When US Ambassador to Armenia John Ordway said that his country would consider military cooperation with Armenia, most accepted this as an expression of a mere theoretical possibility. It has quickly become more practical. During its negotiations with Bush on the waiver of Section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act - enabling the government to provide military and other aid to Azerbaijan - Congress authorized more than $4 million in military aid to Armenia. This aid helped set up a regional mine-clearing center in Echmiadzin. By opening its wallet, the United States seems to be opening paths to broader collaboration among South Caucasus security agencies. Political orthodoxy no longer seems to worry that military contacts with the United States would harm Armenia's ties to its main strategic partner, Russia.
Serzh Sarkisyan, Armenia's Defense Minister, explained this calm after visiting Washington from March 16 to 18, saying the United States "has made it clear that it has no intention to replace Russia as Armenia's main partner." Other observers say that matters are not so simple. Communist MP Khoren Sarkisyan, practically the only politician to criticize the defense minister's trip, warned that "the world is becoming single-poled, and we all are becoming the puppets of the Americans." Andranik Migranyan, a Moscow-based political scientist, former adviser to Boris Yeltsin and a member of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Armenian-US military contacts are useful only "provided Armenia can properly present its position to the Russians."
In this regard, Sarkisyan seems to have succeeded. Moscow expressed no official concern about the visit, which occurred two weeks after a meeting with Iran and three weeks before one with Russia. Sarkisyan's busy schedule and the general calm that describes it indicate that the Collective Security Treaty (CST), which once seemed intended to make Russia's region a counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is cooperating with NATO instead.
President Robert Kocharyan, currently acting chairman of the CST, affirmed this idea on his recent trip to Kyrgyzstan (which, with Kazakhstan, Belarus and Tajikistan, joins Armenia and Russia in the 10-year-old treaty). "Involvement in the Collective Security Treaty did not mean that its members should not cooperate with countries which are not members of it," the Kabar news agency quoted Kocharyan as saying. "Therefore virtually all Collective Security Treaty member countries said that they were ready to take part in the antiterrorist coalition."
This expansion of multilateral thinking still faces some hurdles. Parliament members initiated closed hearings on April 4, ostensibly to discuss instability in Georgia, and the future role of NATO in the region. But MPs dwelt on the problem of Turkey, the key US ally in the region, which remains at loggerheads with Armenia. Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan told reporters after the Parliament hearings that the Armenian Government is planning to begin efforts for establishing dialogue with Turkey, which is currently virtually absent. "The Turkish factor is acquiring more and more importance in the South Caucasus region," Arminfo quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, Ashot Manucharyan, leader of the Socialist Forces Union and Security Adviser to the first Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, thinks that Russia, whose stance remains somewhat undetermined, can also upset the region's security balance. "The Americans say they will establish a good and lasting order in the region," he says. "Probably they will, but we must remember that the voice of George W. Bush is not the voice of God."
To Manucharyan, real security can only take root when the peoples and the states of the region agree about their common interests and act together to balance interests of the outside powers. He believes that Armenia and Nagoro Karabakh may have an active role in this process, and criticizes Kocharian for not paying sufficient attention to the regional problems. But beyond the Karabakh problem (and the possibility of Ter-Petrosyan returning to political life), ideological integration seems to be occurring in pockets. Georgia, which tilts toward NATO, is working increasingly with the pro-Russian Armenians. Georgia is also cultivating relationships in the South Caucasus as it spars with Russia over the Kodori Gorge [for more information, see the Eurasia Insight archive]: on April 6, Lieutenant General Johnny Pirtskhalashvili, the head of the Georgian Army Staff, visited Yerevan. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze then visited Baku on April 10 and apparently discussed the idea of training Georgian soldiers in Azerbaijani military colleges. Just before these trips, the Security Council Secretaries of the "Caucasus Four" (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia) met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi on March 30. These countries not only belong to different "security systems," but conflict with each other on security tactics. Nonetheless, they hammered out a joint statement affirming respect for each other's sovereignty.
Haroutiun Khachatrian is a Yerevan-based writer specializing in economic and political affairs.