Locally

Armenia’s Predicament Amid Ukraine War And Failing Karabakh Peace

As war in Ukraine is still going on, Artsakh is facing another existential threat. Regional Post’s expert Tigran Zakaryan is trying to make sense of what is going on.  

Text: Tigran Zakaryan

A War Involving Few Directly and Many Indirectly 

It has already been a month since Europe is a scene of the worst atrocities and a full-fledged war which is the largest armed conflict in the region since the end of World War 2. What was hardly imagined became true and scenarios that looked most grim some five weeks ago are inexorably real nowadays. Russia has made a critical move which puts the country in all but a direct military confrontation with the West, and but a thin line separates the world from a third world war, something which sounds like a nuclear holocaust of global scale. 

So far there are only two countries directly involved in hostilities – Russia and Ukraine – however the economy of the EU countries, USA and their allies exchange blows with Moscow. The number of the latter’s allies is quite limited – Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea – to name a few, who to various degrees could be useful, chiefly on international floors. There are some in Russia’s immediate vicinity however, which are of higher importance than simply voting in international organizations – among other top reasons as gateways for escaping the harsh sanctions – and by this I mean the post-Soviet countries first and foremost. 

 

Azerbaijan Reaping the Fruits of Brinkmanship? 

Armenia and its neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia are among those and it is interesting to see how all the three, while actually having quite different foreign political preferences and aspirations, do not essentially differ in their attitude towards the war. This attitude is chiefly a cautious one, aiming to deter any chance of provoking Moscow’s potentially violent ire, in the meantime stopping short of a support to the Russian policies, which could on its turn cause a deep discontent of the West involving imminent repercussions. A case in point was demonstrated recently by the Armenian and Azerbaijani delegations at the Council of Europe where they both independently opted not to take part in the voting on excluding Russia from the organization.  

However the cost of such brinkmanship is not the same everywhere in this region. It has to be admitted that the highest stakes in this game are for Armenia for reasons that will be explained below. Apart from Armenia, yet another brinkman is Azerbaijan, whose leader Ilham Aliyev signed an important agreement on “allied interaction” just two days before the outbreak of the war. It is worth to note that the large text of the agreement included also a clause on mutual respect of territorial integrity of the signatories. Many experts and observers back then noted that this would be interpreted by Baku as a carte blanche for renewed pressures on Nagorno-Karabakh with an aim of having the region de-populated of its Armenian population.

 

Moreover, may observers believe that the recent occupation of the village of Parukh in Nagorno-Karabakh under the very eyes of the Russian peacekeepers and Moscow’s belated response to the prolonged interruption of gas supply to Karabakh (offering Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the issue, while the region is effectively under Russian responsibility), is a result of an undercover agreement in line with the previously signed document.

 

One can only guess what the Russian benefits from this agreement would be – avoiding sanctions most possibly being among them – however it is beyond doubt that it is not Moscow’s failing force that makes Azerbaijan bolder. Moreover, there are ample grounds to believe that Azerbaijan’s limited advancements in Karabakh can serve as leverage in the hands of the Kremlin to force Armenia into total submission, including siding with Moscow in Belarus fashion. 

 

Abundance of  Sticks and Scarcity of Carrots for Armenia

At first glance it seems highly unlikely that a big power would force its smaller ally into an even closer alliance through posing existential threat to the latter, however it is namely the case in question here. All the setbacks in Karabakh are used in the hands of Armenia-based pro-Kremlin propagandists to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the Armenian state and the national armed forces. The need for a quickest “integration” into the Russian-led bloc, as previously once explicitly articulated by the Belarus leader Alyaksandar Lukashenka, is the only viable option, according to them, but is it?  

Needless to say how perilous this could be to Armenia’s national interest. Any form of curtailed independence would mean an open door to continuous losses and less security, even though the above-mentioned propaganda tries to convince of the opposite. In a nutshell those who suggest that this “integration” could mean security in Armenia and Karabakh will get none of them in the final account. Moreover, integrating with a country, which is under most heavy sanctions and moving towards most serious economic challenges would also mean a sharp decline in prosperity (entailing new waves of depopulation) with no prospect of improving the economic situation before the end of the global standoff.   

 

Need To Consolidate Around Independence 

After all this the fundamental question remains: what should Armenia do under the present conditions globally and in the region. Understandably there is no simple answer to this but the general strategy has to be as follows: Armenia needs to consolidate – and it is exactly high time for this – around its independence, which we collectively as a state and society have been failing to value on multiple levels since independence. This consolidation should go on every level possible – starting from rewriting the national history and propagation of the latter to ultimate purging of the political scene from all those actors and individuals whose activity is not in line with independence of Armenia enshrined in the constitution of this country. 

Armenia needs to be engaged in a broad dialogue with the West – and this is being done since recently – and other major regional and global actors. It might sound outlandish but the dialogue and possible normalization with Turkey would be to the benefit of Armenia’s independence since Ankara would not be interested in Yerevan’s ultimate integration into a Russian-led union.  

We definitely need to talk with Moscow and an Armenian-Russian partnership and interaction has no alternative (after all, Georgia for instance, with all their anti-Russian rhetoric, is precisely engaged in that for realpolitical reasons). We also need to carry on with brinkmanship as effectively as possible, in the meantime bearing in mind that its effectiveness will depend on the solidity of our independence. 

One might argue that Armenia’s dependence is due to facts on the ground, such as unfriendly neighbors, limited resources, however the reality is not that one only but also the readiness to sacrifice and the strategic thinking of sorting between what can be done so and what cannot. The following idea should be understood as clearly as possible: nothing short of independence will give us a chance to be an international actor in its right and hence capable of changing something in and around us.