Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 107

The struggle for power which has convulsed Armenia in recent months has gone hand in hand with a rift between rival political camps over foreign policy. President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Affairs Minister Vardan Oskanian appeared to strive for a balanced course between Russia and the West and to explore the possibilities of accommodation with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Kocharian’s rivals in the government and the military stood for a continued, one-sided reliance on Russia, even at the risk of isolating Armenia within the region and from the West. Moscow did not openly back either of the rival groups.

Having just emerged victorious in the power struggle, Kocharian and the Foreign Affairs Ministry seem at this point to be backpedaling into Russia’s orbit. That was the message contained in Kocharian’s May 28 interview with the Moscow press, televised live by Russia’s MIR Television–nominally a CIS channel (Snark, Armenpress, Noyan-Tapan, Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 29-31). In his wide-ranging interview, Kocharian adjusted or even retracted some of the views he had only recently expressed on regional issues and which differed–at times markedly–from Russia’s positions.

Kocharian re-embraced the Moscow-invented concept of a “common state” as the basis for settling the conflict with Azerbaijan over Karabakh. The Armenian president, moreover, dismissed even the minimalist critique which deems that concept vague and fraught with potential disputes over interpretation. Kocharian’s stance marks a step back from the flexibility he had appeared to display in response to Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev’s own flexibility during their face-to-face negotiations last year away from Russia’s shadow. Kocharian and his Foreign Affairs Ministry are aware of the fact that “common state” condemns the negotiations to deadlock, unless Moscow has its way with Azerbaijan and Georgia. Indeed, not only Baku but also Tbilisi–in the negotiations on Abkhazia–consider that concept a recipe for conflict manipulation by Russia in the guise of arbiter.

The Armenian president drew closer to Moscow’s position on a stability and security pact for the South Caucasus. Barely a few weeks ago, Kocharian had subscribed to the essence of the Turkish, Azerbaijani, Georgian and Western positions, which call for a pact among eight parties on an equal footing, to wit: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as regional countries; Russia, Turkey and Iran as immediate neighbors to the region; and the United States and the European Union by virtue of their interests in the region and their close ties to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Dubbed “3+3+2,” that format had resoundingly been endorsed by Kocharian during his visit to Tbilisi, on which occasion the Armenian president also endorsed President Eduard Shevardnadze for reelection against Shevardnadze’s pro-Russian opponents. But Kocharian made a turnabout in his May 28 interview in Moscow. He called for the participation by the regional countries and their immediate neighbors “first of all”–a formula which implies a secondary role for Western powers as geographic non-neighbors; and he urged “a very significant role for Russia in such a system.”

If meant to hint at a privileged role for Russia, that wording seemed to find corroboration in Kocharian’s position on Russia’s military presence in the South Caucasus. He argued in his interview that Russian military bases are not only compatible with stability in the South Caucasus, but an indispensable “guarantee of stability,” and that it should form an integral part of any regional security pact. Kocharian not only supported the open-ended deployment of Russian troops in Armenia, but also implied–as Armenian media paraphrased him–that at least some of the Russian troops in Georgia should stay there. That stance, if maintained, will set Armenia at odds with Georgia and aggravate Armenia’s differences with Turkey and Azerbaijan. And that in turn would set back Kocharian’s recently stated goal of building bridges to Armenia’s neighbors.