Shocking news of the last few days. Prime Minister Pashinyan’s wife went to Kiev at the invitation of Ukrainian President’s wife Elena Zelenskaya to attend the annual First Ladies’ Summit on Mental Health and deliver humanitarian aid to Ukraine. And then there were photos where Anna Hakobyan, Pashinyan’s wife, happily shakes hands with Zelensky.
It is not hard to imagine how this «humanitarian» visit was perceived in Moscow. By the way, this is not the first time Mr. Pashinyan has used his wife for political purposes: for example, before the second war with Azerbaijan, he was going to send her to Karabakh to head a women’s volunteer unit. The idea, to put it bluntly, is questionable not only from a military point of view, but also from a PR one.
So the issue of mental health is acute now in the field of Armenian-Russian relations. Especially after Pashinyan announced joint military exercises with the United States with the participation of units of the part of the American armed forces that is involved in peacekeeping missions. These maneuvers, called Eagle Partner 2023, will be held at the Zar training center. According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, they are intended to “increase the level of combat interaction” between those units of the U.S. and Armenian armies involved in peacekeeping operations. What is this? A hint that the Americans will become peacekeepers in Karabakh? Extremely doubtful.
Naturally, Russia, which has a military base in Gyumri and whose border guards protect Armenia’s border, expressed concern about the exercises. «In this situation, certainly, holding such exercises does not contribute to the stabilization of the situation. Undoubtedly, it causes wariness. Such news, especially in the current situation, also does not contribute to strengthening the atmosphere of mutual trust in the region,» Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
In other words, Pashinyan took great offense at Russia and decided to show through Ukraine that now Moscow is not an ally. In his opinion, it did not save Karabakh and did not take a pro-Armenian position neither during the war with Azerbaijan in 2020, nor after it in the issue of the Lachin corridor and the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh.
But let us analyze these claims. Moscow has never recognized the sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh, and by the way, Armenia itself has not done so either. During the last war with Azerbaijan, if Russia had not intervened and deployed peacekeepers, the Azerbaijanis would have been already in Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. By the way, Russia itself, having recognized the regions of Donetsk as Russian, held a referendum there and, based on its results, incorporated them into its structure. Armenia, all these years sending weapons and soldiers to Karabakh, has not done so, recognizing that Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. So what are the claims against Russia, if within the CSTO it is obliged to protect only the territory of Armenia itself, which does not include Nagorno-Karabakh?
So the visit of Mrs. Anna Hakobyan with a thousand electronic devices for schoolchildren is a clear signal to Moscow that from now on we are not friends. All this is a continuation of Pashinyan’s policy aimed at ending allied relations with Russia.
In January, Yerevan refused to host CSTO military exercises. The Armenian government also demanded ratification of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, which in February issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin. The document was sent to the Armenian parliament on September 1 to complete the process. Everything is being done to show Russia: you are not welcome.
Tensions rose further after Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin corridor, the road linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia, claiming that it was its territory and would decide how to deliver goods to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Armenia immediately claimed that Russian peacekeepers were not capable of ensuring traffic and security in the Lachin corridor.
Now 400 trucks with humanitarian aid are standing at the entrance to the Lachin corridor. Azerbaijani border guards do not allow them to pass. Baku wants cargoes to NKR to be delivered through Aghdam and has sent its humanitarian aid there, but it is not let through by Karabakh Armenian activists. So, it would seem, what difference does it make where the cargoes will come from? But for both sides it is crucial. Supply through Lachin means for Armenians a kind of independence from Baku, and for Azerbaijan, passage through Agdam means acceptance of Baku’s authority by NKR Armenians.
Yerevan accuses Moscow that Baku, by setting up a checkpoint in the Lachin corridor, has violated the 2020 trilateral agreement, under which the corridor should be controlled by Russian peacekeepers and Azerbaijan «guarantees the safety of movement of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions along the Lachin corridor.»
Baku, for its part, points to another paragraph of the same document, which states that the Russian peacekeeping contingent «shall be deployed in parallel with the withdrawal of Armenian armed forces» from Karabakh. And since there are still armed formations and military equipment in the region, this condition has not been fulfilled either. Russia proposes an option that would suit both sides: first the Agdam corridor is opened and the next day the Lachin corridor is opened. But both opposing sides insist only on their own option.
A separate problem in the relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan is the Zangezur corridor, which passes through the territory of Armenia. Through it Azerbaijan wants to get direct access to its enclave of Nakhichevan. Yerevan is categorically against this. Azerbaijan insists on building the road.
What does Pashinyan achieve by spoiling relations with Russia? It is obvious that Armenia cannot survive without Russia’s help. All of its budget revenues are the help of the foreign diaspora, remittances from Russia sent by Armenian citizens working here. And now the GDP has risen due to the fact that thousands of relocates from Russia have come to the republic. So why spoil relations with Moscow? What does Pashinin hope for? That it will leave Armenia and the French and Americans will come here? They will come, but they will not send a single soldier who will defend this small country with arms in his hands. Armenians like to rely on historical experience, but let me remind you that during the 1915 genocide there were many statements, resolutions, committees from leading countries, but nothing was done.
It is quite obvious that, left alone with Azerbaijan, Armenia will not withstand its military pressure. And Azerbaijan now sees a chance to solve the NKR problem once and for all by armed means. No Armenians — no problem in Karabakh. That is why it is moving large forces to the border of Karabakh and Armenia, preparing, according to its statements, for an «anti-terrorist operation». Its conditions — withdrawal of all armed formations from Karabakh, Armenians living there take Azerbaijani citizenship, and Azerbaijani courts, police and prosecutor’s office operate on the territory of Karabakh.
Obviously, Karabakh Armenians will not go for this. Yerevan recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, but at the same time it wants a special status for Karabakh Armenians, to which Baku responds with a categorical refusal, insisting: if this is our territory, how can there be any discussion of any status for the NKR? Bellicose statements of the sides also inflame the situation. Thus, the words of Azerbaijani President Aliyev that Azerbaijanis have always lived on the territory of Armenia and that this is our land — were considered in Yerevan as a direct threat to attack Armenia itself.
Border incidents between Azerbaijan and Armenia have also increased in recent days. A new war between these two republics has been brewing. One does not need to be an outstanding strategist to predict how it will end. It is obvious that Azerbaijan, which has received logistical and tactical support from Turkey and buys the most modern weapons from Israel, will defeat Armenia, which buys weapons from India. The forces are too unequal.
Realizing that Yerevan will not win a new war, Pashinyan called Macron and told him that a meeting and negotiations with Aliyev were necessary due to the fact that the situation on the border was pre-war. The Armenian Prime Minister is trying in every possible way to involve other countries, especially friendly France, in solving the problem, but Baku is categorically against the intervention of third countries. It should be understood that the two states with which he is ready to discuss anything are Russia and Turkey. So how prudent is it on Pashinyan’s part to try to force his northern neighbor out of the South Caucasus? In my opinion, it is simply suicidal.
Does Pashinyan realize what his policies can lead to? What is he hoping for? For help from the United States and the West? But America and the West do not care about Armenia now. They have thrown all their resources into helping Ukraine. For Iran? Iran, of course, does not like Turkey’s strengthening in the region, and from time to time it conducts military exercises on the border with Azerbaijan and makes threatening statements. But it is unlikely to intervene in the Armenian-Azerbaijani hostilities if they start, having many millions of its population ethnic Azerbaijanis. It seems that Pashinyan is just flailing around trying to stay in power.
Maybe he decided that Russia has exhausted itself in the Ukrainian conflict? But this is more than naive, and could lead to tragic consequences for both Karabakh and Armenia itself.