Arkady Dubnov

RusData Dialine - Russian Press Digest
April 27, 2009 Monday

Armenia and Turkey announced yesterday that they planned to normalize
their relations, which includes opening up the border. Implementation
of this plan could seriously damage Russia's influence in
Armenia. Nagorny-Karabakh is the oldest frozen conflict in the South
Caucasus. Armenia's longest border (with Azerbaijan) looks like a
frontline, and its border with Turkey could not be described as porous.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkey has regarded
Azerbaijan as its main ally in the Caucasus and supported its claim
over restoring its territorial integrity, which implies regaining
control of Nagorny-Karabakh.

Apart from a tiny window to Iran, Armenia's only other open border
is with Georgia, which currently has problems in relations with Russia.

Russia and Iran have been Armenia's main economic partners since 1993,
with annual trade at $700 million and $200 million respectively. Trade
with Turkey has mostly been conducted in the gray zone, and accounts
for 25% of Armenia's foreign trade, according to unofficial estimates.

If Turkey and Armenia open their borders to each other, Armenia will
not have any serious reasons to continue to lean heavily on Russia
in its foreign policy.

The possibility of an open border is a premium offered by Turkey
during the bargaining over Nagorny-Karabakh, where Russia is the main
arbiter. Russia does not have a similar asset to offer to Armenia,
especially after the Georgian-South Ossetian war in August 2008,
which has made Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey more cautious in their
dealings with Russia.

In this light, the recent meetings between Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President
Serzh Sargsyan could be an attempt to snatch the initiative and jump
into the train bound for Turkey.

Nagorny-Karabakh, which Russia has used to keep Armenia and Azerbaijan
in the wake of its policies, has so far prevented the Kremlin from
formulating a stance that would suit both adversaries. If Turkey
finds a solution, Russia's influence in the South Caucasus will be
limited to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.