Transcript: Russian Warnings: Assessing Armenia's Geopolitical Choices

Posted on Sunday, Mar 3, 2024 by Hovik Manucharyan | Category: Armenia, Politics, Clip, Transcript | Series: Blog | Russia, Armenia, South Caucasus, Geopolitics, Security Guarantees, NATO, Eurasian Economic Union, Territorial Integrity, Foreign Policy, Russian Policy, Armenian Security, Diplomacy, Conflict Resolution, Turkey, Dialogue, Relations, Experts, Policy Analysis, Ethnic Cleansing, Red Lines, Strategic Planning, Azerbaijan, Turkey-Russia Relations, Western Guarantees, Diplomatic Relations, International Affairs, Artsakh, Nagorno Karabakh

On February 24, a group of Russian and Armenian experts met in Congress hotel in Yerevan to discuss the state of Armenia-Russia relations. The discussion was friendly but tough and frank.

Our guest from episode #311 was one of the participants in that discussion.

Listen to the segment and/or read the transcript below.


Hovik: On Saturday, February 24, there was a major discussion between Russian and Armenian experts on the state of relations between the two countries.

You were part of that group and your colleagues from the Armenian project were also in attendance. We’ll share a link in the show notes.

I can say it was an interesting discussion from my perspective, but I wanted to get your overall impression on the level of the dialogue.

Was it friendly? Was it not friendly? And what was the overall takeaway from Armenian experts on this discussion?

Sergei: That was friendly, that was tough, and that was very frank. They explained their perspective on the process that are going on, and maybe they didn’t use the right wording, or correct, I mean not the right correct wording, and the point that was spread in second in Armenian media, was done by one Russian scholar, he stated that the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Russia will bring territorial losses for Armenia.

So some of my colleagues from Armenia understood this is a direct threat. If you guys move to the west, you will lose territories. As far as I understand, because the discussion was continuing, that was not just one quote. They were explaining, okay, you do not want to have Russian security guarantees, maybe they’re not the best one, but this is the only option that you have.

You rely on Western guarantees that will not work, because Western countries have signed an security guarantees agreement with Ukraine, like UK, like Italy, like other countries, and they’re not providing these security guarantees.

There are zero obligations.

At the same time, yes, Azerbaijan will see that the security balance is changing in favor for Azerbaijan in Turkey, and they will attack you, and we will not provide that support that we, for example, at least provided during 2021, because Russia was the only country that supplied weapons.

We will supply weapons, we will be able to stop Azerbaijan, at least from the 5th attempt. No one will do it. So make an analysis based on cost and benefit, and that’s it.

The tough part was more on dialogue level, because I was the first to ask the question about perception and misperception, because they got really misperception of the situation that is going here in the South Caucasus.

I will explain.

I was asking about the red lines, because I met the same experts before, a year ago, and they were stating that ethnic cleansing in NK, like Srpska Krajina (Serbian Krajina) scenario, is a red line for Russia. At the same time, in another expert’s book, that was mentioned literally the same, Russian peacekeepers in NK prevented the Srpska Krajina scenario.

So as far as I understand, that was a mindset. Until (as long?) we have peacekeepers there, there won’t be any ethnic cleansing.

But the problem there failed, and for me, it was important to get a feedback that not at least an official level, because there were Russian diplomats that were sitting there. Also the reference that, okay, let’s not speak like Russia’s MFA, do not use Russia’s MFA wording. Let’s have a frank discussion, as you invited, frank discussion.

That’s really important to have the same perception of the process. Yes, they recognize that they failed to provide security guarantees, and I think ethnic cleansing happened in NK.

For me, it was more important to ask a question related to their perception of Turkey, because what do we have in South Caucasus? One NATO member state is backing Azerbaijan, one state in the South Caucasus. Another NATO member state is going to back Armenia, the second state in the South Caucasus.

But in case of Azerbaijan, there is no tough reaction from Russia. In case of Armenia, there is tough reaction.

Why you have such a misperception? Because both Turkey and NATO, maybe their rivals, competitors, doesn’t matter.

Both of them are U.S. allies, both of them are NATO members, and they are in the South Caucasus.

From their perspective, they do not have any illusions that NATO is a part of West, but from their perspective, there is a difference. First, Turkey at least tried to play an independent role. France is not doing that, France is conducting all political West.s and action plan. And second, France is not acting directly in order to collapse Russia. Turkey is not doing that, France is doing that.

As far as I understand, they have misperception, because there are a lot of places like South Caucasus and Middle East, I mean both Syria and North Africa, where there is a clash of interests between Turkey and Russia.

But from their perspective, this is a neutral competition. At the same time, France is acting directly against Russia. So this is their perception or misperception.

Hovik: According to some Russian experts on the panel, Russia is currently conducting a policy of damage control with regard to Armenia. In other words, a passive policy.

At the same time, I heard some experts who blamed Armenia itself for the worsening of the relations between the two countries, as you alluded to.

But on both of these questions, whether it is the lack of a more strategic policy, just damage control, just make sure don’t change anything, and also being able to really introspect, be introspective about Russia’s role and what mistakes they may have made.

Do you believe that any of the Russians recognize that what we have today may be the result of wrong Russian policies?

Do they recognize that they have made mistakes and they want to fix it? Or are they saying basically that it’s Armenia’s fault and we will no longer help Armenia if in case Azerbaijan decides to attack as punishment?

So yes, they’re not actively attacking Armenia, but they also alluded to the fact that Armenia may become “Western Azerbaijan” because Armenia is choosing NATO’s side. Do you believe that Russia had some kind of a role in all of this over the last five, ten years?

Sergei: That’s an interesting question.

My last point was we need such an ally as Azerbaijan has. We need Turkey, but for Armenia.

As far as I understand, Russia is not ready to be the same security provider as Turkey is for Azerbaijan, because at least you signed an allied interaction agreement with Azerbaijan. So you increase the level of your relation at least on formal, I mean formal level.

And they were very frank. They stated that yes, we are not Turkey for you. We will not provide the same security guarantees, but at least we are able, so both they have political opportunity and capabilities to deter somehow Azerbaijan and Turkey.

If you see another country, you’re welcome.

Obviously, we have Iran, but Russia has much more toolkits to use against Azerbaijan.

Coming to a question, there are two groups, first group that try to blame only Armenia side, but you elected Pashinyan, you supported this course, blah, blah, blah.

And my counter argument is, I know guys that you were recommending to Russia to not support, for example, the opposition, because they also officially stated that, okay, if Nikol is fine with Russian mediation, if Nikol is fulfilling his obligation, et cetera, et cetera, why we should make a kind of u-turn or support Armenian opposition?

But that’s why there was not any real support of Armenian opposition in 2021 elections. They accept this counter argument.

And there is another group that they accepted, yes, there is a lack of Russian strategy in the South Caucasus. And this is very frank.

And I feel that they do not have really clear strategy until 2020, because from their perception, yes, they have been through a presence in the NK, and that’s fine. But what’s next?

We have Aliyev’s statement. He stated that the day they will solve the conflict with Armenia, Azerbaijan will be ready to go deeper with the Eurasian Economic Union. And they are living with this dream that Azerbaijan one day will become a member of Eurasian Economic Union.

But we know that Azerbaijan will never join the Eurasian Economic Union.

Maybe they will find sign a free trade zone agreement like Iran is doing, like India is discussing now. And maybe Azerbaijan will face the loss of sovereignty and will join the Eurasian Economic Union, but until there is no such tough situation, Azerbaijan will never join.

And from their perspective, as far as I understand, okay, maybe today we may lose our, reduce our presence in NK, but next day we will get Azerbaijan in Eurasian Economic Union. And they are living with this dream.

NOTE: The above is a preliminary transcript and may contain errors.