Transcript: Expert Discussions on Russian-Armenian Relations

Posted on Thursday, Mar 7, 2024 by Hovik Manucharyan | Category: Armenia, Russia, Politics, Clip, Transcript | Series: Blog | Aliyev, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Zangezur Corridor, Sevan, Syunik, Russian-Armenian relations, Expert dialogue, Geopolitics, Territorial integrity, Strategic alliances, Armenia-Russia dynamics, Economic sanctions, Misinformation, Manipulation, CSTO, Regional security

In this clip from episode #312, we discuss a recent Russian-Armenian experts dialogue held in Yerevan, discussions delved into the state of relations between the two nations. Our guest Arthur Khachikyan was one of the participants.

The expert dialogue sparked significant reactions in Armenia, with some media channels expressing negativity towards the candid exchanges that took place. The Russian side was notably frank, warning of potential consequences for Armenia’s Western reorientation, referencing past events like Karabakh and suggesting future territorial concerns. The dialogue shed light on various geopolitical concerns, including the potential implications for Armenia’s territorial integrity and its relationship with Russia.

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

Asbed: Okay. Let’s jump into our first topic.

Arthur, last week we were talking with Dr. Sergei Melkonian about the Russian-Armenian experts dialogue that was held in Yerevan on February 24. So this is where the Russian and Armenian experts discussed the state of relations between the two countries.

You were also there. So we thought we’d ask you the same questions we asked Dr. Melkonian.

Can you tell us what your overall impressions were of this dialogue?

Arthur: Well, I thought it was a very interesting and sincere exchange of opinions. It made a lot of waves in Armenia. There was a lot of resonance. A lot of it was very negative because some of the media channels associated with these authorities reacted very negatively to the word of truth that came from that meeting.

The Russian side was very open and very clear. In fact, it made me a little bit uncomfortable saying that, so you guys paid the price for your Western reorientation, Karabakh was the first part of it, you already paid that and you’re going to pay some more. It was very clear, kind of in-your-face kind of statement.

Asbed: Were they alluding to Syunik by that?

Arthur: Well, they were alluding to something, yeah. Could be Syunik, could be Sevan. Somebody, another expert I met a couple of days ago said that maybe it wouldn’t be Sevan. They will start with Sevan and you know that if they reach the lake, they’re within I think 10 kilometers. Yeah. If they reach the coast…

Hovik: I believe one of the speakers said “Western Azerbaijan”.

Arthur: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Hovik: So maybe all of Armenia.

Arthur: Good, good, good memory. Good memory, Hovik. That’s exactly what he said. You will live in Western Azerbaijan, which means there will be no more Armenia. The dangers are that they will reach Sevan, then Sevan will become a joint kind of interstate lake, which means they will be entitled to half of everything that it has, which means that if there will be no fish, the ecology will be destroyed, the lake will be destroyed.

And then of course, much more importantly, they want the southern corridor and the West supports them. So there are a lot of dangers.

Hovik: Essentially, a treaty of Aleksandropol v2.

Arthur: Oh yeah, I was talking about it, I think for the last three years that there’s going to be a treaty of Aleksandropol.

What puzzles me is that we have a population in Armenia that somehow thinks that it doesn’t concern it. You know, it doesn’t concern them. And I think their plan is to emigrate.

Naira Zorabian just mentioned a number a couple of days ago saying 600,000 Armenians filed for a green card lottery, if I participate in the green card lottery. So 600,000, that’s one third of our population. And there’s 140,000 Armenians left in the last few years. I forget exactly how many years, like three years, maybe. That’s that.

Also I’m very puzzled by what’s happening in the diaspora. I mean, your guys’ audience is the diaspora Armenians. I’m wondering, like, what are they thinking? Is everybody just sitting at home and just watching this happen in front of their eyes, calmly kind of taking it in? Apparently there are some people in diaspora who support this regime.

So the questions are not for the Azeris. They are behaving very logically. They treat us like a defeated Nazi Germany.

The questions are for our community. What are you guys thinking? Like, what are you hoping for? That’s the interesting part.

Hovik: So, Arthur, going back to the panel discussion that we had, according to some Russian experts on that panel, Russia is currently conducting a damage control policy with regard to Armenia. In other words, a passive policy.

Clearly, I mean, they see their troubles in Ukraine and elsewhere as strategic and primary. But to us, it’s dumbfounding when they are able to delegate or delay anything they do here until that is resolved. At least that’s the common narrative of why they are passive.

At the same time, some of the experts on that same panel also blamed Armenia for the worsening of relations. We also heard Lavrov’s statement at the Antalya conference, where he basically said that if the majority of Armenians support Pashinyan, then we will take more decisive actions, which is in line with these threatening statements.

So my question is, were you able to detect any introspection by the Russians? Do any of them accept that their own policies may have contributed to damaging the Armenian-Russian relationship? Or should we even worry about it? Because they just think they’re an empire and they get to do whatever they want.

Arthur: As to what they think, I think a lot of them admit that they made some mistakes, and I pointed it out also, saying that when they didn’t condemn the Azeri invasion of Armenia, it was a mistake and it was used to the maximum by the local anti-Russian propaganda machine.

So I did point it out to them several times, in fact. Yes, they made some mistakes, but of course, blaming Russia for everything, when we have a government that surrenders Karabakh without getting anything in return and declares that Karabakh is part of our neighboring state, and then during the war, during the ethnic cleansing, says that it doesn’t concern us, we’re not interested, it’s very hard to blame Russia for anything when our own government has betrayed its people.

And that’s what they’re saying. Like, do you guys expect us to be more Armenian than you? That’s their standard argument.

I’m not interested in their justifications. The reality of it is that we’ve ruined our relationship with Russia. The Azeris have not. They have an excellent diplomatic strategy. They have a very qualified diplomatic corps. They have great relations with Russia, great relations with the West. Everybody needs them. Everybody wants them. And we are like the poor relative waiting in the hallway. So we’re back to the 19th century, early 20th century. Nothing changes with us.

So yeah, the Russians were very aggressive, very straightforward. You’re going to pay some more. And they’re prepared to not care if we go down. At least that’s what they’re telling us. We can keep our part of the Caucasus. You guys can go down. We’ll make a deal with the Turks, because, you know, you’re completely unreliable and you don’t know what you want.

That’s what they’re telling us.

Hovik: So that’s what I want to actually tease out. Is it that Russia will, in spite of what happens or, you know, in an act of spite, try to actively hurt Armenia geopolitically? Or do they see it as an expense that they can get rid of protecting Armenia if Armenia decides to make trouble and it’s already essentially like going against Russian interests and going against the alliance, a strategic alliance, at least that we have on paper?

Arthur: I think they’re prepared to do both. I don’t think they will actively intervene and try to salvage anything they have here. I think they’re just going to, you know, show us what the consequences will be for this kind of behavior.

There are some rumors already that some economic sanctions are in, you know, in the pipeline. So there will be some economic sanctions coming. I think they’ll just punish us for it. And then if we still persist in it, they’ll just withdraw. I think they will. They’re not going to fight for us. They’re certainly not going to fight Turkey and Azerbaijan. Turkey is a very important country for them and for the West. Turkey is part of their strategy of creating a counterbalance to Western influence.

I mean, I think it’s a mistake, but we can’t tell them what their policy should be. They are the ones who decide that. They have a very strong pro-Turkish lobby. Our behavior has given them all the grounds for considering us completely unreliable and irrational state.

So a lot of them are inclined to cooperate with Turkey. And if need be, I think they will withdraw from here. I don’t think Russia is going to launch any kind of a major intervention here.

Asbed: Arthur, Sergei mentioned that Russian analysts generally agree that Russia’s decision to not support the Armenian opposition in 2021 was a mistake. In fact, you were slightly involved in 2021 with the opposition.

Do you have any thoughts on that point that you can expand on?

Arthur: It’s hard for me to say. In 2021, I made some attempts to help the opposition, but I wasn’t really in the process of preparing for elections or creating some kind of strategy or, you know, going out talking to people.

I wasn’t part of it, but I made some attempts. What I hear from a lot of people here is that, yes, Russia didn’t really help the opposition and in a way, it actually helped this guy because this guy makes it very convenient for Russia. He constantly gives in. He makes concession after concession, so Russia doesn’t have to fight for anything. It creates an alibi for Russia to give in.

So that’s what I’ve heard. It’s hard for me to say because I don’t like to talk about things that I don’t know from my personal knowledge. But that’s the theory I’ve heard is that they prefer this guy. At least they preferred him in the past.

Asbed: At the time.

Arthur: At the time. Yeah.

Asbed: I think it was that Pashinyan was at the time still helping implement the trilateral agreement, so they were okay with him.

Hovik: Yes. Yes. And, you know, I think one of the things that definitely helped Pashinyan prior to the election was Putin basically being all warm with Pashinyan. We can see the contrast with today.

He said that Pashinyan is not, I don’t believe Pashinyan is a traitor. We also, you know, people drew a stark contrast between the involvement of some Russian companies and the Russian community in the 2018 coup.

Arthur: Everybody talks about it.

Hovik: You know, huge, huge companies like Gazprom or whatever. I don’t want to name names, but, you know, it seemed like there were a lot of employees of Russian companies out on the streets as well marching.

Meanwhile, none of that was happening in 2021. So that’s another data point that the opposition uses to allege that Russia not only did not do anything against Pashinyan to help the opposition, but also actually helped Pashinyan in 2021 as well.

Hovik: Let’s move on now. Just this past week in highly publicized comments to the Armenian parliament, Pashinyan said that he is ready to pull out of the CSTO and that the CSTO has become a security threat for Armenia.

Obviously, this is not the first time Armenia has been taking potshots at the CSTO and Russian military presence in general. And to France 24, in an interview two weeks ago, he said that Russia had fomented unrest in Armenia after the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh in September, 2023, hoping for regime change in Armenia.

What was the sense of the experts at that discussion about such comments from Pashinyan?

Athur: Yeah, I admire the strength of your nervous system. I cannot bear hearing his voice. I cannot bear hearing this guy. But yes, I’ve heard it. The style, this group has a certain style of doing things. They constantly change their story. They change their story. They come up with new justifications.

Now they’re saying Russia did everything wrong since 1991. It’s all Russia’s fault. It’s very childish. It’s childish justifications they find for themselves.

I don’t give any credence to these statements. I don’t think Russia is interested in changing any regimes here. They constantly blame Russia for wanting Armenia to be part of the union state with Belarus and Russia. That is not the case. Russian experts and statesmen have repeatedly said that this is not what we want. We don’t want you as part of the union with Belarus. We don’t like, we don’t want that idea.

They keep coming up with these very pathetic justifications. It’s constant informational manipulation. They constantly change their story. One day, we are the most pro-Russian regime. The other day, Russia is a threat to our security. They want to remove the Russian border guards at the airport. Then they’re going to remove them from the actual border with Turkey and Azerbaijan. And then it’s, of course, they’re going to close down the base.

What’s interesting is that all of it happened after he met the head of the British intelligence, Richard Moore. Once he met this guy, then he came back and all these aggressive anti-Russian steps followed. It’s difficult not to conclude that this was a result of that meeting.

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