The escalating Russian-Western struggle in Armenia has become more evident than ever due to the developments following the clashes on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on September 13, 2022. As a result of the conflicts, the Yerevan Government requested that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), in which Armenia is a member, to intervene. This request, however, was denied since the borders were not clearly defined, and there was no attack on Armenian territory. In light of this development, Armenia has adopted a stance that criticizes the CSTO in general and Russia in particular.
The Speaker of the United States (US) House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia around this time. She made public remarks indicating that the US administration supports Yerevan. This has been perceived as an effort by the US to reclaim the power it lost as a result of the loss of influence of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group in the South Caucasus after the Second Karabakh War. In fact, pro-Western politician and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan stated that the Minsk Group should be activated. In other words, it promotes Russia’s involvement in the area as well as that of the US and France. This may enable the Armenian diasporas to be effective in the negotiation processes, and therefore, Yerevan may increase pressure through Washington and Paris.
Pashinyan’s strategy is founded on the idea that since the day his nation attained independence, the Armenian people have only experienced poverty as a result of their isolation from the rest of the world caused by the occupation in Karabakh. Moreover, it is obvious that pro-occupation policies have made Armenia dependent on Russia and Iran. In this sense, the Prime Minister of Armenia aims to become more open to the West and is looking for ways to balance bilateral ties between Iran and Russia by working with the US and France. As a matter of fact, this conclusion is confirmed by Armen Grigoryan, the President of the Armenian National Security Council, who was going to visit Washington on September 26, 2022, immediately after Pelosi. Similar to this, on September 26, 2022, Pashinyan visited Paris and met with French President Emmanuel Macron. The two leaders spoke about the developments in Karabakh.
Considering everything that has been said, there are two conceivable interpretations for Yerevan’s communications with Paris and Washington. First, considering the situation from the standpoint of Armenia, the following could be said: the Pashinyan administration attempted to send a message to the pro-Russian opposition in domestic politics by demonstrating that it received support from the West; it tried to balance out Russia, which was not that interested in the developments in Karabakh as a result of the Ukrainian War; the administration is looking for a solution to sign an agreement regarding the war it lost on the battlefield with the least amount of loss possible and upped the stakes against the Baku government during the negotiations with Azerbaijan to sign a sustainable peace.
The approaches used by the US and France must be mentioned in relation to the second dimension of these interactions. Pelosi’s trip to Armenia in particular has made it very evident that Washington and Paris are working together to boost Western influence in the South Caucasus. Because of the conflict in Ukraine, the West observes that Russia is not very engaged in the Karabakh Conflict. For instance, Moscow made no real effort to achieve a ceasefire during the clashes that started on September 13, 2022 and lasted for several years. Western nations now believe that Moscow lacks the energy to handle fresh crisis situations. The US also wants to turn this situation into an opportunity. In actuality, the goal of the collective West, notably the US, is to expand Western influence in the post-Soviet zone. In this regard, the US and France are attempting to get engaged in the Karabakh war negotiations because they saw the Pashinyan administration’s desire to reduce their nation’s reliance on Russia as an opportunity for their own end. In other words, through discussions with the Pashinyan administration, Washington and Paris are making preparations for the OSCE Minsk Group’s return.
In reality, Macron’s call to Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, after his conversations with Pashinyan, informing him of the meeting, serves as the most significant evidence of this plan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France announced that France’s Special Envoy for the South Caucasus Brice Roquefeuil, will also visit Baku and Yerevan, adding that it “will continue to facilitate the search for solutions to all difficulties through discussions.”
On the other hand, it can be said that the US has a similar approach despite Pelosi’s provocative messages in Yerevan. Because head of Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration Hikmet Hajiyev’s visit to Washington took place at the same time as Grigoryan’s. During his visit, Hajiyev had crucial interactions with the US think tanks. Additionally, Mr. Hajiyev and Grigoryan met through the efforts of Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor. After the meeting, Mr. Hajiyev said, “We thank the US for arranging the meeting and efforts to ensure sustainable regional peace.” In other words, the US-France duo is taking advantage of Pashinyan’s pro-Western stance by acting as a mediator in the negotiations over the Baku-Yerevan line and limiting Russian influence in the South Caucasus.
While these developments are taking place Russia is sending the message that it will not accept losing its influence in its near neighborhood or sharing it with Western entities notwithstanding the conflict in Ukraine. Given this situation, it is possible that Moscow will act through the Karabakh Clan, a group of politicians that support the occupation and have kept Armenia cut off from the West for a long time. “We need to persuade Russia and finish our security system in collaboration with Iran”, Robert Kocharyan expressed, known as one of the most powerful leaders of the Karabakh Clan. One should not disregard what he said because Kocharyan’s statements make it plain that the Moscow government may exert pressure through the Karabakh Clan on the Pashinyan government, which looks to the West. Occasionally occurring anti-Pashinyan protests in Armenia are another indication of this.
On the other hand, it is also important that Kocharyan mentioned Iran, one of Russia’s most important regional allies regarding its anti-Western stance. During the conflicts that began on September 13, 2022, the Tehran government has made it clear that it will not agree to any border adjustments, as it states in nearly every conflict. Although it does not say it outright, Tehran implies that it opposes the opening of the Zangezur Corridor in this statement. This indicates that Moscow can pursue diverse actions through Iran in the South Caucasus at a time when it is focused on Ukraine, demonstrating its ability to share tasks with its primary partner in the region.
In conclusion, the Pashinyan administration turned to the US and France in accordance with its long-standing conception of foreign policy after it was unable to obtain the backing it sought from Moscow in the boundary disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is evident that the presence of sizable Armenian diasporas in the relevant nations has a bearing on this approach. Accordingly, it can be concluded that Pelosi’s trip to Yerevan significantly benefited Pashinyan by bolstering domestic public support. On the other hand, it could be claimed that Pelosi intended to increase support from the Armenian diaspora while she runs for the by-elections. But at the heart of the problem are efforts made by both Paris and Washington to assume a mediating role in the Karabakh conflict. Rather, the goal of the duo is to encircle Russia through the South Caucasus as well. Moscow, on the other hand, demonstrates its ability to influence events by working with its ally Iran and the Karabakh Clan. On the other hand, all of these developments indicate that the struggle for Russian-Western influence in Armenian politics in particular and in the South Caucasus in general will intensify even further.
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