Its declared policy of “complementarity” between Russia and the West notwithstanding, Armenia entered on April 26-27 into an agreement to form a “joint group of forces” with the Russian troops based in the country (see the Monitor, May 1). That step places Armenia on a common footing with Belarus as a military ally of Russia. In some significant ways, however, Yerevan has outdone Minsk in developing the alliance with Moscow.
Unlike Belarus, Armenia hosts Russian troops and arsenals on national territory. Second, Karabakh provides a sanctuary immune to effective international verification, and in which Russian-supplied weaponry is believed to exceed the regional ceilings set by the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). To some extent, even Armenia proper serves that purpose, as illustrated by the transfer last November of seventy armored combat vehicles from a Russian base in Georgia to one in Armenia, violating the CFE treaty. And, third, the Russian forces, forward-based in Armenia, serve directly or indirectly as an instrument of political pressure on neighboring, Western-oriented countries. An analogous situation would develop in Belarus if Russian forces were to be introduced there opposite neighboring Poland, Lithuania or Latvia. While President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Moscow do not intend–in the foreseeable future–to station Russian troops in Belarus, the Armenian leadership deems the hosting of Russian troops a fundamental and unquestioned dimension of Armenia’s policy.
On the political level, recent actions and statements by Armenian leaders seem to be voiding the “complementarity” principle of any practical meaning. A recent interview by President Robert Kocharian and two concurrent ones by Foreign Affairs Minister Vardan Oskanian illustrate this tendency. In his remarks for the Paris daily Le Figaro before a visit to France, Kocharian openly regretted the collapse of Soviet power in the South Caucasus from the standpoint of Armenia’s national interests as he sees them. “For better or for worse, a regional security system did exist in Soviet times. The Soviet collapse changed our situation. I do not believe that Armenia, Georgia or Azerbaijan could by themselves resist the activities of great powers in the region. We, therefore, have done the minimum necessary for providing a balance,” the president said with reference to the stationing of Russian forces in Armenia.
Kocharian’s remarks seem however surprisingly to imply that Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s Western orientation requires Armenia to reach for a Russian counterbalance. That suggestion ties in with Oskanian’s April 23 and 27 statements, criticizing Georgia for developing ties with Turkey. “The balance could be disrupted if Georgian-Turkish cooperation deepens,” Oskanian stated. Georgia, he went on, is becoming “dependent on Turkey” and “is being pulled, perhaps without realizing it, into a Turkish-Azerbaijan-Georgia axis” against Armenian interests.
Tbilisi, for its part, regards the relationship with Turkey as crucial to Georgia’s own economic recovery and military modernization, as well as counterbalance to the Russia’s military presence in the region. The United States and NATO encourage the development of Turkish-Georgian cooperation for reasons wholly unrelated to Armenia, and which may in fact benefit Armenia if that country and Russia join the regional security pact, proposed by Georgia and Turkey. Responding to Oskanian’s remarks, President Eduard Shevardnadze stated that Georgian-Turkish relations do not in any way affect Armenian interests. By the same token, Shevardnadze stated, Georgia seeks equally friendly relations with Azerbaijan and with Armenia. The president confirmed Georgia’s position against creating military alliances in the South Caucasus and in favor of dismantling the existing military alliances–a reference to the Russian military bases in Armenia. The spirit of Oskanian’s latest remarks is somewhat reminiscent of his attack last November on GUUAM from the standpoint of Moscow’s interests in the region (Le Figaro, April 28; Mediamax, April 23; Respublika Armenia, April 27; Prime News, April 30; see the Monitor, January 23, February 1, 13, April 12, 25, May 1; Fortnight in Review, February 2, April 27).
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