What to Expect in Yerevan as Moscow is on the warpath on Ukraine

What to Expect in Yerevan as Moscow is on the warpath on Ukraine

The early morning of 24 February was a unique one in the modern history of Europe as for the first time since the end of the World War 2 an internationally recognized state attacked another one. As the events are unfolding and details will be known later, let us keep in mind what preceded them. 

Text: Tigran Zakaryan

 

On 21 February Russian President Vladimir Putin in his usual style, dashed expectations and predictions of quite a number of experts and observers by announcing the recognition of Ukraine’s two eastern breakaway entities, the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic. In a funny twist Sergey Naryshkin, the head of the Russian National Security Service speaking at the Security Council’s conference said that he does and would back the idea of territories’ incorporation into Russia, triggering the dismayed Putin’s intervention who said that such a scheme was off the table.  
Nevertheless few are naïve to believe that those states are anything else but Russian puppets and it is no wonder Moscow immediately declared the intention of deploying troops in the territory controlled by the two breakaway republics. In the meantime the authorities in the two entities officially laid claim on the total territory of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions respectively, while holding under their control less than half of them. Moscow’s comments on this point were blurred however one could hear aggressive statements on the eventuality of Ukraine’s incorporation into Russia articulated by various members of the parliament of that country. Such statements could be considered as individual whims of specific politicians however days earlier President Putin had expressed the idea that Ukraine was the result of Soviet authorities’ erroneous policies in this manner discarding the legitimacy of that country’s independence.

 

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The reactions by the key players in the international community including the US, EU, the G7 has been launching sanctions they promised earlier and that would only increase in toughness. It is clear now that some sort of a new cold war will be impossible to avoid on the European geopolitical scene with fault lines becoming even deeper. They would involve binary choices and alignments thus reducing individual states’ room for maneuvering, which is the very fabric of their independence.
In this regard Armenia’s foreign policy independence, which is far from being on solid grounds, is about to face a new jeopardy. Putin’s project of a Russian Empire’s comeback is gaining momentum, threatening Yerevan with tough choices and the need to endure additional pressures. 
One of them might be forcing Yerevan to take sides in the conflict, first and foremost diplomatically. Yerevan is unlikely to be able to withstand such pressures and the record of Armenia’s votes in the UN and other international organizations on Ukraine’s territorial integrity make such a presumption well grounded. On the other hand it is unlikely that the CSTO, to which Armenia is a member state, will play any part in it. Earlier, before the war broke out the Kazakh foreign minister had dismissed dismissed such a possibility.

 

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Had Armenia been more independent and confident in its relations with Moscow, it could react to the Russian statements on the top level on a “genocide” underway in the eastern regions of Ukraine. Admitting that the official silence on the matter can be justified, one can only guess why so many political parties declaring their full commitment to the independence of Armenia, influential individuals and intellectuals refrain from publicly condemning such statements and recall that Russia declined to call the real genocidal threat and some genocidal killings during the war of 2020 in Nagorno-Karabakh by such a name. Meanwhile Armenian social media is full of condemning statements by individual users, which can be a sign of the general indignation of Armenians at the misuse of such a sensitive term in a great power’s geopolitical games. 
The above-mentioned point also applies to Putin’s remark on the “artificiality” of Ukraine as a sovereign state and Soviet internal borders. Given the postwar reality now in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh it not unlikely that even a mutually recognized border between Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot serve as a solid bulwark against Baku’s growing appetite.  
Interestingly enough the day following the recognition the Azerbaijani leader visited Moscow and signed a bilateral partnership treaty, which among other things stipulates “territorial integrity and inviolability of borders of the two countries” as a pillar of their friendly relations. Among other things this shows that amid Russia’s growing isolation and prolonged standoff with the West, the significance of good relations with such countries as Azerbaijan would only grow in Moscow’s eyes and this, definitely, is a challenge which Armenia has to realize and try to figure out ways to deal with.

 

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So far Yerevan is doing its best to avoid entanglement in the conflict, which Moscow believes is chiefly against the “West” and has an aim of discarding NATO’s and the American reputation in the post-soviet zone and globally. This would not be easy to do. The Armenian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson said that recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk republics was “not on the agenda” while Nagorno-Karabakh welcomed it and both of those moves are easy to explain.
It is too early to realize the full scale of challenges that Armenia might face due to the spiraling of the Ukraine crisis out of control, however some, on top of the above mentioned, can be added here. 
First of all, Armenia’s hope to put the Karabakh resolution process back on the OSCE Minsk group track will become even more unrealistic and a proof to this can also be found in the above-mentioned Russian-Azerbaijani memorandum. It is unlikely that Russia would prefer to negotiate with US and France on this issue while antagonizing them on more important ones and while having a realistic option of coming to terms with Baku or Ankara. 
Another byproduct of the conflict will be of economic nature. As the Armenian economy is dependent on many levels from the Russian, the sanctions could deal considerable damage to it. One has yet to see on the scale and target of those to be able to judge on the possible depth of their effects, which beyond doubt will be felt.