Politkom.ru , Russia
Nov 11 2009

Armenia In Search of Geopolitical Advantage

by Sergey Markedonov


On 5 November 2009, the NATO Secretary General's Special
Representative in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Robert Simmons,
visited Yerevan. The program schedule of the high-level NATO
official's visit was rather heavy. Simmons met with the president of
the republic, Serge Sarkisyan, as well as with the secretary of the
Armenian Security Council, Artur Bagdasaryan, the head of the MFA
[Ministry of Foreign Affairs] (and one of the signers of the Zurich
Protocols with Turkey), Edward Nalbandyan, Speaker of Parliament Ovik
Abramyan, and Minister of Defense Seyran Oganyan. Aside from the
general politically correct statements about the need for progress in
the matter of Nagorno-Karabakh regulation and Armenian-Turkish
reconciliation, the NATO secretary general's special representative
drew several principally important conclusions regarding Armenia's
relations with NATO...

According to Simmons, "in the past year, relations between NATO and
Armenia have developed very dynamically." Therefore, the special
representative expressed "satisfaction" at this process, because,
according to his observations, "these relations enjoy the support of
broad strata of Armenian society." Furthermore, high-level officials
of the Republic of Armenia also expressed their satisfaction at the
level of cooperation with the leading military-political bloc of the
present-day world. According to the chief diplomat of Armenia, Edward
Nalbandyan, Armenia intends to continue to strengthen mutually
advantageous cooperation with the Alliance. The secretary of the
republic's Security Council, Artur Bagdasaryan, was more specific in
his appraisal of the directions of this cooperation. He noted that,
within the scope of the program of Individual Partnership (IPAP
[Individual Partnership Action Plan]), important reforms are being
implemented in his country in the sphere of defense, security, and
emergency situations. And finally, President of Armenia Serge
Sarkisyan emphasized that the relations of his country and NATO "are
beneficial, instructive and necessary not only in the military
sphere."

The visit by the NATO special representative to Yerevan proved to be
outside the focus of journalistic attention. On the background of two
difficult processes (Armenian-Turkish reconciliation, which after
signing of the two protocols, has somewhat "wound down," and the
Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, which, it appears, is, on the
contrary, just revving up), the visit of the NATO official appears as
a not very important event. Especially since this trip did not bring
any geopolitical breakthroughs of irreversible importance. And
Simmons' visits to Yerevan are themselves not much of a rarity.
Ultimately, the job of NATO secretary general's special representative
to two vital regions of Eurasia obligates him to this. But all of this
is only at first glance. And the problem here is not that Armenia is
beginning to re-orient itself toward the West or toward the structures
of the Alliance, forgetting its allegiance to the CSTO. This visit
clearly shows certain important regularities in the foreign policy of
not only Armenia, but also of all the post-Soviet republics, which are
very often ignored both by politicians, and by the expert community,
and by journalists (who are largely the re-translators of political
and political studies theses). We will note that these regularities
are often ignored, either out of folly, or consciously (based on
propagandistic considerations). As a result, an agenda is formed that
is not entirely adequate, with greatly heightened expectations (and
sometimes even overstated goals). The implementation of such an agenda
is generally impossible or difficult. But attempts to make this
"fairytale" into reality often make it difficult for Russia to retain
its positions even where it must have them by definition. Therefore,
Simmons' visit to the capital of Armenia should be viewed as a good
informational pretext for holding a substantive discussion about the
aforementioned regularities.

In the course of his last visit to Yerevan, Simmons repeatedly tried
to attract the attention of Armenian politicians and journalists to
the following thesis: Armenia's cooperation with NATO does not mean
geopolitical competition with Russia, or edging Russia out of the
Transcaucasus. Meanwhile, Moscow has already long viewed any contacts
by any post-Soviet republic with NATO practically as a challenge to
Russian foreign policy. We cannot say that such conclusions were
entirely unfounded (especially in connection with the situation
surrounding Georgia and Ukraine). However, often in Russian diplomatic
circles there is an exaggerated re-appraisal of both the potential of
NATO (where there are both harsh opponents of Russia, and countries
that actively cooperate with our country), and the West in general.
All of the foreign policy actions on the territory of the former USSR
are viewed as head-to-head opposition between the Russian Federation
and the West. Nevertheless, there is no such frontal opposition. And
there are several reasons and explanations for this. First of all,
Russia itself is interested in cooperation with the Alliance (of
course, not out of altruistic considerations, but based on its own
national interests). This explains the transit of military cargo for
Afghanistan, and the opportunities for broad cooperation in Central
Asia. In this sense, Russian diplomacy has an understanding of the
fact that national interests do not contradict cooperation with the
Alliance, if only because this is the largest military-political bloc
in the world, which has common boundaries with your country. However,
Moscow does not have the same understanding as applied to other
post-Soviet republics, and this is based on a lack of understanding of
the new realities. We (whether we like it or not, that is another
question that does not bear direct relation to this matter) are
already faced not with subjects of our own state, but with nationally
independent formations, whose views, by simple definition, cannot
coincide with the positions of the largest power in Eurasia.

Meanwhile, the former brothers of the Russian Federation from the USSR
are following the path of partnership with NATO certainly not out of
selfless love for "democratic values." If we speak of Armenia (the
main subject of our article), its interest toward the Alliance is
explained by several reasons. The first may be viewed as a certain
neutralization of Azerbaijani influence in the West in general.
Azerbaijan has repeatedly emphasized its North Atlantic vector of
foreign policy. In this connection, Yerevan understands perfectly well
that, if it gives this arena to Baku, then the Balkan situation may be
reproduced in the South Caucasus, when a strong military-political
bloc will act on someone's side. By cooperating with NATO, Yerevan is
thereby placing the Alliance in the position of choosing between it
and Baku. This position is easier to attain, because Armenia and
Azerbaijan are in approximately the same category of cooperation with
the Alliance (they are working in the IPAP project). And since Russia
does not have any common boundaries with Armenia, the fairly good
relations with one of the "poles" of international policy add their
"two cents" to the stabilization of the situation in the South
Caucasus. Unlike Georgia, Azerbaijan does not have a 100-percent "NATO
factor" standing behind it, which keeps (along with the CSTO factor)
Baku from implementing those ideas which the leadership of that
country expresses from time to time. The second reason is associated
with the CSTO. It is obvious that Armenia joined this association not
to be drawn into the Central Asian agenda. Yerevan also understood
perfectly well that Kazakhstan, Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan would not
help it resolve the Karabakh problem to its advantage.

However, an alliance with Moscow and joint protection of the Armenian
border with Russian border guards and military (especially after the
"5-day war") is a rather reliable factor. But without common
boundaries with the Russian Federation, it cannot be the only one, and
concentration of efforts only on the CSTO alone is fraught with
greater activity in Central Asia, in which Armenia is not very
interested. However, under conditions of Armenia's isolation (until
the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border), NATO is a sort of
additional "auditory window" for that country. The third reason is
associated with the domestic situation, and specifically with the
modernization of the Armenian national army (this may be realized only
with consideration of all the leading international military
experience, including Russian, Soviet and NATO achievements). This
explains Yerevan's simultaneous interest both in the CSTO, with Moscow
at its head, and in NATO, where Washington plays the decisive role.
And Armenia does not want to choose between them. And it probably will
not do so. Then again, stepped up contacts with NATO may pose Yerevan
with practically the same question as the country's membership in the
CSTO. We are talking about using Armenian peacekeepers in Afghanistan
(an important goal for global policy, but hardly of any great current
importance for Armenia).

[translated from Russian]