Russia’s plans to keep selling guns to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, no matter if the Caucasus’ two irascible neighbors use them against each other, is feeding growing Armenian frustration with their only strategic ally.
Armenia’s Parliamentary Deputy Speaker Hermine Naghdalian on April 15 described as “rude” and “unacceptable” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin’s earlier description of Armenian protests against Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan as “demagoguery.”
The exchange comes on the heels of a four-day flare-up in frontline violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan that was the worst since the signature of a ceasefire in 1994. With tensions still running high, how Russia chooses to support Armenia, the only South Caucasus member of Moscow’s economic and military alliances, matters much to Armenians.
When faced with military aggression by Azerbaijan, Yerevan believes it is entitled to support from its ally, even if this ally also doubles as a supposedly objective mediator for talks with Baku.
And the support, it appears, is not coming as quickly as desired. The Armenian government on April 15 took measures to speed up the formation of arms contracts with Russia worth $200 million.
Unfazed by the criticism, though, Moscow maintains that its arms sales will continue to Azerbaijan, which is determined to reclaim Armenian-protected Karabakh and seven surrounding territories. “Both countries [Armenia and Azerbaijan] are our strategic partners,” Rogozin said on April 8, emphasizing that Moscow has contractual obligations to meet with both.
In an interesting twist on international conflict-resolution theories, the deputy prime minister claimed that Russia selling arms to both sides guarantees a “balance” between the two sides that prevents war.
Locally, Russia’s Gyumri army base is seen as Armenia’s main deterrent against any Azerbaijani attempt to bring back Karabakh and surrounding territories.
In taking issue with Rogozin, Naghdalian, conscious of Armenia’s economic and military reliance on Moscow, was careful to point out that one official’s words should not be generalized to all of Russia. In a past meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan cited ordinary Armenians' frustration, rather than take Medvedev publicly to task himself.
Moscow clearly senses its advantage, though. Indeed, when intense fighting broke out on April 2, it was Moscow that took charge as arms-broker-cum-peacebroker, a role with which, as in Syria, it appears increasingly taken.
Staying in character for that role, Russian President Vladimir Putin underlined on April 15 that Russia will do its best to resolve the Karabakh conflict solely through “political means" -- “cliché” as this may sound, he added.