Armenia is one of the countries that have had to make difficult decisions whilst positioning itself in the current stand-off between Russia and Ukraine. Despite the fact that it has little room for manoeuvre, and is very dependent on Russia in many spheres, Armenia has taken a pragmatic but principled position, writes Bojan Stojkovski in this op-ed for commonspace.eu
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has plunged the international order into one of the most serious crises since the end of the Cold War. The situation is much more than just a breach in Europe's security architecture. The invasion of Ukraine has forced states, regardless of their geographic position, to make a critical decision: to support or not support Ukraine.
For NATO members and governments thousands of kilometers distant from the conflict zone, the decision was simple: they demonstrated their support for Ukraine in one way or another. However, the world is not made up only of these states, and the decision was not an easy one for rest of the world. It was particularly challenging especially for Russia's neighbors and partners.
Belarus, Russia's close political-military ally, has drawn international attention to itself by joining in the military campaign - at least by letting itself be used as a launch-pad for Russian troops participating in the war.
Together with Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are also Russia's allies within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union (EEAU) .. Expecting those states that rely on Russia for security guarantees to criticize Russia, is, in a poetic sense, equivalent to expecting a prisoner to sign his own death sentence.
Russia needs the support of its allies now more than ever. On the battlefield, Russia was unable to achieve Blitzkrieg and its political objectives. Russia is becoming increasingly isolated internationally, and sanctions against it are becoming harsher.
Putin has already stated that he wants Kazakhstan to send troops to Ukraine to support Russian occupying forces. The Kazakh government is believed to have declined this request. Such a result was to be expected from a country like Kazakhstan, which has various levers vis-a-vis Russia.
Nonetheless, the situation is not as flexible for everyone. Armenia, another Russian military-political ally, has little – if any – bargaining leverage with Russia.
Russia maintains military bases in Armenia, Russian troops patrol Armenia's borders, and Russia is Armenia's sole security guarantor. If Russia stops providing security guarantees, Armenia will be helpless against its decades-long adversaries, Azerbaijan and Turkey .
Armenia is intricately bound to Russia, not just in terms of security, but also in critical areas like the economy and energy. Armenia's maneuverability was seriously harmed by its disastrous defeat in the war with neighboring Azerbaijan in 2020. The deployment of a Russian peacekeeping contingent to various portions of the Karabakh region, as well as a tripartite ceasefire statement that prevented Azerbaijan from fully taking the remaining Armenian controlled parts of Karabakh, has given Russia extra levers over Armenia.
However, since the start of the crisis in and around Ukraine, Armenia's stance — despite the fact that the fate of Armenians in Karabakh is dependent on Russia – has been careful, but more nuanced than many expected. . Armenia, is considered to be in Russia's so-called “sphere of influence,” yet it has not issued an official statement in support of Russia’s position. Instead, it has called on the parties to cease hostilities and end the dispute as quickly as possible in accordance with the norms and principles of international law. In contrast, Kyrgyzstan, which is even more dependent on Russia than Armenia, has openly supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The delicate balancing policy of Armenia did not stop with a mere statement. Amid Russia's statement that it will formally recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics in eastern Ukraine, Armenia's foreign ministry indicated that it would not fall into line.
Denis Avtonomov, Ukraine's top diplomat in Armenia, applauded the statement, saying, "We are grateful [to Armenia]". When the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine on March 2, Armenia chose not to vote in favor of Russia but abstain. Armenia was also not among the states that backed Russia in the vote on a March 4 resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which called for a commission to probe Russia's war crimes in Ukraine.
On March 7, the US-Armenia Strategic Dialogue was held, during which the two countries discussed economic and security cooperation. During the war's deadliest days, March 8-9, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan visited France and met with President Macron, during which the problem of Ukraine and the South Caucasus region were discussed. Speaking with Prime Minister Pashinyan, Macron said: “As this war unleashed by Russia is destabilizing your immediate neighborhood, Mr. Prime Minister, I also want to communicate to you France’s commitment to bring peace to Ukraine and to continue encouraging lasting stability in the Caucasus".
On March 12, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at the Antalya Diplomatic Forum in Turkey, where the debates on the European crisis were centre-stage. The two ministers agreed that the meeting was fruitful and significant . This was the highest-level communication between Armenia and Turkey in the last decade.
Both ministers expressed the wish to reopen the Armenian-Turkish border, which was closed in the 1990s due to the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, and to normalize relations as soon as possible. .
At a time when the global crisis is at its height, Armenia, which is largely reliant on Russia, must be commended for adopting a highly pragmatic and rational foreign policy, and staying away from the dark side of history.
Armenia, which is economically impoverished, geographically landlocked, has seen two horrific wars since independence, and has hostile relations with its two neighbors, chose to take a principled position for which it should be commended.