Armenia and Artsakh at a crucial juncture - Summer, 2017

We are currently in the final chapter of the Syrian tragedy. I have written about this in previous commentaries. Syria will eventually be either partitioned or federalized and a number of autonomous or semi-autonomous ethnic regions or statelets will eventually be created. It's only a matter of time before this happens. The recent shooting down of the Syrian warplane by the US military (which could very well have been a provocation by anti-Trump elements within the American deep state) and Russia's response to it may have shed some light onto the evolution of Syria's future demarcation lines. In the aftermath of the incident, Russia's Defense Ministry announced the following: "In areas where Russian aviation is conducting combat missions in the Syrian skies, any flying objects, including jets and unmanned aerial vehicles of the international coalition discovered west of the Euphrates River will be followed by Russian air and ground defenses as air targets". 

This statement in my opinion suggests Moscow may be willing to concede territories east of the Euphrates River to Western powers and their Sunni/Wahhabist allies.

What's more, the situation is southern Syria, where Israel continues to rather openly support Islamic terrorists, seems to indicate Moscow may similarly be willing to concede territories bordering Israel and Jordan. And the growing semi-autonomy of Kurds in northern Syria strongly suggests portions of northern Syria will be given up as well. It remains to be seen if Tehran and Damascus will agree to such concessions. Nevertheless, power-brokers overseeing Syria's dismemberment and remodeling will essentially be Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Anglo-American-Jews. While the aforementioned powers figure out what to do with Syria, the Trump administration will continue its efforts to gather regional support for its main objective in the region - the containment of Iran.

The Trump administration's main objective, essentially a plan to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran, has not yet gained traction in the United States for one simple reason: It envisions better relations with Russia. Simply put: The traditional Russophobic establishment in the Western world will have none of it. There has therefore been a severe backlash, something no one in the Trump camp seemed to have anticipated.

The anti-Russian hysteria playing out in the United States recently has been astounding, intense, relentless and merciless. The political witch hunt, eerily reminiscent of McCarthy era hysteria, rampaging throughout the United States in recent months has all but extinguished the Trump administration's hope of reaching a détente with Russia. In order to have their anti-Russian hysteria continue indefinitely, they may have even silenced one of the individual in the United States tat was most probably involved in the DNC email hacking -
 The Mysterious Death of Seth Rich: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAA9Gy2SXdg
I do not think the Trump camp expected things could be this bad. Every one of their initiatives has been under relentless and multi-directional assault from a number of fronts at home and abroad. They are obsessively going after every single one of President Trump's policies, both real and perceived. The Trump administration's alleged ties to Russia has been needless to say at the forefront of this very historic spectacle unraveling in the United States. Russia has once again become the third rail, so to speak, in American politics. Russia has once again been turned into one of America's greatest enemies. This is all being done to stop the Trump administration from conducting its foreign policy, which of course also translates into keeping relations between Europe and Russia adversarial. President Trump's opponents will not tolerate any degree of rapprochement with Moscow for any reason whatsoever. This has many observers asking -
All in all, what has been happening in the United States is astonishing. Despite its external luster and boasts of excellence, the country is actually seriously ill. In fact, it is in a steep decline. Its aliment is thus internal and could therefore prove terminal. Instead of seeking ways to curing its ailments, it is seeking confrontation. Instead of seeking ways to stop its historic decline, it is at war with itself. Russia, China or Iran are not America's enemies. America should fear itself -
No playwright, no novelist, no movie producer - from Hollywood to Bollywood - could have scripted a work this exciting, this entertaining, this captivating and this thrilling. The corruption, bribery, insider deals, scandals, ties to Islamic terrorism, ties to the occult, ties to pedophiles, fire bombing, shooting, abuse of power, vote rigging, voter fraud, illegals voting, hacked electronic voting machines, conspiracies, societal tension, hate, tribal politics, mysterious deaths, more mysterious deaths, calls for authoritarianism, calls to curb democracy, polarization, divisions and insults witnessed in the "greatest democracy on earth" have sent shock-waves around the world. Many around the world are left wondering, what the hell happened to that "shinning city on the hill", that wonderful "leader of the free world", that ever bright "beacon of democracy", that most "exceptional" of nations ever known to humanity? 

All in all, it has been an amazing period in the history of the United States. Expectedly, it has also gotten a lot of reactions from Russian. Russians, including President Vladimir Putin, have made some stinging comments about the political unrest in the United States -
On the personal level, Trump clearly wants to improve relations with Russia. The problem is that he is also president of the U.S., head of the state apparatus. This makes it much more difficult to make deals with Russia, Mr. Makarkin said" - Alexei Makarkin
"A change of political elites is currently underway in the US. Financial oligarchy is being replaced with industrialists who were away from politics since the 1940s. Moreover, members of the military and intelligence block are also regaining their positions. They are the backbone of Trump’s team. This is going to be a struggle of life and death." - Viktor Mizin
"I have already spoken to three US presidents. They come and go but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suites, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start to explain how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens in every administration." - Vladimir Putin
What surprises me is that they are shaking up the domestic political situation, using anti-Russian slogans. Either they don’t understand the damage they’re doing to their own country, in which case they are simply stupid, or they understand everything, in which case they are dangerous and corrupt” - Vladimir Putin
Russians recently have been more than happy to point out what I have been pointing out in this blog for many years, namely that the Unites States is not "exceptional" and that it is not a Democracy, at least not the kind of which it likes imposing on nations it wants to subjugate or destroy. With the American empire's dirty laundry now fully exposed for all the world to see, Russians have been more than happy to show to the world that the United States is just another overgrown and utterly corrupt bureaucracy. After many years of suffering political meddling by the United States, Russians are now having a lot of fun with all this. For Russian officials, it's been a classic case of we told you so. For American officials, it's a classic case of bad Karma coming back to haunt them. President Putin recently took advantage of the international limelight provided by the International Economic Forum held in Saint Petersburg to candidly speak his mind about the anti-Russian hysteria playing-out in the Unites States. In the process, President Putin also took the opportunity to make one of best known presstitutes in the United States look like the pretty faced airhead that she actually is -
President Vladimir Putin On Russian Election Interference (Full Exclusive) / Megyn Kelly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8AeBAV4EIY
Putin’s best moments while smashing NBC's Airhead Megyn Kelly:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12s_n6F2ZEQ
There is no doubt that the Trump presidency is under siege by the country's mainstream news media, political establishment (both Democrat and Republican) as well as Russophobic elements in the deep state. What we are seeing play-out in the United States, is also, to a great degree, Jewish infighting. At its core, this historic fiasco can be characterized as left wing Jews fighting right wing Jews - with America's goyim left in the middle to choose a side. Even they admit it: Jews are divided over President Trump. Consequently, the United States today had become a deeply divided nation at war with itself. This historic mess, one that has forever tainted the American mystique, can also be characterized as ideological clash between Western globalists (which of course includes the Jewish left) who see Russia as their number one enemy on the global stage and Western conservatives (which of course includes the Jewish right) who see Russia as an entity that should be contained but can also be negotiated with, and perhaps even learn some lessons from as well.

Simply put: While Western conservatives look at Russia with caution, they also look at Russia with envy, if not genuine admiration. Western globalists on the other hand simply hate Russia because Russia has in recent years become an outspoken champion of classical European civilization, conservatism, ethnocentrism, Christianity, traditional family values and the traditional nation-state. In other words, Russia today is the embodiment of anti-globalism. Russia today is also the leader of a growing wave of anti-globalist sentiments around the world. Nevertheless, it's somewhat ironic that in the past Western globalists tended to favor Soviet Russia and Western conservatives were known as the hardcore Russophobes. It's the exact opposite today. As noted above, all the anti-Russian hysteria that the Trump administration, as well as the Western public, is being subjected to recently is primarily designed to stop President Trump from establishing friendly ties with the Kremlin. It is also designed to keep Europe's relations with Russia adversarial. Because Russia poses a serious risks to their globalist agenda, they are doing all they can to keep Russia underdeveloped, under pressure and under isolation. For these Russophobes, Russians must therefore remain the bad guys and official Moscow must not be appeased under any circumstances. And they have been utilizing all their powerful levers of control to make sure this happens. Thus far, it seems to be working. Despite the highly suspicious deaths, the Globalist political/financial establishment in the Anglo-American-Jewish world seem to be winning the battle over the hearts-and-minds of the American cattle -
Russian Meddling in 2016 Election ‘Greatest Attack’ on American Democracy Since Pearl Harbor: http://freebeacon.com/politics/hollywood-director-russian-meddling-2016-election-greatest-attack-american-democracy-since-pearl-harbor/
Definitive Proof Of Donald Trump’s (Russian) Connections Finally Emerges: https://altright.com/2017/05/26/definitive-proof-of-donald-trumps-russian-connections-finally-emerges/
Vladimir Putin will always be America’s enemy: http://nypost.com/2016/12/11/vladimir-putin-will-always-be-americas-enemy/
Donald Trump Doesn’t Need to Be a Russian Agent to Be Dangerous: https://www.thedailybeast.com/donald-trump-doesnt-need-to-be-a-russian-agent-to-be-dangerous
Stephen Cohen - Dems crippling Trump’s plans to cooperate with Russia out of own ambitions: https://www.rt.com/shows/sophieco/388910-trump-scandal-russia-us/
Poll - Over 60% of US voters say Russia is enemy: https://www.rt.com/usa/389840-us-voters-russia-enemy/
Amazingly, Azerbaijan's Jewish lobbyists in Washington DC are also trying to drag Armenia into the mess they have created  -
The political atmosphere in the United States has become utterly toxic. The Trump administration cannot effectively conduct its foreign policy under such circumstances. In the big picture, this essentially means that the Trump administration's desire to establish closer ties with Moscow to make its agenda against Iran (and China) easier will not succeed; at least not for the foreseeable future. The Trump administration may therefore be forced to deal with its foreign policy challenges without first disarming Russia. If so, this will no doubt make the Trump administration's agenda against Iran much more difficult and thus very risky. Official Tehran understands this and they are getting ready for an inevitable showdown -
Foreign Policy: If Trump Wants a Fight in the Middle East, Iran Will Give Him One: https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/06/02/if-trump-wants-a-fight-in-the-middle-east-iran-will-give-him-one/
Consequently, the Trump administration is trying to rally international support behind his anti-Iran policy. In my opinion, this was what President Trump's first official visit overseas all about. 

At the bidding of Zionist and Wahhabist warmongers, and fears in the West that Tehran will one day soon obtain nuclear weapons, Uncle Sam is diligently trying to put together a regional force to counter Iran's growing influence in the Middle East. Iran is the number one problem in the world today for the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance and Saudi Arabia-led Gulf Arab states. Had Iran been an easy target, they would have attacked it a very long time ago. Iran's strength - political, demographic, cultural, military and paramilitary - and thus its ability to hit back forcefully, is the reason why they are still trying to figure out what is the best approach to deal with Iran. Regardless, they will not let off. They will do all they can to either stop the expansion of the Iranian Arc and to stop Tehran's nuclear weapons program. If Tehran does not abandon its regional ambitions willingly, they will sooner-or-later wage war against it. The sword dancing in Saudi Arabia and the prayer at the so-called "wailing wall" in Jerusalem was all about laying the ground work for the agenda against Iran, and it was also meant to send Tehran a stern message. The sudden problem Western and Saudi Arabian leaders have with Qatari leaders suggest that Qatar may have become a weak-link in the budding anti-Iranian alliance. Nevertheless, neoconservative warmonger Charles Krauthammer more-or-less admitted on television what many of us already know, they intend to drag Iran into a regional war. The first shots may have been fired. The recent unprecedented attacks in Tehran has profound implications -
Fatalities and injuries after shootings, bombings at Iranian parliament and Khomeini shrine: https://www.rt.com/news/391183-iran-parliament-shooting-injured/
With Trump on Board, the Saudis Move Against Iran: https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201706081054447069-iran-saudi-arabia-trump/
Pointing the Finger at Saudi? Tehran Attack First Against Iran in 35 Years: https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201706071054407981-tehran-attack-saudi-arabia/
Republican congressman praises ISIS attack in Iran, says US should consider supporting ISIS: https://thinkprogress.org/republican-congressman-calls-isis-attack-in-tehran-a-good-thing-says-maybe-we-should-back-isis-a7e9382dbe1b
Iran Won in Lebanon. What About Iraq?: https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-won-in-lebanon-what-about-iraq-1498518304
Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen are the places where they will do all they can - which includes military intervention - to stop Iran's expansion and smash pro-Iranian entities such as the Houthis and Hezbollah. They will no doubt use terrorist related incidents in the Western world (which in my opinion are orchestrated in one from or another by Western and/or Israeli intelligence agencies) to keep the Western cattle frightened and therefore compliant. They will also use such incidents as an excuse for their military interventions. I have no doubt Anglo-American-Jews and their Sunni Arab allies will invade Syria at one point. Once they reach their objectives in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, and if the current system of government in Tehran remains in power in the meantime, they will turn their deadly attention onto Iran itself.

The success or failure of their grand agenda to smash the Iranian Arc hinges upon three fundamental factors: 1) Whether or not the Trump administration is successful in it's effort to bring together Israel and Gulf Arab states. 2) Whether or not President Trump's opponents at home will sabotage the said effort. 3) How will Moscow (and Beijing) react.

Israel and Saudi Arabia may unite. In fact, the two have been cooperating behind-the-scenes for decades. But the hate towards the Trump administration is so raw, so deep rooted and so wide spread in the United States - especially now that one of the major Globalist agendas of the day, The Paris Climate Accord, has been outright rejected by President Trump - that the anti-Trump and anti-Putin hysteria and witch hunt in the country will not be abated any time soon. This therefore will cause problems for all of the Trump administration's agendas, including that against Iran. Getting to Russia: Although Moscow may acquiesce to some of the Trump administration's wishes against Iranian interests in Syria, it will not under any circumstances support a direct attack on Iran itself nor will it take any steps to stop Tehran's nuclear program. Therefore, the Trump administration's agenda in the Middle East is far from being a sure thing. This only means that the agenda against Iran will be very risky. In any case, the desire to enlist Sunni Arab states into the Anglo-American-Jewish campaign against Iran is the reason why the United States will not recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capitol anytime in the near future.

Lurking behind all this volatility in the Middle East is also the potential of very serious problems occurring inside Turkey. Turkey's belligerent president has been reorienting his country's politics and in doing so alienating his country's traditional supporters in the Western world. Predictably, various Kurdish factions, some of whom are backed by Anglo-American-Jews and some by Russians, have gained from this situation. The growing Kurdish factor in the region has become a major cause of concern for Ankara. The Erdogan government's overly-aggressive behavior in recent times is actually a sign that Ankara is feeling vulnerable. Having failed to overthrow Erdogan's government with a revolution last summer, Western powers will be seeking other means to bring the Turkish state back into the Western orbit. Therefore, the more Turkey's autocratic leader drags Ankara eastward, the more will Anglo-American-Jews pull his country westward. If this tug-of-war over the country's fate continues for any length of time, Turkey's NATO membership - as well as its territorial integrity - will be in serious jeopardy. Turkey can descend into chaos. What happens after that is anybody's guess. In any case, anti-Erdogan voices in the West are on the rise and Moscow continues to conspire against Turkey -
Hey, NATO, Let’s Move Those 50 US Thermonuclear Weapons Out of Turkey: http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2017/05/dear-nato-get-those-50-us-thermonuclear-weapons-out-turkey/138113/
Kurdish Delegation to Discuss Independence Referendum in Russia: http://www.basnews.com/index.php/en/news/world/354739
As the reader can see, the region where Armenia is located continues to be a volatile tinderbox. The various hot spots in the region are essentially at the doorstep of the small, impoverished and landlocked country surrounded by Turkic/Islamic predators, and the danger of a major war igniting in the south Caucasus remains very real. In the big geostrategic picture I always write about, this is essentially the reason why Armenia's strategic alliance with Russia will be the single most important factor in Armenian politics for the foreseeable future. As the various fires burning in the region get more-and-more intense, the importance of Russian-Armenian relations will increase exponentially, not only for Yerevan but also for Moscow. This is why Russia will remain Armenia's reliable strategic partner and Yerevan's only source of support. This is why Moscow has a significant military footprint inside Armenia.

The already very tense situation in the greater region where Armenia is located is made worst due to the unresolved conflict between Yerevan and Baku. The historic Armenian province of Artsakh has been an open wound that has been festering for over 25 years now. And now there is growing sense of urgency about it. With changing political and economic tides around the world, many observers think Baku has only a few years (perhaps not even that) to figure out what to do with Artsakh before it runs into serious domestic problems. After 25 years of preparing its population for war against Armenians, Baku is suddenly facing a rapidly shrinking window of opportunity. The Azeri leadership may be fearing that if they do not try to make good on their promises to retake Artsakh, they may lose power in an uprising, especially now that Azerbaijan's economy is very bad shape primarily due to a major slump in global energy prices. Many therefore think that the next couple of years will be dangerous. Although a terrible war of attrition continues to play out along the line of contact between Armenia and Azerbaijan, some predict large-scale military operations. The fighting that took place during early April of last year (many questions about which remain unanswered) may have somehow been related to this calculus. What happened was not a full scale war. It was more like heavy skirmish confined only to border regions. The fighting could have been a trial run to assess Armenia's military capabilities and political resolve. But, like I said, many questions remain unanswered about the fighting. In any case, I believe Moscow's decision to provide highly sophisticated ballistic missile systems to Armenia, its first deployment outside of Russia, is also related to the overall calculus. Moscow's move may have been a message to Baku to back off. Nevertheless, the possibility that a major conflict can erupt in the region is now a serious concern for Moscow. And the last thing Russia needs right now is yet another hot-spot on its already volatile and vulnerable southern periphery.

Our Western-funded political activists and nationalist crazies claim that Moscow is ready to return Artsakh to Azerbaijan and that it wants a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. This is a Russophobic lie.

Moscow's primary goal in the south Caucasus is not to instigate a major war but to bring all three nations - Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan - into Russia's orbit. Yes, Moscow may use strong-arm tactics to realize this goal. However, after over twenty-five years of sociopolitical unrest, economic depression and disastrous wars in the Caucasus, both north and south, a resurgent Moscow is primarily seeking to reestablish Pax Russica. That is the end game. Russian officials also know that Armenia, being their most reliable ally in the region, is key to achieving Russian dominance in the region. Being that Tbilisi will have fundamental problems with Moscow for the foreseeable future due to Russia's role in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and being that Azerbaijan is a Turkic/Islamic nation, senior policymakers in Russia know that Armenia's is their safest and most long-term center of operation. This fact alone suggests Moscow will never abandon or undermine the Armenian. This does not however mean there will be no disagreements and/or technical problems between Russia and Armenia.

Speaking of technical problems: While the status quo over Artsakh fit Moscow's (and Yerevan's) interests, it is increasingly looking as if this is beginning to change now. This change is in my opinion a direct result of Moscow successfully reestablishing itself as a hegemon in the region. Allow me to once more remind the reader that Russian control over both the north and south Caucasus is of paramount strategic importance for Moscow. For Russia, the Caucasus region has historically been known as its vulnerable underbelly. Controlling it and pacifying it, both north and south, provides Russia with a major defensive buffer against Western, Turkic and Islamic forces. With the situation in and around Artsakh getting progressively worst as a result of tensions in adjacent regions, as well as Baku's increasing desperation, the status quo in Artsakh may no longer be working in Moscow's favor, and this worries many Armenians.

Russian officials know that in the big picture, the south Caucasus is like a three-legged chair: It can't function with one or more legs missing.
Russian officials may be seeing that the unresolved dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is indirectly hurting their plans for Georgia. The thinking may therefore be that once the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is put to rest, bringing Georgia into Russia's fold, making the three-legged south Caucasus chair whole once again, will become easier. Making the EEU work is also a factor in all this. For the Russian-led economic union to begin  showing life, territorial disputes involving Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have to be resolved and the region has to come back under Russia's orbit. In my opinion, these are the reasons why Russians officials have been doing their best to maintain levers of control over Baku and Tbilisi and of course Yerevan. These are also the reasons why Russian officials have been engaging in efforts, albeit intermittent, to finally resolve the lingering dispute over Artsakh.

This worries many Armenians today because there is no way of knowing exactly what a final settlement, when we eventually get to it, will look like. The worry Armenians have is being made worst by malicious predictions that "Moscow will betray Armenia once again". Needless to say, such disinformation is being disseminated by nefarious Western-funded sources that are embedded throughout Armenian society. 

Those of us who do not want any change to the status quo in Artsakh may be happy to know that Anglo-American-Jewish, as well as Turkish interests, will do their best to sabotage any unilateral effort by Moscow to resolve the dispute. This is why Baku is being encouraged to remain on the offensive against Armenia and this is why Armenia's fifth-column is being asked to sabotage any Russian-led peace effort. The following is a Western look at the inherent complexities of the south Caucasus -
NATO in the South Caucasus: Present for Duty or Missing in Action?: http://www.fpri.org/article/2017/06/nato-south-caucasus-present-duty-missing-action/
In my opinion, understanding the geopolitical landscape of the south Caucasus at a profound level and appreciating Moscow's role in it is absolutely crucial for us Armenians for doing so will help us better navigate the turbulent waters that the coming years will most probably bring. Better understanding the political world we live in will also help us better recognize opportunities when they present themselves and exploit them when possible. It may be naive of me to wish for this, but I want there to be a political culture among Armenians that is patriotic yet also sober minded, pragmatic and farsighted. I also want Armenians to understand that although the status quo in Artsakh has worked well for us during the past 25 years, we may not be able to afford another 25 years of it. Armenia's main problem today is not its "oligarchs", as our Western-funded activists desperately need us to believe, it's the prevailing dysfunctional situation throughout the south Caucasus brought upon by Western machinations. Even if our oligarchs turned into lovely angels overnight, Armenia would continue having severe problems. I want Armenians to realize that what Armenia needs is lasting peace and stability in the south Caucasus. I want Armenians to understand that peace and stability in the south Caucasus, at least from Armenia's perspective, can only be brought by Russia. Finally, I want Armenians to also understand that Armenia will one day need to settle the dispute over Artsakh, and this may include land concessions as well as stationing Russian troops between Armenians and Azeris. Although that day seems a very long time away today, I have no doubt that day will arrive sooner or later.

It is therefore best to be ready and understand that when that day arrives, the degree of concessions we Armenians will be expected to make will essentially be determined by the capabilities of our diplomatic corps and the depth of our nation's ties with Russia.

The aforementioned thoughts and comments about Armenia and Artsakh will be a reoccurring theme throughout this blog commentary. Helping the reader contemplate about the aforementioned inevitabilities regarding the dispute over Artsakh is the main motivation behind this work. Another motivation is to provide the reader some context to the Artsakh conflict never discussed elsewhere. I would also like to engage in, if at all possible, discussions about what a final negotiated settlement with Azerbaijan can potentially or theoretically look like. There will come a day when Yerevan and Baku will be expected to make land concessions. Needless to say, I understand how sensitive this topic is for us Armenians: How can we negotiate with bloodthirsty animals, let alone pull back from strategically important territories under our control? How can one give back anything that has been painstakingly won by the precious blood of our heroic compatriots?

I fully share such sentiments. I also however understand how politics work. I am also all too familiar with our history, and the many grave mistakes we have made as a people.

I therefore want Armenians to understand that this subject is not a black and white matter. I want Armenians to understand that there is no room for maximalistic attitudes in politics. I want Armenians to understand that this subject needs to be approached without emotions and without preconceived notions. Going forward, I will share ideas but I will also refrain from making absolute statements. I will suggest solutions but I will leave many questions open ended. With the following passages, I will simply try to promote a particular mindset, an attitude - a type of political philosophy if I may - that is in my opinion necessary for Armenians to posses within themselves for when that day arrives to settle the dispute over Artsakh.

October 27, 1999  

Some 20 years ago Western interests in the south Caucasus seemed to be on the verge of a historic breakthrough. After several years of actively lobbying Armenian officials, by 1999 Washington seemed to have begun making some headway. At least on the surface, official Yerevan seemed to have begun accepting, at least preliminary, the basic principals of a comprehensive peace plan put forth by the US State Department. This US sponsored plan, known as the Goble Plan (named after it's mastermind, Paul Goble, a State Department official with ties to the CIA), proposed to "internationalize" a 10 kilometer wide corridor along Armenia's entire southern border with Iran so that Western-financed gas and oil pipelines could be passed from Azerbaijan to Nakhijevan and beyond. In return, the plan envisioned giving self-determination for Artsakh and billions of dollars to Armenia in financial aid.

Yerevan was essentially being asked by Uncle Sam to give up its strategic border with Iran for Artsakh and promises of some cash. Yerevan was also being asked by Uncle Sam to break its ties with Russia and Iran. This controversial proposal was devised in the early 1990s, at a time when Armenia was barely alive, Russia was on its knees and Western powers reigned supreme throughout the post-Soviet world. US officials actively lobbied Armenian officials to convince them about the plan's perceived benefits to Armenia and to the greater region. Some US officials even seemed to have been given the task of winning Diasporan support. I vividly recall attending a public meeting at an ARF community center on the imperial East Coast, where a State Department deputy essentially presented the tenets of Goble Plan and appealed to our community for support. His talk predictably sounded like an infomercial. But what was particularly interesting for me was that during the course of his presentation, the official clearly insinuated that Turkey could be convinced by the United States to return Mount Ararat to Armenia if the proposed plan was accepted by Armenians. It was an amazing thing for me to see an American official dangling Mount Ararat in front of us Armenians as a magical bait, to encourage us to accept their plan.

Well, the young Irish-American official visiting us from Washington DC was essentially heckled out of the building by the end of his talk. I still remember him, his face reddened by frustration, grabbing his briefcase and rushing off to his black automobile parked in front of the building. Other American officials were said to have experienced similar treatment in their meetings with other ARF chapters in the US. Their failure with the ARF however did not deter them. Uncle Sam was also in the process of lobbying Armenian officials, seemingly with better results. They also knew they had support in the Hovnanian-financed Armenian Assembly of America.

Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and Speaker of the National Assembly Karen Demirjyan (arguably two of the most powerful and influential men in politics in Armenia at the time) had meetings in Washington and Berlin respectively in October, 1999. According to many international news reports at the time, there were strong indications that official Yerevan was seriously considering the proposals put forth by the US State Department.

Ultimately, we weren't able to see if official Yerevan was indeed preparing to break its fledgling ties with Moscow and Tehran at the time and allow Western powers broker a peace deal between Yerevan and Baku. On the morning of October 27, 1999, barely three weeks after Vazgen Sargsyan was in Washington, Strobe Talbot, a US State Department official was in Yerevan holding a private meeting with him. By the afternoon of that day, Vazgen Sargsyan, Karen Demirjyan and several other Armenian lawmakers were dead. Gunmen had burst into the Armenian Parliament and assassinated eight officials. The controversial Goble Plan was never again publicly discussed by Armenian officials. The following blog commentary reflects my thoughts on the historic event that took place in Yerevan on October 27, 1999. When reading the commentary please pay particular attention to the article written by the former Russian ambassador to Armenia in which he warns Armenians against adopting the Goble Plan. Also read the Wall Street Journal article lamenting the deaths of Vazgen Sargsyan and Karen Demirjyan-
Some Thoughts on the October 27 Killings in Armenia (October, 2010): http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/search/label/1999
Some 20 years ago was the closest Washington DC would come to settling the dispute over Armenian Artsakh under its terms. Needless to say, it's a different world today than it was back in 1999 when Russian leader Vladimir Putin's FSB-backed gradual rise to power had only begun to register tangible gains. Today, the Russian Federation is a resurgent superpower. Today, Russia is back being the alpha-and-the-omega of the Caucasus, a role it has dearly earned during the past two hundred years. It is Russia today that stands poised to broker a final peace settlement in Artsakh. Fearing the further lose of their already declining influence throughout the Caucasus region, Western powers are understandably concerned. Understandably, Uncle Sam still wants to remain in the game, especially since Central Asian energy supplies via Azerbaijan is still of great strategic significance to Europe and Israel. Uncle Sam would therefore want's a real say in any settlement process in Artsakh. Western powers will therefore do what they can to sabotage any settlement brokered by Russia. The escalation of violence on Armenia's border with Azerbaijan may be related. Interestingly, the mastermind of the failed Goble Plan never stopped fearing-mongering about Russia -
Paul Goble: "If Baku becomes Moscow’s satellite, it will receive Karabak": http://news.am/eng/news/271991.html
Paul Goble: “Unless Putin is contained or is replaced, the world will be at risk of a war more horrible than anyone can imagine”: http://en.168.am/2014/12/08/1541.html
When Armenia entered the Moscow-led EEU I predicted that Moscow will gradually begin addressing the festering dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. All the signs from Moscow point in that direction. Resolving the dispute may have taken on an air of urgency in the Kremlin because of the very explosive situations in Syria and Ukraine and the potentially explosive situations in Turkey and Iran. Moscow does not want to have another war-front opening up on its strategic - and still very vulnerable - Caucasian underbelly. Although the status quo in Artsakh is something Moscow can certainly live with, solving the always explosive problem under its terms is more desirable and may better serve Russia's longer-term interests in the region. This is why Western powers are interested in sabotaging Russia's effort. In my opinion, this is also why we had the assault on the police station in Yerevan last summer.

July 17, 2016

When Yerevan shocked Western officials several years ago by announcing Armenia's membership in the Russian-led EEU, I said it's only a matter of time before Western powers begin appealing to the emotions of Armenian nationalists both in the homeland and in the Diaspora in an attempt to drive a wedge between Yerevan and Moscow. And when Moscow began signalling it was ready to broker a final settlement to the Artsakh dispute, I knew something was going to happen. I knew Western powers would try to make life very difficult for Armenia and sabotage any attempts by Moscow to settle the dispute. I wish could say I was wrong. Besides the monstrous and still mysterious murder of an entire family in Gymri by a Russian soldier in the winter of 2015 and the short but intense and still somewhat mysterious war that took place in spring of 2016, there has since been at least two revolution attempts in Armenia recently. The first attempt came during the summer of 2015, when Western-led opposition groups tried to take advantage of mass protests taking place in Yerevan. The effort proved unsuccessful. The second attempt, in my opinion, came on the morning of July 17, 2016. Five days before, on July 12, 2016, I had written the following in this blog's comments section:
"Back in the late 1990s, the US had come very close to brokering a peace deal between Yerevan and Baku. The deal in question would have most probably been a variation of the now infamous "Goble Plan". The parliamentary assassinations that took place on October 27, 1999 put a quick and bloody end to it. Thank God. This time around, if the Russian plan is not fully supported by the West, Western powers will most probably try to sabotage the Russian brokered peace deal by appealing to the emotions and sentiment of our "nationalistic" idiots. We already see our "nationalists" acting hysterical." 17 years ago Russian intelligence services put an abrupt end to the US-led negotiations process. Today, US intelligence services are trying to do the same to the Russian effort."
On the morning of July 17, 2016 a couple of dozen armed men, mostly members of the extremist organization called Founding Parliament, stormed a police compound in Yerevan, killing a policeman and taking several hostages. The gunmen, who more-or-less presenting themselves as disgruntled nationalists, demanded a number of things. Primary among their demands were the following: The resignation of President Serj Sargsyan; the release of their jailed leader Jirayr Sefilian; and an immediate end to any negotiation over Artsakh. The gunmen also used social media to repeatedly call on the general public to rise-up and overthrow their government. It was clearly a coup d'état attempt.

Soon, Armenia's Western-funded news organizations, opposition activists and politicians were out in force spewing anti-government and anti-Russian slogans. They were soon joined by several thousand of their most faithful followers - mainly disgruntled civilians, many of whom are professional demonstrators. The demonstrations also began attracting an assortment of hooligans from slums near Yerevan. Within days, the unsanctioned street show had morphed into a gathering of several thousand Western-funded activists, hardcore nationalists, disgruntled seniors, young liberals and petty hooligans. People who normally would not even be able to locate Artsakh on a map were all of a sudden on the streets shouting,"Aghdam is our homeland". People who hated Armenians from Artsakh more than they hated Turks were suddenly demanding that Armenia withdraw from peace negotiation with Azerbaijan.

Other than the usual number of well-known Western-funded activists and their usual number of faithful followers, at most numbering several thousand, there was no widespread uprising in the country. The unsanctioned demonstrations gradually died down after their initial intensity, and flareups that occurred at times were quickly contained by law-enforcement. The standoff between the extremists and Armenian security officials came to an end when a number of the assailants were deliberately wounded by government marksmen and the rest were persuaded to give up. A number of other individuals who were not involved in the actual takeover of the police compound, some with ties to the Western world, were also apprehended and jailed. 

In the end, Armenians had not taken to the streets en masse in support of the extremists and none of the extremist's demands were met by official Yerevan. However, the damage was done in another sense. Armenia's burgeoning tourism industry, something the country is very dependent on, suffered and Armenia looked like a troubled little third world country on the verge of implosion. American and European officials wasted no time in calling on their Armenian counterparts to abstain from using force against the militants and their supporters - although under similar circumstances they themselves would have resorted to much harsher forms of violence. Official Yerevan looked vulnerable in the eyes of Moscow. Tragically, the only thing the extremists, who were said to have taken up arms to save Artsakh (from imaginary phantoms), managed to do was kill Armenians and make Armenia look like a banana republic on the international stage.

In my opinion, there was more to the unrest in Yerevan last summer than meets the eye. What took place on July 17, 2016 was a version of what took place on October 27, 1999 - but in reverse.

Ever since Armenia first signaled its willingness to join the EEU, Armenian news media and Armenian cyberspace in general has been flooded with slogans like, "Russia is taking over Armenia". More recently, the slogans had morphed into, "now that Putin has fully occupied Armenia, he will give Artsakh back to the Azeris". Moreover, the dangerous notion that Armenians can solve all of Armenia's problems simply by uniting had also been gaining fast traction among Armenia's self-destructive peasantry. It was a medley of these types of attitudes, and most probably tacit support by foreign intelligence services, that led the group of extremists in Armenia to carryout their criminal act.

It should also be noted that the coup came on the heals of a larger US-backed military coup in neighboring Turkey. Being that Jirayr Sefilian and his circle are funded from abroad, most probably by US and/or European intelligence agencies, it's not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that their criminal act last summer was blessed if not outright ordered by Western intelligence agencies. Being that nationalists, in any given society, tend to be predisposed to irrationality and extremism, I have repeatedly warned that Western powers will begin working with our nationalists to drive a wedge between Yerevan and Moscow. I have repeatedly warned that Western powers will begin using our nationalists to derail any Russian-led settlement plan.

In my opinion, Yerevan's "complimentary politics", where Armenian officials try play both sides of the geopolitical fence, got Armenia to this point. I recognize that this approach to East-West relations worked well for Yerevan while the Russian Federation was weak and incapable of imposing its political will within its near abroad. However, what we all now need to recognize is that the geopolitical climate of the south Caucasus, as well as of the world, has changed drastically since the time when Yeltsin the Drunk was in power in Moscow. Today, Russian power and influence has been reinstated throughout much of former Soviet territory. Today, the continuation of complimentary politics, if carried out without Moscow's approval, will keep Armenia stagnant at best and vulnerable to collapse at worst. In my opinion, what happened in Armenia last summer was a direct assault against attempts by Moscow to settle the Artsakh dispute. It's results however are not as discernible as the one that took place on October 27, 1999.

Why do Russians want control over the south Caucasus and what does it mean for Artsakh?

Political predictions are difficult even in the best of times. During times of major political changes around the world, politics can be extremely unpredictable. It's becoming very difficult to write on political matters these days because of the speed with which things are changing and unexpected turns they are taking. At its core, the periodic sociopolitical upheavals we have seen take place in Armenia in recent years has little to do with the dislike Armenians have towards President Sargsyan and even less with democracy or the rule of law in the country. The unrest we have been seeing in Armenia recently has everything to do with Russia's ties to Armenia and the West's desire to drive a wedge between Yerevan and Moscow. For Western powers the problem with Armenia is not that it is not a "democracy" as many of their favorite allies around the world are not democracies. The fundamental problem Western powers have with Armenia is Russia's military presence in the country. If Armenia had been hosting an American military base instead, Armenia's "oligarchs" would do no wrong in the eyes of Uncle Sam. Because Armenia hosts a Russian military presence, Armenia's oligarchs therefore cannot do anything right. It's that simple.

The primary concern in Western capitals is that Moscow is becoming too powerful throughout Eurasia and beyond. This threatens their long-standing strategy of containing a geopolitical behemoth like Russia (as well as rising powers like China and Iran). This also threatens their ability to freely exploit central Asian energy. They are justified in their concerns. Moscow has become the sole power-broker in the south Caucasus. It is therefore expected that it would be devising plans to bring the entire region back under its fold. 

Throughout its one thousand year old history Russia has been surrounded by powerful enemies that have coveted its vast and bountiful territory. Consequently, Russians have been forced to fight-off various invading empires throughout much of their history. Just within the last century alone Russia suffered immense devastation, losing tens-of-millions of its sons and daughters to foreign instigated wars and revolution. More recently, its been forced to face economic collapse, NATO expansion and an Islamic insurgency. Russians know all too well that Russia's enemies still exist and they still covet its territory. Russians also are cognizant of the fact that their enemies still surround them. These are the historic circumstances that have molded the modern Russian mindset - and these circumstances have a direct bearing on political culture/mindset prevalent in the Kremlin today. This is the reason why Kremlin officials look at places like eastern Europe, central Asia and the south Caucasus as strategically important zones that need to remain within the Russian orbit. This is why Russians officials have reacted so forcefully to Western-instigated wars in the Ukraine and Syria. This is why nations like Armenia, Belarus and Tajikistan are members of Russian-led organizations like the CSTO and EEU.

Simply  put: Russians have been bred by historic circumstances they have been subjected to for hundreds of years to be resilient, warlike and patriotic. Russians feel, and rightfully so, that their vast and bountiful country is being besieged by powerful opponents. They are therefore farsighted, proactive, aggressive and always on the defensive. The aforementioned are aspects of the modern Russian psyche that is least understood by non-Russians. Which is why Russian actions always seem to catch Western powers by surprise.

Russia's land borders, which borders 16 nations and stretches for well over 12,000 miles, does not have natural barriers. Russia's southern regions, in particular, which straddles the Turkic/Islamic world, does not have much strategic depth. Dangers in the region have the potential therefore to directly threaten the Russian heartland. Throughout history Russian leaders have therefore sought to establish buffer states around the Russian mainland. This is why Russian leaders have looked at the Caucasus, both north and south, as a strategic buffer protecting the Russian heartland. This is why when Moscow sensed a serious threat in Georgia in the summer of 2008, it did not hesitate to take military action. We have also seen Moscow take similar proactive military stances in Syria and Ukraine more recently. Fundamentally, it all has to do with Moscow's fears over Russia's lack of defensive depth. Maintaining sufficient strategic depth - i.e. stopping threats far from Russia's borders - is a problem that has kept Russian leaders busy for centuries. The matter in question has become a fundamental part of their defense doctrine.

Russians know that losing the south Caucasus will directly threaten Russia's hold over the north Caucasus. Needless to say, Russians know that losing the north Caucasus will directly threaten the Russian mainland. Therefore, we should all have by now come to the realization that Russia's southern border essentially begins in the south Caucasus and Russia will do everything it can to maintain a powerful presence in the region.

For Russian leaders, the importance of controlling the Caucasus cannot therefore be overstated because, as noted above, its loss can lead to the weakening of the Russian state, and even perhaps lead to its fragmentation one day. The Caucasus therefore plays a very vital role for Kremlin policymakers. The problem here is that all of Russia's opponents today - Westerners, Jewry, Turks and Islamists - also know this. After all, wrestling the strategic Caucasus from Russian control was the reason behind the Chechen wars of the 1990s, when virtually all of Russia's opponents mentioned above played a role in it. It is therefore no secret that when it comes to eastern Europe, central Asia and the Caucasus, Moscow will spare no effort in securing the regions militarily and bringing them back into its fold economically and politically.

Recently, Moscow's plan to bring the south Caucasus back into its orbit has been given renewed priority due to three factors: 1) With Russia resurging as a power throughout the region, Russian officials may be thinking it's high time to reinstate their control over the region that that they consider part of Russia's orbit. 2) With the surge of major wars in adjacent regions, Russian officials fear that conflict may also spill into the south Caucasus. 3) Russian officials also fear that Baku's war of attrition against Armenia, as well as its increasing economic problems, may ignite a major war in the south Caucasus. 

Russian officials know that in case of a major war, say in Turkey or Iran, the south Caucasus can act as a forward fortress and provide Moscow the defensive depth that it desperately needs along its vulnerable underbelly. It was therefore expected that Moscow would begin paying more attention to the unresolved disputes that exists within territories that it see as part of its sphere of influence. Needless to say the dispute over Artsakh is one of the region's main problems at this time.

While the status quo in Artsakh served Moscow's interests during the past two decades, it is now increasingly looking as if this will not be the case much longer. Having returned to the south Caucasus after many years of absence, Moscow will not want an open wound getting in the way of its plans for the region. Moscow may therefore try to force a peace settlement on Yerevan and Baku. Despite opinions to the contrary, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan will no doubt end one day. It's only a matter of time. And that is when things might get a little complicated for Armenia.

I personally believe that Artsakh's unification with Armenia will eventually happen, and it will happen with Moscow's blessing, be it overt or covert. Russia will continue being Armenia's closest and most trusted partner for well into the foreseeable future. However, while Russian officials look upon Armenia as a reliable ally in a very strategic but anti-Russian environment, they also desire to see Baku come back into Russia's political and economic orbit. Azerbaijan's location - situated on Central Asian energy distribution conduits and acting as a buffer zone between Russia and Iran - makes Baku strategically valuable for Moscow, as well as other regional interests. Russian officials know that Western powers, Turkey, Israel and Iran have been courting Baku for the past 25-plus years. Moscow cannot afford losing Baku to them. This is why Moscow has been doing its best to maintain leverage over Baku, and this is why Moscow has been very cautiously walking a tightrope between Armenia and Azerbaijan in recent years.

While we Armenians can expect Russians to continue securing Armenia's (including Artsakh's) existence on a grander, strategic level, we cannot expect (nor should we want) Russians to turn their backs on Azerbaijan. Moscow cannot risk turning Azerbaijan into a center of Western or Turkic/Islamic operations. This means, while Moscow may ultimately be inclined to support Artsakh's reunification with Armenia, that does not mean Moscow will support Armenian claims over all of the territories taken outside of the internationally recognized boundaries of Artsakh. It also means, Moscow may eventually want to station troops between Armenians and Azeris.
 
Having established leverages over both Armenia and Azerbaijan, Moscow is currently trying to assess how far Armenians and Azeris would be willing to bend to make a final peace settlement possible. A lot of proposals are being thrown around and formulas are being devised. A lot of closed-door meetings are taking place. A lot of trial balloons are being floated. Moscow has not attempted to force the issue thus far because it realizes just how sensitive the matter is in Yerevan and Baku. Imposing a settlement from above runs the risk of toppling both the Armenian and Azeri leadership. Moscow is therefore playing it patiently, but it will remain persistent and may yet make a concerted push if it senses an opportunity. That day may be some time away. 

Nevertheless, in the meanwhile, we need to learn to ignore the fear-mongering being carried-out by Armenia's Western-led political opposition activists and Western-supported propaganda outlets like "Hetq", "Gala", "Lragir", "Azatutyun Radio" and others. In other words: Russia is not getting ready to sell Armenia or Artsakh to anyone, let alone to Turks or Muslims. Moscow is simply working behind-the-scenes to try to settle the dispute between Yerevan and Baku. This is natural. This is expected. This is good. It remains to be seen how successful Moscow will be. The Artsakh knot will not be an easy one to undo because both sides of the dispute essentially claim full ownership to the land, although the Armenian side is, at least ostensibly, open to negotiations.

Putting it mildly, the mood in Baku is not receptive to a peace settlement at this time. And may not be so for a while, because for 25-plus years Azeri officials seeded their country with extreme forms of anti-Armenianism. Azerbaijan's younger generation, in particular, has been raised solely on anti-Armenian propaganda as well as repeated promises that Karabakh will be liberated by Azerbaijan's powerful military. In fact, Azeri officials have used the fear and hate of Armenians among the Azeri population to justify their massive military spending. How can Baku now stop all this and simply tell its people that the time has come to make a peace deal with Armenians without risking serious internal political unrest? Baku is therefore stuck in a very bad situation of its own making.

This is why I think there will be another round of fighting, which the Azeri side will surely lose. But, eventually, inevitably, one way or another, and despite what the Armenian Diaspora wants, there will come a juncture where both Armenians and Azeris will be faced with an opportunity to settle their differences. Until we get to that juncture, how well Armenia's military is able to fend-off Azeri military incursions that will be periodically coming its way will be crucially important to setting the right kind of attitude ahead of any future negotiations. Once we get to that juncture, the political unity of Armenians and the exploitive capabilities of Armenia's diplomatic corps will thereafter be a determinant factor in the dispute's final settlement.

Speaking of manipulating and exploiting circumstances towards political gains, I'd like to add the following: It is no secret that I am often angered by the presence of extremist groups and Western-financed activists in Armenia. I see such pro-Western and/or anti-Russian groups in Armenia as long term risks. I often characterize them as cancerous cells in the Armenian body. But, my intellectual objectivity, as well as my healthy dose of cynicism, allows me to also look at this matter from another angle. I mentioned in one of my previous blog commentaries that there was a "silver lining" to all the political unrest we have seen in Armenia.

In the spirit of, "never let a serious crisis go to waste", I believe last summer's coup attempt can be used by Armenian officials to strengthen Armenia's position during negotiations.

It goes without saying that Founding Parliament, a small but vociferous organization, is a foreign-funded operation. It goes without saying that its rank-and-file is for the most part anti-Russian. It also goes without saying that what its members tried to pull-off last summer was a coup motivated, at least in part, by a desire to sabotage any potential peace talks with Baku that would involve land concessions. However, there is also a good possibility that Armenia's National Security Services (NSS) had informants working in Founding Parliament or that the organization was actually penetrated by NSS agents.

With that in mind, consider this: There were some strange aspects to last summer's coup attempt. This leads me to suspect that elements within Armenia's security apparatus may have somehow been involved in orchestrating the incident. At the very least, they may have simply allowed it to happen. I say this because the leading militants involved in the coup were all well-known to security officials because they were members of Founding Parliament and were constantly making threats against the Armenian government. It was widely known that the organization and its members were under surveillance by Armenia's NSS. I therefore refuse to believe that the militants were able to organize such an operation - involving more than two dozen armed men - without the government's knowledge. Moreover, a number of militants involved in the incident had at the time recently come to Armenia from abroad (including from Russia) and a number of these were quickly released after the two week standoff ended. There was a mysterious death of a policeman. Varuzhan Avetisyan, the commander of the militants seemed to enjoy an unusually warm relationship with security officials. But the most suspicious aspect of the coup attempt in my opinion was security officials allowing the militants to have what seemed to be unrestricted access to social media, which the militants gladly used to make their demands publicly know.

The stranger aspects of last summer's ordeal may not have been due to incompetence of Armenian officials after all. There is a very good possibility that the extremist group was manipulated or goaded into doing what it did by Armenian security officials. At the very least, law-enforcement officials may have stood-down and allowed the militant group to carryout their plan. In hindsight, it is beginning to look as if the militants unwittingly became pawns in a much bigger chess game than they could have possibly imagined. Founding Parliament crazies therefore cannot be given any credit for anything other than being unsuspecting dupes. The credit in my opinion goes to Armenian authorities.

It is very possible that official Yerevan allowed the situation to get to the point that it did to show the world that Armenia cannot risk ceding lands to Azerbaijan. By pointing to the extremists in the country (regardless of who they are funded by) official Yerevan can show Russians, Westerners and Azeris/Turks alike that Armenians are violently opposed to pulling back from any territory in Artsakh that is currently under Armenian control. By making Russian officials know that Western-funded groups in Armenia are growing in strength, official Yerevan can force Moscow's hand and make it play a more proactive role inside Armenia. I admit that this is a very delicate and dangerous game and that it can seriously backfire.

However, the unexpected appearance of the Iskander ballistic missile system in Armenia; the reemergence of highly popular Karen Karapetyan in the country's political scene; the up-tick in Ara Abrahamyan's activities; the Russian-Armenian arms expo; and the flurry of Russian officials visiting Armenia recently are all very positive signs from Moscow. More significantly, they have all come on the heels of last summer's political unrest. This may be evidence that Yerevan's flirtations with Western powers and nationalist extremists may be paying some political dividends - or that everything, including the coup attempt and its aftermath, is being closely coordinated with Moscow.

This reminds of the words of the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: That which does not kill us makes us stronger. So, in a sense, Armenia is stronger today because its extremists and Western-led activists have not succeeded in killing it. Regardless of who or what was behind it, the crisis that afflicted Armenia last summer has the potential now to make the country stronger. Everyone now - including Russians, Americans and Azeris - have gotten a little taste of what can happen if official Yerevan is even perceived as being too giving in terms of land concessions.  I firmly believe that the crisis Armenia endured will at the very least give Armenian officials an upper hand in any negotiations over Artsakh. I also believe that it may force Armenian officials to begin reconsidering their management - or rather mismanagement - of the country.

I am of course speculating. I admit I may be reading too much into the incident. I may therefore be wrong about this. However, I do nonetheless believe that if properly manipulated and exploited by national security officials, extremist groups in the country can be helpful for Armenia in two fundamental ways: By forcing Moscow's to become more active inside Armenia and by helping strengthen Armenia's hand during negotiations over Artsakh. Needless to say, more needs to be done to manipulate existing circumstances and situations today to help bring about and mold circumstances and situations that are more conducive to Armenian interests. More needs to be done to manipulate the political landscape in Moscow to derive benefits for Armenia and Artsakh.

This needs to be done because Armenians cannot expect Russians to uphold every single one of Armenia's interests - especially in the absence of Armenian lobbying efforts in Moscow. Yes, Russia will ensure Armenia's existence as a nation-state, but the particulars of that existence, like exact boundaries, will be determined by how well Armenians are able to manipulate the political process. Therefore, a deep understanding of regional affairs, pragmatic nationalism, disciplined militarism, political foresight and being proactive in Moscow are all essential for a positive outcome.

We Armenians also need to be cognizant of the fact that there is absolutely no room for maximalistic or extremist attitudes in politics. Politics is not a zero-sum game. Such approaches can only lead to defeat and destruction. There are many examples from around the world.

In fact, there are many examples right from our own experience. One such example is the rigidity of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) during the time of the First Republic. Hoping that the French and the British will eventually come to their rescue from thousands of miles away, the ARF-led government at the time stubbornly refused to negotiate with the newly established Bolshevik government in Moscow. Although Russia's Bolsheviks were essentially Armenia's neighbors and their power was gradually expanding throughout the Caucasus, Armenia's government was instead looking to distant France and Britain for salvation. In other words, Armenians at the time had no real understanding of the political world they lived in. They had therefore hopelessly cornered themselves with their ideological extremism. In fact, not only was Armenia, essentially a failed state at the time, in a state of war with Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Armenia's leadership was also agitating against Bolsheviks. Needless to say, there was no Western cavalry coming to Armenia's rescue. Needless to say, Armenia were in no condition to fight anyone.  The battle of Sardarapat, by international standards of the time, was a skirmish. Turks would have come back with a larger, more lethal army. In the end, Armenia may have lost more lands than necessary. Thankfully, Bolsheviks took over what was left. Thankfully, due to the Bolshevik presence in the south Caucasus, Turks stayed away. In the big picture, the losses of Kars, Ardahan, Nakhijevan and Artsakh were due to catastrophic failures in Armenia's foreign policy. In my opinion, had we had pragmatic leaders with foresight and a good understanding of the political world they lived in, at least some of those lands would have been saved. It is troubling that even today many Armenians, due to their arrogance, pride and political illiteracy, refuse to learn from their history.

We as a people need to be firm, yet also be willing to bend where needed. We need to be aggressive, yet also seek peace. Most important of all, we need to realize that the south Caucasus needs Russian stewardship if Armenia is to come out of its 25 year nightmare. We Armenians must understand that we cannot afford to live through another 25 years of what we have lived through. This time around, Armenian officials are not my concern. I believe Armenia's foreign ministry is capable of doing the right thing in this regard. I say this because Russian-Armenian ties are now quite deep and for the most part institutionalized. Moreover, I believe Russian forces are in Armenia for the long-term. What concerns me therefore are Armenia's Western-backed political activists and nationalist crazies, as well as our armchair generals in the Diaspora, who from the comforts of theirs homes make daily calls for war against Azerbaijan and Turkey.

We as a people must in principal be ready for serious negotiations with Azerbaijan. We must accept that such talks may entail land concessions. Needless to say, we must enter such talks from a position of strength. In my opinion, a position of strength for Armenia means a very capable military and a very deep alliance with Moscow. While Armenia's military needs to be its tactical advantage on the battlefield, Yerevan's ties with Moscow must be made its strategic advantage on the global chessboard. Nevertheless, we as a people must be willing to talk and seriously consider land concessions if (I emphasize if) there is a genuine opportunity for peace one day. The particulars of land concessions is altogether another topic of discussion, although I touch upon the subject a little later in my commentary. What I am essentially trying to say here is that at least in principle we as a people need to be ready to negotiate a comprehensive peace settlement.

At the end of the day, Armenia must have peace with its neighbors. Yes, I wholeheartedly believe that. The reason why Armenia is as backward and vulnerable as it is today is because the Turkic/Islamic region where Armenia unfortunately finds itself has not had sustained periods of peace for hundreds of years. Anyone that has read this blog knows that I am under no illusions whatsoever about Armenia's neighbors. Moreover, I'm still of the mindset that if Armenia is to ever breakout of its desolate mountainous prison it needs access to the Black Sea and/or common borders with Russia. If the time is right, that is if Azerbaijan, Turkey and/or Georgia descend into serious internal problems, I would wholeheartedly support a war that would bring Armenia to the Black Sea or to the borders of Russia. Needless to say such, if the time comes to embark on such an endeavor, it must be coordinated with Russia. Such an opportunity could have presented itself several years ago. I spoke about it at the time. Such an opportunity may still come. Therefore, it's all in the timing. Geopolitical circumstances of the times will determine whether there will be peace or war. We can't however sit back and simply wait for such a war because it may or may not come. But, what we know for sure is that without peace in the south Caucasus, Armenia will continue to stagnate. If we don't have a major regional war in the nations noted above to try to exploit, we then need to have peace. What I'm simply saying here is that I want Armenians to be as ready for peace as they are for war. I want Armenians to always be politically aggressive yet always seek peace as well. As I said above, my concern is not Armenia's leadership. My concern is our extremists on both sides of the political spectrum: Our nationalist warmongers are a problem just as much as our self-hating liberal peaceniks.

Yes, it is a very difficult/nuanced approach to Armenia's regional challenges, but we don't have any other options in my opinion. Simply put: Too much militarism will hurt Armenia, too much anti-militarism will also hurt Armenia. In the long run, however, peace, normal neighborly relations, has to be somehow achieved in the south Caucasus if only for Armenia's longevity and well being. I know I'm not making friends saying any of this but making friends was never a motivation behind this blog. I simply want the reader to rationally think about what's begin said here even if he or she disagrees.

Since Armenians have a bad habit of comparing Armenians to Jews and therefore Armenia to Israel, allow me to also say this: Even "almighty" Jews were made to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip by their closest and most faithful ally, the United States. Even Jews cannot outright annex the West Bank because of objections by their American allies. Allow me to remind the reader that Jews also shed their precious blood in the occupation of these lands. Moreover, even Jews, who for the most part control American foreign policy, have not yet been able to get the US to attack their existential threat, Iran. Jews who number in the tens-of-millions around the world and control much of the world's financial wealth, as well as politics in Washington DC, are not maximalistic in their political aspirations in the Middle East and they don't play a zero sum game. Yet, here we are - a tiny, dispersed and disorganized people with a tiny, dependent, impoverished and landlocked country - not only insisting we will not pull back from a single plot of land, but we are also demanding more lands from Azerbaijan (and Turkey), and we waste no opportunity to accuse Russia of treason for not attacking Azerbaijan on Armenia's behalf. So, yes, we Armenians do exhibit crazy mountain people traits.

Success in Artsakh is dependent upon the depth of Armenia's ties with Russia

I repeat: Even almighty Israel was forced to cede territory to its enemies. Even God's so-called "chosen" has given up territory for peace with neighbors that still hate it. Even Zionists cannot outright annex the West Bank or move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Even organized Jewry has been unsuccessful in getting its most faithful ally attack Iran. Israel also desperately need defensive depth. Yet, of all the territories that the Israeli military occupied in the 1967 war, the only territory Tel Aviv would not give up under any circumstances is the Golan HeightsEven Russians, who as I pointed out previously are always very concerned about their nation's defensive depth, are at times forced to pull back. Even Russians are at times forced to put their national interests on hold. That is why after liberating Crimea, Moscow did not make a direct move on the rest of Novorossiya. Did Moscow fear Ukraine? No. Did Moscow fear that NATO might get involved? Not really. Simply put: Moscow assessed that the time for bringing Crimea back under its fold was perfect, but it concluded that the time for Donbass was not yet ripe.

We see two of the world's most powerful nations conceding territory to their enemies purely for sound geopolitical reasons. There are many such examples around the world. So, what makes us Armenians think we are different?

We need to put to sleep the Qaj Nazar that dwells inside us. We also need to put to sleep that cat inside us that likes to see a lion every-time it looks into the mirror. Politics is a game of chess. Politics is a game of give and take. Politics is a game that is played by pragmatic people with intelligence, wisdom and foresight. There is no room for maximalistic attitudes in politics. There is no room for emotions in politics. I agree that Baku is currently in a war-footing and cannot therefore be expected to negotiate a genuine peace settlement. I agree that real peace is still far away. As I have said, we may even see another round of major fighting before things finally settle down. However, what I want the reader to understand is that the time for peace will eventually come and when it does it will be brokered by Moscow. When that time arrives, and we'll know when it does, we Armenians will need to be ready for concessions.

When we eventually get to it, the final settlement phase, that which will involve concessions, may prove to be one of the most difficult parts of the decades old dispute over Artsakh. Besides the current wide gap between Yerevan's and Baku's take on the matter, I have no doubt that problems will also be caused by all parties involved: Russians, Westerners, Turks, Azeris, Islamists, Jewry, Iranians, Georgians, Armenian nationalists, Armenia's political opposition, the Armenian Diaspora... as well as Armenians that blame Artsakh (and its people) for all of Armenia's problems (believe me, such garbage exists in bigger numbers than one would think).

Despite it all, we must recognize that Moscow is the primary power-broker in the south Caucasus. Being that Moscow is also Armenia's strategic partner, we must recognize that Moscow holds the keys to Armenia's successes in Artsakh. In other words: if Armenians are smart enough to recognize Moscow's hegemony in the Caucasus region and work to harness the potential of its strategic alliance with the Russian Bear, Artsakh will fair well. If not, we may have to deal with some unpleasant situations.

That said, Baku's ties to Western powers, Israel and Turkey and its hardstand regarding Artsakh will work in Yerevan's favor. Yerevan's flirtations with Western powers and the seeding of anti-Russian hysteria in Armenia may work in Baku's favor. If Yerevan remains firmly within the Russian orbit, begins containing its Western-financed fifth column and begins working on deepening Russo-Armenian relations, then Artsakh proper, all of it, will remain part of Armenia. Regarding the "7 territories" outside of Artsakh proper: From a personal, Armenian perspective, I would rather not want us pulling back from any of the territories in question. The Azeri occupation of Nakhijevan, Shahumyan and parts of Martakert is bad enough. I would actually like to see these territories brought back to Armenia one day. The south Caucasus is very cluttered. Armenia's has virtually no defensive depth. So, yes, territorial expansion (especially towards the Black Sea and/or Russia) should be in the hearts and minds of all Armenians around the world. That said, there may come a time for us to pull back from some of the said territories currently under our control.

If Baku is genuinely interested in ending hostilities with Yerevan, I don't see a problem with Armenian troops, for instance, withdrawing from Aghdam. I am merely suggesting. Aghdam for recognition. Perhaps Fizuli for Shahumyan. From the perspective of realpolitik, such a deal, if achieved, would be a major victory for Armenia. I also don't see any problems with stationing Russians troops between Armenians and the Azeris. As I mentioned, Armenia does not have defensive depth. In real military terms, Armenian control over a region like Aghdam does not in real military terms solve this problem. Russian troops can thus act as Armenia's defensive depth on Armenia's eastern front, as they do on Armenia's western front. I therefore have no problems with having Moscow place its peacekeepers between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I also have no problems with Armenian forces pulling back from some territories - if (I emphasize if) Baku is genuinely willing to reciprocate such a move by Armenia by recognizing Artsakh's reunification with Armenia. 

However, what cannot under any circumstances be discussed (i.e. Armenia's red line) is return of Azeri "refugees" and pulling back from Karvajar and Berdzor regions. There are things that simply cannot be a subject for discussion. The international community needs to know that there things that we as a nation are willing to go to war over.

In principal, the Armenian side must be willing to negotiate and discuss concessions. Why? Essentially because Azeris are not ready or able to do the same. Official Baku has fostered a culture of hate and extremism with regards to Armenians. It will therefore be very difficult, if not outright impossible, for Baku to negotiate anything with Armenians. Baku has therefore cornered itself into a position where it has no choice but to be maximalistic. The political rigidity in Baku is a key advantage for Yerevan. Let Baku look like the party not willing to negotiate. Let Russian officials view Baku as the primary party undermining their ambitions in the south Caucasus. By showing the international community, particularly Moscow, that Yerevan is ready and willing to make a deal whereas Baku is not, the pressure from Moscow will automatically be placed on Baku. If however official Yerevan listens to our armchair generals in the Diaspora and extremist chobans in Armenia and therefore adopts their irrational attitudes, Moscow will place pressure on Yerevan as well.

Ultimately, the important thing for us here of course is getting the kind of deal we want. This in my opinion is contingent upon how effectively we lobby Russians. The key to our success lies in the effort we put into explaining to our Russian partners the importance of keeping Artsakh fully under Armenian administration. An intelligent approach to the matter would be to somehow convince Kremlin officials that Armenian control over all of Artsakh serves Russia's regional interests. In other words: Making Russians believe that it is in their interests to have Armenians not only control Artsakh proper but also its surrounding territories. How this can be done, I'll leave to the talents of Armenia's leadership. However, this is the kind of problem solving we need to engage in as a people. This is the kind of mindset we need in Yerevan and in the Armenian Diaspora.

That said, we will fail miserably if we do what our "nationalistic" idiots tend to do during times like this - which is to turn against Russia and get the self-destructive urge to try to establish a ծովից-ծով Հայաստան. Anti-Russian attitudes in Yerevan will not help us in anyway, not only because it seeds Armenia's younger generations with cancerous toxicity but also because it will make Moscow distrustful of Yerevan. Why would Russians want to strengthen a nation that exhibits any degree of Russophobic tendencies? 

Instead of Russophobia and illusions of grandeur, this is a time when the Russian Bear has to be fully embraced by Armenians - if we want it to do us any favors. In other words, telling Russians that we will look Westward if it does not do everything we want it to do will not work. In other words, we Armenians need to develop some political sophistication, and do so real fast. In this regard, I'm glad to say Baku is in the worst position because unlike Armenian officials who have repeatedly shown their willingness to negotiate, Azeri officials have raised an entire generation of Azeris to harbor intense hate for Armenians and expect total victory in Artsakh. Therefore, while a land for peace deal may create some unpleasant situations in Armenia (like the one we saw last summer), it may actually topple Sultan Aliyev. Aliyev's ouster, which is a real possibility, has the potential to either bring to power a more aggressive government (one that will upset Moscow) or pro-Russian government (that will upset Western powers and Turkey). Both cases would work in Armenia's favor.

We as a people need to be smart and farsighted about this. This is where a healthy understanding of geopolitics, international relations and an emotionless approach to political matters is essential for a positive outcome. What lands we give back in exchange for peace is ultimately dependent upon the capabilities of our officials and the quality of our relationship with Russia. The most important thing here for us is to understand that organized lobbying efforts in Moscow is an essential need. It therefore concerns me that one of the major flaws in Armenia's foreign policy today is the lack of Armenian lobbying efforts in Moscow. So, if Russians one day make decisions that are against the interests of Armenia/Artsakh, it will essentially be a failure of Armenian diplomacy.

I repeat: Russia will secure Armenia's and Artsakh's existence. There is no doubt about that. Actually, Russian military representatives have in the past suggested Russia will intervene on Armenia's behalf if Azerbaijan launches a war against Armenia or Artsakh. But the particulars of that existence (exact boundaries) will be determined by how well Armenians lobby Armenian interests inside the walls of the Kremlin. We need to lobby Russian officials as obsessively as we lobby Western officials for genocide recognition. Success in Artsakh is contingent upon the quality of Armenia's ties with Russia.

The desire to maintain a close relationship with Western powers - essentially for financial handouts - has made official Yerevan neglect its ties with Moscow. Azerbaijan and Turkey on the other hand have been doing their utmost best to lobby Russian officials. The indifference Armenian officials show in regards to Armenia's relations with Russia is very alarming. In the following two television interviews we see Chairman of Union of Armenians in Russia Ara Abrahamyan and former Armenian National Security Council Secretary Arthur Baghdasaryan raising the alarm about the lack of Armenian lobbying efforts inside Moscow and the inability of official Yerevan today to efficiently exploit its strategic relationship with Moscow -
Ara Abrahamyan (watch from 18:25): http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=rpf0iLdCJmU&feature= youtube_gdata_player

Արթուր Բաղդասարյան (watch from 48:30): https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=GARDQ9WCcko
And this, about the lack of Yerevan's footprint in Armenia's most important neighbor -
Alexander Gusyev: “Iran is building a road through Azerbaijan because of Armenian leadership’s indifference”: http://rusarminfo.ru/alexander-gusyev-iran-is-building-a-road-through-azerbaijan-because-of-armenian-leaderships-indifference/
Amazingly, Armenia, a nation today that is desperately dependent on Russia and to a lesser extent Iran for survival, is not actively engaging in any form of organized lobbying efforts in Moscow or Tehran! It seems that Armenians are too busy searching for easy money and luxury goods in the Western world. And they say Armenians are smart?!?!?! Armenia's diplomatic void in Moscow has been so apparent that Russians themselves are now complaining about it. During a recent press conference in Yerevan, Vladimir Solovyov implied that the Armenian ambassador to Russia is failing to do his job -
Ո՞վ է Ռուսաստանում Հայաստանի դեսպանը, ես չգիտեմ․ Սոլովյով: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03mJkpA3I4M
Within days after Vladimir Solovyov's complaint about the absence of Armenian political activity in Moscow, official Yerevan finally announced some long overdue changes -
Vardan Toghanyan is new Armenian Ambassador to Russia : http://www.mediamax.am/en/news/politics/22544/
Vardan Toghanyan intends to strengthen Armenian lobbying in Russia: http://www.mediamax.am/en/news/politics/22711/
Armenian Ambassador to Russia says one of hid msjor tasks is to make Armenia attractive for investors: https://armenpress.am/eng/news/883594/armenian-ambassador-to-russia-says-one-of-his-major-tasks-is-to-make-armenia-attractive-for-investors.html 
Armenian Ambassador to Russia: No anti-Russian political parties or blocs in Armenia: http://arka.am/en/news/politics
Finally! I have been advocating organized Armenian lobbying efforts in Moscow for well over ten years now. I guess we needed to hear it from Russians themselves. But just think about this for a moment. It was Russians themselves that noticed a void in Armenian diplomacy in Moscow and felt compelled to tell us that we needed to do something about it. Doesn't that say a lot?! Doesn't that suggest Russians are actually concerned about Armenia well being? Doesn't that reveal just how politically incompetent we Armenians tend to be? It's so damn embarrassing for me as an Armenian that we had to wait until a Russian came to our country to tell us something we ourselves should have easily, quickly figured out some twenty-five years ago. In any case, better late than never. 

As unlikely as it may seem right now, there is a very strong chance that a final settlement will be possible in the coming years. When such an opportunity comes, we as a people should be ready to embrace it. If we want to see Armenia resume the development it had begun during Soviet times, we need regional peace. If we want to see Armenians begin repatriating to Armenia once again; we need regional peace. If we want to see peace and stability return to the south Caucasus - then Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan will have to enter the Russian orbit once more and we need to end the Great Game, the international tug-of-war taking place in the region for more than 25 years now. Ultimately, what the the south Caucasus desperately needs is Pax Russica. I believe Georgia will come to terms with Russia, sooner or later, with or without Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian officials know that their agenda to bring Georgia back under Russia's fold will become much easier once the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan is settled. Therefore, the key to establishing Pax Russica in the region is resolving the dispute over Artsakh.


As of now, however, all this talk about "land for peace" is a moot matter. We are not dealing with rational people on the other side of the negotiations table. I do not think Baku will willingly and in good faith negotiate with Yerevan. Knowing how Azeris/Turks are, I'm afraid the only way to settle the Artsakh dispute for once and for all will be through another war. A real war, not like the one we had a year ago. The only other way the dispute can be settled is if Azerbaijan descends into chaos in the next few years, which is also a real possibility. In either case, Moscow will most likely step in and clean-up the mess. Therefore, sooner or later, one way or another, one of the warring parties, perhaps both, will be dragged to the peace table and be forced to sign a settlement agreement. Let's hope that the party that will be dragged to the table is Baku. Actually, let's not hope, let's work towards making that happen. When that day comes, Yerevan can outclass Baku on the battlefield and at the negotiations table through a powerful military, political foresight and deep ties with the Kremlin,

Moscow sells arms to Baku because major powers see the world on a grander scale

I understand that all this is a moot point for a vast majority of Armenians. The thing that Armenians generally speaking have a very hard time understanding is realpolitik. It does not matter how wealthy or how educated an Armenian is, when it comes to serious political matters, the Armenian acts like emotional child. An Armenian can be brilliant in science, medicine, literature, art, business, sports, etc. But somehow when it comes to politics, the Armenian is a self-destructive peasant regardless of his or her social status. I personally think this is a serious matter that has its roots in culture (up bringing) and genetics (i.e. breeding). Political ignorance is so pervasive in Armenian society that there is actually an Armenian word for describing politically ignorant Armenians engaging in serious political analysis: It's called, կոշկակարների քաղաքականութիւն. Translated, it means the politics according to shoemakers. In other words: Tradesmen trying to make sense out of stuff that is well above their heads. And when you add typical Armenian arrogance and emotions to this political illiteracy, it becomes a volatile mix. For such people, politics is like a domestic dispute or a street brawl. And the sad thing about Armenian society today is that it's not only tradesmen but doctors, professors, lawyers, clergymen and even politicians that engage in կոշկակարների քաղաքականութիւն.

It is no secret that Western intelligence services and their lackeys embedded throughout Armenian society are on the constant lookout to hijack complex geopolitical matters like the issue of Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan and grossly misrepresent the matter to make it their self-serving political narrative. That narrative, a poisonous cocktail, is then fed to the Armenian sheeple through a number activists and news media outlets. Consequently, discussions about Russia and Artsakh among Armenians inevitably turns into discussions about Russian arms supplies to Azerbaijan. I have lost count of how many times I have reflected on this matter, but I guess one more time won't hurt. To begin with, I present the reader the Russian Prime Minister's comments about this most contentious of matters for us Armenians -
"If we imagine for a minute that Russia has given up this role (of arms seller), we well understand that this place will not stay vacant... They will buy weapons in other countries, and the degree of their deadliness won't change in any way... But at the same time, this could destroy the existing balance of forces (in the region)" - Dmitry Medvedev'
Russia's Prime Minister basically said: If Moscow broke its ties with Baku, then Western, Israeli, Turkish and Islamist interests will inevitably fill the void; the region will not be less militarized; and Armenia will not be able to maintain its military parity with a wealthy Azerbaijan. In other words, PM Medvedev is saying Moscow would lose control of the situation in the region if it stopped dealing with Baku.

From an emotional perspective, I don't like the thought of our allies in Moscow selling weapons to our enemies in Baku. From a political perspective, however, I fully agree with the comments made by the Russian prime minister. I think the situation with Baku could be much worst had Russia not been in the picture in Azerbaijan. Moscow primary concern is to keep Baku within its orbit. In trying to reclaim the south Caucasus as a Russian zone of influence, Moscow is doing its best to keep Baku away from the Turkey, US, Europe, Israel and Islamists - while keeping Armenia protected at the same time. In my opinion, Moscow is executing a very sophisticated political approach to the very complex dispute in question. And Western-activists, like the filthy smut-peddlers that they are, are exploiting Moscow's political predicament and vulnerability to incite Russophobia inside Armenia.

Let's recognize the fact that Baku has the petrodollars to purchase whatever it wants. If Russia does not sell it the weaponry it is seeking, there are a number of nations that are more than willing to do so. Western powers, Turkey and Israel have in fact been providing Baku with billions-of-dollars in arms and training. The US and Britain even train Azeri sharpshooters, those responsible for killing Armenian border guards. Russian arms sales to Baku is not directed against Armenia. Military specialists and political analysts agree that Russian arms sales to Baku and Yerevan are designed to maintain the balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It may also be a pressure tactic to ensure Yerevan's allegiance to Moscow and allow Russia a greater role inside Armenia and/or Artsakh. This is somewhat similar to how Washington tries to keep its influence over Turks and Greeks and Israelis and Arabs by selling the conflicted parties US made weaponry and mediating between them when problems occur. This was why Azerbaijani forces did not used any of their newly acquired weapons systems against Armenian defense forces in Artsakh during the four day war in April. 

While Russia sells weaponry to Azerbaijan at market prices, it gives weaponry to Armenia at domestic (insider) prices, and sometimes for free. Azeris have had the luxury - the petrodollars - to purchase whatever they want from whomever they want. Armenia on the other hand does not have the resources for maintaining military parity with Azerbaijan. Russia is therefore giving Armenia whatever arms it needs to counter Azeri aggression. The recent provision of the Iskander ballistic missile system to Armenia is proof of this. We also know that Armenia has a tiny military (so tiny that yearly recruitment quotas aren't even being met). By militarily covering the entire length of Armenia's vulnerable border with Turkey, Russia is giving Armenia the ability to concentrate its meager resources on its more manageable border with Azerbaijan.

This is how Russia's military presence in Armenia is the single most strategic factor contributing to Armenia's existence as a nation-state in the south Caucasus.

We also need to recognize that Russia has normal relations with Azerbaijan. Moscow is also trying hard to lure Azerbaijan into its orbit and by selling it the weaponry that Baku wants, Moscow realizes it gains leverage over Baku - which is good for Armenia. Russia will therefore do its best to maintain good relations with Baku while making sure Armenia is protected from Baku. I should also add this: Even though Armenia is allied to Russia and Armenians in general are very pro-Russian, Kremlin officials know very well that Armenians in positions of power can be easily bought by Western money and that Armenia and Armenian society in general is rife with Western operatives. A quick look at Armenian society these days is enough to show one that Russians cannot trust Armenians, even if there was a thing called “trust” in politics. Therefore, Russia will protect its only strategic ally in the south Caucasus but it will also make sure to also have some leverage over Yerevan by arming Baku, just in case. Russia is thus managing the situation on the ground between Yerevan and Baku by making sure that the current status quo, that which benefits the Armenian side, is maintained.

At the end of the day there is also something called realpolitik: the necessity to keep both Yerevan and Baku dependent on Russia. I am willing to admit that Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan (specifically, the delivery of weapons systems such as the Smerch) is one of the flaws found in Russo-Armenian relations today. Flaws that exist in the relationship is however a direct consequence of Yerevan's flirtations with the West as well as the absence of Armenian lobbying activities in Moscow as noted above. With that said, I say it's a flaw merely because of the way it's perceived (i.e. the negative psychological effect it has on Armenian society).

Nevertheless, Russian arms sales to Baku is not a serious threat to Armenia because Moscow provides Armenia with countermeasures to such arms and also because most of the weapons systems Moscow sells to Baku, such as warships and anti-aircraft missiles, are in fact not directed against Armenia.

Most of Baku's recent arms purchases from Russia are defensive weapons meant for air and sea defenses. One also finds quite a bit of Western and Israeli weaponry in Azerbaijan's arsenal. In fact, most of the damage inflicted on the Armenian side during the "four day" war was done by Israeli made weapons. More importantly, as noted above, for every weapons system Russia sells to Baku it gives Armenia weapons that can counter it on the battlefield. As such, Moscow is maintaining the balance of power between Yerevan and Baku, as it makes sure to keep control over both Yerevan and Baku. Simply put, what Moscow is doing is a pragmatic execution of realpolitik and conflict management. Basically, Moscow is macro-managing the situation on the ground by keeping leverage over both nations and making sure neither nation slips away from its influence. At the end of the day, the big bad Russian Bear is Armenia’s one and only ally, and thank God for that because without Russia, all of the south Caucasus has the potential to be overrun by Turks and Muslims.

Similar to how discussions about Russia and Armenia among Armenians inevitably turn into discussions about Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan, discussions about Russian and Azerbaijani or Turkish relations among Armenians inevitably turns into discussions about the controversial Russian political philosopher, Alexander Dugin.

Alexander Dugin is an extremely intelligent man and he has a strategic vision that needs to be supported. Despite what Western pundits say about him, Dugin is not one of President Putin's closest advisors. He does nonetheless have ties to political and security officials in the Russian Federation. Russian officials have given him the freedom and the task of pursuing his vision. Simply put: Dugin's desire is the repulsion of Western advances in Eurasia by making peace or, if possible, an alliance with Russia's neighboring Turkic peoples. His ultimate desire is to lure Turks (and Azeris) into Russia's orbit. Whether or not this can be done is altogether another topic of discussion. But let's recall that the Bolsheviks failed because of Ataturk's, at the time unknown, intimate ties with the Anglo-American-Jewish world. Perhaps Russians are sensing a better opportunity this time with Erdogan.

The main thing to understand here is that Russians are trying to disarm/defang the region's Turkic peoples because it is the smart thing to do. The alternative to peaceful coexistence with the region's Turkic and Islamic peoples is to have them - one hundred million-plus Turks, Chechens, Azeris, Uzbeks, Tatars, Turkmens, ect. (many millions of whom also live in the Russian Federation itself) - as enemies of Russia. Moscow is trying to avoid a clash of civilization because, unlike Western nations, Russia actually borders the Turkic/Islamic world. What Russians are trying to do is therefore strategically wise. I wish them success, because I do not see what they are doing as a threat to Armenia. Russian officials, as well as influential men like Alexander Dugin, know that a fundamental element in trying to establish leverage over Turkic peoples in the region is to have a solid alliance between Russia and Armenia. Russians know all too well that Turkic peoples and Muslims can't be trusted. They therefore look at Armenia as their strategic stronghold and their insurance policy. In a nutshell, the following is more-or-less Alexander Dugin's agenda -

Dugin: "Our goal is the liberation of Turkey from American influence; Armenia is our greatest ally": http://www.fort-russ.com/2015/11/dugin-our-goal-is-liberation-of-turkey.html
Better Russian-Turkish or better Russian-Azeri relations does not pose an existential threat to Armenia. On the contrary, in the big picture, it would be better for Armenia if Turks and/or Azeris did indeed have better relations with Russia. While Alexander Dugin may not be Armenia's friend, but he is not Armenia's enemy either. Alexander Dugin is simply a Russian nationalist, and he is also someone that Armenians need to embrace and engage. I find it troubling and somewhat strange that we Armenians are always upset with the man, but there has never been an effort on our part to connect with him. When was the last time Armenian officials invited him to Armenia for meetings? When was the last time a Diasporan organization invited him for meetings? Have we had closed door meetings with the man? As far as I'm aware, at least on a public level, Armenians have not been in touch with him. Here we have an influential man in Russian politics and Armenians have not attempted to establish ties with him. Why? Because we Armenians have mastered the art of sitting back and just whining and complaining about things we don't like.

To recap: Russian arms sales to Baku does not mean Russia is abandoning Armenia (Moscow would sooner occupy Armenia than abandon it). Russia is not taking sides against Armenia (had Russia taken sides against Armenia, we would not have an Armenia today). Remember that we are talking about a tiny, impoverished and blockaded nation that would not be able to defend itself against any of its predatory neighbors had it not been for the military and economic support it receives from Russia. The same actually applies to Artsakh. Had Russia actually been against Artsakh being under Armenian control, the situation there would have been a whole lot different today. This is the bottom line: Oil rich Baku has the money to purchase whatever it wants from whoever it wants. Armenia does not have that luxury. Russia therefore sells Baku what its military wants to purchase, and Moscow gives to Yerevan what Armenia's military needs to counter what Baku has purchased. In doing so, it maintains levers over both parties. It's that simple.


Russia has been the only reason why an impoverished, landlocked and blockaded Armenia has been able to maintain military parity with an oil rich Azerbaijan. Moreover, Russia is the only factor keeping western Turks on their side of the border, thereby allowing us Armenians to concentrate our limited resources on the Azeri threat. 

Ironically, those who are warning Armenians about Russia are those who are directly or indirectly serving Western and Turkish interests. The point is, Armenia is too small and too weak to have influence even over its territory. The Armenian nation-state is within the Russian orbit, it's part of the Russian world. If Russian influence in Armenia is weakened, American influence will increase by default. Needless to say, falling under Western influence will prove catastrophic for Armenia. Thankfully, Russia will never betray Armenia nor will it ever abandon the south Caucasus. Russian-Armenian relations has historically been based on very firm geostrategic foundations. The two centuries old friendship between the peoples of Russia and Armenia have passed the test of time. Yes, there are flaws in the relationship as there are flaws in any relationship. But instead of fear-mongering about Russia (which is becoming a popular pass time in some circles of Armenian society), Armenians should embark on a pan-national effort to fix the existing flaws between Moscow and Yerevan.

Russia is a massive nation bordering Europe, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia the Far East and the United States. Russia is a superpower. As with all superpowers, Moscow carefully/meticulously formulates geostrategy and implements them cautiously, systematically and professionally. As we saw in the aftermath of the downing of the Russian warplane over the border between Syria and Turkey by the Turkish air force, there is absolutely no room for emotions or knee-jerk reactions in superpower politics. Major powers like Russia see the world on a much grander scale than would a small ethnic group like us Armenians. Russians therefore look at a issue like the dispute over Artsakh or Syria, or even Novorossiya for that matter, not from an emotional, cultural or historical perspective, as we Armenians love to do, but from a legal, political and geostrategic angle as major powers do. It's time we as a people start understanding all this if we want to safely navigate the periodic storms that afflicts the south Caucasus - and exploit opportunities when they present themselves.

Why Armenia needs to remain close to the Russian Bear

The flames ignited by Western powers are slowly getting closer to Armenia's borders. There are troubling signs that the flames will be getting more intense in the coming years. Ukraine, Syria and Iraq will remain very volatile. Turkey, Lebanon, Georgia and Azerbaijan will remain unpredictable, The situation may unexpectedly worsen in any one of these countries. Iran, thus far stable, may find itself in a major war sometime in the next few years. The Azerbaijani leadership will most likely continue its war of attrition, hoping to foment a political uprising inside Armenia. Western-funded activists operating throughout Armenia will continue stirring trouble in the country. Simply put: The situation around Armenia is highly volatile and it may get much worst before it subsides. Armenia's neighborhood is living up to its terrible reputation.

Dangerous neighborhoods, like the one in the south Caucasus, as well as dangerous periods in human history, like the times we are living in, should underscore the strategic importance of maintaining close ties with Russia. Times like this is ultimately why Armenia needs the Russian Bear. Times like this is also why Russia needs Armenia. For Armenians, however, nature of Armenia's ties with Russia is a matter of life and death.

It is therefore a matter that is existential in nature; so much so that Armenia's ties to Russia is in my opinion more important than its ties to the Armenian Diaspora. I am saying this as a Diasporan Armenian. And I am saying this for a very simple and logical reason: Only the Russian Bear can help Armenia defend itself from regional predators. 

If Armenia's existence was ever threatened, which is a mathematical inevitability for a place like the south Caucasus, the best that the Armenian Diaspora would be able to do is send some money, a few hundred military volunteers, and of course organize a lot of rallies in Western capitals. In other words, the Armenian Diaspora would be utterly useless for Armenia in times of a major war. Note: What happened in Artsakh in the 1990s was not a major war, Azerbaijan did not even have a standing army until very late in the war, and the Armenian Diaspora was not instrumental in wining the war for Armenia. Artsakh was liberated because of the fighting spirit of Armenians in the region and because of direct military support from Russia which began arriving starting in 1992, after a post-Soviet Moscow had regained its geopolitical composure. I therefore am a Russophile just as much as I'm an Armenian nationalist. I therefore take heart in knowing that Russia and Armenia today are as close as they have ever been -
Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan: Russian military base in Armenia is responsible for country’s security matters: https://news.am/eng/news/374787.html
President Sargsyan calls Russia Yerevan's top economic partner: https://sputniknews.com/business/201703141051550076-armenia-russia-to-economic-partner/
Presidential advisor Vazgen Manukyan says development of military industry is moving force of EEU progress: https://www.armenpress.am/eng/news/882157/vazgen-manukyan-says-development-of-military-industry-is-moving-force-of-eeu-progress.html
Russia-based ethnic Armenian entrepreneurs promise to invest $300 million in homeland this year: http://arka.am/en/news/economy
Armenia, Russia to launch joint investment fund: http://www.tert.am/en/news/2017/03/15/fund/2308968
Russia and Armenia may switch to settlements in national currencies: http://tass.com/economy/935670
Armenia is joining forces with Russia: http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/11/29/armenia-is-literally-joining-forces-with-russia/
Pew Research Center: 83% of Armenians look to Russia to counter the West: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/10/9-key-findings-about-religion-and-politics-in-central-and-eastern-europe
Although Armenians are by nature very pro-Russian, as a recent Pew Research poll clearly revealed, had it been for the so-called "democratic process", in which most political activists are financed by Western interests, Armenia would have been torn from Russia a long time ago, and the country would have been thoroughly ravaged by regional predators as a result. Armenia has stayed under Russia's protection thanks to a handful of people known to Western activists as the "Karabakh clan". Despite the current Armenian leadership's flaws, both real and perceived, they need to be at least commended for keeping Armenia within Russia's orbit. Armenia's Հանրապետական Կուսակցություն (Hanrapetakan) therefore continues being the lesser evil in the country's decrepit political landscape.

On the wake of Armenia's recent parliamentary elections, I'd like to point out that the popularity enjoyed by unsavory characters like Gagik Tsarukyan, Raffi Hovanissian, Levon Ter Petrosian and Nikol Pashinyan is ample proof that Armenia's electorate remains emotionally unstable and politically illiterate. Armenia's citizenry cannot be trusted with the thing called democracy. Gagik Tsarukyan's Բարգավաճ Հայաստան կուսակցություն (Barkavaj Hayastan) is arguably the most popular political party in Armenia today. Why? Simply because Gagik Tsarukyan gives out handouts. In other words, he is popular because Armenia's electorate is full of beggars with no dignity or self-respect. Don't believe the nonsense about Armenians hating their oligarchs. In the depths of their hearts Armenians actually admire their oligarchs. This is why Armenia's oligarchs are warmly received everywhere they go in the country. This is why not one of them have in any way been harmed by any Armenian (including nationalist crazies) during the past 25-plus years. Armenians are merely envious of their oligarchs. In any case, democracy and capitalism for a politically immature and materialistic people like Armenians is a painful road to national suicide. Most Armenians do not yet understand this. A growing number however are beginning to. One is Markar Melkonian (Monte Melkonian's brother). Markar Melkonian has been warning Armenians about democracy, capitalism and Russophobia for some years now.

I would also like to say that Armenia's Hanrapetakan party pulled off a very impressive win during the parliamentary elections. The voting process was very well organized, relatively orderly and surprisingly modern. Approximately 60% of all registered voters participated, which is also impressive for a country like Armenia where political apathy rules. Hanrapetakans were able to secure about 50% of the votes. The runner-up was Gagik Tsarukyan's Barkavaj Hayastan party, and they got 30% of the votes. More significantly, the losing parties did not object to the final tally. This in itself is no small miracle. Are Armeniams growing up? Perhaps. I nonetheless give Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan the credit for all this. A lot changed in Armenia's political landscape since his return last autumn.

I also have to add this: Armenia's Western activists finally got their wish, but with a little, ironic twist.

Armenia's political system now fully resembles the Western model: Armenia today has a top heavy political system, where the country's citizenry is allowed to participate in limited forms of democracy and where a handful of mainstream political parties are tightly controlled from above by an unseen elite. What Armenia's Western activists were not expecting however is that Moscow is that unseen elite controlling the political process from above. Thank God.

This election cycle showed that Moscow has also begun paying more attention to Armenia. The Kremlin has been actively pulling the political strings in the country right now. Levon Petrosyan, Seyran Ohanyan and Gagik Tsarukyan and several others were playing the role of controlled opposition. Raffi Hovanissian and Vartan Oskanian were allowed to exist for show, like political stage props. Regarding Vartan Oskanian: They put him up on charges in 2012 for not disclosing the millions of dollars he was receiving from a John Huntsman in the United States. He never fully recovered from that ordeal since. Regarding Raffi Hovanissian: Remember when he was boycotting President Sargsyan's win in 2012? Remember when he stopped his nonsense? One minute he was on a hunger strike, next minute he was suddenly flying to Moscow to have closed-door meetings with undisclosed individuals. Raffi more-or-less retired from Armenian politics after his return from Moscow. A similar thing had happened to Gagik in 2007. In any case, as I said, by the latest election cycle in Armenia, men like Raffi and Vartan had become political stage props. The only real political opposition in the country today is, or rather was, Founding Parliament and Paruyr Hayrikian's handful of zombies.

In other words, there is no real political opposition in the country anymore. In other words, Armenia is now a country with two main political parties, Hanrapetakan and Bargavaj Hayastan and they both serve one master. In other words, Armenian politics resembles the American model. Armenia's Western-funded activists should be happy, but they are not. Russia's growing role in the political process in Armenia has become so obvious that even the Washington DC based Stratfor has picked up on it. The following is an excerpt from one of their recent articles -
"But no matter which party comes out on top, Russia can't lose. Karapetyan, Ohanyan and Tsarukyan alike all have close ties with Moscow, whether through business contacts or personal relationships with high-ranking Russian politicians. The prime minister, for example, has ties with several influential figures in Moscow and, as a former executive of the company's Armenian branch, a deep rapport with Gazprom. These relationships are an asset for Russia: The country has a vested interest in the upcoming election, since the party that emerges victorious will have the most say over Armenia's foreign policy. And because the RPA is leading the polls, Moscow isn't worried about keeping anti-Russian parties from taking over. Instead, it is focused on promoting alternative pro-Russian politicians who could eventually challenge Sarkisian or his successor (probably Karapetyan) if necessary. The Kremlin hopes that a future administration of its engineering could quell persistent concerns in Armenia about Russia's stance on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute and its arms deals with Azerbaijan"
Basically, they are admitting to the obvious; the obvious begin that Moscow has more political control over Yerevan today than at any time during the post-Soviet period. The closing of CIA agent John Hugh's ArmeniaNow office in Yerevan a year ago was a good omen. After his dismal showing in the latest election cycle, the American agent Vartan Oskanian has officially abandoned his activities in Armenia and has gone back to his homeland in the United States. Rumors are that Raffi Hovanissian may follow his footsteps. One by one, Uncle Sam's agents are dropping out of the political scene in Armenia essentially because they have been, as President Trump would say, total losers.

For reasons I outlined in several previous blog commentaries, generally speaking, the so-called Armenian street cannot be trusted to do what is in the best interest of Armenia. Let's not fool ourselves, we Armenians today are a mere shadow of what we used to be. The overall quality of the Armenian electorate today is frighteningly low. Armenians continues being Armenia's worst enemy. The situation in the graveyard known as the Armenian Diaspora is no better. We have already seen the dangers of allowing the ignorant masses partake in the political process in 2008 and 2013. Armenia does not need a replay in 2018. I am in no way insinuating that the current leadership is ideal. It is however the lesser evil. It is the devil we know. What I hope to see in Armenia someday is an authoritarian government led by well educated, pragmatic and nationalistic leaders with very close ties to Moscow. Anything else will be a painful road to eventual ruin. This is why I continue to believe that the current leadership remains Armenia's safest choice, and men like Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan remain the country's only hope.

Armenia has survived the past twenty-five years in the south Caucasus (as well as the past two hundred years to be exact) not because of capitalism, democracy, the nation-building talents of Armenians or the "almighty" Armenian Diaspora - but because of Armenia's intimate ties to the Russian nation. Russians laid the foundations of today's Armenia. Russians continue keeping Armenia alive. Armenians need to profoundly understand this. Armenians also need to find comfort in knowing that the Russian Bear needs Armenia and will continue needing Armenia for as long as the Caucasus region and its surrounding areas remain Turkic and Islamic. This is why Russian forces are in Armenia to protect the country's western border. This is why despite Armenia's flirtations with Western powers; despite the fact that Armenian politicians today cannot be trusted; despite the fact that a majority of Armenians today are ready to flee their homeland - Moscow gives Yerevan the economic help to keep Armenia afloat and the military resources to defend itself against regional predators.

As to the matter of Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan: Moscow does it essentially because it wants to stop Azerbaijan from drifting too far from its center of geopolitical gravity. Maintaining ties with Azerbaijan enables Moscow to have some leverage over Baku. This keeps other nations like Turkey and Israel from further deepening their ties with Azerbaijan. Do we Armenians really want Baku to fall fully under Turkish and/or Islamic influences or would we rather have Moscow hold at least some sway over it? As long as Russia is providing Armenia the proper military countermeasures (often times free of charge) to defeat what Azerbaijan is purchasing with its petro-dollars from a number of countries around the world, is it really smart for Armenians to throw temper-tantrums every time Moscow sells anything to Baku? By engaging both Yerevan and Baku, Moscow manages to maintain control over both Armenia and Azerbaijan. From a Russian perspective, it's essentially conflict management, and it's something that is also in Armenia's interest.

Nevertheless, although there remains some flaws in the relationship (in my opinion mostly due to the absence of Armenian lobbying efforts in Moscow) Russia's goodwill towards Armenia is genuine and long-termed. When it comes to a number of geostrategic matters, there is a lot of convergence of interests between Russia and Armenia. Russia and Armenia are therefore natural allies and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Also, while Western powers are in decline, Russia is on the rise politically, militarily and economically - and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Russia is therefore a historic opportunity for Armenia as well. However, many Armenians today seem incapable of fully comprehending any of this because in my opinion there are large numbers of professionals working hard to distort reality, dirty the atmosphere and sow toxicity and Russophobia throughout Armenian society. The following American agent with an Armenian last name is one such individual -
Agent Richard Giragosian: Ունենք գաղտնի «զենք», որը կփրկի Հայաստանը աշխարհաքաղաքական իմաստով. Ռիչարդ Կիրակոսյան: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVGA_cKP5Ss
Because Armenian society today is saturated by Western operatives, Armenians, generally speaking, seem incapable of fully appreciating Russia as a historic opportunity. Because of Armenian materialism, in addition to its Western agents, Armenian attention is naturally being drawn towards Western countries (US, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, etc.), Western goods (cars, electronic gadgets, clothing, music, etc.) and Western concepts (democracy, globalism, feminism, gay rights, etc.). For such people, Western products and Western lifestyles are worth risking life and limb, as well as Armenia's well-being. I found that one of the main concerns about worsening Russian-West relations several years ago among Armenians in Armenia was the fear that Western products, such as American and German made cars, would be difficult to import into the country as a result. I would tell such people, why don't you instead drive Russian cars that cost a lot less but are much more reliable? I would get either blank stares or laughs in reply. And they say Armenians are smart? Related to this discussion is language: It is very worrying for me that the younger generation in Armenia speak better English than Russian (at least from what I see in Yerevan). This serious problem, strategic in nature, is now being noticed by other observers as well -
It is said that political power travels on the coattails of cultural influence. Movies, television programming, music, cuisine, clothing, literature and language are some of the more potent tools of cultural influence found in the Western arsenal. It is through these tools that Western powers are capable of penetrating through even the hardest of national borders. These are the tools used to subjugate peoples around the world. What makes these tools of cultural influences so dangerous is that those who fall victim to them do not know it. Think of it in this way: If we want to sing their songs, watch their films, eat their foods, drive their cars, trade in their money, wear their clothing and speak their language, how can we then ever think of them as the enemy? If we have our eyes on the West, how can be keep our attention to deepening our ties with our natural allies in the East? If we are thralled by Western culture, how can we stop them from embedding their agents in our societies? Simply put: By importing their culture in any given land, they have already won half the battle. Who today understands this? Sadly, not many.

Again, I want to remind the reader that I do not speak Russian. I am an Anglophone because I have lived in the West for most of my life. In fact, I have a better command of the English language than a vast majority of its native speakers. However, my intellectual honesty and objectivity, as well as my ability to think out of my skin, helps me see the English language for what it really is. English today is the the catalyst upon which the agendas of Globalization, where everybody speaks English and trades in Western currency and where there are no genders, religions, borders or nationalities. English is also the vehicle upon which Westernization (the spread of materialism and the worship of Anglo-American-Jewish-African pop culture) travels around the world. It would be wise of us to recognize that language imparts outlook and mentality on its speaker. Every language has a value system of its own. Every language is a world of its own. English today may be the language of international trade, but it is also the language of idiots, perverts and Western-financed activists. For a nation like Armenia, learning English is also the first steppingstone for either leaving the country permanently or working for some Western-financed NGO that is trying to undermine Armenia's statehood.

As such, the most powerful weapon Western powers have in their military arsenal is by-far the cultural influence they have over humanity. And it is we the sheeple, and the choices we make, that give them their power over us. By far, the most important language in Armenia today (after Armenian of course) has to be Russian. Again, I say this as an Anglophone. I look at this matter logically: Russian is the language of Armenia's largest and most affluent diaspora, largest investor, largest trade partner, largest energy provider, largest arms supplier and ONLY military ally. Armenia today lives because of its close ties to Russia. Yet, young people in Armenia are striving to learn English instead?! And they say Armenians are smart?!

I reiterate: Russia is Armenia's most important partner and Russia is home to the world's largest and most affluent Armenian Diaspora. In fact, Armenians of Russia are disproportionately represented in the highest layers of Russian society. Yet, there is no discernible agenda to promote Armenian interests in Moscow today. Turks and Azeris on the other hand do their best to lobby Russian officials. Armenians in contrast are no where to be seen in the Kremlin. Yet, Armenians can be in Moscow what Jews are in Washington DC - but Armenians are too busy begging for handouts and genocide recognition in the West. And they say Armenians are smart?!?!

Although English is the language of international trade, it is always much more effective to speak with business partners in their native languages. In other words, an Armenian businessman will gain a lot more attention and sympathy in places like China, Iran, India, Germany, France, etc., if he converses with his counterparts in their language. After Russian, I believe German, French, Iranian, Chinese and Turkish should also be taught in Armenian schools. English should be part of this tertiary group of languages. When I share these thoughts with fellow Armenians, I mostly get blank stares or laughs in reply. And they say Armenians are smart...

I have learned that Armenians can be very capable in many fields of profession, but when it comes to truly understanding the political world they live in or planning for Armenia's future, Armenians can be very idiotic and self-destructive, like spoiled children. Study of Armenian history suggests this may be a result of genetic traits compounded by Armenian folk culture. This is essentially why Russians feel they have to break with diplomatic protocol to talk sense into Armenians -
Head of Russia’s Institute of Oriental Studies: Russia won’t allow anyone to attack Armenia: https://www.armenpress.am/eng/news/882120/russia
Fyodor Lukyanov deems Russia-Tukey-Azerbaijan alliance as ‘impossible’:  http://www.panorama.am/en/news/2017/03/13/Lukyanov-Russia-Tukey-Azerbaijan-alliance/1743484 
Lavrov: Armenia doesn’t need to fear Russian-Turkish rapprochement: http://www.mediamax.am/en/news/foreignpolicy/22632/
Russian news agency chief: Moscow’s arming Azeris beneficial to Armenia: http://www.panarmenian.net/eng/news/234333/Moscows_arming_Azeris_beneficial_to_Armenia_Russian_news_agency_chief
Ռուսաստանը երբեք թույլ չի տա, որ Արցախի խնդիրը ուժով լուծվի. Վլադիմիր Սոլովյով: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr_0q9Tcvkw
To be frank, it's very embarrassing for me as an Armenian to see Russians publicly explaining the above to our people. These types of talks usually takes place behind closed doors. I find it troubling that we Armenians are so emotional and out of touch with reality that Russians feel the need to explain to us even the simplest of things. Think for a moment: Do we really need Russians to explain to us that EU membership is very dangerous for Armenia? Do we really need Russians to explain to us that Russia needs Armenia as an ally and vice-versa? Do we really need Russians to explain to us that Russia having good relations with Turkey or Azerbaijan is not a bad thing for Armenia? Do we really need Russians to explain to us that they are actively protecting Armenia from regional predators? These are things Russians would rather not talk about in public because it can undermine Moscow's overall regional strategy. This kind of talk therefore has the potential to adversely effect Moscow's relations with Baku. The fact that Russians feel the strong need to do so is proof that Armenians are politically ignorant and out-of-tough with reality. It's also proof that the pursuit of democracy in a place like Armenia is a toxic affair.

I think Syria should have shown the entire world, us Armenians in particular, the importance of having the Russian Bear on the global arena today. Recent developments in the Middle East should have again reminded us Armenians of the cruel and unforgiving nature of the region in which Armenia is unfortunately located in. A reminder to our westernized Russophobes and nationalist chobans: Armenia's neighbors are not Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, Danes, Germans, Poles or Swedes. Armenia's neighbors Turks, Azeris, Kurds, Iranians, Islamists and backstabbing Georgians. Any degree of "independence" from Russia will automatically, by-default, increase Armenia's dependence on its Turkic/Islamic neighbors. Armenia therefore does not need "independence" from Russia. Speaking of "independence from Russia", I ask: What has independence from Russia gotten Ukrainians and Georgians? After its Western-financed Maidan, Ukraine is economically much worst off, Kiev has no chance of joining NATO or the EU, Crimea has been reunited with Russia, south-eastern Ukraine is a war zone and thousands of Ukrainians have died as a result. After the Western-backed dictator came to power in Tbilisi in 2003, Georgia lost 20% of its territory, poverty and emigration is still a major problem and Turks are everywhere -
Georgia: Anti-Turkish Sentiments Grow as Election Date Nears:  http://www.eurasianet.org/node/65933
Georgians Wary of Turkey’s Rising Influence in Batumi: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/82751
Kiev and Tbilisi are in terrible situations today. Despite enjoying very good relations with Turks and Azeris; despite enjoying very good relations with Western powers; despite enjoying full access to the Black Sea, Ukraine and Georgia today are hurting economically, politically and demographically - essentially because they ruined their relationship with the Russian Bear essentially to blindly appease Western powers. Now, I ask my Armenian readers to imagine how much worst it would have been for Armenia had it also fallen victim to its pro-Western activists and politicians. I ask: How well would have "independence" from Russia work out for our tiny, impoverished, remote, landlocked and blockaded nation surrounded by Turks and Muslims? Can't even think of it.

Simply put: No Russia in Armenia means no Armenia in the south Caucasus. Armenians need Russian boots on the ground in Armenia as much as Armenians need statehood. At the end of the day, Russia is the only choice and only hope Armenia has in the south Caucasus. I say only hope because, if God forbid Armenia is ever threatened by a much larger power in the region, the only nation that is ready and willing to come to its aid is the Russian nation. After Armenians, Russians are the only nation on earth that would willingly spill blood for Armenia. It is not me saying these things, Russians themselves have been saying this for many years.

In an article appearing in Russia Today, Mikhail Aleksandrov, a political analyst working for the Institute of CIS made the following comment about Moscow's military presence inside Armenia -
Armenian-Russian ties support a balance of forces. With its presence in the South Caucasus, Russia is creating a counterbalance to Turkey, Iran and preventing the West from getting access to the region, including military. If it wasn’t for Russia, the South Caucasus would be in a similar situation as we are observing in Syria or Libya today.”
In another article produced by Russia's Pravda, Vice President of the Academy of Geopolitical Issues Konstantin Sivkov is quoted as saying - 
If Turkey attacks Armenia, it will be treated as an attack on Russia. Russia would fight on Armenia's side with all its might. If necessary, Russia could use nuclear weapons against Turkey, both tactical, and if need be, strategic. This is defined in the military doctrine of the Russian Federation. Armenia is fully protected with the Russian umbrella of both conventional forces as well as strategic nuclear forces.
Alexsei Arbatov, the former deputy chairman of the Russia State Duma's Defense Committee defined Russian-Armenian relations with the following words - 
Armenia is our only classic military-political ally...Armenia will not survive without Russia, while, without Armenia, Russia will lose all its important positions in the Caucasus...Even though Armenia is a small country, it is our forepost in the South Caucasus.  I would say that Armenia is more important to us than Israel is to the Americans.
In describing what Russia's reaction would be to a possible invasion of Armenia by Turkey or Azerbaijan, Alexander Khramchikhin, Director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis said - 
This comment by the former Russian ambassador to Armenia,  Vladimir Stupishin - 
In my view, the true settling of the Karabakh conflict suggests complete rejection by Azerbaijan of the primal Armenian lands. It is possible to resolve the problem of the refugees by providing them with opportunities in places where they live now. How come in almost every discussion on Karabakh the only refugees that are being consistently mentioned are the Azeri refugees? Why can’t the Armenians return to Baku, Gyandja, Sumgait, Artsvashen, Getashen, etc.?
This comment by Alexander Dugin, the political philosopher many Armenians accuse of being pro-Turkish and anti-Armenian -
"Armenia is the single most serious ally of Russia. It is part of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, that is, we should have a unitary system of missile and air defenses and integration on all levels, including nuclear defense and the nuclear umbrella which we guarantee Armenia. Accordingly, these actions take place in the framework of deploying a system of strategic security around Russia in relying on its allies. Armenia belongs to this first and foremost. But this is not because we are planning some kind of aggravation of Turkey or, moreover, a war."
This comment by a Russian-Muslim political analyst, Ilqar Mammadov -
"When Azerbaijani officials, including the president, predict that Armenia will collapse as a state, they are mistaken. Nobody will let Armenia collapse. Even if only 100,000 people lived in Armenia, Russia would protect it as it regards Armenia as its outpost."
This comment by head of Russia's Institute of Oriental Studies, Vitaly Naumkin -
"Russia will never allow Armenia to be harmed or attacked. If anyone attacks Armenia, Russia will take part in defending Armenia, this is absolutely obvious.”
This comment by a senior researcher of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Viktor Nadein-Rayevsky - 
Russia will never cede Armenia for improving its relations with Turkey. This is a matter of principle. There are things one can sacrifice, but there are things one cannot. The point is not so much that two million Armenians live in Russia and many of them are Russian citizens. For Armenia Russia’s steps must never be bad. The point is that even the Yeltsin Russia perfectly realized that it must not waive Armenia’s interests, not mentioning Putin, who clearly sees the national interests, at least, the clear ones. He is trying to extrapolate them for the future. I simply can’t imagine that Russia may yield Armenia – if Russia does this it will lose all of its positions in the Caucasus. Russia should understand one most important thing – there are partners and allied countries with whom one should keep up the sense of alliance and duty.
And the following is an excerpt from a 1996 analysis by the well respected director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, Dmitri Trenin -
The purely military interest which Russia has had in the Caucasus appears to have receded in importance in comparison with the Imperial or Soviet periods. It is now essentially defensive in nature and precludes any large-scale strategic penetration, including the supply of military assistance, arms supplies, etc., to any third party. To prevent any potential Turkish opportunism at the time of the Soviet Union's disintegration, Marshal Shaposhnikov, then Commander-in-Chief of the Joint Armed Forces of the CIS, warned of a "Third World War" if Turkey were to interfere militarily in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. In March 1993, General Grachev, Russia's Defence Minister, made Russia's own military co-operation with Turkey conditional on Ankara's discontinuing its military assistance to Baku.
The men I quoted above couldn't be more candid or more accurate in their assessments of the current geopolitical situation in the south Caucasus, nor could they have been more pro-Armenian in their sentiments. These men basically outlined the 0geostrategic importance of Russia's presence in the south Caucasus, as well as Armenia's strategic importance in the eyes of Kremlin officials. More importantly, the rhetoric expressed by these men is similar to the kind of rhetoric we often hear expressed by American officials about the Zionist state. Regardless of what weapons Russians sell to whom, the quotes I outlined above is more-or-less the prevailing pro-Armenian political culture in Moscow today. Russia today is a very fertile ground in which Armenians can but are not promoting their country's interests. I suggest we stop admiring Jews for their political acumen and start acting like them.

We Armenians need to be farsighted enough and intelligent enough to begin exploiting the opportunity the Russian Federation is providing us. We need to be lobbying Armenian matters in the Kremlin as obsessively and as persistently as we pursue Armenian Genocide recognition in the United States. We need to be cultivating deeper Russian-Armenian relations. We need to be laying the foundations of a permanent Armenian presence within the highest offices of the Kremlin. While Armenia's military may be its tactical advantage on the battlefield, Armenia's presence within the walls of the Kremlin must be made its strategic advantage on the global chessboard. We therefore should not be giving any of Uncle Sam's whores in Armenia a political platform to spew their dangerous agendas. We should not allow modern slave-masters such as the IMF, World Bank or the USAID or troublemakers such a George Soros funded organizations any foothold inside Armenia.

I reiterate: At a fundamental level, Russian officials see Armenia the same as Western powers see Israel. Similar to Jews in the United States, the Armenian Diaspora in Russia is by-far the largest and most affluent in the world and Russian-Armenians are well represented in all layers of Russian society, including its  highest layers. The following is a partial list -
Sergei Lavrov (Foreign Minister of Russia) 
Artur Chilingarov (Duma spokesman, Scientist, Hero of Russia)
Sergey Avakyants (commander of Russia's Pacific Fleet)
Margarita Simonyan (director of Russia Today, married to film director Tigran Keosayan)
Tigran Keosayan (film director, actor, writer, married to RT director Margaret Simonyan)
Michael Pogosian (director of Russia's United Aircraft Industry) 
Armen Oganesyan (CEO of Voice of Russia radio broadcasts) 
Ashot Eghiazaryan (Russian State Duma member)
Karen Shakhnazarov (CEO of Mosfilm, Russia's largest studio)
Karen Karapetyan (vice President at Gazprom) 
Sergey Galitsky (billionaire owner of Magnit)
Karen Brutents (author, historian, Communist Party Central Committee member, senior KGB operative, )
Ruben Vardanyan (millionaire former CEO of Troika Dialog Group)
Ruben Aganbegyan (millionaire owner Renaissance Capital Micex)
Danil Khachaturov (millionaire chairman of RosGosStrakh) Gennady Melikiyan (deputy chairman of Bank of Russia) 
Samvel Karapetyan (billionaire owner of Tashir group) 
Sarkisov brothers (billionaires RESOGarantia insurance company)
Sergey Khachaturov (billionaire, brother of Danil Khachaturov)
Gagik Gevorkyan (millionaire president of Estet Jewelry House and new head of the prestigious Russian Jewelers Guild)
Artur Janibekyan (millionaire television producer and head of Russia's most successful Comedy Club)
Ara Abrahamyan (billionaire businessman, president of the Union of Armenians in Russia)
As I have been saying for over ten years now, Armenians can be in Moscow what Jews are in Washington DC. What's more, I agree with Alexsei Arbatov when he says: Armenia is more important to Russia than Israel is to the United States. Without an Armenia, Russia's position in the already volatile Caucasus will be seriously compromised. The disappearance of Israel, on the other hand, will have no tangible effects on the United States. In fact, the United States can do much better globally without the Israeli or Jewish monkey on its back. If the United States is closer to Israel than Russia is to Armenia, it's only because American Jews are farsighted enough and intelligent enough to have concentrated all their efforts in recent decades on manipulating American officials into adopting an "Israel first" policy. 

In stark contrast to Jews, we Armenians, numbering in the millions in Russia and represented in the highest layers of Russian society, engage in virtually no lobbying efforts inside the Kremlin. Armenia's diplomatic void in Moscow has been so apparent that even Russians have been complaining about it. It therefore concerns me that one of the major flaws in Armenia's foreign policy today is the lack of Armenian lobbying efforts in Moscow. This is why I said if Russians one day make decisions that are against the interests of Armenia, it will essentially be a failure of Armenian diplomacy. That said, I do not believe Moscow will take any steps that are detrimental to Armenia or Artsakh.

Nevertheless, being that Armenians will remain politically illiterate and out-of-touch with reality, I am under no illusions. Chances are that a majority of Armenians will simply continue concentrating on kissing the asses of Western officials either for easy money (bribes disguised as financial aid) or for genocide recognition - with the help of sickly homosexuals nonetheless. Chances are, Armenians by-in-large will continue neglecting the promotion of Armenian interests in Russia, as well as in Iran and China. Chances are, Western officials will continue having an easy time of manipulating and exploiting Armenians by keeping our self-destructive peasantry preoccupied with nonsense like gay rights, feminism, civil society, free speech and free elections. Allow me to remind the reader once more: While they keep our idiots preoccupied with their bullshit, their ultimate plan is to keep Armenia politically isolated and economically backward. It would therefore be wise to look past the lofty rhetoric of professional mercenaries and street whores serving Western powers throughout Armenian society and instead assess their words and actions within the following geostrategic context -
George Friedman: “Russian presence in Armenia is bad for Turkey”, "Keep Armenia isolated": http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2010/11/arye-gut-israeli-jewish-expert-in.html
Hurriyet Dauily News: Armenian diaspora, focus on Russia rather than Turkey!: http://www.hurriyetdailynews. com/armenian-diaspora-focus- on-russia-rather-than-turkey
The ultimate goal of high-level Western officials continues to be either the strangling of Armenia (through their NATO blockade) and/or severing it from Russia. Thus, it could be said that the West's ultimate intention is to either destroy Armenia or place it under the mercy of their Turkic and Islamic allies. After all, the primary reason why Western powers are in the south Caucasus to begin with is to push Russia and to a lesser extent Iran out of the region so that their economic/energy interests can exploit Central Asian gas and oil without Moscow's meddling. Western powers realize that without Russia in the picture in the Caucasus, the strategic region will be their playground. We Armenians however need to be sober enough to realize that without a Russian presence in Armenia there won't be an Armenian presence in the south Caucasus.
  
Any Armenian today that wants "independence" from Russia or wants to shutdown Russia's military bases in Armenia is a filthy traitor to Armenia regardless of his or her intention. Regarding Russia's military presence in Armenia, I can say it is the single most important factor contributing to Armenia's existence as a nation state in the south Caucasus; it is the only deterrence Armenia's has against regional predators like Turkey. Intelligent people who are truly concerned about Armenia's future understand this -
Ռազամաբազան պետք է լրացնի անվտանգության համակարգը. Վահան Շիրխանյան (տեսանյութ): http://www.panorama.am/am/news/2015/01/24/v-shirkhanyan/126807
With a major war looming on the horizon this is the time to stick as close to the Bear as possible. I would like to repeat once more that Armenia's ties to Russia is immeasurably more important to the Armenian state's survival in the south Caucasus than Armenia's ties to the Armenian Diaspora. Moreover, lobbying Armenian interests in Moscow in my opinion is incalculably more important to Armenia's long-term welfare than pursuing Armenian Genocide recognition in the Western world. I realize these words may be very difficult for most Armenians to digest. But this is our reality today. Disregard the nonsense spewed by our Western-financed mercenaries, lunatics posing as nationalist and disgusting Russophobes and recognize a certain, albeit uncomfortable reality when it comes to Armenia. The Russian presence in the south Caucasus has been the fundamental historic reason behind why we have an Armenia today and will continue to have an Armenia tomorrow. In other words, had Ivan not come down to the south Caucasus some two hundred years ago - and stayed - our nationalistic Russophobes today would still be herding goats or making donkey saddles in the mountains of eastern Turkey or northern Iran.
 
Allow me to put all this in an another way to help the reader better understand: Imagine the south Caucasus as a political/economic table where Russians, Armenians, Persians, Georgians, Turks, Azeris, Islamists and Anglo-American-Jewish energy interests sit and discuss various regional matters. Now imagine this table without its Russian occupant. In another words, imagine the Caucasus without a powerful Russia. Now imagine the challenges our tiny, impoverished, remote, landlocked, inexperienced, embattled and blockaded homeland would have at that table. To be honest, I find it very difficult imagining an Armenian state in the South Caucasus without having a strong Russian presence in the south Caucasus. It is very troubling for me that there are many Armenian today, especially in the Diaspora, that do not understand this. So, once more: No Russia in the south Caucasus means no Armenia in the south Caucasus. Without Russian lordship in the south Caucasus, the region would no doubt be overrun once more by Turkic and/or Islamic hordes.

The need to be pragmatic and negotiate from a position of strength

Now, for the most important part of this discussion: When the day finally arrives, what could or should a peace settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijani look like? Foremost, any settlement that is to take place has to be agreed to not only by Yerevan but also by Stepanakert. Armenians of Artsakh MUST have the ultimate say in the end and the rest of us have to be ready to support WHATEVER they decide. Moreover, Moscow must be made to understand that there is in deed a - red line - that Armenians will not hesitate to go to war over. As I already mentioned, that red line is bringing Azeri refugees into Artsakh and returning the regions of Karvajar and Berdzor to Azerbaijan. And Armenian officials for their part need to understand that if they agree to Azeri refugees and/or put Karvajar or Berdzor on the negotiations table, they will run the risk of getting killed.

We still do not know exactly what panned on April 2, 2016. The four day war may or may not have been orchestrated, it may or may not have been a trial run. It nevertheless was not a major war. There may be one more bout - a quick, decisive and most probably a predetermined battle between Yerevan and Baku - that will settle the matter for once and for all. And the side that is closest to Moscow will inevitably derive the most benefits. The side that has the deepest ties with Moscow will come on top. This is why Yerevan's decision to enter the Russian-led EEU and CSTO were important strategic steps to secure Armenia's vital interests within the Kremlin. More needs to be done to looby Russian officials. 

Nevertheless imagine what would have happened if Armenia abstained from entering the EEU and/or the CSTO and Baku instead took that first step. It would most probably be a catastrophic  political disaster for Armenia and suicide for Artsakh. In fact, any lessening of Russian support for Armenia will prove catastrophic for Armenia. With all due respects to all the brave men and women serving in the Armenian armed forces today, without direct Russian support, Armenians would simply be unable to mount a long-term defense of Artsakh if Armenia's larger and wealthier neighbors to its east and west decided to resort to sustained violence once again. Needless to say, placing hope on the political West to come to Armenia's aid is like placing hope on the tooth-fairy.

And to our nationalistic idiots who say Armenians will fight alone and win just like they did 25 years ago, I only say this: As my favorite Wall Street saying goes - past performances do not guarantee future results.

Armenians were able to liberate Artsakh during the chaotic years following the Soviet Union's collapse. Even then Armenians began winning only after Russian support began coming into Armenia starting in early 1992 when the Soviet Union had collapsed and a new Russian state was born. Armenian society today is demoralized, largely thanks to the country's Western-led doom-and-gloom campaign carried out by the country's opposition freaks, and Armenia today is impoverished, tiny, remote, landlocked and blockaded by enemies in one of the most volatile geographic regions of the world. And the traditional Armenian Diaspora (the diaspora comprising of Ottoman-Armenian genocide survivors) is simply too busy obsessing over genocide recognition in Washington, too busy assimilating in their beloved countries, too busy fighting "corruption" in Armenia and too busy complaining about dirty toilets in Yerevan. With the following article we see where Diasporan priorities lie today -

While the oil rich dictatorship in Baku is busy spending billions of Dollars acquiring a large arsenal of modern weaponry from around the world, many of us Armenians are busy infighting, spreading Russophobia, turning our backs to our homeland, attacking Armenia's leadership, pursuing dangerous Western fairytales, pathetically crying at the feet of Western officials every April 24 and, of course, bravely championing gay rights! Official Yerevan cannot therefore afford to be under any illusions today. In other words, in times of war, there will be no Diasporan cavalry galloping to the rescue. My suggestion therefore is to know our enemy well and to know ourselves well. This is a military wisdom Armenians must learn well. We cannot make the grave mistake of overestimating our capabilities and underestimating that of our enemies.

Azerbaijan's military has gotten stronger in recent years because of its oil and gas revenues. If for some reason Moscow stopped providing military support to Armenia and/or gave Baku a green light to attack, Armenians will sooner-than-later lose the territory of Artsakh - if not more. We as a people need to wake-up from our illusions of grandeur and recognize this cold hard reality. Instead of fear-mongering about our dependence on Russia, we need to see it as a historic opportunity to use Armenia's alliance with the Russian Bear to strengthen Armenia's position in the south Caucasus. The key to Armenia's success in Artsakh is therefore found in the highest offices of the Kremlin.

I reiterate: While our military is our tactical advantage on the battlefield, our ties to Russia is our strategic advantage on the global battlefield. Armenians must be a constant presence in the Kremlin.

The reality is that Armenia and Artskah today play a very major geostrategic role for Moscow. Artsakh's existence as a Russia-friendly Armenian fortress overlooking Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Iran serves the Kremlin's geostrategic interests in the region. Equally important for Russians is the simple fact that the dispute over Artsakh also ensures Yerevan's and Baku's political dependence on Moscow. Moreover, Artsakh is essentially an arms depot with a battle-ready population that will not bow down to anyone and the Artsakh-Armenian military leadership enjoy a very close relations with their Russian counterparts. Therefore - strategically, economically, culturally, tactically and practically - Moscow will not do anything that will drastically change the status quo in Artsakh. Armenian sovereignty over Artsakh is therefore set in stone. With that said, now that Yerevan's allegiance has been secured via Armenia's ascension to the Moscow-led Customs Union, I expect Moscow to earnestly begin pursuing bringing Baku under its fold as well. Of course a best case scenario, from an Armenian perspective, would be if Baku continues to remain inflexible in its dealings with Moscow and Yerevan and continues its flirtations with Turkey, Israel and the Anglo-American world.

Nevertheless, as already suggested, we might see a short, choreographed war to convince both sides to come to the negotiation table and settle the Artsakh dispute for once and for all. In a final negotiated settlement with Baku, Yerevan may be expected to return some of the "seven regions" taken outside of Artsakh proper. I do not have any concerns about the fate of the territories west and south of Artsakh, namely the strategic regions between Karvajar in the north-west and the Iranian border in the south-east. In return for Armenian concessions, Baku would be expected to recognize Artsakh's independence or its reunification with Armenia and perhaps return some areas of Artsakh currently under its control.

Although Russia is the alpha and the omega of the Caucasus region, Armenians can still use their God-given talents to win hearts-and-minds in the Kremlin. It is therefore crucially important to show Russian officials that Armenians are ready to negotiate but Armenians are also united behind their leadership and that the entire population of Artsakh is fully mobilized and ready for war.


As it has been for hundreds of years, the inability of Armenians to effectively unite as a people behind an Armenian leadership continues to be Armenia's main problem today. Let's recall that major powers only respect power, not victim-hood and not constant whining. Over a century ago one of our most beloved clergymen, Mkrtich Khrimyan, popularly known as Khirmyan Hayrik, warned Armenians about the paramount importance of Iron Ladles. Today, the proverb is as important for Armenia as it has ever been. In today's Armenia, however, the Iron Ladle should looked at from the context of Armenia's alliance with Russia.

Sadly, however, I do not see much of an effort being put into this vital strategic matter by money hungry Armenians in Armenia and democracy obsessed Armenians in the Diaspora. On one side, we have Western mercenaries doing their best to spread Russophobia inside Armenian society. On the other side, we have chobans-in-Armani-suits sitting back and expecting Russian officials to decide everything for Armenia. Sadly, we seem stuck between self-hating morons and self-destructive chobans. There is a deficit of farsighted and pragmatic mindsets in Armenian society today.


There is currently no pan-national effort being made by Armenians to tap into the opportunities Russia's alliance provides. Everything that Moscow does with regards to Armenia is essentially a by-product of Russian calculations. Thus far we Armenians have been lucky because our national interests and that of Russia's coincide for the most part. But this unsettling reality is one of the reasons why I have been preaching Russian-Armenian relations for well over a decade. Russian-Armenian relations have to set deep roots and become institutionalized. We cannot sit back and expect - let alone demand - that Russians to do the right thing for Armenia. Armenians need to embark on a collective, cohesive and pan-national effort to make a case for Artsakh's territorial integrity. Armenians need to figure out a way to turn Armenian lordship over Artsakh into a strategic asset for policymakers in Moscow. Official Yerevan needs to work towards making sure it will have a major say in whatever the final settlement over Artsakh will look like.

I reiterate: The secret to Armenia's and Artsakh's success is the following: A modern and highly efficient military to defend territory and fight off Azeri incursions that will be coming periodically; a politically unified population to show the world that Armenians speak with one voice; a diplomatic corps that is farsighted, patriotic and pragmatic; effectively lobbying Russian officials and establishing a closer, deeper alliance with the Russian bear. Moreover, we as a people also need patience.

Disregard all the Russophobic fear-mongering coming from our Western-funded smut peddlers. Moscow is not going to sell Armenia or Artsakh to anybody and time is on our side. If Yerevan does what I suggested above, there is a good chance that in a matter of few years Azerbaijan will descend into serious internal unrest. If Yerevcan does what I suggested above, Armenia will clearly come on top in any final peace settlement. That said, we as a people must also understand that the south Caucasus desperately needs peace and stability. We also need to understand that peace and stability will come at a price. We also need to understand that peace and stability can only be brought by Russia.
In my opinion, the above are the fundamentals of our success in the Artsakh dispute.

Closely observing the Russian weather vane

For a nation to truly become a global power, it must champion some sort of an ideology. For a nation to be looked up to by people around the world, it must have a higher calling. The Russian Empire championed Orthodox Christianity. The Soviet Union championed Marxism. Russian Federation was totally devoid of an ideology (that is if we discount crony capitalism as an ideology) during much of its post-Soviet period. The last decade or so saw a historic transformation in Russia. It seems that Moscow found itself a new calling and is on path to becoming a true global power people around the world will look up to. Perhaps unwittingly, perhaps by divine providence, Russia today is looking a lot like the world's only champion of traditionalism, conservatism, ethnocentrism, family values, apostolic Christianity, the traditional nation-state and multipolarity in global politics. Russia has become the last front against Globalism and Westernization. I dare the reader to imagine the political state of world today without the existence of the Russian Federation. I dare my Armenian readers to imagine what Armenia's plight would have been like today had there not been a strong Russian factor in the south Caucasus today. President Putin has been, and I say this literally, a God sent not only for Russia but also for Armenia and the rest of humanity. This is being better understood today, even by Westerners -
Russia today is leading a global crusade against globalism. Russia today is the embodiment of anti-Americanism. And people around the world are responding. Millions of people around the world are beginning to see Russia as the antidote to the toxicity known as globalism and westernization. Millions around the world see Russia as the long awaited counterbalance to American global hegemony. Millions around the world, including myself, are hoping to see a Byzantine revival. Moscow has a historic opportunity on its hands. Will Russian officials be wise enough or capable enough to use it effectively? Time will tell. 

As the Western world slowly commits suicide via - genetically modified foods, sex tourism, pop culture, psychiatric drugs, celebrity worship, junk foods, multiculturalism, overtaxation, underage drinking and drug abuse, proliferation of pharmaceuticals, institutionalized atheism, overregulation, dwindling natural resources, epidemic of suicides, over-entertainment, overeating, undereducation, modern art, Holocaust worship, feminism, Satan worship, abortion, low birth rates, culture of violence, glorification of war, consumerism, commercialism, individualism, mass homicides, child prostitution, child pornography, interracialism, illegal immigration, third world immigration, sexual debauchery, breakdown of traditional family, governmental corruption and the promotion of homosexuality - others in the world are slowly plotting course for a new period in human history. As the US and Western Europe go into political, economic and cultural decline, the 21st century is increasingly looking like a Eurasian century. Moscow has weathered the worst and has proven its mettle -
There’s no good explanation for the Russian ruble’s rise: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/theres-no-good-explanation-for-the-russian-rubles-rise-2017-02-16
Reality or PR: Russia's Rising 'Soft Power' Clout: http://thediplomat.com/2016/06/reality-or-pr-russias-rising-soft-power-clout/
Sanctions against Russia are already as good as dead, but reverse sanctions from Moscow working just fine: https://www.roguemoney.co/stories/2017/2/9/sanctions-against-russia-are-already-as-good-as-dead-but-reverse-sanctions-from-moscow-working-just-fine
Russia Survived Sanctions, And BlackRock Goes Overweight: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2017/01/27/russia-sanctions-putin-economy/#758b04fbe957
Russia Is Running on More Than Just the Black Stuff: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-07/russia-is-running-on-more-than-just-the-black-stuff
EU Sanctions 'Helped, Rather Than Harmed' Russian Economy: https://sputniknews.com/europe/201702081050469988-eu-sanctions-problems
Sanctions and the ‘Gold Ruble’: Russia’s Gambit For Full Financial Sovereignty: http://russia-insider.com/en/gold-ruble-russias-struggle-financial-sovereignty/ri18989
Russia's banking system has SWIFT alternative ready: https://www.rt.com/business/382017-russia-swift-central-bank/
“Made in Russia”: http://www.globalresearch.ca/what-does-russia-produce-made-in-russia/5576616
Russia is making inroads everywhere — the U.S., Europe and Eurasia: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/russia-is-making-inroads-everywhere-the-us-europe-and-eurasia-2016-12-01
Israeli Ambassador: ‘Russia, Iran and Syria Defeated America’: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/171846
After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions
Russians officials have a historic opportunity on their hands. I hope they are able to fully embrace their new calling. Thus far they have been doing so masterfully. I hope it continues indefinitely. All signs nevertheless suggest Russia will be in the driver's seat in the twenty-first century. My hope as an Armenian is to see Armenia in its passenger seat. Related to all this is a recent Pew Research Center study that revealed some pleasantly surprising results. It seems that after 25-plus years of being subjected to social engineering by the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, the moral compass and survival instincts of Central and Eastern Europeans, Armenian in particular, remains alive and well. Please thoroughly review the following document -
Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe:  http://www.pewforum.org/2017/05/10/religious-belief-and-national-belonging-in-central-and-eastern-europe/
I would like to make some additional comments about this Pew study: Prior to designing social engineering projects (such as the worldwide promotion of so-called free press, democracy, interracialism, multiculturalism, global warming, feminism, homosexuality and holocaust awareness through political podiums, social activism, television, literature, cinema, music and school curriculum) senior policymakers in the Western world get Western institutions, like the Pew Research Center for instance, to conduct in-depth studies of peoples around the world. This is done to basically help imperial interests to better understand nations of interest. This is how they evaluate, assess and gauge societal and political conditions in countries; in this case nations that were formerly within the orbit of the Soviet Union. They then use such findings to basically custom design their social engineering programs for societies they are interested in exploiting/manipulating. In any case, Russians must be very happy with these findings, some of which even surprised me. It seems that decades of Western propaganda has not been able to brainwash a majority of people in central and eastern Europe. But Moscow can't rest. Despite the good news, the fact remains that so-called "millennials" are for the most part compromised. As we all know, younger generations are the future of any given nation. We also know that social engineering takes time to show tangible results. Therefore, while the results look somewhat promising today, in a generation or two it may not be the case.

After an absence of a few years Russia is back in the south Caucasus, and it's there to stay. Those who adjust to this reality will do well. Those who observe the Russian weather vane will do well. Moscow has serious plans for the greater Caucasus region. Naturally, this plan is not meant to turn the Russian Federation into a benevolent entity. Moscow is implementing projects, both military and economic, that are meant to serve long-term interests in the region. Moscow's strategic allies will be the first to benefit from these. The better we as a people understand Moscow's long-term plans for the region the better will Armenia be off. We as a people therefore have the urgent need to closely observe the political climate in Moscow and adjust our foreign relations policies accordingly.

The first blow to Western inroads in the south Caucasus came in 2008. Western powers have been in retreat from the region ever since. Today, Russia is back in its traditional sphere of influence as its main power-broker and its power and influence is expanding with each passing year. But Moscow cannot fully realize its ambitions with the presence of unresolved disputes in the region. There will therefore be a push by Moscow to settle the Artsakh dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the dispute Moscow itself has with Georgia. Eventually, however, there will come a time for peace. There has to come a time for peace. And we need to be ready for that eventuality. And we need to hope that Azerbaijan will have descended into sociopolitical unrest by that time. With a weakened Azerbaijan, the peace process will be significantly less painful for Armenia. With things being that way they are in Azerbaijan, I hope to see Baku dragged to the peace table kicking and screaming. However, knowing the mindsets of Armenians quite well, and knowing how politics work in such cases, the peace process in question will still be painful for Armenians.

When that day comes, and it will sooner or later, I personally would like to see a comprehensive peace deal reached between Yerevan and Baku - even it it entails some lad concessions.

I am not one of your typical Diasporan armchair generals calling for war from Los Angeles, Beirut or Montreal, nor am I under any illusions about Armenian strength. I also believe that despite its current warlike attitude, Baku will eventually, perhaps after another round of fighting or after sociopolitical unrest in Azerbaijan, reluctantly come to the peace table. Nevertheless, the dispute over Artsakh has to be resolved if we want Armenia's 25 year old stagnation to end. We have to have peace in the south Caucasus if the region is to prosper once again after a quarter of a century of destruction. Armenia in particular needs lasting peace to develop and reach its potential.

Back in the late 1990s, the US had come very close to brokering a peace deal between Yerevan and Baku. The deal in question would have most probably been a variation of the now infamous "Goble Plan" that envisioned literally cutting Armenia off from Iran. The parliamentary assassinations that took place on October 27, 1999 put a quick and bloody end to the madness. Russia has since reemerged as a world power and the Caucasus region's only hegemon. It is Moscow's turn to settle the dispute under its terms. The intent is to bring the south Caucasus back under its fold and reestablish Pax Russica. This time around, it will be the West's turn to try to sabotage a Russian-brokered peace deal. As it was during the Cold War, Armenian nationalists will once again be called upon by foreign powers to raise arms against their state. That may have been what we saw take place in Yerevan last summer. If Armenia's national security officials are not vigilant and execute their duties well, more unrest may come. Armenia therefore faces internal and external dangers in a very volatile area of the world and in very dangerous times. 

Official Yerevan better begin closely observing the Russian weather vane, lest it gets caught in a bad storm without a reliable shelter. If in a final peace settlement Armenia gets less than what its national security needs require, it will ultimately be the fault of its officials. And speaking of Armenian officials, they should also be aware of Artsakh's red lines. They need to understand that if they dare crossing it they will risk assassination. However, at the end of the day, I know only one thing: Another 25 years of what we have already endured during the past 25 years may put Armenia permanently in a third world category and on the very edge of being a failed state. Sooner or later, one way or another, peace and stability has to come to the south Caucasus. And we must understand that peace and stability will have a price. And the price that we pay as a people will ultimately be determined not by our political illiteracy or Russophobia but by the capabilities of our military, the foresightedness of our diplomatic corps and the depth of our ties with Russia.

Arevordi
Summer, 2017

***

National Interest: The Next Crisis You're Not Watching: Don't Ignore the South Caucasus


Paris and Syria share the headlines today, but worrying developments in the South Caucasus raise alarm bells about weak governance and the risk of war. The countries of the region—Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia—have chosen diverging domestic and foreign policy paths, but all face intense pressures from Russia to expand its influence. The West should act now to diminish the likelihood of a new war and press for greater political pluralism. The most serious concerns are internal developments in Azerbaijan and prospects for a resumption of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an area populated and militarily controlled by Armenians but located within Azerbaijan.

For the past eighteen months, Azerbaijan has consistently repressed press and media freedom and basic human rights. Rigged parliamentary elections on November 1 produced an overwhelming vote for the ruling party and its satellites with the opposition shut out. There was no credible monitoring, as the OSCE and European Parliament cancelled missions when the government did not allow them to operate according to international standards. Key opposition voices remain imprisoned or exiled with the only ray of light being the recent transfer to house arrest from prison of the prominent human rights activist, Arif Yunus, for health reasons. International calls for the release of his wife Leyla Yunis, Ildar Mammadov and other political prisoners have fallen on deaf ears. 

Anti-Western and pro-Russian rhetoric is increasing from official sources, focusing on alleged efforts by the West, especially the United States, to repeat the Maidan popular uprising of Ukraine in Baku. With oil and gas prices falling, Azerbaijan is experiencing hits to its budget, the banking system is in crisis due to questionable loans to regime loyalists, and speculation about another currency devaluation is rife. The recent removal of the powerful Minister of Security and eighty of his colleagues, and the Minister of Communications with overtones of massive corruption are signs of division within the circle of the autocratic President Aliyev and his lack of control over key security ministries.

Concurrently, the situation on [5]the ceasefire line [5] with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh threatens to deteriorate, as the number of sniping deaths and attacks with sophisticated weaponry is mounting. Bilateral and international peace efforts remain frozen as the respective leaders make no effort to prepare their publics for compromise and Moscow enables both sides with arms deliveries. A key risk is a major escalation resulting from a series of smaller clashes, a scenario which could eventuate as Aliyev’s popularity falls and he resorts to a military strike to unify the nation. Aliyev, of course, must weigh Armenia’s defense pact with Russia and the probability of a military defeat. Yet he is using paranoia, populism, and unpredictable, bold strikes to build public support. He is also undermining the OSCE Minsk Group process—the only hope for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

The Armenian political situation is relatively quiet. After buckling under Russian pressure and joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in lieu of an Association Agreement with the EU, Armenia and the EU are now to begin negotiations to salvage part of the old Association Agreement and reconcile it with Armenian EEU membership. This effort by Yerevan to maintain some balance in its foreign policy and gain more access in a rich market may yet run into difficulties with Russia. Armenia continues its hostile narrative vis-à-vis Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, even as the continuing state of war with Azerbaijan saps its economy, reinforces its semi-authoritarian political system and provides Russia with leverage regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Georgia’s reputation as a leader in democratic growth and judicial reform in the former Soviet Union is now coming into question. The immediate issue is a battle over the ownership and control of Rustavi 2 [6], an independent television broadcaster and leading media voice critical of the ruling Georgia Dream government.

The legal maneuvering has been anything but judicially sound and transparent. A lower court ruling in the middle of the night contradicted the Constitutional Court and turned the station back to a previous owner, who supports the government. The latter argues that he had been forced by the prior government of President Mikheil Saakashvili to sell his asset at a giveaway price. The latest turn is that the lower court judge has altered his original ruling to now leave control of the station to the present owners until their appeal process is completed.

Many in the West and in Georgia see this evident judicial abuse as a direct attack on freedom of the press, at a time when the government’s popularity is falling due to Georgia’s weak economic performance and alleged indecisive leadership. To thicken the plot, intercepted tapes of alleged phone conversations between Saakashvili, now governor of the Odessa region in Ukraine, and several of his supporters in Georgia, record his calling on them to use the Rustavi 2 issue to develop a “revolutionary” scenario to challenge the current government. Parliamentary elections will be held in October 2016, and right now, undecided voters are in the majority.

The development and export to world markets of Caspian energy remains a Western strategic interest. But with the emergence of alternative global sources of energy, the drop in oil and gas prices, and the reduced need for logistical support to NATO forces in Afghanistan the South Caucasus may become less important in these dimensions.

The pivotal location between Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Middle East, however, requires that the West pay more policy level attention to the South Caucasus. Peacemaking with Armenia and Azerbaijan has long been frustrating for the West and Russia, but it remains worthwhile to reduce the risk that Nagorno-Karabakh will erupt into a hot war. It could even ensnare Turkey, Russia and Iran in wider tensions. This requires the parties to decide that face-to-face negotiations under Minsk Group mediation are the way forward. Second, the West should pursue tough love with Azerbaijan to counter its authoritarian spiral and free the remaining political prisoners. Finally, the West ought to conduct a more direct dialog with the Georgian government and opposition about democratic principles and freedom of the press, and how they may affect its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Source: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-next-crisis-youre-not-watching-dont-ignore-the-south-14366

International Crisis Group Report: Armenian Military Planning To Push Deeper Into Azerbaijan

http://cdn2.img.sputniknews.com/images/103738/65/1037386578.jpg

Armenia has decided that if fighting again breaks out with Azerbaijan, it will attempt to take the offensive and seize more Azerbaijani territory. That's the scoop from a new report from the International Crisis Group.

The report, Nagorno-Karabakh’s Gathering War Clouds, summarizes the political, diplomatic, and military developments since last year's "April War" between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It convincingly makes the argument that "Armenia and Azerbaijan are closer to war than at any point since the 1994 ceasefire." From The Bug Pit's perspective, the most intriguing news from the report is that: "[d]e facto Nagorno-Karabakh has even declared its readiness, if attacked, to advance deeper into Azerbaijan’s densely populated territory along the Line of Contact to gain a new security belt and strengthen its hand in future negotiations."

Recall that last April's fighting saw the first time territory has changed hands between the two sides since 1994, when Azerbaijan seized the strategic heights of Lala Tapa on the southern edge of the line of contact. Now, apparently, Armenia -- though it fully controls Nagorno Karabakh, as well as a security zone two-and-a-half times as large around the disputed region -- may want to push its advantage.

"Toward the end of the winter, an internal consensus emerged within the de facto Nagorno-Karabakh leadership that – in the event of an Azerbaijani attack – the Armenian side should not only defend their positions, but also attempt to advance deeper into Azerbaijan," the report said, citing unnamed government and military officials from the de facto Nagorno Karabakh government.

"Preliminary planning by Nagorno-Karabakh-based military suggests advancing 15km beyond the established Line of Contact, which, they believe, would force the enemy to abandon hostilities, or at a minimum establish a new buffer zone that could break the enemy’s will to conduct regular attacks and become a new negotiating bargaining tool," the report adds.

In another bit of news, the report also cited Russian officials -- again unnamed -- acknowledging that they wanted to have a military presence in Karabakh. While both Armenians and Azerbaijanis have long suspected that motive behind Russian offers to set up international peacekeeping, it's still noteworthy to hear it from a Russian official. (One of the few areas on which the two sides agree is that neither wants a Russian military presence in the region.)

The report also provides a little glimpse at the effect that the war had on daily life in Karabakh, where news on the ground is hard to come by. "During the escalation, the de facto authorities called up the vast majority of Nagorno-Karabakh’s male population, most of whom remained in the trenches for at least the next two months," the report notes. Anyway, you don't need The Bug Pit to tell you that the whole report is an essential read for getting up to date on the biggest security threat in the region. Read it here.
  

European Council on Foreign Relations: Nagorno-Karabakh: The edge of Russia’s orbit

Frontier Post on Russian-Georgian Border

The flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh in April 2016 again raised questions as to the extent of Moscow’s influence and role in the South Caucasus. It is quite clear that Karabakh is the only post-Soviet de facto state that is not under Russia’s control. There is no common border, no Russian troops in Karabakh, and no direct relations with Moscow. But even so, the simmering conflict provides Russia with tremendous leverage in the South Caucasus – a region Moscow considers to be its backyard. It was again Moscow’s diplomatic intervention that ended the fighting in April.

After the collapse of the Tsarist regime in Russia, Karabakh became a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In 1921, Stalin decided to place the entity, predominantly inhabited by ethnic Armenians, under Baku’s control as a way to divide and rule the South Caucasus. This uneasy arrangement lasted until the Soviet Union started to disintegrate in the late 1980s. Serious inter-ethnic clashes erupted in 1988 after the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast voted to join Armenia. Moscow rejected this decision and sent troops to Yerevan to calm the situation but to no avail. As the Soviet Union collapsed, Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence in September 1991. Inter-ethnic clashes intensified and, by early 1992, Armenia and Azerbaijan were at war. While there were several attempts to end the fighting, it was Russia that managed to mediate a ceasefire, in May 1994.

Today, Russia remains the main mediator in the conflict. Russia, together with the United States and France, are co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group but, in this trio, it is clearly Russia that has the most dominant role. Yet its actual interest in resolving the conflict is dubious. While Russia does not want a major outbreak of hostilities, it is questionable whether it actually wants a resolution to the conflict. The status quo – in which Karabakh’s status remains unsolved – suits Russia well. It provides Russia with the greatest leverage it could hope for in this part of the South Caucasus. In order to maintain this status quo, Moscow strives for parity between the Azeri and Armenian sides, in part by selling arms to both – all this while being allied with Armenia.

The Russian security presence and the absence of diplomatic relations

Ever since the ceasefire in 1994, analysts have discussed the possibility of deploying international peacekeepers to the conflict zone. Although there is an understanding among the three co-chairs that none of them would provide peacekeepers in the event of a settlement, Russia has eyed-up the possibility of deploying troops. This would provide Moscow with increased leverage over Armenia and Azerbaijan and influence in the region.

It is for this reason that the sides are sceptical of the prospect of Russian troops in the enclave. Although Russia has some 5,000 troops in Armenia, the Karabakhis have never demonstrated any wish to host peacekeepers, saying that only the Karabakh army can be the guarantor of their own security. Until now the only forces on the frontline are Armenian – a portion of them being transported over from Armenia itself and doing their two years of compulsory military service.

The four-day battle in April, when Azerbaijan took Karabakh positions on the Line of Contact, raised the possibility once more of deploying peacekeepers. But Karabakh’s negative perception of peacekeepers – Russian or otherwise – has not changed. Moreover, neither of the active parties nor the US or France would accept a contingent of Russian peacekeepers alone in the conflict zone.

Even without boots on the ground, Moscow retains considerable leverage over both sides. Russia is Armenia’s strategic ally. It has two military bases in Armenia and sells arms to Yerevan at reduced prices. In addition, both Russia and Armenia are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – a Russia-led organisation that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Although it does not cover Karabakh, the territory can still benefit indirectly, receiving cheap weaponry through Armenia.

But Russia sells weaponry to Azerbaijan as well, arming both sides in the conflict. In 2013, Baku signed $4 billion worth of arms deals with Russia – considerably more than it has signed with Armenia. In response to Armenian criticism, the CSTO’s secretary general, Nikolai Bordyuzha, said the sales were “simple business deriving from our economic interests”. By selling weapons to both sides, Russia keeps them dependent on Moscow, which can pull different strings to control the security balance in the region. This criticism increased after the recent fighting in April, when Azerbaijan used weaponry purchased from Russia.

Nagorno-Karabakh has no official political or diplomatic ties with Russia. But some members of the Russian State Duma have visited Karabakh to observe elections or attend other events. However, there is Karabakhi representation in Moscow, even though it does not have diplomatic status. This office maintains contact with Karabakhis in Russia, works with local businessmen and experts, and organises educational and cultural events. Russia has no diplomatic presence in Karabakh.

Economic ties with Russia via the Armenian bridge

Since Karabakh is unrecognised, it has no official ties with any state except Armenia. For that reason, Stepanakert trades through Armenia. This means that Karabakh-made products are stamped as “Made in Armenia”. The same process was taking place when Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in 2015, meaning that the doors of the EEU were effectively opened to Karabakhi products too. Nagorno-Karabakh exports mostly agricultural products, as well as textiles and mining products.

This means that there are import and export relations between Russian and Karabakhi companies. Russia is Karabakh’s second-largest export market after Armenia. In the past three years, it made up 3–4 percent of all exports ($2 million). Imports from Russia are relatively low too at around 1.2 percent in 2015 ($3 million). Though there was a rapid increase in 2015 probably due to Armenia entering the EEU.

Russian foreign direct investment in Karabakh has increased in recent years. In 2014, Russian investments had increased to 58.6 percent of all foreign direct investment. It is largely Russian Armenians that are the source of these investments, mostly in tourism, agriculture, mining, and hydroelectric power. In recent years, Karabakh has recorded 8–10 percent GDP growth, but also an increase in tourism, which has grown annually at over 10 percent. In 2015, Karabakh had around 17,000 foreign tourists, nearly half of whom were Russian, and mostly of Armenian origin.

Russians in Karabakh, Karabakhis in Russia

In 1992, after the establishment of a land corridor with Armenia, the Karabakh authorities allowed national minorities to choose whether to stay or move elsewhere, and provided government assistance in accordance with people’s desires. As a result, in 1992, a considerable number of Russians and Greeks left Karabakh. But those Russians and Ukrainians who stayed in Karabakh later officially established an organisation to represent themselves. Currently, the community has around 200 members who are either Russian or Ukrainian. Including the children of mixed marriages, they number over 700.

The Ministry of Culture gives this community €6,000 per year to organise national events, and covers their costs if they make trips to Russia for events. The community gets no support from the Russian government, the only exception being a couple of years ago, when Yuri Luzhkov was mayor of Moscow. He funded the Russian community to hold Russian traditional ceremonies and keep their cultural identity. The Karabakh government funds a Russian “Sunday school”. There is also a religious organisation called the Russian Orthodox Church of Artsakh, established in 2009. Stepanakert municipality provided the community land to build a church and a cultural centre.

The overwhelming majority of Russians living in Nagorno-Karabakh have Armenian citizenship. This is because many of the people who live in Karabakh have done so since the Soviet period, and had to claim a national passport again in the 1990s. The largest Armenian diaspora in the world is in Russia, at around two million people. This obviously includes Armenians from Karabakh. The majority of them have some family ties to Karabakh, though few would likely send remittances.

Russian language and culture in Karabakh

In Stepanakert, there is one school that provides education in Russian for the most part, but which follows the Armenian curriculum. The school accepts only children whose parents are Russian citizens or are foreigners that have lived and studied in Russia for some time. At all other schools in Karabakh, the operational language is Armenian. Children are also taught two foreign languages – Russian, and English, French, or German. In the early 1990s, there were more Russian TV channels broadcasting in Karabakh than Armenian ones. But today the Armenian media is more influential at the expense of the Russian media.

In the Soviet period, the Russian language was strong in Karabakh because the Armenian language was repressed by the Soviet Azeri authorities, and the population did not want to study or use Azeri. As there were so few good Armenian schools, parents preferred to send their children to Russian schools. Nowadays, as in Armenia and Azerbaijan, Russian is perceived as a foreign language with regional importance but little more.

Given the Soviet Russian legacy and the impact of Russian media and language, Russian culture had a strong presence in Karabakhi life in the 1990s. However, in parallel with the development of the country and the strengthening of Armenian culture, language, and media, the influence of Russian culture has decreased. Moreover, cultural events have diversified, including more Armenian and Western influence. As a result, more and more world-known artists visit Karabakh and hold concerts and master classes there. On the other hand, it is also obvious that Russia’s traditionally strong position in the near abroad gives Moscow an opportunity to affect developments mostly through security tools, its strategic alliance with Armenia, and its position as one of the three co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group.

Source: http://www.ecfr.eu/article/essay_nagorno_karabakh_the_edge_of_russias_orbit

Carnegie Europe: The Threat of a Karabakh War in 2017

Добровольцы из Армении в Нагорном Карабахе

Every year, as the spring thaw is awaited in the mountains of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the small coterie of scholars and experts who keep an eye on the Nagorny Karabakh conflict ask, “Will there be war?” This year, Karabakh watchers are especially gloomy. Twenty-sixteen was a bad year, and 2017 could yet be worse.

Over four days last April, up to 200 Armenians and Azerbaijanis died in the worst fighting since 1994 across the so-called line of contact that divides their two armies east of the disputed territory of Nagorny Karabakh and cuts across Azerbaijani territory that the Armenians captured as they secured a victory in the conflict of the 1990s. The violence precipitated a flurry of diplomatic activity over the summer. The Azerbaijanis tentatively agreed to measures to strengthen the 1994 ceasefire regime, and the Armenians assented to a more comprehensive negotiating process. But in the last six months, the deals provisionally concluded in the summer have slowly unraveled. The Karabakh situation has defaulted to a familiar and depressing mix of mutual accusations of bad faith, Azerbaijani frustration, Armenian inertia, and diplomatic wrestling over tiny details.

Of course, as U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said, a bad peace is better than a good war. A new conflict in the Caucasus could lead to thousands of casualties and economic devastation—without resolving the core issues of the dispute. But there is a danger that the parties could miscalculate and end up fighting anyway, despite their better judgment.

The arrangements made in 1994–1995 after the ceasefire was signed look less and less sustainable: no peacekeepers, a tiny Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitoring mission with a limited mandate, and a process that has managed the situation but not resolved it. In 1994, the 250-kilometer (155-mile) line of contact was a string of hastily dug trenches separating the two armies, across which conscript soldiers took occasionally potshots—and sometimes met to chat and exchange cigarettes. Now, it is the most militarized zone in Europe, bristling with artillery, long-range missile launchers, attack helicopters, and military drones. Azerbaijan has spent billions of dollars of oil revenues on new weaponry. The Armenians have spent less but maintained a credible defensive capability, thanks to buying Russian weapons at discounted prices.

In the four-day war in April 2016, the Azerbaijani side recaptured two small pockets of territory. The psychological boost the Azerbaijanis received was far bigger. The perception of a successful military offensive helped reverse two-decades-old feelings of humiliation, and an upsurge of patriotism helped distract the Azerbaijani population from a shrinking economy and falling currency. Now that the latest diplomatic initiative, spearheaded by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, has stalled, there is a temptation for Baku to retry what might be called military leverage—to launch another operation to recapture territory and put pressure on the Armenian side.

The risk is that a small operation would inevitably escalate into something even more serious than last time. The Azerbaijani authorities would be under pressure to capture substantial amounts of territory, rather than the small slivers they took last time. The Armenians would be under pressure from their public to fight more strongly than they did last April and reverse any gains made by the other side.

Both sides almost certainly overestimate their military prowess. Both also have newly acquired deadly weaponry. The Armenians have obtained Iskander missiles from Russia that they exhibited at an Independence Day parade in September 2016. The weapons have a range of 280 kilometers (174 miles) and could be targeted at urban centers or oil and gas infrastructure in Azerbaijan. This would be a desperate option, but possible if a larger-scale Azerbaijani were launched. Such a move would also be in line with Armenia’s 2015 military strategy, which permits preemptive action in the name of deterrence. The Azerbaijanis have made big weapons purchases from Israel, including an Iron Dome missile-defense system and military drones.

If the military context is dangerous, the political one is no better. Azerbaijan’s oil boom has ended and the economy has declined further over the last year, shrinking by around 4 percent in 2016, with the manat having lost 57 percent of its value since January 2015. In Armenia, President Serzh Sargsyan faces a tricky parliamentary election on April 2. When the vote is completed, his country is due to make the transition to a new constitution in which executive power switches from the president to the parliament. This is widely perceived as a gambit by Sargsyan, whose second and last presidential term ends in 2018, to find a way of shoring up his own power. The switch is controversial and the opposition will use the election to challenge him in all ways possible.

A final factor of instability is international turbulence—the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, ongoing crises in the EU—which is being felt in the South Caucasus and could encourage the parties to behave more irresponsibly and believe they can get away with more.

If there is fighting, it will be hard to manage. In April 2016, Moscow negotiated a verbal ceasefire between the parties. But it is a misconception that Moscow is pulling the strings in the Karabakh conflict. Moscow has never been in control since the dispute broke out in 1988, having tried variously to back one side or the other or to mediate. Currently, Russia is highly distrusted in both countries and neither Baku nor Yerevan will allow it to impose its own agenda on their number one national issue.

In short, the threat of preemptive violence over Karabakh needs to be met with intense preemptive diplomacy. A descent into new conflict in the South Caucasus is the last thing anyone wants—least of all the ordinary Armenians and Azerbaijanis who will be caught in the middle of it.

Source: http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/67774

The national Interest: A Frozen War in Russia's Backyard Heats Up

Armenian soldiers at the 2015 Victory Day parade. Kremlin.ru

More than two months ago, an escalation in the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict without precedent since 1994 occurred in Nagorno-Karabakh. From the night of April 1 to April 2, combat operations continued until April 5, having begun in two parts of the contact line between the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army and the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. On that day, the parties agreed to an armistice, signed in Moscow. The four-day war answered many questions regarding military balance, while posing new ones. Since the threat of another escalation is not excluded, it makes sense to analyze the condition of the armed forces of Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan, taking into account the results of the short but bloody April war. But first, we must talk about the early history of the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict.

Roots of the Conflict: The Early Twentieth Century

Bloody collisions occurred between Armenians and Azerbaijanis twice at the beginning of the twentieth century: from 1905 to 1907 and from 1918 to 1920. During those years, after the end of the First World War, the Soviet Union was taking shape. During this process, in 1921 the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, approximately 90 percent of its population Armenians who practiced the Christian religion, was allocated to the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Some years later the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region (NKAR) was created, and was deprived of any direct land connection with the Armenian SSR.

During the years of the USSR’s decay in the late 1980s, a reunification movement arose in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. It was fueled by the policy of pushing Armenians out of the NKAR; by 1989, the share of the Armenian population in the NKAR was down to 76.9 percent. Additionally, in 1988 the local Muslim population in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait implemented the most brutal programs regarding the Armenian population, at which the Soviet leadership completely lost control over the processes underway. The NKAR declared its independency from Azerbaijan, resulting in the outbreak of war in 1991. The war continued until May 12, 1994, when three parties—Armenia, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan—signed a provisional cease-fire agreement. The Armenians gained victory in this war, having established control over the NKAR and the territories around it by renewing the land connection with Armenia.

Upon signing the armistice, the parties led negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. However, this process did not yield any actual results. In recent years, violations of the state of cease-fire and constant losses from both sides have become regular occurrences.

The Four-Day War Is a Bloody Stalemate without Hope of Success

As a result, in April 2016, Azerbaijan attempted to resolve the conflict through military means. About one hundred men from the Armenian side, and more than one hundred from the Azerbaijani side, died during these four days (despite the fact that Azerbaijan officially recognized thirty-one losses, only fifty dead bodies were found on Armenian territory, and the opposition media counted more than one hundred killed persons, some neutral media even spoke of some three to eight hundred casualties). A significant quantity of armor was destroyed, and villages near the border met with significant harm.

As for the results, Azerbaijan was able to move forward three to four kilometers in two directions during the first day, because of the suddenness of attack and the posting of a detachment of special forces in the village of Talysh. However, from the moment the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army began its full-scale military operation, the attackers’ successes withered. The detachment of special forces was almost completely annihilated in Talshyn, together with its commander, and some of the lost positions were forcibly retaken. By the time the armistice was signed, Azerbaijan was able to occupy several hills, with an overall area of about eight hundred hectares. Nevertheless, there are no signs of serious success—any attempt at blitzkrieg had no real chance, and by the second day, the war already had the character of a bloody stalemate, with dozens of people dying to advance or retreat by one hundred meters.

The Existing Balance of Forces Will Not Allow Azerbaijan to Attack

Before the conflict, the media often advanced the opinion that Azerbaijan, having purchased billions of dollars in arms from Israel, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, could tilt the balance in its favor. Azerbaijani officials said they would be able to retake Nagorno-Karabakh by force in the space of one or two weeks. Nevertheless, as we have already said above, any attempted blitzkrieg had no chance in April. Let us see what existing balance of forces we are left with. Regarding manpower, there are approximately sixty to seventy thousand men in the armed forces of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Approximately seventy thousand men are in the Azerbaijani army; however, it has a higher mobilization potential, taking into account Azerbaijan’s larger overall population.

All parties are armed with a “classic” rifle for post-Soviet countries: different series of Kalashnikov guns. The special detachments also have some Western models of arms—for example, Azerbaijan has purchased a number of Israeli assault rifles TAR-21. The variety of sniper rifles is great; almost all basic Western and Russian models appear. As for antitank means, both parties have a large number of antitank missile systems of Soviet and Russian manufacture, and Azerbaijan has also purchased modern Israeli Spike systems, which proved their quality during the four-day war. As for Armenia, the country was able to purchase some number of Franco-German Milan antitank missile systems by an unknown supplier. Both parties to the conflict are armed with hundreds of man-portable “Igla” air defense systems.

As for armor, here Azerbaijan possesses a qualitative advantage, having purchased a large batch of armaments in Russia: Baku has obtained approximately one hundred modern T-90C tanks and one hundred BMP-3 mechanized infantry combat vehicles. That said, altogether the parties have approximately four hundred tanks each; in the case of Armenia these are generally Soviet T-72Bs. The situation is similar with regard to conventional artillery—but, to tell the truth, it is almost impossible to count the exact number of armaments: a great number are located in Nagorno-Karabakh, where much information is classified. However, Azerbaijan has eighteen “Msta-C” self-propelled 152-millimeter howitzers.

Today, Azerbaijan has obtained the most sensible advantage in the field of heavy multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS). The country has thirty “Smerch” three-hundred-millimeter MLRS that are able to fire at a distance of up to ninety kilometers, and eighteen TOC-1A “Solntsepyok” reactive flamethrower systems . There is some information about Azerbaijan’s contract with Turkey for the delivery of three-hundred-millimeter Kasirga MLRS. As for Armenia, regarding heavy MLRS, today the country has, according to different sources, four to eight Chinese WM-80 systems that fire at a distance of up to 120 kilometers, as well as, according to some sources, six Chinese copies of the “Smerch” AR1A. However, this difference will be soon nullified: Armenia has ordered a number of “Smerch” MLRS and TOC-1A “Solntsepyok” units from Russia.

It is interesting that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh were able to obtain a sensible advantage in the field of ballistic missiles. Armenian soldiers are armed with a significant number of “Tochka-U” Tactical Ballistic Missile Systems (SS-21 Scarab A according to NATO classification) that can fire at a distance of up to 120 kilometers. Besides, Armenians have at least eight R-17 launchers (SS-1c Scud B according to NATO classification) with thirty-two missiles that are able to fly to any target in Azerbaijan; its maximum launching range is three hundred kilometers.

Let us now look at the potential enemies’ air forces. In spite of the visible and serious advantages of Azerbaijan, the parties are nearly equal here. And that is because both have powerful antiaircraft defense systems, preventing the use of aviation in the conflict. This was partially confirmed by the four-day war—almost at once, Azerbaijan lost one Mi-24G attack helicopter (two, according to Armenian sources), after which aircraft did not participate in the conflict at all. Armenia’s antiaircraft defense system is armed at least with six battalions of S-300 air-defense missile systems (ADMS—NATO reporting name SA-10 Grumble). This is a huge number for a country with relatively little territory. Azerbaijan also has S-300s and other antiaircraft defense systems that are almost impossible to be suppressed by the Soviet Su-25 attack aircraft and  MiG-29 fighters that the parties own.

Finally, we shall turn to unmanned aerial vehicles. Both parties used them widely during the recent escalation. Azerbaijan uses a wide range of Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (reconnaissance as well as kamikaze IAI Harop UAVs), while Armenia relies on models of its own manufacture. A comparable number of unmanned aerial vehicles has probably not been lost in any other conflict in such a short period of time. Azerbaijan lost a minimum of ten unmanned aerial vehicles (some “landed” by means of electronic warfare, some were brought down by “Osa-AKM” short-range air-defense missile systems and twenty-three-millimeter  “Shilka” antiaircraft guns) while Armenia lost at least two.

In spite of some qualitative advantage, as we see, it is impossible to say that Azerbaijan has any overwhelming dominance. Assuming that it will attack, and that Armenia continuously fortifies its positions and constructs new fortifications, a war will be very difficult and long without any breakthroughs, which will make it senseless for Baku. Besides, taking into account the existence of the serious long-range MLRS and ballistic missiles of the enemy, there is a high risk of the destruction of large settlements and infrastructure, including gas and oil facilities. It is almost impossible to forecast the results of the stalemate, somewhat similar to the First World War.

Source: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/frozen-war-russias-backyard-heats-17085

Chatham House: Violence in Karabakh a Reflection of Azerbaijan’s Security Dilemma

https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/files/chathamhouse/styles/main_image_800x460/public/images/2016-04-22-Baku-Putin.jpg?itok=lZBu7PmT

As the equilibrium between Azerbaijan and Armenia breaks down, Baku is left with an unpalatable choice: increasingly losing control of the situation or being drawn further into Russia’s orbit. After the end of the ‘four-day war’− a brief but violent outbreak of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorny Karabakh − there are muted hopes for a renewal of peace negotiations. This bodes poorly for Baku – despite Azerbaijan’s military advantage over Armenia, it has increasingly limited diplomatic choices.

Timing


Azerbaijan’s offensive was clearly the result of planning and training but it was not a blitzkrieg aimed at liberating territories under Armenian occupation – once the mission was completed, Azerbaijan announced a unilateral truce. Baku gambled on psychological factors such as a demonstration of the technological advancement of its armed forces. The timing of escalation led to speculation that the Azerbaijani authorities used the conflict chiefly to distract the population from domestic factors – such as the country’s economic decline and corruption scandals revealed in the Panama Papers. But were this truly a factor, the offensive would likely have taken place in January, amid the regional protests against price hikes, or immediately following the revelations of the Panama Papers.

The more likely scenario is that Armenia’s declaration in February that it would pursue a deterrence strategy including the possibility of a preemptive strike became strategically problematic for Baku. Such a policy could limit Baku’s abilities along the Line of Contact. Thus, a carefully controlled escalation served to raise international awareness of the fragility of a status quo which Azerbaijan regards as unfavourable, in order to galvanize the international mediators and put pressure on Yerevan to be constructive at the negotiating table.

In addition, the military escalation also destroyed any expectations Armenia might have harboured for support from the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Its response was fragmented, with Belarus, for example, openly supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
 
Non-military goals

But Baku’s ultimate goal was diplomatic, to put pressure on the Armenian side. A stalemate in negotiations is unpalatable, and the military offensive helped to show Baku’s military muscle with offensive weapons of a higher technological capability than Yerevan’s. While both countries are reliant on Russian exports for conventional arming, Baku has used its larger state budget to acquire military equipment from other sources such as Israel and Turkey.

There has been a stalemate over Nagorny Karabakh since the failure of the 2011 Kazan meeting under Moscow’s auspices, which was intended to produce a framework agreement on conflict resolution. At that point, Azerbaijan offered to support the re-opening of the Turkish-Armenian border in exchange for partial liberation of territories. Previously it had opposed the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations without full liberation as a prerequisite. At the Munich Security Conference in February 2015, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that ‘de-occupation of some of these districts, assuming negotiations continue, will immediately change the picture’.

The offensive has two further non-military goals. First, Baku needs to secure international investment − primarily for its gas projects, to compensate for the effect on its economy of the decline in oil prices. Baku does not have the luxury of engaging in military adventurism with the risk of a full-blown war. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan hopes that the situation will encourage potential investors to return.

The second is to consolidate army and military reform. Baku’s military budget has increased from $175 million in 2004 to $4.8 billion, which the population has thus far tolerated because of symbolic military successes. But without results in diplomatic negotiations, and with continuing troop losses, the public will turn against the government. More importantly, the effectiveness of Baku’s strategy depends not merely on deterring Armenian troops on the frontline through a war of attrition, but on the Azerbaijani army’s resolution to use its military power as a deterrent during negotiations. The reaction of Armenia is crucial; recent events could provoke a more pro-active Armenian position on Azerbaijan. Further escalation could harm the already pitifully thin modicum of trust between the two societies and their respective leaders.
 
The Russian factor

The short war has shone a light on Russia’s actions in the region. Moscow was previously uninterested in stopping the skirmishes. While most people in Armenia and Azerbaijan perceive Russia’s hand in the escalation, Russia’s pretense of being a mediator of the conflict has been exposed, with the unwelcome publicity that it has been selling arms to both sides.

The short war has increased the need to revive the negotiations and Russia is most likely to utilize the opportunity. Russia would like to return to the failed Kazan accords, which would entail returning five or six territories and then resolving key sticking points including the political future of Nagorny Karabakh. Russia hopes that with a resolution of the conflict, it can compel Azerbaijan into joining the CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union. This is Azerbaijan’s dilemma: submitting itself into the Russian sphere is a high price to pay, even for conflict resolution. However, in the absence of diplomatic negotiations, Baku could see increasing levels of domestic unrest. Thus, if tangible results do not come soon, more devastating military action may lie ahead.


The Jamestown Foundation: Azerbaijan’s War of Attrition: A New Strategy to Resolve the Karabakh Conflict?

http://en.azeridefence.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/rpq.jpg

he escalation of tensions between Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces along the line of contact (LOC) saw the outbreak of a five-day exchange of fire, the bloodiest since the 1994 ceasefire agreement. The latest clashes ended with a mutually agreed ceasefire on April 5. According to official estimations from both sides, the Azerbaijani side lost 31 soldiers (Azadliq.org, April 6), while Yerevan’s last official statement—not updated—says they lost 20 men, with 26 soldiers missing (Panarmenian.net, 5 April). Both countries have also lost military equipment, including tanks and military helicopters.

The outbreak of clashes prompted speculation about the timing—both the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents were in Washington, DC, for the Nuclear Summit. Russia’s approach also led to questions: Moscow contented itself with a statement calling for an end to the violence, rather than the expected intervention to demonstrate Russia’s key role in the Karabakh conflict. This is precisely what happened back in August 2014, when hostilities were cut short by Moscow’s involvement. It was suggested at the time that Moscow had manufactured the escalation of tensions in order to show off its mediation capacity to the West, emphasizing Russia’s regional influence on the eve of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) September 2014 summit in Wales (Caucasus Analytical Digest, September 17, 2014).

But Moscow did not attempt such an intervention during the recent clashes, despite their devastating outcome. Moreover, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Moscow-led military bloc in which Yerevan has placed its hopes, limited itself to calls to end the fighting. It did not support the Armenian position. On the contrary, one member state, Kazakhstan, released a statement of neutrality, while another, Belarus, declared that the conflict should be resolved based on international legal principles of territorial integrity, creating deep bewilderment in Yerevan (Euro Belarus Information Service, April 4). These two developments undercut early speculation by some analysts that Moscow had also manufactured this month’s skirmishes, in order to punish Azerbaijan for attempting to revitalize relations with the United States and the West, following a long period of relative disengagement.

Azerbaijan’s military offensive and its policies during the period of escalation may have been precipitated by a “gentlemen’s agreement” between Baku and Moscow; or Russia could have given Azerbaijan a kind of “green light” for military action, as long as the latter refrained from pushing Armenia to question its strategic alliance with Moscow. Whether or not such an understanding was reached, clearly Baku did not cross Moscow’s red line—i.e. April’s military operation did not lead to a full-fledged war. At the same time, Russia benefits financially from this situation and so is taking a business-like approach. The Azerbaijani army’s military offensive means that Baku will need to negotiate the purchase of replacement military equipment from Moscow in the future. At the same time, Yerevan is also requesting help to arm its military. This situation strengthens Russia’s role in conflict management.

However, Azerbaijan’s military strategy suggests this was not just a case of displaying military muscle. Rather, Baku apparently hoped to open up the way for the diplomatic resolution of the conflict, bringing Armenia to the negotiations table by militarily changing the status quo along the LOC.

The overall situation shows that Azerbaijan’s military commanders had planned in advance for their army units—with some degree of support from the air force—to be prepared to react to an Armenian violation of the LOC. Armenia’s strategy was to rely on a hazardous landmine zone on its side of the LOC. This zone would be much harder to penetrate for Azerbaijani forces, and would result in devastating personnel losses (Crisis Group, Europe Briefing no. 71, September 26, 2013). If they succeeded in getting through the second echelon of defense, Azerbaijani army units would face mobilized Armenian units.

The aim of the Azerbaijani forces was to isolate Armenian units that had been cut off near the various fortifications along the contact line, and operations were launched in five directions (Anadolu Agency, April 2). With that, the initial goal was to take strategic heights—providing an important advantage in terms of targeting military infrastructure. By April 3, when Baku declared a unilateral truce, Azerbaijani forces had taken Lele Tepe, a small peak in occupied Fuzuli region; a hill around the Talish village in the Aghdere region; and the Seysulan settlement (APA, April 2). Azerbaijani forces calculated that Armenian troops would mobilize to take back these lost territories, and Azerbaijan would respond by deploying Orbiter 2M weaponized drones with the Spike-LR missiles system. This response also enabled Azerbaijani troops to capture other nearby strategic locations. In total, Armenia lost three positions in the southern direction and three in the northern direction (Armenianow.com, April 4).

By not pursuing a limited war strategy, Baku demonstrated its strategic approach—a short, sharp intervention. This can be described as a policy of attrition: wearing down the enemy to the point of compromise through continuous losses. The idea is that Armenian defense forces will now be more vulnerable to targeting by Azerbaijani offensives from higher ground, leading to greater losses in the future, and/or a forced retreat.

However, the ultimate goal of Azerbaijan’s attrition strategy is actually to bring Armenia back to the negotiations table, as maintaining the military status quo along the LOC will now be more costly for Yerevan and could spark domestic turbulence in Armenia. The latest clashes destroyed the belief that Azerbaijan is not prepared to use force. Whether or not Baku’s strategy will work depends on the international environment, how the mediators and Yerevan react, and whether the situation achieves anything in terms of the diplomatic resolution of the conflict. This strategy also holds disadvantages for Baku: First of all, it will require the purchase of more armaments, which in the current economic conditions is problematic. Also, it may incur further losses on the front line, especially if Armenia tries to retake the military positions that Azerbaijan gained. Yerevan might also launch a preventive attack at any time. During the recent clashes, the majority of the population was very supportive of the government’s military actions. But more troop fatalities in the absence of a resolution could damage public backing.

In sum, the strategy of attrition warfare seems to demonstrate a new approach by Baku toward conflict resolution. It may achieve short-term success, if international mediation efforts capitalize on the current momentum to push for a resolution. Otherwise, in the long term, this strategy could spark a full-blown war.


Washington Times: Russian missiles in Armenia threaten western interests

Russian Iskander Missiles in Armenia Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times

The Caucasus Mountains that run between the Black and Caspian Seas could soon turn into a nuclear flash point because of dangerous saber-rattling by Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. Armenia has illegally claimed territory in western Azerbaijan, an assertion backed by military offensives against Azerbaijan, including a massacre of 600 citizens in 1992. Sadly now, Armenia may be taking the region to the brink of nuclear war.

Armenia received the Iskander missile system from Russia last autumn, a major provocation meant to send a message to Azerbaijan and NATO ally Turkey. This is consistent with Moscow’s policy of using missile deployments in Eurasia and the Middle East to threaten western interests. The Iskander short-range ballistic missile system is designed to destroy small targets at up to 300 miles. This means that Iskander missiles deployed in eastern Armenia could reach targets all over Azerbaijan, including the capital of Baku. Alarmingly, Iskander missiles are capable of being fitted with nuclear warheads.

As if the presence of the missiles were not a clear enough menace, Mr. Sargsyan visited the improperly held territories and bragged that his government possessed a “state-of-the-art, powerful striking force.” He went on to identify potential targets in Azerbaijan — “the most important infrastructure” — and followed up with a chilling pronouncement about his intentions as head of the Armenian military. “If needed, the commander in chief of the Armenian forces will without batting an eyelid order volley fire by Iskander,” he said.

This new round of warmongering is troubling in several respects and raises tensions in Baku and throughout the region. In addition to unnerving Armenia’s neighbors, Mr. Sargsyan’s statements raised concerns in Washington, D.C. The Jamestown Foundation recently held a panel discussion on Capitol Hill to address the danger posed by Armenia’s deployment of the Iskander missiles, writing that the new weapons “threaten European stability, put U.S. allies at risk and potentially violate the 1988 [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty.”

Mr. Sargsyan’s inflammatory rhetoric destroys the myth propagated by separatists that the Armenian-seized Azerbaijani territory is an independent republic. Rather, the region occupied Azerbaijan and is now a staging area for missiles pointed at the rest of Azerbaijan. It is also clear that Mr. Sargsyan is using the missiles as a political weapon. Armenia’s president is seeking to stir his nationalistic supporters against Azerbaijan to increase voter turnout in elections. He is rejecting bids from more sober leaders in Armenia, including former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, for a plan that would reduce tensions between the two nations.

And then there’s the Russia question. Armenia is the only nation that has received the Iskander system from Russia. Why Armenia? Possibly because “the most important infrastructure” in Azerbaijan that could be targeted by the missiles includes companies owned and operated by Western entities, including American ones, that ensure Europe’s energy security. Natural gas from Azerbaijan flows by pipeline from the Caspian Sea west through Georgia and into Turkey and Europe. Should that flow be disrupted by military conflict, Europe would be at the mercy of Russia for its energy needs.

Another possibility: Russia might be attempting to rebuild its Soviet-era footprint in the Lesser Caucuses as it has done in Crimea and is attempting in Eastern Ukraine. It’s no secret that Russia and Armenia recently established a joint air defense pact. If Mr. Sargsyan’s troubling boasts about his willingness to deploy his new Iskander missile system were the only such noise coming from Armenia, it would be worrisome enough. But in the past six months, top members of his administration have made more than a dozen similar statements.

Azerbaijan has more than twice as many people as Armenia yet its Gross Domestic Product is nearly seven times greater. While Armenians have watched their leaders diminish their economy, Azerbaijan has prospered. Much like North Korea, military posturing is all Armenia has left. This is a dangerous time for Azerbaijan and the entire region because of Armenia’s reckless pursuit of offensive weapons and incendiary rhetoric. Azerbaijanis at home and in the United States have depended on America as a good friend and strong ally. The world can only hope that that will continue under the new Trump administration.

• Lloyd Green is a former staff secretary to the George H.W. Bush campaign’s Middle East Policy Group in 1988 and served in the Department of Justice between 1990 and 1992.
 

Source:http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/17/nuclear-turmoil-possible-in-caucuses/

National Interest: Why Armenia Needs the Iskander System

Iskander-M SRBM system. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/Vitaly V. Kuzmin

On April 17, the Washington Times published an article by Lloyd Green, in which the author describes the Karabakh-Azerbaijani conflict, and its consequences for the whole region and international community. Many theses of my colleague are distorted and, therefore, readers may get the wrong understanding of both the real causes of the conflict and the current geopolitical situation in Transcaucasia. The first misconception is that Armenia occupied the territories of neighboring Azerbaijan. The reality is that Nagorno-Karabakh—a historical territory of the Armenian people—was transferred to Soviet Azerbaijan, which was created by the Bolshevik government for political purposes. The Soviet Union was striving for territorial expansion against Iran; creating a republic with the name Azerbaijan, Moscow expressed its claims to the Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan. Thus, transfer of the Armenian territories of Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan to Azerbaijan was based on pragmatic geopolitical calculations by the Soviet leadership.

During Soviet rule, Nagorno-Karabakh had autonomous status. According to the constitution, it had the right to declare its independence, as did all national republics. In 1988, Karabakh deputies asked the central authorities to consider and positively resolve the issue of transferring the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. After that moment, widespread killing of the Armenian population took place in the Azerbaijani cities of Baku and Sumgait. Incidentally, it was the United States that reacted first to these acts of aggression. Senators Claiborne Pell (chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at that time) and Robert Dole (the Senate’s Republican leader), as well as John Kerry and Joseph Biden, sent a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev demanding a stop to the violence against Armenians. In response to the lack of reaction from Moscow, Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, who had survived the 1915–23 genocide in Ottoman Turkey, announced their withdrawal from Azerbaijan.

In response, the authorities of Baku led their troops to Armenian territory, committing an act of aggression. The fact that it was an act of aggression by Azerbaijan against Nagorno-Karabakh is evidenced by Washington’s official and consistent position throughout the period of conflict. Thus, meeting with Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze in 1990, Senator Pell conveyed America’s concern over the Azerbaijan’s aggression against Armenian Karabakh. Moreover, Pell sent a letter to the minister in which many influential senators demanded that Moscow transfer Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. During the acute phase of the armed conflict, Congress adopted Section 907, which prohibited any possible assistance to Azerbaijan from the United States because of its aggressive actions and illegal blockade of the borders of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover, Nagorno-Karabakh, on an equal footing with Armenia, was included in the official list of countries to which until today America has provided annual financial aid. Believing Green’s statements means that America has supported “aggressors”: Armenia and Karabakh. Is this even possible?

Today, the United States, Russia and France are the permanent cochairs of the OSCE Minsk Group for the settlement of the Karabakh-Azerbaijani conflict. Numerous statements of this group note that there is no alternative to a peaceful solution of the issue. The only country that does not share this position of international community, as represented by the Minsk Group, is Azerbaijan. The leadership of this state openly declares that Armenians around the world are enemies of Azerbaijan, regardless of what their political views are and what countries they are citizens of. The entire civilized world condemned President Ilham Aliyev for granting state honors to Ramil Safarov, a lieutenant who murdered the sleeping Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan with an axe during NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in Budapest.

During Azerbaijan’s massive aggression last April, the most dangerous types of weapons were used against peaceful villages and cities, including the TOS-1 heavy flamethrower system. This aggression was once again condemned by the White House, which stated that the conflict should be resolved by respecting the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination. Ed Royce (the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee), Adam Schiff (the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee), Senator Robert Menendez and other legislators also spoke out against Azerbaijan’s military aggression.

If we carefully analyze Azerbaijan’s aggressive rhetoric, coupled with systematic violation of the cease-fire and diversionary actions against the civilian population, we can understand why Armenia purchased the Iskander system from Russia. Green is deeply mistaken that the Armenian side seeks to use these systems against Western energy infrastructure. Besides that, statements of high-ranking politicians, which can easily be verified, are taken out of context. Iskander systems are viewed by official Yerevan not as an element of intimidation, but as a system for restraining the aggressive plans of Baku. Realizing the existing realities, I would like to ask my colleague Lloyd Green a question: Does Christian Armenia have the right to ensure the safety of its people, while its nearest neighbor every time claims the need to wipe out the Armenian people from the face of the Earth?

Source:
http://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-armenia-needs-the-iskander-system-20499


Stratfor: Armenian-Russian air defense system to put brakes on Azerbaijan’s claims to Nagorno Karabakh


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A joint missile Russian-Armenian air defense system will put the brakes on Azerbaijan’s goal of retaking Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent territories, Stratfor said as it analyzed the motives behind the Russian-Armenian air defense deal. Excerpts from the analysis are provided below. On Nov. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed his government to sign an agreement with Armenia to create a joint missile air defense system in the region. Not long after, the Armenian government confirmed that Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev is expected to visit Armenia in late November to officially sign the air defense system deal.

The move, though reminiscent of Moscow’s actions in Central Asia and Belarus in previous years, comes at a time when Russia is being forced to respond to a wider array of challenges than ever before. Threats are rising from the Near East, while the West is ramping up its military activities in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh moves closer to changing its political status. And as Russia increases its military presence in Armenia, its competition with major regional powers for influence in the South Caucasus will intensify, adding to the growing list of issues Russia must contend with outside its borders. An expanding military presence will put Russia in direct competition with Turkey’s ambitions in the South Caucasus and Georgia’s cooperation with NATO and U.S. forces. It will also put the brakes on Azerbaijan’s goal of retaking Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent territories.

For Armenia’s part, the joint air defense deal comes at an opportune time. Its government has received mounting criticism from Armenian politicians and media amid a growing belief that the country’s membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and its reliance on Russia as a security guarantor have yielded few results, particularly as Azerbaijan pursues a more assertive military posture around Nagorno-Karabakh.

Under the new agreement, Armenian air defenses will be strengthened, and the country will likely see new air defense equipment, radios, radar systems and combat helicopters deployed to its territory. Armenian Minister of Territorial Administration and Emergency Situations Armen Yeritsyan also recently announced that the Stepanavan Airport, located a mere 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) from the Armenia-Georgia border, will host Russian Mi-24 and KA-32 heavy helicopters starting in 2016. While these aircraft do not amount to a projection of Russian force because of their limited range, they do reflect the Kremlin’s broader policy of boosting its air capabilities in Armenia — a process that dates back to January 2014, when Russia announced that it would strengthen Armenia’s Erebuni Airport with Mi-24P, Mi-8MT and Mi-8SMV helicopters. Along a similar vein, Nagorno-Karabakh’s president has said Russian forces may use his region’s Stepanakert Airport for air operations, an offer that may be in response to the recent uptick in air cooperation between Armenia and Russia.

Russia’s growing military presence in the South Caucasus will be especially worrisome to Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia’s longtime rivals in the region. The two countries have ramped up their joint military exercises with Georgia over the past year, posing a heightened threat to Armenia, whose strategic position is already weak. Since Turkey already had less ability than Russia to project power into the South Caucasus, the Kremlin’s recent moves will only increase the gap between Russian and Turkish influence there, thus intensifying their competition for sway in the wider region.

Meanwhile, Russia’s stronger aerial presence in Armenia could alter the military balance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani politicians have already voiced concerns about the air defense agreement, and on Nov. 11 — the same day Putin gave his orders to sign the deal — Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited his country’s S-300 anti-aircraft missile brigade, the unit responsible for Azerbaijan’s aerial defenses.

The timing of the deal is significant for a number of reasons. First, it signals Russia’s response to recent developments in the ongoing standoff between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. As talks progress on Armenia handing over to Azerbaijan several regions adjacent to the breakaway territory, Russia will boost its military presence in the South Caucasus to ensure the security of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and to make any further territorial concessions more politically palatable to Yerevan. Second, as Russia becomes more involved in the Syrian conflict, Moscow is keen to increase its ability to monitor its southern borders — a goal that a military presence in Armenia, with its proximity to the Middle East, is ideally suited to achieve.

Source: https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/motives-behind-russian-armenian-air-defense-deal-0


No, Russia Does Not Want War in Nagorno-Karabakh

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In a recent op-ed in Al Jazeera, Caucasus political analyst Richard Giragosian argued that Russia, desperate to retain its influence in the former Soviet space, seeks to spark an armed conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). Specifically, he asserted that the military build-up between Armenia and Azerbaijan has “greatly enhanced Russian power and influence” and that “the looming risk of ‘war by accident’ may be a tempting tool for Moscow to consolidate its leverage in the region by provoking, promoting and then exploiting renewed hostilities.”

The move, wrote Giragosian, could “garner greater dividends for Russian hard power.” He added that this “stems from the Russian desire to further project its power in the South Caucasus by seeking to spark further military confrontation in order to deploy Russian peacekeepers to Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The notion that Russia aims to purposefully instigate a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is illogical and conflicts with the basic realities of the Caucasus region. The allegation by Giragosian is an extreme version of the idea of Russia using the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as a “divide and rule” mechanism to retain Armenia and Azerbaijan in its sphere of influence. This concept is derived from a flawed historical understanding of the origins of the dispute, which attributed the assignment of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan to the cynical interests of Stalin and Soviet Russia.

However, this myth has recently been put to rest. The historical research of the scholar, Arsene Saparov, persuasively argued that Nagorno-Karabakh was assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan based on the fact that it was, despite its overwhelming Armenian majority, controlled by Azerbaijan at the time of Sovietization. Simply put, it was easier for the Bolsheviks to sanction the pre-existing situation on the ground while giving the Armenians the concession of political autonomy, a solution that satisfied neither side. Stalin, far from the height of his power, played only a minor role.

This debunked divide-and-rule premise notwithstanding, the idea that Russia would want a war in Nagorno-Karabakh also runs contrary to Russia’s strategic interests in the region. Russia’s primary interest is stability and security, not war and chaos. This is especially important given Russia’s concerns with the rise of Islamic extremism in the North Caucasus. Specifically, Moscow wants to shore up its position in the region by having a secure buffer of friendly states south of the Caucasus Mountains that will help it contain and isolate this threat.

Armenia, Russia’s main military ally in Transcaucasia, is a key part of this strategy. Georgia, which has its own problem with Islamic extremists, is likewise an important component of it. However, Russo-Georgian tension, especially during Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency, has hindered these efforts. The current Georgian government, led by the pragmatist prime minister Irakli Garibashvili, seeks to mend Russo-Georgian ties—and with good reason.

Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, home to a Chechen subgroup known as the Kists, has become a prime target for ISIS recruiting efforts. One of its natives is Omar al-Shishani (born Tarkhan Batirashvili), a veteran of the 2008 war in Georgia and now a top ISIS commander.  This has raised much concern in Moscow, which faces a similar problem across the border in the North Caucasus.  In a recent 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that “more than 2,000 fighters from Russia and Ex-Soviet Republics” are fighting on Syrian territory.

This only underscores the need for cooperation between Tbilisi and Moscow. Both share a common interest in combating the spread of terrorism and Islamic extremism in Pankisi and in the Caucasus generally. Yerevan too shares this interest. In fact, for both Armenia and Georgia, the presence of ISIS in the neighborhood has reawakened bad historical memories. Having a large country like Russia nearby to ward off such threats is a major advantage for the security of both states.

Russia’s concerns in the Caucasus are not just limited to Islamic extremism. Moscow is also troubled by efforts, led by the United States, to expand NATO, to promote Western-backed energy projects, and to encourage pro-Western “color revolutions” in the region. Russia is perplexed by these moves, which it regards as a continuation of Cold War containment. These measures are also viewed by the Kremlin as creating the conditions for instability in the region, as the 2008 war in Georgia demonstrated.

Given this, a war in Nagorno-Karabakh, especially in light of recent events in Ukraine and Syria, is the absolute last thing that Russia wants or needs. This explains the reason for the Russian-backed Sochi summit on Nagorno-Karabakh in August 2014. Hostilities on the ceasefire line between the sides reached alarming levels and Russian President Putin sought to calm tensions between Baku and Yerevan. If Russia really wanted a war, it would have permitted the ceasefire violations to escalate until a major conflict erupted. Instead, Russia sought to avert that prospect.

In Giragosian’s view, “Russia has largely benefitted from the unresolved nature of the conflict” over Nagorno-Karabakh since the 1994 ceasefire. This is not the case. Although the tenuous ceasefire has maintained some peace and stability in the region, in the long term, Russia is not interested in seeing any renewed hostilities over Nagorno-Karabakh. At the same time, long-term solutions to the issue have been elusive; Putin and other Russian officials acknowledge this.

Nevertheless, Giragosian is correct on one point; Russia has indeed supplied both sides with weapons. It is true that Moscow has cautiously supplied weapons to Azerbaijan, in part to entice it to join the Eurasian Union.  However, the political reality is that Armenia remains Russia’s major military ally and most reliable partner in Transcaucasia. Russia’s major military infrastructure in the region, including the 102nd military base at Gyumri, is located in Armenia.  Further, Moscow’s military obligations and security guarantees to Yerevan remain firm.

The Russian-Armenian relationship, determined by hard political factors and security interests, is mutually beneficial for both countries. For Armenia, Russia remains the strongest guarantor for its security against potential threats and concerns from its hostile neighbors, Turkey and Azerbaijan. For Russia, Armenia remains an important and friendly pillar in a strategically vital region.

The conclusion of Giragosian’s piece is that, “…the danger of a ‘war by accident’ over Nagorno-Karabakh necessitates much more strategic scrutiny and greater attention by the West. This remote and fairly removed conflict can no longer be so easily ceded to Russian control. Moscow has been afforded too much room as a primary actor for far too long.” This conclusion is based on another troubling premise. The West, he wrote, “can no longer so easily cede” the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute to Russia. However, is the dispute the West’s to “cede” at all? Conflicts, such as the one in Nagorno-Karabakh, are not pieces in a “great game” between the “great powers” on a “grand chessboard” (to quote Zbigniew Brzezinski). Instead, they are international disputes that require international cooperation, not competition.

In addition, the view that the West can “cede” the dispute to Moscow also implies that Armenia, Georgia, and other post-Soviet countries are objects that can be “ceded” from one power to another. According to this perspective, Yerevan, Baku, Tbilisi, Kiev, Astana, and others are not independent political players, whose relations with Moscow and the West are determined by savvy, pragmatic interests. In this view, they cannot decide for themselves what kind of future or political system they should have. This problematic position also arises from an outlook based on international competition, not cooperation. However, the Caucasus needs much more of the latter and much less of the former if is to find peace, security, and stability.

Pietro A. Shakarian is a PhD Candidate in Russian History at The Ohio State University in Columbus. He earned his MA in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In addition to The Armenite, he has written analyses on Russia and the former USSR for The Nation, Russia Direct, and Hetq. He is also an Associate Editor at the Gomidas Institute.


Hetq: Moscow Intends to Deploy Peacekeepers in Nagorno Karabagh - 6 Facts

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The regional military and political events of the recent week raise a number of questions, the most important of which is related to Russia’s intentions. While some try to claim that the recent tensions could have been possible without Russia’s permission and that Baku had attacked Nagorno Karabagh upon its own initiative, the events of the last few years bear witness of a different trend.

In particular, the Russian-Azerbaijani military trade, the fact that till today Armenia has not received the loan amount of 200 million USD (the loan agreement was signed in the summer of 2015) intended for purchasing arms, Azerbaijan’s protest against the loan and the apologizing response of Russian Foreign Ministry’s official representative Maria Zakharova prompt Aliev that he will not run the risk of being scolded by the Russian big brother in case of provoking war. The diplomatic statements of the recent days also testify that Kremlin did not mind such developments. The following events show that Moscow has changed its approach not only in regard with arms sales, but diplomacy as well. One of the indicators was the act of moving the meeting of the EAEU prime ministers from Yerevan to Moscow by using war as an excuse. In reality, this was a message to Baku implying that the EAEU does not stand by Armenia in this difficult situation. Another indicator was Medvedev’s decision to cut short his visit to Yerevan in order to be able to visit Baku as well. Moreover, the Russian prime minister also visited the monument dedicated to the so-called martyrs in Baku and laid a wreath in memory of Azerbaijani soldiers who died in the battles against the Armenian forces.

Naturally, Russia’s main aim is the deployment of Russian peacekeeping troops in Nagorno Karabagh. There is no doubt that Nagorno Karabagh conflict is the main lever for Russia to keep its influence in the South Caucasus. Hence, the resolution of the conflict (in favor of any of the sides) is not in the interests of Russia. Whereas the deployment of Russian peacekeepers would solve the issue of submitting Armenia to Russia’s will whenever Armenia would dare not to obey Kremlin. The circumstances mentioned below serve as testimony of such intentions of Russia:

1. The agreement on ceasing the fire was reached by Chiefs of General Staff of the Armed Forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Moscow on April 5. This means that the agreement is not a diplomatic but a military one because the issue was discussed by Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, not Foreign Ministers. Thus, a question arises… What did the sides discuss during that meeting in Moscow and why was it a secret meeting?

2. On April 7, Armenian President Serj Sargsyan gave an interview to the German Deutsche Welle, in which he stated that Armenia had never objected to the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno Karabagh. Taking into account the fact that Nagorno Karabagh has strongly opposed the deployment of peacekeepers in in its territory ever since 1994, we get the impression that Serj Sargsyan is paving the way for the news to come.

3. The Russian-Armenian relations have sharply deteriorated during the recent days. It was expressed in multiple ways: starting from the change of rhetoric of official Yerevan when referring to its “strategic ally” and ending with the fact that Dmitri Medvedev was accompanied to the Armenian Genocide Memorial only by Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan. This change may both be related to the fact of arms sales to Azerbaijan and some diplomatic coercion.

4. There is also an activation of discussion about the mystical Kazan Document which was suggested by Russia during the meeting of Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents in 2011. Armenia had agreed to accept the document and Azerbaijan had refused. At that time there was speculation that according to that document Armenia had agreed to return part of the regions outside the territory of former Nagorno Karabagh Autonomous Oblast (some speculated about 5 of them, others – about all the 7), and Nagorno Karabagh had to receive a special status. In the first place, it is doubtful whether the document is beneficial for the Armenian side. Nevertheless, an even more doubtful statement was recently made by Sergey Lavrov in Baku. Namely, he had stated that the Russian side has suggestions regarding the conflict settlement and the sides are close to accepting those suggestions. In response to this statement, Spokesman of the Armenian Foreign Ministry Tigran Balayan had mentioned that the Kazan document submitted in 2011 is on the negotiating table.

It is unclear what document the sides are close to adopting (the Kazan document or another one). Nevertheless, it is more than clear that if Kremlin forces a suggestion on Armenia according to which part of the territories will be passed to Azerbaijan and the rest will receive a special status under peacekeepers’ control, we will have clear diplomatic evidence that Baku’s last attack was carried out with Russia’s permission or even provocation.

5. There are already political forces in Armenia which are in favor of deployment of peacekeeping troops in Nagorno Karabagh. Particularly, such an opinion has been expressed by head of ANC faction of the RA National Assembly Levon Zurabyan. Head of the ruling party faction has also announced that they would not mind the deployment of peacekeepers.

6. On April 11, we learnt that the “National Guard”, which was created according to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree, will receive authorization of carrying out foreign peacekeeping mission. And though that structure is based on the Russian police forces, it is going to operate beyond the Russian borders and have a “peacekeeping mission”. This means that in case Russian peacekeeping troops are deployed in Nagorno Karabagh, these are going to be the same forces that disperse protests in Russia.


Fort Russ: The US wages 'Hybrid War' in Armenia


The militants who seized the police station in Yerevan had demanded concessions from the authorities. Five hostages are still in the hands of the bandits. The deputy head of the Armenian police, Major-General Vardan Yeghiazaryan and Deputy Chief of Yerevan Police, Colonel Valery Osipyan, are among the hostages. A group of radicals unsuccessfully tried to join militants at Monday.



Criminals



On Saturday-Sunday night, the police station in the capital of Armenia was captured by militants associated with the group "The Constituent Parliament”. They are demanding the release of their leader Jirair Sefilian, who is under arrest on charges of illegal acquiring and possessing weapons. One policeman was killed during the building’s seizure.



Ringleaders



Jirair Seiflian is a native of Lebanon who arrived in Armenia to take part in the Karabakh war in the early 1990’s. He has experience from fighting in Lebanon. In Karabakh, he became one of the most famous military leaders and enjoys the support of the Armenian diaspora and war veterans of Karabakh. He is harshly critical of official Yerevan's position on the Karabakh issue. Seiflian calls for the resumption of hostilities against Azerbaijan after the April 2016 war. On June 20th, 2016, he was arrested on suspicion of smuggling and possessing weapons.



Sefilian created "The Constituent Parliament”, the radical opposition organization. In 2015, he joined the board of the opposition campaign "New Armenia" which attempted a color revolution using as a pretext that the authorities had initiated a referendum on transitioning to a parliamentary form of government. At the head of the opposition force is Raffi Hovannisian who at the presidential elections of 2013 received more than 36% of the vote. He was born and lived his first 31 years in the US. After the collapse of the USSR Raffi Hovannisian became the first Minister of foreign Affairs in Armenia. "New Armenia" actively uses the Karabakh problem to accuse authorities of surrendering national positions.


The forces connected to seizing the police station (New Armenia) earlier organized protests against Russian military base in Armenia, supported coup d’etat in Ukraine and took active participation in the protest in the Armenian capital last summer. They are closely connected to the US embassy and the Open Society (Soros Foundation) in Armenia.



The purpose of the operation



These events in Armenia are part of the strategy of hybrid war used by the US against Continentalist forces, and primarily against Russia. The goal is changing the government or policies of the Armenian authorities to ones less pliable for Russia. Currently, the Russian government is trying to find a formula of compromise between Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to ensure long-term peace, which naturally requires concessions from the Armenian side. The United States, in turn, is using its agents of influence in Armenia and Azerbaijan in order to derail the peace process and kindle war, which would naturally draw in Russia and Turkey.


The activities of armed radicals are a natural element of this hybrid war strategy. The recent attack has multiple objectives: exerting pressure on the Armenian leadership with an eye on preventing compromise on Karabakh; creating a pole of attraction for radical discontent elements which will then be used in a color revolution; using military operations by paramilitary formations to demonstrate the weakness of the government and its inability to control the situation; and strengthening overall opposition sentiment.

Source: http://www.fort-russ.com/2016/07/the-us-wages-hybrid-war-in-armenia.html

Russia Direct: How Russia could succeed in Nagorno-Karabakh

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Moscow is uniquely positioned to bring peace to Nagorno-Karabakh, due to its deep historical knowledge of the South Caucasus region and the emergence of fledgling institutions such as the Eurasian Economic Union.

The negotiated solution to the protracted conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh appears to be entering a new phase with the active involvement of Russia. It was Russian President Vladimir Putin who stopped the four-day war in Nagorno-Karabakh in early April, leading to speculation that a peace agreement could be reached soon. It now appears that ongoing tensions between Russia and the West over Syria and Ukraine might compel Moscow, Baku and Yerevan to take the plunge for a major breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. 

Russia aims to assume a leading role in the peace settlement while increasing its economic engagement and political rapprochement with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Considerable military might, a rich legacy that dates back to Tsarist Russia, as well as shrewd tactics and relatively flexible diplomacy that allows Russia to keep the West out of the South Caucasus (mainly through a multidimensional partnership with Turkey and a strategic alliance with Iran) are among the key factors that can help the Kremlin stabilize the situation. 

In the absence of a greater Western assertiveness, both President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia consider Russia as the closest mediator, which realizes much better than others what should be done, and which has enough political will to alter the status quo, and materialize peacekeeping initiatives.

Armenia and Azerbaijan face complex political, economic, and social processes that inevitably affect the security of Russia itself. For this reason, Russia’s mediating role in the region is firmly rooted in common security interests. With the lack of Western resources to actively interfere in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, Russia now has carte blanche for breaking the deadlock. The Kremlin seeks to cope with the mission singlehandedly, trying to bring Baku and Yerevan to the negotiating table by convincing them to reach a compromise. 

In principle, Russia’s activist role has become particularly relevant against the backdrop of regular ceasefire violations, border skirmishes and an increased number of casualties. Moscow finds further escalation unacceptable, calling for the restoration of the political dialogue. That is why the Nagorno-Karabakh issue was thoroughly discussed during the one-day visit of Aliyev and Sargsyan to St. Petersburg where they met with Putin for closed-door talks on June 20. Consequently, Baku and Yerevan understand very well that it will be difficult to find a way forward for a lasting agreement by ignoring Russian national interests. 

In turn, the West seems to agree with the Russian leadership role, albeit the U.S. and the EU remain very worried about Russian hegemony extending to South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region. Even though the Western powers possess considerable peacekeeping potential, they lack factual knowledge of the history of the South Caucasus, and have little understanding of the national interests pursued by nations of the former Soviet Union.

For this reason, the U.S. and the EU proved to be unprepared for procuring information in this conflict-torn region. Together, all these factors testify to Russia’s much stronger position in the region and explain why the West fears Moscow’s greater involvement in regional security issues directly influencing the rapidly changing geopolitics of the South Caucasus. Strikingly, Moscow started promoting the idea of resolving the conflict within a single, integrated organization like the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Russia is indeed viewed as a powerful player to initiate this process. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan are members of the EEU, the political and economic dimensions of which are still developing.

Baku and Yerevan expect the Kremlin to present a road map for peace that will best suit the national interests of the two conflicting parties in the region. For example, Armenia already joined the Eurasian Economic Union to secure the Kremlin’s support on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and to enhance its pivotal relationship with Moscow. Azerbaijan’s importance for Russia is likewise quite obvious. But the tougher challenge facing the Kremlin leader is how to solve the Gordian knot that binds Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan together.  

Many in Russia believe that integration into the EEU holds great promise for Azerbaijan, arguing that an energy-rich country can also act as a bridge for the Union’s wider cooperation with Iran and Turkey. While hoping for a renewed impetus to the conflict settlement, Azerbaijan may well consider the possibility of joining the EEU, but as yet sees challenges for the membership in the Russia-led bloc. Instead, Baku seems to focus on boosting bilateral-level cooperation within the Eurasian organization.

However, the Kremlin may try out some new tactics based on a well thought-out peace proposal leading to a change in the situation. Such a settlement would need to take into account the deep-seated territorial disputes that surround Nagorno-Karabakh. By doing so, Moscow could demonstrate how obstacles may easily turn into opportunities. While pursuing a very subtle two-pronged policy of delicate signaling to Azerbaijan and Armenia, Putin is most likely capable of unraveling the Nagorno-Karabakh conundrum. But if the Kremlin really wants to reach greater regional stability, the Armenia-Azerbaijan knot needs to be cut once and for all, not merely untied.


Russia Direct: What needs to happen for a peaceful settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh

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The OSCE reenergized peace process in Nagorno-Karabakh is still underway, but faces obstacles to a negotiated settlement. What must be done to open the way for OSCE incident investigation mechanism and build trust for a comprehensive resolution?

The Russian mediator in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group triumvirate, Ambassador Igor Popov, in a rare media appearance on June 7, speculated that the “framework agreement” on Nagorno-Karabakh is not a remote possibility at all. Adding even more complexity to the reenergized peace process, Popov also hinted at “individual Russian efforts” to achieve resolution, whereas OSCE experts are working on finalizing the implementation mechanisms of agreements reached in Vienna on May 16. The Russian Foreign Ministry came up with a short statement on the website on June 9 announcing a “trilateral summit” on Nagorno Karabakh resolution is being scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg “at the end of June”. So what does all this mean for attempts to find a negotiated settlement for Nagorno-Karabakh?
Difficulties in finding a solution
To refresh, a pre-negotiation round convened by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, French Secretary of State for European Affairs Harlem Desir and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Vienna on May 16 ended with agreement (inked in a Joint Statement) on four basic points: to respect the open-ended 1994 and 1995 ceasefire agreements; finalize “in the shortest possible time” an OSCE investigative mechanism; expand the existing Office of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office; and exchange data on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Two of these points (honoring the ceasefire and exchanging data on prisoners of war and missing persons) are international obligations of any state engaged in an international dispute, so both Armenia and Azerbaijan did a favor only to themselves by agreeing to adhere to international norms of the civilized world. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, talking to a pool of journalists en route from Vienna, said Armenia was satisfied with the agreements reached and was ready to embark on their implementation. After a few days of silence and a brief demarche by the Azerbaijani presidential aide, Baku committed to all the above-mentioned bullet points within a span of 24 hours.

Azerbaijan, which has never been very much willing to adhere to the peace process (it views it as something Armenia and other peacemakers were using to prolong the status quo), admitted that a new meeting between presidents “was necessary” in order to use the momentum reached in Vienna. Since then, only single incidents of ceasefire violations have been reported. In Brussels and Paris, respectively, on May 31 and June 2, Minsk Group mediators equipped the Azerbaijani and Armenian Foreign Ministers with “expert-level elaborated ideas,” or drafts, on the OSCE investigative mechanism and expansion of the existing pool of monitors within the mandate of OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Personal Representative (CiO PR) Andrzej Kasprzyk to chart the path for a high-level meeting during June.

he common narrative after the so-called “Four Day War” suggests that, without these two preconditions satisfied, the peace process would remain in deadlock. It would only be a matter of time before the next round of armed hostilities. How to prevent a new round of devastating war in a region bordering Iran, Russia and Turkey (not to mention Iraq and Syria) – is the primary challenge before the mediators and parties involved. Speaking at the OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna on June 9, Russian Permanent Representative Alexander Lukashevich urged “to finalise at an earliest date” preparations for establishment of incident investigation mechanism and expansion of office of CiO PR Kasprzyk.

A few things are clear. Turkish-Azerbaijani military exercises at the border with Armenia, conducted in Kars, are certainly not the recipe for a peaceful resolution. Neither is Ilham Aliyev’s claim that Armenia is “a historically Azerbaijani land,” or blaming German Chancellor Angela Merkel for sins before Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan just 48 hours before his own landing in Berlin. To brainstorm for the interlinked elements of the OSCE investigation mechanism and expanded monitoring mission in Nagorno-Karabakh (especially if Kasprzyk’s mandate is staying the same), one will need to look into the recent OSCE experience in Ukraine following the Minsk Agreements.
OSCE: A marginal role in Ukraine
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine is vested with the mandate “to gather information on the situation in Ukraine in an impartial and transparent manner,” as well as “to document incidents… on a daily basis.” The SMM is also monitoring the implementation of the Minsk Agreements in general terms, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons and foreign military equipment and mercenaries from Ukraine, but “on a limited basis” due to personnel security concerns. The SMM also developed an online library of interesting reports on various issues – including gender and the justice system in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Frustrated with the limited utility of the SMM, Ukraine, Russia and other stakeholders are now mulling over introducing a lightly armed policing mission in Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin is against the whole idea in principle, while Kiev argues that there should be “no Russian boots on the ground.” As long as neither party has demonstrated willingness to abide by agreements reached, the SMM will continue playing a marginal role in the open-ended peace process.

The financial cost of sustaining observation or monitoring missions, especially in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, is another problem. Back in 2012, Azerbaijan disabled the consensus in OSCE budget discussions for the allocation of funds for establishing incident investigation mechanisms. For those familiar with the history of peacekeeping operations and international observation missions in the past few decades, the SMM in Ukraine has a sample mandate for a Cold War-era, state sovereignty-conscious mission that will only do reporting and filing with no effect on the conflict resolution, allowing the sides to exercise their political rhetoric.  

The age-old case that comes to mind is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), established in Spring 1978, which played virtually no role in deterring (it didn’t have mandate to use force and stop) Israeli interventions in either 1982 or 2006. UNIFIL, too, as the SMM in Ukraine, developed a robust library of their activity reports. Of course, proper and expert-level discussion of peacekeeping or observation mission mandates and specifics would require larger space and depth to elaborate, yet the recipe for Nagorno-Karabakh, in a nutshell, requires a more tailored approach.
Recommendations
The OSCE investigation mechanism in Nagorno-Karabakh will either fall within the mandate of the CiO PR Kasprzyk (likely) or a special mandate established by the Permanent Council (unlikely). However, if Kasprzyk’s office expands within the existing mandate, what added value are they going to bring apart from producing a lot of paperwork?

On the positive side, for the purposes of advancing the peace process in Nagorno-Karabakh, the deterrence effect of the investigation mechanism as such will overshadow the practical utility of the mechanism, if parties agree to this in principle instead of pro forma box ticking. And if the goodwill is out there to view this as a beginning of a longer journey, the six-hour blackout for leaking the incident to the media, as enshrined in the February 1995 document drafted by former Russian special envoy Vladimir Kazimirov and signed by all parties (Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan), will show not only consistency in mediation efforts in the past 20 years, but also allow for real work instead of abusing the whole arrangement by spinning narratives in the media.

And, last but not least, those who fought back in the Four Day War, shall have their say to this measure, as they are the real players on the ground, able to upset or veto any arrangement that negotiators will otherwise ink.

Without searching for nuances in the wording of the latest OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ press statement of June 3 or Popov’s interview of June 7, it is nonetheless clear that the thought-provoking documents delivered to Yerevan and Baku shall be, among other things, consented to by the “elected representatives” of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, too. This is because the main effect of these papers is well beyond the physical borders of Armenia and, in fact, of Azerbaijan – neither side has bodies of governance functioning in the yet unrecognized state, nor they ever had since the demise of Soviet Union.


The National Interest: America Must Stop Ignoring the South Caucasus

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to meet his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, on June 13 in Baku. On the agenda: resolving the quarter-century-old dispute over the breakaway Nagorno Karabakh, a majority-Armenian territory which split from Azerbaijan in a brutal war with Armenia during the early 1990s. A ceasefire concluded the active phase of the conflict in 1994, but the feud remains unresolved, and violent incidents persist along the line of contact.

There is little reason to believe the meeting will yield any progress. An official peace process, the OSCE Minsk Group, has been underway since 1992 with joint Russian-French-American leadership. The Minsk Group is plagued by Western inattention and Kremlin intrigue. Russia deliberately plays both sides in Nagorno Karabakh and Washington and its allies seem not to care. Putin’s meeting comes only three days after American Minsk Group representative James Warlick discussed the conflict with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian. That Russia provides presidential-level attention to Nagorno Karabakh while the United States offers only its liaison to a paralyzed negotiation forum is illustrative of U.S. indifference towards the conflict.

American disinterest could prove costly for both the United States and Europe. For the United States, settling the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict would carry two key benefits: improving energy security for European allies and reducing the risk of a conflict involving NATO member Turkey.

Putin previously met Aliyev and Sarkisian in August 2014 to discuss the conflict. Before that, Russia organized several presidential-level negotiations in 2011, 2008, and 2004. This stands in stark contrast with Western efforts, marked by abortive talks held in the United States in 2001 and in France in 2006.

In 2010, Aliyev and Sarkisian verbally agreed to some elements of the Madrid Principles [3], a basic outline for the peaceful resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. This plan includes a phased withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno Karabakh and a final referendum on the territory’s political status. While Baku and Yerevan still dispute many issues, the Madrid Principles provide a strong foundation for compromise and a mediated settlement. On the surface, this makes the lack of progress in recent years surprising. Closer examination of Russia’s role in the South Caucasus indicates otherwise. Moscow, ostensibly pursuing a negotiated peace, benefits from an indefinite dispute.

Azerbaijan imports 85 percent [4] of its weaponry from Russia. Baku’s energy wealth allows it to dramatically boost defense spending, even amidst falling oil prices. Azerbaijan’s military budget in 2003 was $163 million. By 2014, the country was spending $4.8 billion on defense, far outmatching rival Armenia’s $3.2 billion budget.

Armenia simply cannot afford the same degree of military prowess as Azerbaijan. As Baku grows stronger, Armenia becomes more dependent on Russia for security. Yerevan occasionally registers a complaint with its powerful patron over arms sales to Azerbaijan, but Armenia can do little more than that. At the same time, Baku risks war with Russia if it attacks its western neighbor, as Moscow is bound to Armenia by the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s mutual defense agreement. The commander of the Russian military base in Gyumri, Armenia, reported in 2013 that his troops would intervene on Yerevan’s behalf if Azerbaijan attempted to retake Karabakh by force. However, these statements are of questionable value to Armenia, as they have never been confirmed by Russia’s top officials.

Despite the dangers associated with renewed conflict, Baku and Yerevan are demonstrating a growing willingness to test one another’s patience. Over the past month, Armenian [5] and Azerbaijani [6] media have frequently reported ceasefire violations by the other side. These incidents come after months of intermittent fighting on the line of contact.

Eventually, Azerbaijan may determine that retaking Nagorno Karabakh is worth the risk. If Russia entered the fray, it would undoubtedly result in a catastrophic defeat for Baku. However, Moscow could remain on the sidelines, on the basis that Nagorno Karabakh is not part of Armenia’s internationally recognized territory and is therefore not protected by the CSTO. In this case, the conflict’s outcome might be less decisive. A protracted struggle could develop with or without Russian intervention, endangering prospective energy projects in the Caspian Sea basin and damage existing infrastructure. This would benefit Russia, which perceives Western energy enterprises in the area as threatening its dominant position in the European oil and gas market.

Would Russia really abandon its Armenian ally in a war with Azerbaijan? It is certainly possible. If Russia did fail to intervene on Armenia’s behalf, Yerevan would have little room to rebuke the Kremlin for its duplicity. Years of Russian protection have steadily eroded Armenian sovereignty. The Russian border guards who patrol Armenia’s frontiers and the 5,000 soldiers stationed in Gyumri are only the tip of the iceberg: Moscow’s influence now extends far beyond military affairs. As of 2008, Russia controlled 80 percent [7] of Armenian energy infrastructure. In June 2015, Yerevan announced plans to sell an Armenia-Iran natural gas pipeline [8] to Gazprom, further entrenching Russia’s position in the small South Caucasus republic. Armenia is a member of the Kremlin-led Eurasian Economic Union and Russia is the country’s single largest import and export partner. All of these factors grant Russia a wider range of policy options in the South Caucasus at Armenia’s expense.

What is clear is that Russia is unlikely to mediate in good faith as long as it can control the initiative in the Nagorno Karabakh dispute and profit from the conflict’s perpetuation. For Moscow, revenue from arms sales to Armenia and Azerbaijan, political leverage in the South Caucasus, and protection of Russian energy interests all come before a peaceful settlement. This does not bode well for the United States or its European allies.

Escalating hostilities might endanger emerging energy projects such as the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP). This system is the first to bring Caspian natural gas to Europe, drawing supplies from Azerbaijan via Turkey and Georgia. The project would help diversify Europe’s energy supplies, making Russian influence vis-à-vis Gazprom less potent. This should be especially important for the United States, as current energy politics [9] make it difficult for Washington and its European allies to respond in concert to the Ukraine crisis.

Although TANAP’s planned terminus is in Azerbaijan, in the future, the route could link up with sources in Iraqi Kurdistan, Central Asia, and even Iran. Even without these additional outlets, the system promises to reach a capacity of 31 billion cubic meters [10] of gas by 2026. Renewed conflict in the South Caucasus could delay all of these prospects. With TANAP construction underway as of March 2015, workers and equipment are also placed at risk.

In addition to threatening European energy security, another South Caucasus war could draw in other regional powers like Turkey. Ankara previously played a significant role in the active phase of the Nagorno Karabakh War (as did Russia). To demonstrate solidarity with Baku, Turkey sealed the border with Armenia and instituted a blockade in 1993, measures that remain in place today. Turkish officers also trained the Azerbaijani military.

Turkey and Armenia lack diplomatic ties. If Ankara became involved again, it might find pretext to invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, the charter’s mutual defense clause (Turkey already threatened [11] such a move over Syrian Civil War spillover). In this eventuality, the United States and other NATO members would be drawn into a conflict directly on Russia’s doorstep, something that would undoubtedly poison already strained relations between Moscow and the West. If the United States can induce Turkish cooperation, Ankara’s position would be a valuable asset in conflict mediation rather than a liability in regional security.

Armenia is strategically insecure, but it also maintains control over Nagorno Karabakh two decades after the active phase of the conflict ended. Because of this, Armenia may perceive little need to make concessions.

That being said, diplomatic normalization with Turkey and an end to the land blockade on Armenia’s western border are objectives Yerevan cannot achieve under the status quo. Washington can help facilitate normalization between its Turkish ally and Armenia in exchange for settlement of Karabakh. In this scenario, Armenia can yield on certain issues relating to Azerbaijan while still getting an economic and political return. Terminating the blockade and normalizing relations would improve Armenia’s economy and help alleviate its isolation.

Turkey would reap several benefits as well. The country wishes to enter into a free trade agreement [12] with the Eurasian Union, in which Armenia is a member. Open borders and stable diplomatic ties could make such a move less complicated for Ankara. Turkey also has a 30 percent [13] share in the TANAP project, meaning it would benefit from a stable environment in the South Caucasus.

A framework for peace already exists. While challenges will arise, the United States can and should commit itself to a consistent negotiation process on Nagorno Karabakh. Renewed warfare would carry negative ramifications well beyond the South Caucasus. Armenia and Azerbaijan need a mediating partner that benefits from peace in the region, not perpetual conflict.


Source: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/


Bloomberg: Kamikaze Drones, Russian Missiles Jolt Oldest Ex-Soviet Conflict
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Old grievances are being aired with new force in the former Soviet Union’s longest-running conflict. Armenia and Azerbaijan, technically at war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region despite a cease-fire brokered by Russia 22 years ago, are beefing up their arsenals just seven months after the worst fighting in two decades. Armenia has acquired Russian-made Iskander ballistic missiles, while Azerbaijan says it’s tested combat drones produced with Israel and is in talks with Pakistan to buy high-tech weapons.

“We have a much more serious arms race,” said Zaur Shiriyev, an academy associate at Chatham House in London. “It will significantly increase the chance of future outbreaks.”

The rearmament is raising the stakes should tensions flare again between Russian ally Armenia and Azerbaijan, close to NATO member Turkey, after the two neighbors spent almost $27 billion on defense in 2005-2015. The conflict, within striking distance of a BP Plc-led oil pipeline, is once more showing signs of boiling over as talks mediated by Russia and the U.S. run aground and uncertainty mounts after Donald Trump’s election as American president.

Armenians took over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts from Azerbaijan after the 1991 Soviet breakup. The conflict killed 30,000 people and displaced more than a million. No peace accord was signed despite talks involving Russia, the U.S. and France halting major hostilities in 1994. Rhe enclave’s mainly Armenian population declared independence in 1991, which hasn’t been recognized internationally, and insists on its right to self-determination. Azerbaijan says it’s ready to grant more autonomy than the region enjoyed during the Soviet period, but demands respect for its territorial integrity.

Military Might

Azerbaijan, the third-largest crude producer in the former Soviet Union, has converted its oil wealth into battlefield might, becoming Europe’s largest importer of major weapons in the decade through 2015 by spending $22.7 billion on the military in the period, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Its annual defense spending eclipses Armenia’s entire state budget. The largess has been a boon for companies like Uralvagonzavod, the state-run maker of battle tanks in central Russia since World War II, and Elbit Systems Ltd., Israel’s biggest publicly traded defense contractor.

Violence surged in April, when more than 200 troops were killed on both sides in four days of fighting that involved hundreds of tanks and aircraft. Azerbaijan regained control of several hills lost to Armenians 23 years ago, before another Russian-engineered truce. New cease-fire violations were reported last week, which the belligerents blamed on each other.
 
‘Kamikaze Drones’

April’s clashes featured the first known use of “kamikaze drones” by Azerbaijan, with the explosive-tipped aircraft slamming into a bus carrying Armenian volunteers. Media including Radio Free Europe claimed to have identified the weapons as Israeli-made Harop drones. The Azeri and Israeli defense ministries both declined to confirm or deny that Harops were used.

Azerbaijan said in September that it would build “hundreds” of kamikaze and other combat drones using Israeli technology. Armenia has also bolstered its capabilities, getting a $200 million loan from Russia to buy and modernize weapons and other military equipment. It showcased its Iskander missiles at an Independence Day parade in September in Yerevan, the capital. Stationing the short-range missiles in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s BP-operated Sangachal oil-and-gas-processing terminal south of Baku would fall within firing range. Azerbaijan has attracted more than $60 billion of investments in energy projects by BP and its partners in the past 20 years.

A spokesman for Russia’s state-run arms trader Rosoboronexport, Vyacheslav Davidenko, declined to comment on any weapons provided to Armenia. Russia has stressed that is also sells military hardware to Azerbaijan. It supplied the missiles through the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a post-Soviet military alliance, according to the Vedomosti business newspaper.

Shifting Balance?

“Armenia sought to use this display to deter Azerbaijan from a further attack and to demonstrate a solid position in the recently shifting military balance of power,” said Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan. “This missile system is capable of reaching significant infrastructure and vulnerable targets in around Baku and throughout Azerbaijan. This is why the balance of power is now more equal.”

Azerbaijan rejects any shift in the military balance, and Armenia’s missile display certainly hasn’t eased tensions. The Azeri Defense Ministry responded by holding drills involving Russian-made S-300 air-defense systems and threatened to retaliate with “thousands of rockets” should Armenia try to use “a few” of its missiles. Deadly clashes around the conflict zone resumed last month, while Azerbaijan began some of its biggest-ever military drills on Nov. 12.

In Deadlock

The military one-upmanship has complicated mediation. Talks over a settlement in Nagorno-Karabakh are deadlocked, according to Russia, which helped arrange a June meeting between the Azeri and Armenian presidents, Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan. U.S., Russian and French diplomats failed to persuade them to meet again soon. Meanwhile, the possible cost of any renewed violence is rising. “Russia’s delivery of Iskander missiles and other heavy weapons systems to Armenia” has the potential to “raise the costs to both sides of a potential future armed conflict,” said Matthew Bryza, an ex-U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state who also served as an ambassador to Azerbaijan and brokered talks over Karabakh.



Why Armenia’s Military Alliance With Russia Is Not At Risk

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For many decades, the dominant discourse of Armenian political and intellectual leaders was summed up by an emblematic quote from Khachatur Abovian, a 19th-century Armenian writer. "Blessed be the hour when the blessed Russian foot stepped upon our holy Armenian land," Abovian wrote in his most famous novel, set during the Russian-Persian war in the South Caucasus. For the Christian Armenians remaining in what at that time was just the central and eastern parts of an ancient Armenian kingdom, the Russian victory in the 1826-1828 war ended centuries of oppressive Muslim rule and their status as second-class subjects of the Persian Empire. It also laid the groundwork for the eventual establishment of the modern-day Republic of Armenia, a successor to one of the 15 Soviet republics.

The Armenian nationalist groups which emerged in tsarist Russia in the late 19th century generally professed loyalty to the Russian state. The 1915 mass killing of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, which many historians and about two dozen countries have recognized as genocide, only reinforced this geopolitical orientation. Both the communist rulers of Soviet Armenia and anti-Soviet nationalist leaders in the worldwide Armenian diaspora portrayed Russia as the sole guarantor of Armenia's survival in a hostile Muslim neighborhood. Things started changing with the onset in 1988 of a popular movement for Armenia's unification with Nagorno-Karabakh. The anticommunist leaders of that movement, who eventually formed independent Armenia's first government, took a more critical view of the Russian-Armenian relationship, saying that it also had negative consequences for the Armenian people.

Yet even they chose to keep Armenia anchored to Russia politically and military after the breakup of the Soviet Union. This strategic choice facilitated the result of the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, which left Armenians in control of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas. It was rarely questioned by major Armenian opposition groups, pundits and independent media until the early 2000s.

Pro-Western Sentiment

The past decade has seen a rapid spread of pro-Western sentiment among local journalists, civil society members, and youth activists who rely heavily on social media. This process only accelerated after Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian unexpectedly decided in 2013 to forego a far-reaching Association Agreement with the European Union and make Armenia part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) instead. For this expanding circle of politically active people, Russia is a threat to Armenia's sovereignty, security, and democratization which must be neutralized by a reorientation of Armenian foreign policy towards the West. Some of them demand not only Armenia's exit from the EEU, but also an end to the Russian military presence in the country.

Although Russian policies are indeed a cause for legitimate concerns, such rhetoric glosses over the grave security challenges facing Armenia. Like virtually all other Armenians, the vocal pro-Western elements want Nagorno-Karabakh to remain under Armenian control -- something which hinges, in large measure, on the military alliance with Russia. But they do not present the country's political elite with alternatives security options, resorting instead to emotional oversimplifications of foreign policy issues.

Even so, these changing attitudes have fueled suggestions by some Armenia watchers in the West that Russia may be on the brink of losing one of its staunchest ex-Soviet allies. Such speculation was stoked by last February's furious street protests outside the Russian consulate in Armenia's second largest city of Gyumri over the gruesome killing of a local family, which a Russian soldier is accused of having carried out. It intensified further during this summer's demonstrations in Yerevan against an electricity price hike engineered by the country's Russian-owned power distribution network. The so-called "Electric Yerevan" campaign was so dramatic that it raised Russian fears of another "color revolution" against a Moscow-friendly government in the ex-USSR, leading the Kremlin to hastily make a number of major concessions to the Armenian government.

All the same, a closer look at Russian-Armenian ties should be enough to demonstrate why Armenia will continue to heavily rely on Russia for defense and security in the foreseeable future. The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is the most important driving force of that alliance, and it is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

Military Aid

Thanks to its massive oil revenues, Azerbaijan has increased its annual military spending by almost 30 times during President Ilham Aliyev's more than decade-long rule. It is projected to total $3.6 billion this year, more than Armenia's entire state budget. Consequently, the Azerbaijani army has been beefed up with large quantities of offensive weapons, including $4 billion worth of tanks, combat helicopters, air-defense systems, and other military hardware purchased from Russia since 2010. This military buildup has emboldened Aliyev to repeatedly pledge not only to win back Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Armenian-controlled territories, but to take what he has called "historical Azerbaijani lands" in Armenia itself, including Yerevan.

By comparison, Armenia's 2015 defense budget is equivalent to only about $500 million. Despite this huge spending disparity, the country has so far been able to largely maintain the military balance with its oil-rich foe. Through bilateral defense agreements with Russia and membership in the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), it has long been receiving Russia weapons at knock-down prices or free of charge. This mostly unpublicized military aid appears to have intensified in recent years.

In particular, Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenian-backed army is known to have formed a new tank brigade (which typically consists of around 100 tanks) and received more heavy artillery in 2012. In late 2013, it announced the provision of another 33 Russian-made tanks to its forces. Russia also reportedly delivered 110 armored vehicles and 50 rocket systems to the Armenian military during that period.

Armenia will soon buy more advanced weaponry at domestic Russian prices with a $200 million low-interest loan that was disbursed by Moscow during the "Electric Yerevan" protests. Around the same time, the Russian government revealed that it is negotiating with the Armenian side on supplying the latter with state-of-the-art Iskander-M missiles that would significantly boost Armenia's ability to strike Azerbaijan's vital oil and gas installations.

The Armenian missile arsenal currently includes Soviet-era Scud-B and Tochka-U systems with firing ranges of 300 and 120 kilometers respectively. The Azerbaijani military has implied that it can neutralize them with S-300 surface-to-air missiles supplied by Russia in 2009-2010 as well as other missile-defense systems reportedly purchased from Israel in 2012. But these systems would most probably be unable to intercept Iskander-M missiles, one of the most potent weapons of their kind in the world.

Iskander-Ms would thus give Armenia an additional major deterrent against possible Azerbaijani attempts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by force. Armenian leaders have repeatedly hinted at their impending acquisition in recent years. Russia has also been a key provider of free education and training for Armenian military personnel. As of last year, as many as 250 Armenians reportedly studied full-time or took shorter courses at Russian military academies. This figure is comparable to the total number of cadets graduating from Armenia's two military academies annually.

The Russian military base in Armenia's second largest city of Gyumri is another essential component of close military cooperation between the two states. Debate in Armenia on the wisdom of hosting it usually focuses on the question of whether or not the Russian troops would openly fight on the Armenian side should Azerbaijan act on its threats of military action. That misses the point.

The Turkey Factor

What Yerevan needs first and foremost is not Russian ground forces in Nagorno-Karabakh but a safeguard against Turkey's direct military intervention in the conflict, in light of its close ties with, and treaty obligations to, Azerbaijan. (Under the 2011 Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support, the two sides undertake to support each other using "all possible means" in the event of an attack or aggression against one of them.) Bombing raids by Turkey's sizable Air Force alone could seriously affect the outcome of another Nagorno-Karabakh war by overwhelming Armenia's air defenses and destroying other Armenian military targets. The Russian base precludes such intervention, enabling the Armenians to concentrate the bulk of their military might on Azerbaijan.

For all its efforts to woo Baku, including with arms deals, Moscow is simply not interested in Armenia's defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute because that would eliminate the key rationale for the Armenian reliance on Russia. A military withdrawal from Armenia would in turn minimize Russian presence in a region which Moscow continues to regard as its backyard.

Pro-Western circles in Armenia rarely discuss these specific security issues in their critique of Russian-Armenian dealings. Nor do they question the underlying motive behind successive Armenian governments' pursuit of close ties with Moscow: continued Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh. So far the pro-Western camp has been unable or unwilling to disprove the notion that, as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains unresolved, Armenia's ability to resist Russian pressure and seek deep integration with the West will be seriously limited.

As much as Sarkisian's dramatic 2013 volte-face was a manifestation of poor foreign policy making, it reflected this reality. A more legitimate, democratic and, therefore, pro-Western regime in Yerevan might have succeeded in wriggling out of the EEU. But even such a government could have hardly afforded a far-reaching accord with the EU in the existing geopolitical environment aggravated by Russia and the West's standoff over Ukraine.

Little wonder, then, that only one of the six parties represented in the Armenian parliament has openly opposed membership in the EEU. Most ordinary Armenians, too, continue to support the alliance with Russia, even if their pro-Russian sentiment is now far less intense than in the past. With a Nagorno-Karabakh peace remaining elusive, they are still more likely to agree with Khachatur Abovian than with the cohort of pro-Western pundits and activists increasingly setting the tone of political debate in their country.

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/caucasus-report-armenian-russia-military-alliance/27351046.html

Russia Direct: Weighing the pros and cons of NATO policy in the Caucasus

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NATO policy in the South Caucasus primarily serves U.S. interests to contain Russia’s influence in the region. But will it be able to provide real security once it is needed?

The upcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw has the potential to become one of the most important international events of the year. The July event will occur against the backdrop of the most serious confrontation with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. As a result, NATO Summit participants will make important decisions that will determine the European security agenda for years to come.

News reports on the upcoming Warsaw Summit often mention the South Caucasus region. In their comments, politicians and experts focus on two major issues: Georgia and the prospects of its NATO membership and Moscow’s “stubborn” reluctance on the Alliance’s eastward expansion that involves the incorporation of former Soviet countries. To what extent is Brussels interested in the South Caucasus? What are the risks of converting the region into a point of contention between Russia and the West, especially in the light of currently unresolved ethno-political conflicts? 

How NATO views the Caucasus

After the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the emergence of new post-Soviet sovereign states, NATO did not exhibit particular interest in the Caucasus for quite some time. Until the mid-1990s, it concentrated on the Balkans. Then the list of problems with “Europe’s powder keg” grew even longer due to the discussion of prospects for NATO enlargement (the fourth addition of new members since the formation of the Alliance occurred on March 12, 1999, and the fifth came on March 29, 2004).

Since Bulgaria and Romania joined NATO in March 2004, the Trans-Caucasian region has been perceived as the new Black Sea frontier of the entire European security system. Moreover, Turkey, an influential member of the Alliance with the second largest army of all NATO countries, showed its interest in the region. Ankara partnered with Azerbaijan, its strategic ally and Armenia’s adversary, and Turkey’s relations with Russia that had their ups and downs since the 1990s years have deteriorated dramatically over the past two years.

Currently, NATO is interested in the Caucasus as a strategically important energy market, a lucrative traffic artery with access to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia, and a region bordering with Iran. Moreover, Brussels takes notice of Russia’s high activity in the area, but tends to overlook Moscow’s actions on deescalating ongoing regional conflicts and, instead, focuses on the threat of Russia establishing its hegemony over the post-Soviet space.

In this context, the famous American diplomat and expert Ronald Asmus’ assessment of the 5-Day War of 2008 [The Russian-Georgian war that lasted from August 7-12, 2008 – Editor’s note] is very telling. He believes that the conflict “was not fought over territory, minority rights or the future status of the separatist provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia… But the root cause of this war was geopolitical. Georgia was determined to go to the West and Russia was determined to stop it from doing so.” (Source: Ronald Asmus, “A Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia and the Future of the West”)

Indeed, it would be incorrect to use Asmus’ final statement to interpret all NATO activity in the Caucasus exclusively as the manifestation of the interests harbored by the U.S. and its military allies. Every country of the region had its reasons for building a relationship with the Alliance. It would be naïve to presume that the choice came down to democracy and the system of values.

Reaction to NATO within the post-Soviet space

After their defeat in the ethno-political conflicts of the early 1990s and the loss of control over contested territories, Georgia and Azerbaijan saw NATO as a way to counter Russian influence. At the same time, both Tbilisi and Baku sought Moscow’s support. For example, in 1993-94, Georgian leadership decided to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and agreed to Russia’s military presence on its territory (outside of Abkhazia and South Ossetia). In 1996, both Russia and Georgia introduced sanctions against Sukhumi through the CIS Council.

As for Armenia, when facing the land blockade from Turkey and Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Yerevan started to view the Western direction of its policy as a compensating factor. Armenia did have other reasons as well. Yerevan wanted to block Baku from being the only Caucasian state considered for the NATO membership, especially since Azerbaijan got actively involved in efficient energy cooperation with the West in 1994. Armenia’s partnership with the Alliance was meant to prevent Brussels from making the ultimate choice between the two warring nations.

In 2007-08, NATO’s response to the request for the “internationalization” of the region created extremely high (and topically unfounded) expectations among Trans-Caucasian elites, especially in Georgia. These expectations were based on misjudged calculations and undervaluation of the relations between Russia and the West, as well as problems with Iran, Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism.

This lapse in judgment led to the overstated perception of NATO’s potential ability to keep the peace. Consequently, these expectations were let down by the Alliance’s actual conduct towards Russia during the war of 2008, when Georgia suffered its major military and political defeat since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. NATO showed the Caucasus that it was not going to war with Russia over Georgia’s territorial integrity. The message rang clear to Azerbaijan, which then diversified its foreign policy and joined the Non-Aligned Movement in May 2011, and Armenia, which opted for Eurasian integration.

At the 2008 Bucharest Summit, NATO provided Georgia and Ukraine with the opportunity to join the Alliance, but it did not result in the acceleration of integration processes. NATO was all talk promising Georgia the sun and the moon, announcing new phases and stages of its integration, and even coming up with the creative label of an “aspirant country” just for Georgia.

During his 2012 visit to Tbilisi, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO General Secretary at the time, declared that the Trans-Caucasian country was as close to the Alliance as ever. In April 2014, at the session of the Georgia-NATO commission, the “aspirant” was referred to as the “example for the entire region” and the “exporter of security.” Still, so far Georgia has not even obtained the Membership Action Plan (MAP) status, which is the penultimate step on the path to becoming a NATO member.

According to experienced Georgian diplomat Tedo Japaridze, former minister of foreign affairs and secretary of the Security Council of Georgia, who is currently serving as the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on International Affairs, “We have a long-standing relationship with NATO. Everyone knows that Georgia will not become an MAP at the Warsaw Summit. This decision has already been made. But it is necessary to point out that MAP is an instrument that ties us to NATO.”

Under these circumstances, naturally there are politicians who are skeptical about Georgia’s prospects for cooperation with the West. For example, Gogi Topadze, the leader of the Industrial Party, states that, “It is abundantly clear that we can kiss NATO goodbye. Did NATO interfere in the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Or the war in Ukraine?”

The importance of American influence

Inside the Alliance itself, in spite of America’s dominance, there is no agreement on accepting new members. That is especially true of the so-called “old Europe,” which includes Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. However, Washington’s foreign policy (as opposed to the integration project) could not care less for the opinion of its resilient German or French allies.

Of course, the U.S. establishment in the White House, Department of State and Congress must consider the consequences of risking confrontation with Russia by converting its neighboring former Soviet republics into instruments for containing “re-Sovietization” or curbing the Kremlin’s “imperial ambitions.” In any case, Washington is reluctant to cede the post-Soviet space and acknowledge it as Moscow’s geopolitical domain, so attempts at cooperating with the former Soviet republics come not just from NATO, but also from the White House.

It is also important to remember that over the years of its NATO membership, the U.S. has accumulated extensive experience in bilateral cooperation with countries that for some reason (political, geographic, etc.) could not join the Alliance, as was the case with Franco's Spain, Israel, Japan, and some Latin American countries. Following suit, after the Ukrainian crisis, Washington prepared a series of laws aimed at “including” several post-Soviet states, such as Georgia, in the push for the defense of territorial integrity and sovereignty. The most vivid example of such legal action is the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014, which extended the offer of U.S. assistance not only to Kiev, but also Tbilisi.

However, the efficiency of the above-mentioned steps meant to ensure Georgia’s integrity and tackle such security issues as defense against radical jihadist groups (which Tbilisi unfortunately already encountered in the Pankisi Gorge) remains to be seen. It is one thing to act as an aide to a global superpower in the desire to “contain” Russia and a completely different matter to get actual support in fighting against emerging risks.



Washington Post: Spurned by the West, Georgians look to Russia despite past quarrels


In this fiercely pro-Western nation that fought a brief war with Russia in 2008, few thought the Kremlin could ever regain a toehold. But with the West backing away from Georgia’s path to E.U. and NATO membership after a year of conflict in Ukraine, pro-Russian sentiments are on the rise.

The former Soviet nation’s leaders are warning that Russia may yet prevail if Georgia is shut out from Western clubs. Wary of further provoking Russia, Western politicians have quashed talk of NATO and the European Union expanding eastward anytime soon. Russia has stepped into the vacuum, increasing its presence by opening Georgian-language outlets of its state-owned news network and deepening investments in the energy industry and other key sectors. Similar movements are happening in other former Eastern bloc nations trapped between Russia and the West, in a tug of war that has deep Cold War resonance.

“Stability and security cannot be maintained with this paradigm, with Russia’s paradigm of having special rights towards other countries,” said Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, in an interview in the presidential palace on a bluff overlooking the old city of Tbilisi. The blue-and-gold E.U. flag flies outside of the building, as it does at most Georgian governmental buildings, as an emblem of the nation’s aspirations.

“Russia is working pretty actively, not only in Georgia, but all around the world” to expand its influence, he said. Despite the growing Russian presence, Georgia remains unshakably committed to eventual membership in NATO and the E.U., he said. As a token of its devotion, Georgia has sent more soldiers to Afghanistan to fight alongside U.S. troops in recent years than many nations already in NATO. The germ of the present conflict between Russia and the West lies in an E.U. offer of closer ties to Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s infuriated reaction. E.U. membership for Ukraine was always a long shot — but it has become even less likely after fighting that has killed more than 6,400 people, according to U.N. estimates.

E.U. leaders squabbled at a summit in May about whether to offer even the faintest prospects for membership to Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, which have said they want to join. The E.U. leaders decided against it, and they also delayed plans to ease visa rules for Georgian travelers, a bitter disappointment for Georgia’s leaders. The E.U. caution stemmed from a desire not to inspire backlash from Russia, diplomats involved in the discussions say. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has taken the role of the lead European interlocutor with Putin, has played down expansion prospects. So has President Obama.

“Neither Ukraine or Georgia are currently on a path to NATO membership. And there has not been any immediate plans for expansion of NATO’s membership,” Obama said last year.

Now support for pro-Russian politicians in Moldova and Georgia is growing, while Ukraine is so consumed by conflict that it has made little progress in instituting overhauls necessary for westward integration. Armenia, a fourth post-Soviet country that had been in talks with E.U. leaders about a trade deal, last year abandoned the discussions altogether, allying itself with the Russian camp. Many here say that Russia has skillfully outmaneuvered the West.

“The Russians are working to dominate this part of the world. They calculate, they plan and they know this region much better than the Europeans and Americans,” said Tedo Japaridze, the chairman of the Georgian Parliament’s foreign relations committee. The United States has tried to offer consolation measures. U.S. troops did training exercises with Georgian soldiers in May, and Georgia’s leaders present an upbeat face about their westward efforts.

“We don’t have time to be disappointed,” said David Bakradze, the state minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. “Our aspirations are irreversible.”

But some Georgians feel they have little to show for their long westward push. Some of those sacrifices have been made in blood in grueling deployments to Afghanistan, where they have been one of the top contributors of soldiers to the battle efforts per capita, even though they are not NATO members.

“More and more Georgians are feeling they haven’t gotten anything tangible from the West,” said Shorena Shaverdashvili, a prominent Georgian journalist. “There isn’t more love for Putin and Russia. It’s just a realization that we’re left face-to-face with Russia, and we have to deal with it.”

Spurned by the West, Georgians are starting to look elsewhere. Support for signing the E.U. trade agreement was at 68 percent in April polls from the National Democratic Institute, down from 80 percent immediately before the Ukraine crisis started. Support for Georgia’s joining the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union, meanwhile, is up to 31 percent.

Part of the shift inside Georgia came with the ousting of President Mikheil Saakashvili, the Western-trained lawyer who ruled the country for a decade starting in 2003. Passionately anti-Russian and close to U.S. leaders, Saakashvili rarely missed a chance to jab at the Kremlin. The biggest eruption came in August 2008, when Georgian soldiers attacked Russian soldiers who were amassing in greater numbers on breakaway territories of Georgia.

The ensuing five-day war decimated Georgia’s military and led to Russia’s recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. By 2012, many Georgians were ready to embrace the leadership of their nation’s wealthiest man, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who promised to improve relations with Russia while maintaining ties to the West. The payoff for Georgia was swift. Russia lifted a ban on imports of Georgian wine in 2013, and trade spiked.

“Those people who are trying to help us, we just want to tell them, ‘Stop meddling with Russia,’ ” said Jemal Veliashvili, who works in a seed and fertilizer shop in Georgia’s Kakheti wine-growing region, in the green shadow of the Caucasus Mountains that form the border with Russia. He said his business had tripled since the ban was lifted. Even though diplomatic relations with the Kremlin remain tense, Russia’s presence inside Georgia is strengthening. Just last month, Russia’s Sputnik news agency opened new offices here and started a Georgian- and Russian-language Georgian news service.

“Georgia should be neutral, and it should be militarily free,” said Archil Chkoidze, the leader of Georgia’s Eurasian Choice, a coalition of pro-Russian groups that says it has nearly 16,000 members.

For now, even some of Georgia’s most committed pro-Western politicians say that their best hope is to hold tight to their goals but to expect little from their partners. “No one told us it was going to be easy,” said Irakli Alasania, the leader of the opposition Free Democrats. Alasania was defense minister until November, when he was ousted for being too pro-West, he says. The possibility of joining NATO “will only open up after Putin,” he said. Putin is widely expected to remain Russia’s leader until at least 2024.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/despite-past-quarrels-with-russia-georgians-are-returning-to-its-orbit


Armenpress: Georgia has no plans to join anti-Russian sanctions: Garibashvili

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Georgia has no plans to join anti-Russian sanctions set by the EU. Armenpress reports, referring to TASS news agency, that Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili, told the journalists the aforementioned. The Prime Minister said: “As head of the government I have always thought and keep thinking that Georgia must not join the sanctions against Russia set by the EU. We had such an approach last year and we stick to that. We are not going to change that.” “More than a year ago we joined only one of 15 anti-Russian sanctions (July 23, 2014) set by the EU.” clarifies the PM, referring to the imports of goods from Crimea and Sevastopol. Garibashvili stressed that Georgia highly appreciates that in recent years they could reestablish and develop trade and economic relations with Russia. The Prime Minster added that they want to continue developing trade and economic cooperation with the Russian Federation.

Source: http://armenpress.am/eng/news/814493/georgia-has-no-plans-to-join-anti-russian-sanctions-garibashvili.html


Eurasianet: Azerbaijan Increasingly Airing Grievances with Russia

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Azerbaijan is increasingly dissatisfied with Russia’s role as a mediator in the conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. And Baku’s frustration is starting to seep out in public.

 The trigger, according to government officials and analysts in Baku, was Russia’s response to the flare-up in fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in April 2016. Azerbaijani leaders expected that the fighting – the worst bout of violence in and around Karabakh in over two decades – would prompt Russia to use its influence over Armenia, a treaty ally of Moscow’s that is dependent on Russian arms supplies, to become more pliable in Karabakh peace negotiations.


But Russia has instead taken a more passive approach, officials in Baku complain. The growing rift between Moscow and Baku could complicate efforts to reach a resolution to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, for which Russia remains an indispensable mediator. In one of the more noteworthy incidents, an Azerbaijani journalist asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a January press conference in Moscow what Russia would do if Azerbaijan initiated a “counter-terrorist operation in the occupied territories” of Nagorno-Karabakh. “Will Moscow close its eyes to it, or interfere in the internal affairs of Azerbaijan?” asked Anar Hasanov, the Moscow correspondent for Azerbaijan’s Lider TV.


“This is not exclusively about the internal affairs of Azerbaijan,” Lavrov responded. This seemed to be a challenge to Azerbaijan’s sovereignty: Karabakh is recognized by all countries other than Armenia – including Russia – to be de jure part of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov responded quickly, albeit obliquely: “I am fully confident that if Russia deals with this issue seriously, the status quo will be changed, regional stability will prevail and Armenian armed forces will withdraw from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”


And in February, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev seemed to address the issue, without directly mentioning Lavrov’s comments. “Armenia tried every possible way to globalize this issue after the April battles,” Aliyev said, referring to the deadly outbreak of fighting between the two sides in April 2016. “We’re in our own land... Hence the April battles and whatever happens on the contact line of troops is an internal affair of ours.”


In a measure of how delicate the issue is for Azerbaijan, however, Hasanov – the journalist who asked the offending question – was fired from his job just days afterward. In March, Lavrov again offended Baku when he indicated support for the stalled Armenia-Turkey rapprochement negotiations. “When Yerevan and Ankara sit at the negotiating table, Russia will be ready to provide them with most vigorous assistance,” Lavrov said.


Azerbaijan hopes to use the prospect of re-opening the border between Armenia and Turkey as a carrot in its negotiations with Yerevan, perhaps in exchange for Armenia handing over two or more of the Azerbaijani territories around Karabakh that it occupies, and which Yerevan has, in principle, agreed to give up. Lavrov’s statement was viewed by many in Baku as a diplomatic shift by Russia, in which Moscow was now looking to separate the issue of Armenia-Turkey normalization from the resolution of the Karabakh conflict.

Azerbaijan also has been frustrated by Russia’s backing of efforts by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to increase monitoring along the Karabakh line of contact. “Before resuming practical talks on the settlement of outstanding issues, we need to defuse tensions, which have increased on the ground, at the contact line, and in the public space. I am convinced that confidence-building measures could be useful,” Lavrov said March 6 at a joint news conference with Mammadyarov.


Baku, though, wants such monitoring measures adopted only as part of a larger deal. “They offer to conduct a monitoring on investigation of incidents on the contact line of troops, and we agree to this. However, it should be an integral part of a big plan. It should be done after the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied lands,” Mammadyarov said the following day, speaking in Moscow.


Analysts in Baku believe factional infighting in Moscow is hampering Azerbaijani-Russian relations: one camp in Moscow, they say, is content with Azerbaijan’s current geopolitical stance – with Baku not firmly in Moscow’s orbit, yet also keeping its distance from Euro-Atlantic structures, specifically the European Union and NATO. The other camp in Moscow, led by Lavrov, is suspicious of Azerbaijan, and wants to see guarantees from Baku that Azerbaijan is committed to the Russian sphere.


Some Azerbaijani officials believe that Lavrov is inclined to aid Yerevan because his father was Armenian. “The Azerbaijani public perceives the mediation activities of Lavrov as biased, one-sided, ethnically motivated and pro-Armenian,” said former foreign minister Tofig Zulfugarov in a March interview with local media. Azerbaijani diplomats also accuse Lavrov of unfair dealings with them. One senior Azerbaijani diplomat told EurasiaNet that during negotiations with Armenia in Sochi in 2011, Azerbaijan had reached a deal it was happy with, but then Lavrov asked for time to consult with the Armenian side.


“At that point, the Armenian side did not fully agree to the terms of the agreement. Lavrov promised that the same document would be discussed at Kazan” at a summit a few months later “and in the worst case, the text would bear some cosmetic changes,” the diplomat said. But the document presented in Kazan had been subject to more than just ‘cosmetic’ changes,” the diplomat said, while declining to provide details on the specifics of the disagreement.


There also is the perception that Russian President Vladimir Putin is less sympathetic to Azerbaijan than was his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev. It was under Medvedev that the two countries signed a $4-billion arms deal, although the deliveries themselves have mostly come under Putin, who returned to the presidency in 2013. Putin has not agreed to any more arms sales, though, and the deliveries have been taking place more slowly than Russia had initially promised. Those deals have nevertheless raised alarm in Armenia, and rising public anger over those deals has forced Armenian politicians into their own increasing outspoken criticisms of Moscow.


Azerbaijan continues to pursue arms deals with Moscow, not only to build up its military, but because it also believes that such deals help build relations with the Russian security elite. “Good relations with Russia’s military industry elite helped Azerbaijan, and led Moscow to have a neutral position during the April war,” one pro-government Azerbaijani analyst said, on condition of anonymity. In January, Aliyev said that Azerbaijan was in talks with Russia on weapons purchases. “Yes, we’re negotiating on new purchases,” he said. “We’re interested especially in the most advanced defense equipment, new products: helicopter technology, defense systems, the whole complex. This is an ongoing process.”

Source: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83191

The Jamestown Foundation: Moscow Pressing the Azeri Diaspora is a Shot Across Azerbaijan’s Bow

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The Russian Supreme Court ruled, on May 15, to revoke the registration of the All-Russia Azerbaijanis Congress (ARAC), the largest and most influential Azerbaijani Diaspora organization in Russia. The initial decision came on March 9, at the request of the Russian Ministry of Justice, which alleged the ARAC was not in compliance with legal requirements (APA; TASS, May 15; Abc.az, May 16). Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexy II sent welcoming messages to the Congress when it was founded back in 2001. President Putin also attended the II Convention of the ARAC in 2004 (Kremlin.ru [1], [2], [3] January 19, 2004; October 19, 2004; Vakrf.ru, accessed May 22, 2017).

The liquidation of the ARAC’s registration foreshadows the possibility of further acts to follow concerning Azerbaijanis living in Russia, particularly the hundreds of thousands of labor migrants who send remittances back to Azerbaijan. This scenario must be viewed in light of Moscow’s push to expand the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)—Russia’s political project to institutionalize its grip on post-Soviet countries under an economic guise (see EDM, October 4, 2013; May 9, 2014; March 2, 2015; March 2, 2016; Kennan-russiafile.org, April 13, 2017).

Moscow has a long track record of using labor migrants as leverage against its post-Soviet neighbors, including Azerbaijan. Remittance flows provide Moscow with political influence over these countries, which the Kremlin routinely uses as a bargaining chip on various issues (see EDM, November 10, 2011; July 6, 2015; September 15, 2015; EurasiaNet, March 27, 2017). National governments are forced to take this factor into account for fear of a mass return of labor migrants from Russia, which could heighten the unemployment rate and social tensions at home. And now, Azerbaijani labor migrants may become useful to Moscow as it seeks to draw Baku into the EEU.

Indeed, back in 2013–2014 Russia specifically used the threat of expelling guest workers as an instrument of leverage against Azerbaijan (APA, November 22, 2013; Interfax, October 22, 2013; Unikal.org, January 16, 2014). Then, Azerbaijan was preparing to hold presidential elections and simultaneously negotiating an association agreement with the European Union. Ultimately, Baku refused to sign the association agreement with the EU in 2015. Now again, the Kremlin is apparently boosting its efforts to expand the EEU ahead of the 2018 presidential elections in Azerbaijan and just as Baku has started negotiations to upgrade its relations with the EU. However, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has made it clear that Baku is not interested in joining any union, at least for now (see EDM, March 24).

The sudden mass return of labor migrants from abroad would be a serious burden and social inconvenience for Azerbaijan, particularly at this time of economic constraints and low oil prices. No exact statistics exist as to the actual number of Azerbaijanis living and working in Russia (Caucasus Analytical Digest, December 3, 2013; BBC—Azerbaijani service, November 1, 2013). Various sources put the figure at between 600,000 and one million, while a few estimates even point to two million Azerbaijanis working in Russia. Many of those are not Russian citizens and work there temporarily as guest workers. Remittances from Russia to Azerbaijan totaled $739 million in 2016, which actually represents a drop from previous years (Azadinform, April 7, 2017). Sources of Russian pressure on the Azerbaijani expatriate community comes in a variety of forms. On February 13, for example, hundreds of Azerbaijani migrants were detained by the police in the Russian city of Derbend (Mia.az, February 13). This incident was followed by dozens of trucks carrying agricultural produce from Azerbaijan being held up at the Russian border in March (Xezer TV, Medianews.az, March 24).

Moscow’s toolbox for coercing Baku includes not only instruments for controlling labor migrants and blockades of food imports (see above) but also the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Karabakh. Of those, the Karabakh conflict is the most serious since another large-scale breakout of armed violence could have significant consequences for Russia itself, particularly in the North Caucasus. Hence, at this stage, the other options are still more convenient and safer to employ for Moscow as it seeks to push Baku into the Russia-centric Eurasian Economic Union.

Russian political analyst Evgeny Mikhailov attributed this month’s decision to de-register the ARAC to efforts of the Armenian lobby in Russia (Trend May 15, 2017). However, according to many Azerbaijani experts, the decision was also driven by the Russian government’s discontent over Azerbaijan’s independent policies—including its large, multinational infrastructure and transportation projects such as the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars (BTK) railroad, all of which bypass Russia (Strateq.az, May 15; Azpolitika.info, Musavat, May 16; A24.az, April 4; Amerikanin Sesi, April 13).

The tensions along the Moscow-Baku axis are developing while Azerbaijan’s relations with Europe are far from perfect. And it is difficult to predict whether the Donald Trump White House will pursue a more active policy toward the South Caucasus than his predecessor. All these factors make Baku more vulnerable in the face of Moscow’s assertive pressure. Despite its constraints and internal weaknesses, however, Azerbaijan continues to sound quite defiant; it will, therefore, likely not be an easy task for Russia to pull Azerbaijan into a much closer orbit despite the mounting pressure on the Azerbaijani diaspora.

The spokesperson for the Azerbaijani foreign ministry, Hikmet Hajiyev, declared that the de-registration of the ARAC will negatively impact Azerbaijani-Russian relations (Azertag, May 16). But that said, Moscow also will have to consider that, over the past few years, the Azerbaijani government has become more mature in dealing with external pressure and threats that have a domestic dimension. The recent detection and arrest of a group of Azerbaijani servicemen and civilians collaborating with and passing classified information to Armenian intelligence is a case in point (Azernews, May 7).

The All-Russia Azerbaijanis Congress is now appealing the decision of its de-registration, and the appellate court may overrule the Supreme Court’s decision. But even in that case, the incident nevertheless represents a Russian shot across Azerbaijan’s bow.

Source:https://jamestown.org/program/moscow-pressing-azerbaijani-diaspora-send-loud-signal-baku/

Armenpress: Military expert Vladimir Evseev proposes to form Iran-Russia-Armenia triangle

Horizon Weekly Newspaper

Military expert Vladimir Evseev, deputy director of the CIS Countries Institute, positively assesses the May 19 presidential election results in the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to him, Hassan Rouhani’s re-election as President of Iran is beneficial both for Armenia and Russia.

“It was under Hassan Rouhani’s presidency that the Russian-Iranian strategic dialogue launched which is very important, in other words, currently we speak about strategic dialogue which leads to strategic partnership. I think that dialogue will strengthen more easily under Rouhani’s presidency. In late March Rouhani visited Russia, and a number of joint decisions were made which will be easier to implement again during his tenure”, Evseev told Armenpress.

The expert said in line with strengthening of the Russian-Iranian relations, he expects also deterioration of Iran-US ties. “Why, because Trump will probably support Israel and Saudi Arabia which has money. In fact, Saudi Arabia’s range of interests, that weakened a little under Obama’s presidency, will return to its place, and Saudi Arabia is Iran’s regional rival. And if Iran’s relations deteriorate, it will be more open for partnership with neighbors, and in this sense Armenia is that friendly state with which Iran can cooperate”, Vladimir Evseev said.

He also proposed to take respective steps to form Armenia-Iran-Russia triangle. Moreover, this must be directed not only towards political cooperation, but also a military one, the grounds of which we already have. In this sense I would like to highlight the visit of Armenia’s Defense Minister to Iran during which a number of issues, including defense issues were discussed”, the military expert stated. Rouhani won Iran’s Presidential election with 57% of votes. Four candidates were running for the post. Over 70% of eligible voters participated in the election.