ARMENIA: THE DREAM OF COMPLEMENTARITY AND THE REALITY OF DEPENDENCY Michael A. Weinstein
A EurasiaNet Partner Post from PINR.
The stepchild of the Transcaucasus, Armenia occupies the weakest geostrategic position in the region. Landlocked, poor in natural resources and dependent on energy and agricultural imports, its borders blockaded to trade from the east by Azerbaijan and from the west by Turkey, and engaged in a simmering war with Azerbaijan over the mini-state of Nagorno-Karabakh, the country has had to resort to Russian protection for lack of any other options. As Russia has begun to court oil-rich Azerbaijan in order to counter U.S. influence there, Yerevanís dependence on Moscow has become more problematic, threatening Armenia with isolation from the West and the loss of a reliable and committed advocate and protector.
The authoritarian-tending strong presidential regime of Robert Kocharian sees Armeniaís vital interests as securing reliable energy supplies and foreign investment, opening its borders to trade, preventing Azerbaijan from reasserting sovereignty over ethnically Armenian Karabakh, and forging closer military and economic relations with the West without impairing its essential ties to Russia. Complementarity
In pursuit of its perceived interests, Yerevan has adopted a foreign policy of "complementarity," which involves cultivating friendly relations with the world and regional powers -- Russia, the United States and Iran -- that impinge upon it. The aim of the complementarity policy is to place Armenia into a network of relations among the impinging powers that is based on convergent interests. The best-case scenario for Yerevan would be an agreement among the impinging powers to guarantee the security of the three Transcaucasian republics -- Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia -- and treat them as interdependent components of a single region. This ideal solution would protect Armeniaís autonomy, which is always problematic as a result of its basic geostrategic weakness.
Yerevanís policy of complementarity contrasts with Tbilisiís pro-Western orientation since the Rose Revolution and with Bakuís "balanced" policy. Armenia cannot take a decisive turn in favor of N.A.T.O. because the Western alliance includes Turkey, covets Azerbaijan and has a primary interest in the security of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Yerevan is just not important enough to the West for its powers to sacrifice their other interests for Armeniaís benefit. Yerevan also does not have the cards to pursue a balance of power strategy of playing impinging forces against each other, as Baku, with its Caspian oil reserves, attempts to do.
Since Yerevan lacks the resources to execute its complementarity policy successfully, that policy has become a hopeful facade covering continued dependence on Russia. Yerevan can point to no instance in which it has been able to engineer or contribute to great-power convergence in the Transcaucasus. The impinging powers cooperate with one another when it is to their interest to do so and compete with each other when they perceive that alternative to be to their advantage. None of the impinging powers seeks direct confrontation and none of them is ready for a grand bargain because the Transcaucasian situation is still fluid enough to allow each one the prospect of improving its position.
Armeniaís weakness leaves it stranded as the junior partner in the emerging Moscow-Yerevan-Tehran axis and excluded from the far more lucrative Baku-Tbilisi-Ankara axis presided over by N.A.T.O. Those two axes define the power structure of the Transcaucasus, with each of its three republics constrained to adapt to the pushes and pulls of the contending impinging powers. As the state with the best prospects, Azerbaijan has a limited freedom to play all sides against the middle. As the center of the east-west axis and the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, it is intelligible that Georgia would be a willing junior partner in that formation. Armenia is left with an increasingly unsatisfactory second-best situation. Russia
Armeniaís primary dependence on Russia is difficult to deny. Militarily, Russia has 2,500 troops in the country and provides forces to protect its borders with Iran and Turkey. Russia is also Armeniaís major trading partner, its largest source of investment, the main destination of its surplus labor, the provider of its energy needs and military equipment, and its biggest creditor. Armenia is firmly tied to Russia as a cooperative member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.) and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.
The extent of Moscowís hegemony is evidenced by a 2002 agreement in which Yerevan settled its $93.7 million debt to Moscow by transferring five of Armeniaís key industrial plants to Russian ownership.
In order to loosen its dependence on Moscow, Yerevan has moved to establish ties with N.A.T.O. and the United States. The Kocharian regime has sent peacekeepers to Kosovo and is planning to send a small contingent of support troops to Iraq to assist the American-led coalition. It was also primed to participate in N.A.T.O.ís Cooperative Best Effort military exercises in Azerbaijan, but they were canceled after Baku refused to let Armenian officers into the country to attend them.
Yerevan has also drawn closer to Tehran and is preparing to sign an agreement to construct a pipeline that would carry natural gas from Iran to Armenia, with substantial financing from Tehran. The pipeline would ease Armeniaís dependence on Russia for energy supplies, but would not alter the countryís fundamental strategic situation.
Finally, Yerevan has taken cautious steps to approach Ankara about their long standing dispute over the Turkish persecution of Armenians (genocide in the Armenian view) at the end of the Ottoman Empire. Yerevan, pressured by nationalist sectors of its own population and by the large Armenian diaspora, demands that Ankara admit to genocide. Although it is in the economic and strategic interest of Armenia to open up the border with Turkey, nationalist interests continue to impede progress toward that goal.
Moscow has responded with skepticism to Yerevanís efforts to achieve diplomatic elbow room. In May 2004, Kocharian visited Moscow for talks about Russiaís displeasure with Yerevanís initiatives. Moscow wants Yerevan to limit or curtail its relations with N.A.T.O., and wants its assurance that the Iranian pipeline will not be extended through Georgia and under the Black Sea to Ukraine, bypassing Russia and depriving it of a market for its gas. Moscow is also essential as a go-between in any effort to open Yerevan-Ankara relations, and is reportedly discussing restoring rail links between Armenia and Turkey.
Yerevan is restricted by its dependence on Moscow from moving too far toward an independent foreign policy. For its own interests, Moscow will permit the Kocharian regime some leeway so that Armenia does not become a ward of Russia, but it has the power to squeeze Armeniaís lifeline if Yerevan exceeds its limits. Nagorno-Karabakh
When Azerbaijan was incorporated into the Soviet Union as a republic after the Russian Revolution, it was given the ethnically Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Over 90 percent Armenian on its accession to Azerbaijan, Azeri migration to the region brought the proportion of Armenians down to 75 percent by 1991, when Azerbaijan and Armenia became independent states and the Armenians in Karabakh fought a war of independence from Azerbaijan. That war, which resulted in 30,000 deaths and was attended by massacres, pogroms and ethnic cleansing, was successful. Aided by Yerevanís military intervention, a mini-state of Karabakh was created, linked to Armenia by a corridor and buffered by an Armenian occupation of areas of Azerbaijan outside the mini-state.
Since then, Karabakh has stabilized as the most successful mini-state that resulted from the splitting process that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union. It has received large infusions of investment from the Armenian diaspora and has moved from a state-dependent to a mixed, mainly capitalist economy. Karabakh has a stable government, which has begun to democratize and has held municipal elections in which some offices were won by independents. Its population, which has returned to 90 percent ethnic Armenian, is militantly opposed to reassertion of Bakuís sovereignty over the region.
Karabakh is Azerbaijanís open wound -- a humiliation, a severe impairment of its territorial integrity and the source of a serious refugee problem. Ever since Karabakh gained de facto independence, Baku has been preoccupied with reasserting sovereignty over the region and has met with no success. Unable at present to retake Karabakh by force, Baku has stuck to a hard line, threatening a military solution when circumstances become favorable. The Karabakh problem is a significant detriment to Bakuís foreign policy, diverting it from taking full advantage of its geostrategic and geoeconomic opportunities.
The case is different for Armenia, for which Karabakh is an asset that demonstrates its military prowess and forces world powers to reckon with it, because Yerevan is essential to any resolution of the conflict. From Yerevanís perspective, the best-case scenario would be incorporation of Karabakh into Armenia. A strong international guarantee of self-rule for the region, including Armenian protective rights, would satisfy Yerevan. At worst, Yerevan contemplates prolongation of the status quo through dragging out the mediation process undertaken by the O.S.C.E. Minsk Group, led by Russia.
Yerevan is not likely to realize either of its satisfactory outcomes in the foreseeable future and must try to perpetuate the status quo. The problem with that strategy, which remains Yerevanís best option, is that Karabakh is a wasting asset. When Azerbaijanís oil begins to flow full throttle, it will be able to build up a military advantage over Armenia that will allow it to retake Karabakh or to persuade world and regional powers to pressure Yerevan to make unacceptable concessions in order to prevent a war. In addition, as Azerbaijan becomes more prosperous and powerful, Armeniaís relative importance to world and regional powers will diminish, leading them to pay less attention to Yerevanís requirements. Yerevan has responded to the threats in its future by embarking on a program of rearmament, straining its meager budget.
At present, the mediation process is stalled and ongoing. The former Russian co-chairman of the Minsk Group, Vladimir Kazimirov, believes that both Baku and Yerevan are deliberately delaying a settlement of the Karabakh dispute, the former because it sees the balance of power shifting in its favor and the latter because it hopes that all interested parties will get used to the status quo.
The two sides are equally intransigent. Baku insists that Armenian troops withdraw from all areas of Azerbaijan outside Karabakh and that all displaced persons be allowed to return to their homes before the status of Karabakh can be discussed. Yerevan does not even admit that Karabakh is legally part of Azerbaijan, arguing that because the region declared independence at the same time that Azerbaijan became an independent state, both of them are equally successor states of the Soviet Union. Yerevan insists that the government of Karabakh be part of any discussions on the regionís future and rejects ceding occupied territory or allowing refugees to return prior to talks on the regionís status.
With such diametrically opposed and inflexible positions, it was to be expected that a meeting between Kocharian and Azerbaijanís President Ilham Aliyev at the C.I.S. summit in Astana, Kazakhstan on September 15 did not result in any breakthroughs. In a joint news conference, Kocharian said, "We cannot boast of any particular success. We must continue to quietly and patiently discuss this problem which we have inherited." Similarly, Aliyev remarked, "We must as usual content ourselves with making fairly vague declarations."
The difficulty of bringing the two sides together is illustrated by a report of a proposal circulated by Moscow at the Astana meeting, in which Yerevan would trade the withdrawal of its troops from areas of Azerbaijan outside Karabakh for referenda on the regionís status to be held in the mini-state and in Azerbaijan. Since the proposed referenda would lead to opposed results and only compound the deadlock, the actual trade would be Armeniaís sacrifice of its military advantage for the international legitimacy gained for the Karabakh mini-state. The Russian proposal did not bear fruit because Yerevanís military presence in Azerbaijan is its highest card and because Baku refuses to grant the Karabakh mini-state any legitimacy. Conclusion
As the balance of power in the Transcaucasus shifts in favor of Baku, the prospects for Yerevan become increasingly dim. Its vital interests are unlikely to be adequately satisfied, as it is brought closer to the choice of conceding on Karabakh or going to war, and as it is forced to remain dependent on a Moscow seeking greater influence with Baku.
The most likely future for Armenia is to remain the junior partner in the Moscow-Yerevan-Tehran axis, directing its economy toward the Russian-dominated Single Economic Space. The weakest player in the Transcaucasus, Armenia faces diminution of the power and autonomy that it currently possesses.
Posted September 29, 2004 © Eurasianet http://www.eurasianet.org