Armenia and Russia's Arm-Length Friendship
Armenia may be Moscow’s best bet for a sovereign friend south of the Caucasus mountains, but careful political maneuvering by Yerevan suggests that Armenia is committed to maintaining personal space in this relationship and to keeping its options open.
New Russian ballistic missiles were reportedly moved to the Gyumri base, the only remaining military outpost for Russia in the undisputed part of the South Caucasus. Armenia also lets the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) -- Russia’s response to NATO -- hold war games, move troops and set up training facilities on its territory. Plans are reportedly also underway to set up the CSTO’s joint air force headquarters in Armenia.
All of this prompts internal complaints that Armenia is becoming little more than a Russian garrison, with national security, economy and culture all tied to Moscow.
A closer look, however, reveals that Armenia is trying not to have all its strings attached to Moscow and remains, in fact, arguably the most versatile of the South Caucasus states when it comes to alliance-building.
It maintains a military partnership with Moscow as a deterrent against a potential conflict with Azerbaijan, but also has a non-committal partnership with NATO. It listens and nods to Moscow’s exhortations to join the Eurasian Union, the Moscow-led customs-club answer to the European Union, but proceeds with the seemingly contradictory goal of an association agreement with the EU. Armenia also manages to have a strategic friendship with Iran, which provides tourists, investment and energy supplies.
Navigating through major geopolitical currents, Armenia is not sailing into any of the big harbors. And goes its way without any big statements.
No doubt, Yerevan is under pressure from Moscow to join the Eurasian Union experiment, and more Russian guns and rubles will reduce the wiggle room for Armenia, but, so far, it sure seems to make use of every square centimeter of what it has.