Crisis in Armenia and Balance of Power in South Caucasus

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The changing geopolitical situation around the world, especially the Middle East, the intensified cultural-ideological and class struggle both within individual countries and globally, continue to provoke reactive political processes. Recently, a new crisis has erupted in Armenia, a state in the South Caucasus. The balance of power, self-perception of local ethnic groups, and the influence of socio-economic and cultural ideological groups on public policy have significantly changed in the country. These changes are multidirectional, increasing the risk of a new armed conflict.

On April 12, an acute internal crisis started in Armenia, a post-USSR nation and a traditional ally of Russia in the South Caucuses since the 1990s. The Armenian opposition triggered this crisis and used it to pursue a regime change, using various, among which unconstitutional, measures. Following a series of street riots from April 15 – May 2, Nikol Pashinyan, an opposition leader and a leader of the neoliberal, formally pro-US political party “Way Out Alliance”, became prime minister. Armenia is a parliamentary republic. Pashinyan gained his post on May 8 using a mobilized pro-opposition minority and pressuring the parliament with riots. The change in power occurred without bloodshed and without the direct actions of external actors.

Despite the formally pro-western position of his party, Pashinyan changed his public foreign policy rhetoric after the situation had entered into a revolutionary phase of the race for power. These changes are based on the need to act in line with the internal political situation and geopolitical reality. The bulk of the Armenian population does not consider themselves as the so-called “liberal thinking part of the middle class” neither economically nor culturally. In addition, there is an acute regional issue – an unresolved territorial dispute over the Nagorno Karabakh region and some nearby areas between Armenia and its Turkic neighbor Azerbaijan, also a post-USSR state. Pro-Armenian forces captured Nagorno Karabakh in the early 90s triggering an armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Further development of this conflict and the expected offensive by pro-Azerbajian forces was stopped by a Russian intervention in May 1994. By mid 2018, Nagorno Karabakh and the nearby areas are still under the control of Armenian forces, de-facto making it an unrecognized Armenian state – Arts’akhi Hanrapetut’yun (Arts’akh).

The 2018 political crisis and further developments did not strengthen Armenian positions over the Nagorno Karabakh issue. At the same time, the political situation in Azerbaijan remains stable. Azerbaijan, despite all existing problems, continues to develop, has a population over 3 times higher than Armenia and the economy is almost 4 times higher than Armenia’s GDP. At the same time, Azerbaijan maintains good working relations with Russia in almost all issues of the bilateral relations. Additionally, Azerbaijan is a natural historical ally of Turkey.

Turkey has recently overcome some of its differences, restored and strengthened its partnership relations with Russia. Additionally, Ankara has reached a tactical compromise with Iran. This along with successful actions in Syria allowed Turkey to significantly increase its influence in the region. Iran has also strengthened its positions through participation in ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Teheran moved its positions closer to those of Russia and Turkey. In turn, Russia has expanded its activity far beyond the South Caucasus and is now employing an active policy in the Greater Middle East. The activity of these leading regional states has obviously come into conflict with the interests of the establishment in Washington. Each of these three countries, has its own format of relations with the US, which in each chase is characterized as uneasy.

From all the aforementioned regional players, Russia is the only power, which has been a strategic ally and a military defender of Armenia and its interests. Armenia is a member state of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU). It’s interesting to note that reading Wikipedia articles in different languages, it’s not easy to find info about Armenia’s participation in the CSTO and the ECU, which are crucial for this state. It’s also hard to find out the real role of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the modern history of the Southern Caucasus.

Meanwhile, the importance of the Armenian foothold in the South Caucasus for Russia has decreased. The importance of the Russian military base in Armenia has decreased because of the expansion of Russian military infrastructure in the Middle East, including naval and air bases in Syria. The political importance of Armenia has also decreased because of improved Russian-Turkish relations, which are strengthened by major joint economic projects, including the TurkStream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. At the same time, Armenian has little economic value for the Russian state or private companies. Its only value is found in the nostalgic memories of a part of the Armenian diaspora with Russian citizenship. Additionally to the aforementioned factors, the Russian political leadership seems to be more cautious in forecasting and assessing the course of Armenian foreign policy, analyzing in depth actions and rhetoric of representatives of the Armenian elites. This shift was expected. For a long time, Armenia has pursued a foreign policy that was significantly at odds with the foreign policy position of its formal strategic ally. Furthermore, while enjoying Russian military protection, Armenia has declined to support Russia over key issues on the international agenda. A number of representatives of the Armenian elites, including the diplomatic corps, have claimed in unofficial conversations and remarks that Armenia should move to the pro-US camp.

The current situation is the result of a number of factors, including the social stratification in Armenia and the cultural-ideological influence on Armenia’s youth and elites. For example, the integration of rich Armenian families into the inner circle of the Washington establishment through a large Armenian diaspora in California; constant propaganda aimed at rewriting history and changing its focus; direct financial support of nationalist movements and neoliberal globalists etc.

Besides these, another factor is the cultural-ideological dominance of implanted postmodern consumerist values in the post-USSR states.

However, there are objective factors, limiting the maneuverability of the relatively pro-Washington establishment in Armenia:

  • Armenian elites understand that without Russian’s participation region it will be virtually impossible to ensure the presence of Nagorno Karabakh in the zone of influence of Armenia; and possibly, the independence of Armenia itself. An analogy with Israel and its patron, the US, can be useful here. Without direct US support, the existence of an independent Jewish state would be impossible in the current situation;
  • Armenia receives a notable cash flow from Russia through transfers from the multi-million Armenian diaspora, which includes employees as well as small and medium business owners. These people, in general, are still committed to conservative ideology or, by virtue of their age, retain the physical memory of events that took place 20-30 years ago;
  • A number of ethnic Armenians keep large amounts of capital in Russia.

These restrictions do not allow Armenian elites to change foreign policy sharply without incurring painful consequences.

Despite the existing inconsistencies, Russia has taken an active position on the Armenian issue. All the necessary measures were taken to preserve Armenia in the orbit of Moscow’s influence.

However, this situation changed during the recent political crisis in Armenia. Surprisingly, Moscow distanced itself from the developing events. This Russian attitude has quietly contributed to the regime change carried out by the pro-Western minority. This was done despite repeated remarks by Pashinyan in favor of the Euro-Atlantic integration as the main priority of Armenian foreign policy. Later, during the power seizure, understanding the problems of Armenia and the region, Pashinyan changed his public rhetoric supporting the strategic partnership with Russia. However, his personal position as well as the position of his neoliberal party are well known and are unlikely to have changed.

The question arises, why did Russia choose a course for complete self-elimination and non-interference in the current crisis in Armenia?

Some believe that this may be linked to the possibility that the Russian leadership has drawn a lesson from mistakes made during previous actions in post-USSR states, for example from their failure in Ukraine or their partial failure in Georgia. So, the Russian nonintervention could well be linked to concern for its public image.Another point of view is that Russian strategy is based on the realpolitik approach. In the current regional situation, Russia will gain revenue from any developments of events in Armenia. The following scenarios or their hybrids are possible:

1) If the new Armenian leadership changes the country’s foreign policy course, or even breaks the military base agreement with Russia or withdraws from Russia-controlled international organization, Azerbaijan would, earlier or later exploit the new conditions to take back what it sees as its own lost territories – the Nagorno Karabakh region and nearby areas. The restoration of territorial integrity is one of the key foreign policy and military tasks of Azerbaijan and the ruling family of Aliyev. Turkey, still a NATO member state and a formal US ally, supports Azerbaijan in this intention.

If Armenia loses Russian support and an armed conflict over the Nagorno Karabakh region resumes, Azerbaijan’s forces are likely to take control of this area within 1-2 weeks. Certainly, the US would voice protests against the Azerbaijani actions and present an ultimatum to Azerbaijan but only if its forces enter into the territory of Armenia. In this scenario, Russia would act similarly and then, after the expected new internal crisis in the country triggered by military defeat, Russia would restore its influence in the region.

By then, the Nagorno Karabakh issue would be resolved because it would be in the hands of Azerbaijan, which is supported by Turkey, a NATO member state and a Russian partner in the region.

2) If the new Armenian leadership implements a double standard policy, de-facto conducting anti-Russian actions but keeping a pro-Russian public rhetoric and standing on ceremony, Moscow would get a formal pretext to reshape its presence, first of all military, in the region. Strategically, the military infrastructure in Syria is much more important for Russia. Additionally, Moscow would get grounds for shifting its diplomatic rhetoric over the Nagorno Karabakh issue, thus achieving closer cooperation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. If in this situation, Azerbaijan triggers the resumption of armed conflict over Nagorno Karabakh, Russia would remain a formal Armenian ally and a guarantor of its territorial integrity. Moscow would intervene into the conflict both politically and militarily, but only as far as necessary to prevent violation of Amrenia’s borders. Russia would not contribute military efforts to restore Armenian control over Nagorno Karabakh should the region be captured by Azerbaijan. In this scenario, Russia would keep and maybe even strengthen its position in the region once again acting as a defender of the Armenian nation.

3) If the new Armenian leadership shows political awareness and becomes engaged in not just a formal, but a real strategic alliance with Russia, the development of economic and cultural relations with the West would not detract from this alliance. Then, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict would remain frozen until the next major shift in the regional balance of power or until a political settlement of the conflict becomes possible. Russia would at least maintain its current influence and would maybe further improve its public image. While Armenia keeps a strong military political partnership with Russia, it is unlikely that Azerbaijan would make an open attempt to resume full-scale military hostilities.

4) The most unlikely scenario is that Armenia would fully shift its foreign policy course towards the US and enlist full support from its new “strategic” ally. The Russian military base would be replaced by a US one and the US would become a guarantor of the independence of Nagorno Karabakh or at least a military guarantor of its current undefined status in the case of a new round of military escalation with Azerbaijan. This scenario is extremely unlikely. Yerevan has little to offer Washington in exchange for the inevitable decline of US relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. US forces are already deployed in the region, in Georgia. A new US military base in Armenia would not change the balance of power in the South Caucasus and the Middle East. Economically, Armenia also has nothing to offer the US. So, the only possible Armenian offer would be blatant anti-Russian propaganda in the Ukrainian or British scenario. In this case, Russia would turn to Azerbaijan, strengthen its alliance with Turkey, actively destabilizing the situation in Armenia itself, creating additional problems for the US in the region.

At this stage, it looks like the Armenian leadership is balancing between the scenario 2 and 3. In the future, the situation will develop depending on the level of strategic thinking of the new Armenian leadership and the inertia of the crisis situation created by Pashinyan, his supporters and sponsors for coming to power.

Analyzing the situation in the South Caucasus, one should remember that “the great game might never end”. A possible shift of Armenian foreign policy would certainly trigger a change in the local balance of power. Following unavoidable fluctuations, the system would return to find a temporary balance at a particular point. The big game will continue.

Some Turkish and Russian analysts believe that if Nagorno Karabakh returns to Azerbaijan’s control, a more stable system would be established in the region. This system would meet the needs of all three major regional actors. This position is based on the premise that Armenia is able to hold the system in its current quality and actually control the disputed territory only thanks to the balance between the formal traditional alliance with Russia and the unspoken patron-client relations between the Armenian elites and the Washington establishment.

Taken as a whole, the political crisis in Armenia is just the continuation of the events of “the Arab Spring” and “velvet revolutions”. It has once again confirmed the growth of global economic, demographic, cultural and civilizational issues paradigmatic to the development of civilization over the past 30 years.

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  • EoF

    Big mistake letting this happen in the first place

    • paul ( original )

      I found this report quite difficult to follow. The only real take away
      point that came through strongly for me was that the ‘Armenian Elite’
      works entirely in its own narrow interest according to its own
      values. Although nothing was said in the report and I don’t want to
      let my imagination run away, there was a strong smell of outside
      manipulation operating darkly behind the scenes in these events.

      • Wise Gandalf

        Shitchewing article.

    • Wise Gandalf

      Thanks to former, corrupt leaders. Armenia is bitter poor country. Owned by oligarchs and maffia.

  • Manuel Flores Escobar

    The main reason of the colours revolution and arabs springs…is that people want to emigrate to EU to live on social benefits and EU salaries…even if that means the own destruction of their countries as we have seen in Ukraine,Syria, Libya,Georgia,Moldova and possibly Armenia ( war,independence of territories,massive emigration,loss of industry..)..even if that means the boom of far right parties in EU which rejects inmigrants and beggars!…of course in exchange.. US Deep State and Globalist- Neocons Soro agenda want the counterpart of the NATO( USA) military expasion in those countries!…meanwhile Russia has it cards to play.. 1º Nord Stream , 2º Turkstream ( both allow Russia to cut the gas to east Europe), 3º Syria( dont allow gulf states gas pipelines),4º Iran( geoestrategic ally),5º China ( military partners)!….

    • jako

      An important aspect of the Eurasian worldview is an absolute denial of Western civilization. In the opinion of the Eurasians, the West with its ideology of liberalism is an absolute evil.

      Aleksandr Dugin

      • Wise Gandalf

        And always was wrong and loser viewpoint.

    • Wise Gandalf

      both allow Russia to cut the gas to east Europe

      NOPE. gazprom has long lasting contracts. if will not transport gas, must pay huge money yearly for contracted transport amounts. until 2025.
      moreover, last month the EU pushed gazprom to accept the fact, that the parner countries can sell to third parties gas.

      • Manuel Flores Escobar

        they can buy through German Hub of Nord stream or Turkstream…but NOT through Ukraine as Russia will cut Gas transit there!…so less money to Ukraine because they cannot receive money for transit tax and they have to pay more for reverse gas from other countries!

        • Wise Gandalf

          But the transit tax must pay also in case of zero transzit! That is the hard truth. Therefore told putin 1 week ago, that part of transit will go through ukraine also on the future.

          • Manuel Flores Escobar

            Russia are building North stream 2 and Turkstream to CUT transit gas through Ukraine!..this is the only TRUTH!

          • Wise Gandalf

            ONCE GAIN? YOU STUBBORN INDIO AMASONICO!!!

            the contract for tranzit is for long time, for xyz capacity per year. gazprom MUST pay also in case, when will not send anything. there was built up the pipeline, also for ukrainian money, used ukrainian soil, manytimes good agricultural. therefore are very hard conditions. this is long war, russia can beat (maybe) when the actual contract runs out.

          • Manuel Flores Escobar

            Stupid Eat fast food shit!…first of all..I am Spanish from Spain…second Russia can break this actually contract with Ukraine and nothing happen!..

          • Wise Gandalf

            First, so you are iberian indio. all right, accepted.

            second, not russia. only gazprom. and gazprom this month got some kicks fro the UE. is very small, silent, obedient child. will sell aso in the future gas for ukraine. and decreases the price far ALL Eu member states (halleluyah!). and will not break any contract for crazy brown eyes of manuel flores escobar.

          • Manuel Flores Escobar

            1º No Indios In Iberian peninsula..we are a mix of Arabs, jews and German Goths!..2º Spain was the largest empire of the History, now is the second lenguage….coming soon the first ( include in the USA), Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Nederland, south Italy were part sometime of the Spanish empire!…now tell me where you come from?…

          • matt

            You forgot celts, basque, phunicians, romans, lusitanians and probably some others that were lost in history

  • Rodney Loder

    I think it’s the same or a similar political process that took place in Brazil recently, Temper replaced a progressive Dilmar Rousseff, now he struggles with very little support once the corruption allegations were over and found to be of little importance, but I don’t think Azerbaijan is just going to walk into Nagorno- Karabakh in two weeks, the Soviets sided with the Persian Azeri’s because the Armenians are Religious fanatics, back in 1986 population N-K 145,000 Armenians and 42,000 Azeris and 7,000 Kurds Russians and Assyrians.

    Probably much more Armenians now that won’t give up easily.

    The reason the Soviets supported the Azeris was because of the anti Soviet stances of the Armenians.

    In 2001 Artsakh’s population (Republic of Astakh commonly known as Nagorno-Karabakh) was 95% Armenian, probably much more now, Turkey is supporting the Persians because they hate Armenians blaming Turkey for the Armenian catastrophic suffering of the early 20 th. C. when in fact it was the Masonic Freemasonry organised in the CUP political affiliation that caused the Armenian exodus.

    Azerbaijan went through a popular political upheaval in 2012 but the US was much stronger in the region then and heavily supported the status-quo so the ruling family is still ruling, probably now they could be feeling discomfort.

  • Grigor

    This was a bogus “analysis”. Probably one of the most anti-Armenian “analyses” I have encountered so far. Whoever created the video and wrote the script doesn’t have a good understanding of Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and thus all the conclusions drawn out of ignorance and therefore are fallacious. The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict didn’t occur as a result of liberation of Artsakh. Liberation of Artsakh occurred during the conflict and not as a result of the conflict. Furthermore, Azerbaijani forces cannot defeat Armenian forces in 1-2 weeks. If one could recall the Four Day War of April 2016 (April 1-5), Azerbaijan was the one that announced a unilateral ceasefire and requested the involvement of Russia and other super powers to stop a war that it started itself just after a few days of fighting. Additionally, the revolution in Armenia was not pro-Western or pro-Russian, it was pro-Armenian and was meant to get rid of corruption in the Armenian gov’t and to establish a livable country for all the people in Armenia, a descent country with little to no corruption.

    • hohenstaufen

      Subrscribe to this… I would say a shity “analysis”, based on SF facts. Up until now, azery lost everytime so it’s kind of weird that the author think that in 1-2 weeks the NK will be taken :) .

      Too bad for SF that in the last year and a half the quality of analysis presented here droped dramatically, and are so biased and full of errors and lies.
      By becoming a worse version of the rt shit will not increase audience :( .

      • Grigor

        Correct, the analysis is full of baloney. The previous ruling gov’t of Armenia was illegitimate which won elections based on electoral fraud, therefore they didn’t have the legitimacy necessary to speak on behalf of the people and resolve matters of national and international importance. It was also very corrupt to the point that their corruption endangered the national security of Armenia (including Artsakh) which resulted in significant losses during Four Day War. Losing 130 soldiers in 4 days is a significant loss for Armenia despite the fact that loses incurred by Azerbaijan were significantly larger and despite the fact that they couldn’t bear to stop Armenian counteroffensive if it was allowed to proceed…If southfront continues to publish such b.s. about Armenia I will start to treat this source as a “fake news”, an attempt at false propaganda. Who said that Armenia has only 4 options (LOL) and who said that 4 options presented by southfront have any merit ??? bunch of b.s. LOL

    • Horace Lacondeta

      This is probably why the “analysis” is not signed. Anonymity is convenient when writting such things as “Azerbaijan could retake Karabakh in 1 – 2 weeks.” This would be hilarious if Southfront didnt expect us to donate money for that kind of joke.

      War is not stock exchange. There is a reverse past performance disclaimer and 25 years ago Azerbaijan was not only defeated but humiliated. Not later than 2016, the offensive lasted only 4 days and only resulted heavy Azeri losses, confirmed both by Russians ans Americans sources.

      Who seriously believes that Azerbaijan stands a single chance?

  • lovethemapples

    Nothing will change.
    1. Political – moving westward will guarantee loss of NK to Azerbaijan and that itself is a political suicide in Armenia, which has been witnessed before.
    2. Economic – the reason for poverty is more in blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan than corruption. Georgia eliminated corruption in a similar revolutionist way, did they become 2nd Switzerland? Georgian economy still depends on Azerbaijani and Turkish investment.
    Blockade can be lifted by resolution of NK conflict in favor of Azerbaijan = political suicide.
    3. Society – elimination of corruption will certainly make people happier. But will they keep emigrating? We can’t know yet.
    Basically nothing will change.

    • Wise Gandalf

      the reason for poverty is more in blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan than corruption

      corruption is on the frst, second, third, fourth, … , thousandth place.

      • lovethemapples

        Corruption is the source of social inequality. In order to give bribe money should be generated with the economic activity. For economy, a country needs to have competitive products, and transportation costs affect the competitiveness of the products.
        Not only export but import as well. Lets say cement, more you produce, less cost you will have per ton. If Turkish cement producers take over Georgian market, Armenia will not be able to sell, consequently produce the same volume. Production cost goes up, Armenia imposes trade tariffs, to protect local producers from Iranian export in Armenian market, as a result price of cement in Armenia becomes more expensive than in neighboring countries creating a real estate bauble. Meaning the price is more than it is supposed to be. And if you noticed it can happen without the participation of monopoly/oligopoly, and even in a total competitive market.
        The same can happen in any industry. Another big problem is that Armenia has no direct access to its main trading partners. Which creates logistical challenge and consequently price increase unrelated to the value of the product.
        Though Iran could be a great market for Armenian enterprises to enter, but what Armenia is famous for worldwide? Liquor (my assumption), not a great product for Iranian market.
        Anyways to predict the success of the Armenian revolution, one needs to look at the economy of Georgia (assuming that Armenian government will successfully create free market economy). Georgia, a transit country with direct access to the international water.

  • Garen Hart

    total nonsense. whoever wrote this has no understanding of the region and people living there. there is no one sentence in this article worth of discussion. most likely one of those “specialists” on the region paid by turks/azeris.

  • Baron Von MuleBanger

    Azerbaijan should take their land back,it rightfully belongs to Azeris. Even the name of the contested location “Karabakh” is of Turkic origin.

  • Sinbad2

    The US applying pressure to Russia, the only way America knows.

  • Gregory Casey

    Whatever happens in and with Armenia, I wish Armenians well and hope you attain an open society …….. as in, an open political society together with an open and transparent civil society …… including in the apparatus of the State, its Civil & Public Service, the Army, Police and Judiciary. Unfortunately, economic growth and increases in pay for all in society will not happen without investment in education!! Above all else education is and will remain the foundation upon which Armenian Society will grow and prosper.