Armenia further downgrades participation in CSTO
Armenia is moving away from the Russia-led bloc and perhaps opening the door to closer cooperation with the West.
Armenia is continuing to move away from the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
For some time Yerevan has been questioning the efficacy of being part of a military bloc that's unwilling to help it in its conflict with Azerbaijan.
In January, it refused to host a CSTO exercise and on March 10 it renounced its right to take part in the bloc's leadership rotation.
So far the Armenian authorities are coy about speculation that the move could signal a full withdrawal from the bloc and/or a pursuit of military cooperation with the West.
On March 10 the Armenian Foreign Ministry officially confirmed reports that Armenia had rejected its quota for CSTO deputy secretary general, which had previously been reported by the ruling elite-linked Baghramyan26 Telegram channel.
Formed in 2002, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) brings together Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and of course Russia.
Armenia's relations with the organization deteriorated particularly after the CSTO refused to intervene or even criticize Azerbaijani troops' incursion into Armenian territory in September 2022.
Later, in November, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan refused to sign a declaration on the results of a CSTO summit in Yerevan, as well as a document on joint measures to provide assistance to Armenia, motivating his decision by the fact that the allies did not give a "clear political assessment" of Azerbaijan's September offensive.
Then in January, Armenia refused to host a CSTO military exercise on its territory. Part of the reasoning for this move was that Armenia's hostile neighbors, Azerbaijan and Turkey, could consider the drill provocative, which could in turn threaten Armenia's security, Pashinyan said at the time.
Asked then whether Armenia was considering leaving the CSTO, he responded: "Can we say that Armenia will leave the CSTO? Maybe the CSTO will leave Armenia? Does this whole situation suggest that the CSTO intends to leave Armenia?"
That same question was posed to the secretary of the Security Council, Armen Grigoryan, in an interview by Radio Liberty's Armenian Service, Azatutyun, on March 10.
His answer, too, was evasive while hinting at Yerevan's exasperation with the alliance.
"The CSTO does not recognize the internationally recognized border of Armenia. It is trying to use the arguments of Baku and convince us that there is no border there. But there is a border there," he said, adding at the same time that Armenia renouncing its spot in the bloc's leadership rotation contains no "political message."
The CSTO's Kazakh secretary general, Imangali Tasmagambetov, has three deputies. They are currently representatives of Russia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. In accordance with the principle of rotation laid down in the regulations of the organization, every three years new figures are appointed to these positions.
The Armenian opposition -- which broadly speaking favors closer ties with Russia and its related institutions -- has called this latest move a "reckless" step and part of a dangerous pattern.
"This process began in 2018, when, after Nikol Pashinyan's political team came to power, criminal charges were filed against the then Secretary General of the CSTO Yuri Khachaturov [appointed to this post under the quota of Armenia]. Already in 2023, Armenia refused to allow CSTO exercises on its territory, a number of statements were made critical of the CSTO," Tigran Abrahamyan, an opposition MP and member of the Armenian delegation to the CSTO parliamentary assembly, recalled in an interview with Eurasianet.
"We clearly see a change in the political attitude of the Armenian leadership towards the CSTO and clear signs of lowering the bar for relations with this organization," Abrahamyan added, though he refrained from predicting that the Pashinyan government would withdraw altogether.
The director of the Regional Center for Democracy and Security in Yerevan, political analyst Tigran Grigoryan, sees the same trajectory.
"The Armenian authorities wish to demonstrate that Armenia's participation in this organization is only formal without any active participation in its activities. This is done in order to enlist the support of Western countries," Grigoryan said.
It was in the context of CSTO inaction that the European Union on February 20 launched a civilian mission (EUMA) in Armenia, which is an expanded version of a previous short-term mission in October-December that followed the Azerbaijani incursion.
"The fact that this mission was deployed in Armenia is a consequence of the inaction of Russia and the CSTO in relation to Armenia's requests to intervene during the aggression of Azerbaijan in September last year," Grigoryan said.
Sergey Skakov, a Caucasus expert at the Russian Council on International Affairs, told Eurasianet that the move "complicates the general background of Armenia's relations with Russia" and that "Armenia is making things worse for itself."
He predicted, however, that Moscow will react with "restraint" and not move to sanction Armenia.
Tigran Grigoryan, meanwhile, believes that as it moves away from the CSTO, Yerevan is looking to develop military cooperation with non-bloc members, including Western countries.
"When the issue of military-technical cooperation with Armenia arises, several high-ranking officials of Western countries point to Armenia's membership in the CSTO as an obstacle. This is a problem for the transfer of technology to Armenia or technological cooperation with it. The Armenian authorities, by reducing the level of participation in the CSTO, are trying to prepare the ground for such cooperation," he said.
Arshaluis Mgdesyan is a journalist based in Yerevan.
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