Is Russia a Friend or a Foe?


By Andranik Khachadoorian

Over the past few years Armenia has, both on the political and economic level followed an increasingly pro-European path. The EU finances dozens of NGO’s in Armenia that promote the European way of life. The Armenian government itself has on multiple occasions declared that Armenia is an integral part of the European family.While Western countries have mainly been helping Armenia reform and modernize its state structures, Russian-Armenian relations have equally developed over the years, especially in military and energy affairs.

Up until today, the relationship between Russia and the EU has remained rather tense; declaring itself a Eurasian country, Russia is trying to maintain and regain lost influence in the Post-Soviet space. Having already launched a Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, it is now trying to develop a European type of economic and political union, called the Eurasian Union. The EU has also become an active player in the Post-Soviet space, having launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) initiative governing its relationship with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP also provides the platform for the negotiation of the Association Agreements with the aforementioned countries that are also members of the WTO.

EU Association Agreement or Eurasian Union?

Today, Armenia has become one of the battle grounds where the geo-strategic rivals, Russia and the EU, are fighting for influence. Since 2010, Armenia has been negotiating a new Association Agreement with the European Union, which was intended to replace the EU-Armenia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) signed in 1999. The PCA allowed for wide-ranging cooperation in the areas of political dialogue, trade, investment, economy, lawmaking and culture. The new Association Agreement is intended to deepen Armenia's political association and economic integration with the EU; including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) that should reinforce regulatory approximation leading to convergence with EU laws and standards. Thus, the Association Agreement can be seen as one treaty with two parts; the (i) political and (ii) the trade related and regulatory framework.

At first sight, it seemed the Armenian government was making haste to sign the Association Agreement in Vilnius this November. However, President Serzh Sargsyan’s announcement on a visit to the Kremlin that Armenia intends to join the Customs Union and subsequently the Eurasian Economic Union (the continuation of the Customs Union) came as a surprise.

Some Armenian officials stated that the Association Agreement could be signed without the economic (DCFTA) component, however Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Štefan Füle made it clear that this is not possible, as the two parts of the Association Agreement are an integral part of one treaty and cannot be separated.

Lessons from the Past

During the Fourth General Congress of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which took place in 1907, one of the main items on the agenda was the “Caucasian Plan,” which called for Armenians to struggle against Tsarist tyranny and buildup socialism in the Caucasus. Armenian military commander, Andranik Ozanyan, opposed this plan arguing that it would weaken the struggle of Armenians trying to liberate their motherland, since Armenia would have too many enemies at the same time; Armenia shouldn’t try to alienate Russia as well. After the adoption of the plan, hestated that, “by adopting this (plan), we have already half-buried the Armenian Cause.” Unfortunately, time proved him right.

The Armenian leadership at that time did not have the political foresight and chose to fight two sides. The Armenian leadership today seems to have no political foresight by trying to constantly please all sides. The similarity between the above-mentioned examples is clear; one remains stuck in the middle. Margaret Thatcher wisely said, “standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous, since you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.”

Armenia, geographically located in one of the most politically unstable and dangerous regions in the world, is not able to survive on its own. Turkey is continuing its cultural genocide and is tryingto suffocate Armenia by all means. Azerbaijan is spending billions acquiring military armament and is preparing its population for war. It is of utmost importance that Armenia’s foreign policy orientation should be in line with the core issue it faces today, namely its security aspect. Russia is and will remain the only country that is able and willing to provide Armenia with significant security guarantees. As the following proverb aptly says, “better a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.”

The only reason why Turkey refrained from attacking Armenia in 1993 was their concern as to Russia’s response. The only reason why Azerbaijan did not attack Armenia during the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 was because of their concern as to Russia’s response. Accordingly, one of the main reasons Armenia exists today and is not overrun by its hostile neighbors is not because Armenia’s adversaries are afraid of “Christian” Europe’s response – we all know how they responded when TurkeyattackedCyprus – but because they are afraid of Russia’s response.

In 1918 Diana Agabeg Apcar, Armenia’s first female diplomat, wrote the following “…the Armenians on their part have also been guilty since 1878 onwards of two gigantic errors. They have trusted and hoped in “Christian Governments.” The denseness of the Armenian mind in this connection has been amazing. Armenians have been accredited with native shrewdness but certainly no people could have proved more astonishingly stupid than they have proved themselves on this particular point. The other gigantic error of which the Armenians have been guilty ofis that the nation as a whole did not support the Armenian revolutionaries.”

Recklessly choosing to follow EU’s course and sorisk losing Russia’s security guarantees, would be like promising the Netherlands prospective economic gains on the condition that they remove the dams that protect their country from flooding.

Coinciding Interests

Why should Armenia try to develop a Western model of “democracy” – meaning being obligated to follow economic and political policies dictated by the EU – if Armenia’s economy, according to a research conducted by the EU, will grow only an extra 2.3% in the long-run. Is it really worth antagonizing Russia and losing its much needed security guarantees, all so Armenia could possibly gain an extra €146 million per annum? The Armenians in Russia send more than €1 billion in remittances to Armeniaeach year;Russia could easily decide in the short-run notto turn a blind eye to the illegal Armenian immigrants working in the Russian Federation. Armenia could lose much more than the sorry amount of economic gainthat is predictedifArmenia would sign the DCFTA.

With whom does Armenia share more coinciding interests? Over the past century up untilthe present day, the interests of the West have largely been directly opposed to that of the Armenians. For the West (and Turkey), a weak Syria is in their best interests; for Armenia it would be disastrous. For the West, a weak and destroyed Iran would be in their interests; for Armenia it would be terrible. For Armenia, the opening of the Russian-Armenian railway and the construction of an Armenian-Iranian railway section would be heaven sent, as products from Russia would reach the Persian Gulf; for the West, this development is seen as highly undesirable.For the West (and Turkey), a Caucasus with a weak or no Russian presence is their main strategic goal, for the Armenians it would mean their extinction.

It’s like catching fish; the West tries to lure Armenia away from its safe environment (strong Russian-Armenian relations) by promising all sorts of aid, and when Armenia is lured away far enough, let it be swallowed by ashark waiting close by(Turkey, Azerbaijan). One has to be really naïve to believe that the Westtook into consideration Georgia’s national interests when they were luring them away from Russia; they merely wanted to weaken Russia’s presence in the region.Because of the selfish agenda of the Westand Tbilisi’s shortsighted politicians, Georgia now haspermanently lost control of 20% of its territory.

Thinking in terms of interests, the calculus is simple; Armenia shares significantly more interests in the region with Russia than with the EU or the U.S. Armenia plays an essential part in providing security to Russia’s vulnerable North Caucasus region, curbing Turkish, Western, and Iranian influence in the Caucasus. These coinciding interests need to be fully exploited, which will be difficult to do ifArmenia alienates itself from Russia by trying to join a different economic and political union.

If Israel manages to obtain tremendous amounts of economic and military support from America by “convincing” themthatwhat is in Israel’s best interests is also in the U.S’s best interests – even when it is not – one would think Armenians would have an easier time receivingsimilar support from Russia,profitingfrom the fact that most of Russia’s interests in the region coincide with that of Armenia’s. Sadly, this potential is not fully used; both the Armenian government and the Armenian Diaspora are to blame for not making closer Russo-Armeno ties a pan-national priority.

Anti-Russian Sentiments

Imagine for a moment Russia givingeconomicand military aid worth billions of dollarstoTurkey. Imagine Russia stationingatomic bombs in Turkey. Imagine Russia supporting Islamic fundamentalists in Syria, leading to dozens of Armenians being massacred. Imagine Russia not recognizing the Armenian genocide. Imagine Russian presidential candidatespromising to recognize the Armenian genocide, but never following throughwith their promises.Imagine Russia actively sponsoring and supporting a violent group of activists in Armenia who are grabbing every opportunity to clash with the police and spread social unrest, leading to a divided society and an unstable political environment. Wouldn’t all hell break loose in Armenia? Thousands of Russophobes would surface and speak up against Russia and demonstrate in front of the Russian Embassy.

If in the above story, you replace Russia with the United States, you obtain a true story. Why isn’t anyone in Armenia protesting against the anti-Armenian actions taken by the U.S./EU? You see Russophobes demonstrating in front of the Russian Embassy for things of much less importance.Didn’t several so-called analysts criticize Russia, when Russian border guardsprotecting Armenia’s border with Turkey, shot a Turkish shepherd? The “bad” Russians were lying about the incident; they were trying to further provoke Armenian-Turkish “relations,” some political analysts like AraPapian even saw a Russian conspiracy in this. However, whenthe Turks admitted that the shepherd used a weapon and shot at the border guards first, the Russophobes suddenly turned silent, as they couldn’t criticize Russia anylonger.

When a Western-supported feminist group ridiculed the Russian Orthodox Church and insulted millions of itsworshippers,a group of Armenians – mostly those linked to Western organizations – went todemonstrate in front of the Russian Embassy in Yerevanto demand their release. However, when in the United Stateshundreds of innocent protesterswere severely beaten and put in jail during the Occupy Wall Street protests, not a single Armenian was seendemonstrating in front of the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan.While the U.S. continues to support Islamic fundamentalists, continues to support Turkey, continues its policy of genocide denial,nobody in Armenia is seen demonstrating in front of the U.S. Embassy(the new spokesperson of the US State Department, Doug Frantz, is a notorious Genocide denier). Perhaps it’s just easy to make Armenians forget the anti-Armenian policy of the Americansby letting U.S. Ambassador to Armenia – John A. Heffern – occasionallyclean a fewparks in Yerevan.

It seems that this phenomenon of blaming those who protect you, whileremaining silent about those who harm you, is quite an Armenian trait. General Andranik was often blamed for all the troubles that befell the Armenians in Western Armenia, all because he took up arms to protect the Armenian peasants from total annihilation. Yet again, Armenians arebiting the hand that is feeding them.

The Way Forward

The support given by the EU to dozens of its agents and Western-leaning NGO’sin Armenia, spreading pro-Western and anti-Russian propaganda, is leading to a dangerous phenomenon; while Moscow may be controlling Armenia's head, the West, by using their ample experience in information warfare, is gradually beginning to exert control over Armenia’s body. If it continues this way, pretty soon the head and the body will be going separate ways, harming Armenia’s statehood and hampering its development.

Armeniansshouldn’tgive free-play to all the Western operatives seeking to undermine Yerevan's ties with Moscow. For Armenia’s own interests, the spread of blatant anti-Russian sentiments should be countered and the hypocrisy of what the West promises and how it actually acts (most of its actions running against Armenia’s interests) should be made clear to the Armenian public.

Azerbaijan’s oil production levelshave reached a peak, its economic growth hassignificantly declined and the socio-economic conditions are worsening day by day. As a result, Azerbaijan’s significance in international politics is decreasing. IlhamAliyev may find himself forced to resort to drastic measures, including unleashinga full-scale war againstArtsakhto maintain his authoritarian rule over Azerbaijan. Taking this intoaccount, would it be wiseto antagonize the Kremlin so that Azerbaijan could then take over Armenia’s role as Russia’s sole “ally” in the Caucasus? The Turks obtained control of Western Armenia, fooling the Bolsheviks by promising them to become their allies in the region; it would be naïve to believe that such a thing could not happen again.

In the critical times ahead,it is of crucial importance to have the fullpolitical and military support of a foreign power, and the only foreign power that can provide this kind of support is the Russian Federation. Both the government of Armenia and the Armenian Diasporahave wasted too much precious time pursuing Western fairytales. Armenians need to concentrate all their time and effortsinto developingthe North-South axis, into the successful creation of the Eurasian Union that can thenbe used to negotiate even more lucrative deals with the EU and better reflect Armenia’s interests in the region, into increasing Russian-Armenian military ties, into raising the effectiveness of the CSTO, into the development of Artsakh by providing for all its needs, into reaching out to emerging markets to the East and into thedevelopment ofa genuine civil society that works for the benefit of the Armenian people, promoting an Armenian agenda instead of anAmerican or European one.

Listening and adhering tothe West’s complaints on how to increase LGBT rights, decrease the power of the Armenian Church, destroy traditional family-ties, support the propaganda spread by Mormons, Jehovah’sWitnesses and other foreign-funded religious groups, promote individualism, feminism and consumerism, shouldn’t be the most important issueson Armenia’s plate.This is not the time to play a dangerous game and risk alienatingRussia, after which Armenia will again find itselfbeing stuck in the middle; that is, in the middle of nowhere.Since the Caucasus is, and in the foreseeable future, will remainRussia’s zone of influence, Armenians should be wondering only one thing; dothe Russiansconsider Armeniansa friend or a foe?

Andranik Khachadoorian is an Analyst of Eurasian Geopolitics at the Political Developments Research Center (PDRC),Yerevan, Armenia.

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