Armenia: With Friends Like Russia, Who Needs Enemies…
Armenia considers Russia to be its strategic ally. But it appears that such feelings of loyalty are not mutual: officials in Yerevan are far from thrilled to find out that Russia is by far the largest arms supplier to Azerbaijan, Armenia’s neighbor and sworn enemy.
Russia’s double-dealing prompted Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to grouse at a March 18 media forum in Yerevan. “Armenian soldiers at the front know that they [Azerbaijani troops] are trying to kill them using Russian weapons,” Sargsyan said, referring to the ongoing struggle between the two countries over the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Although a ceasefire has been in effect for more than two decades, skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces are almost a daily occurrence.
Flush with cash from energy exports, and eager to reverse territorial loses at the hands of Armenian forces during the 1988-1994 hot phase of the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan has been on an arms procurement binge in recent years. Russia seems only too happy to serve as Azerbaijan’s chief purveyor of the machinery of death. Azerbaijan obtains 85 percent of its weaponry from Russia, according to a recent report.
Russian arms sales to Baku have long been a source of concern for Yerevan, which, lacking the same kind of lucrative revenue streams that its foes possess, has trouble keeping pace in the arms race with Azerbaijan. At the same time, Armenia’s Russia-reliant economy means that President Sargsyan must choose his words carefully when he chides the Kremlin.
Before delivering his March 18 criticism of Russian arms sales, Sargsyan emphasized that no other country has been given “even 1 percent of the support” that Armenia has received from Russia since the Soviet collapse in 1991.
Russia maintains a military base in Armenia, a geopolitical fact that limits the chances that Baku would use all its Russian-bought military hardware to renew the Karabakh war and try to forcibly reclaim its lost territory.
It is believed that Russia used its considerable economic and political influence in 2014 to pressure Armenia into joining the Kremlin-led Eurasian Economic Union, while rejecting an association agreement with the European Union.
Armenian officials now seem wary of the pitfalls of near-total reliance on Moscow. Thus, they are probing possibilities for establishing some sort of political and economic relationship with the EU. Brussels seems keen to lend Armenia a helping hand and dispatched Expansion Commissioner Johannes to Hahn to Yerevan for talks. The visiting commissioner said that Brussels looks forward to formulating a new agenda with Yerevan that is compatible with “Armenia’s other obligations.”
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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