Armenia’s Increasing Support for the West with Azerbaijan Seizing Nagorno-Karabakh
Armenia’s decision on future strategic partners will be their most important geopolitical move since independence in 1991. Azerbaijan has been able to take full control of the Armenian majority region of Nagorno-Karabakh after a ceasefire was agreed1 with Russia no longer unconditionally defending Armenia. This comes after Armenia’s traditional allies in Moscow pivoted towards Azerbaijan after failing to reopen the Lachin Corridor, with Ukraine being Russia’s key priority. Armenian PM Pashinian feels they must turn to other partners2. ORB’s partners’ research shows the population, particularly younger Armenians, are increasingly looking more favorably towards the United States.
This comes after US ran a joint military exercise in Armenia on September 113. There is an opportunity for US and Armenia to form an official strategic military partnership. Their respective governments will have to proceed quickly though, with adversaries trying to assert themselves.
Kremlin Anger, Pashinian Vulnerable
Armenia cancelled a Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) exercise last week, angering Moscow. This led to Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, expressing sadness at “the actions of the Armenian leadership,” on September 104. Deterioration in relations have been exacerbated by the Kremlin’s change in view on Nagorno-Karabakh, with Vladimir Putin stating during the Eastern Economic Forum “It’s not just about the results of the last conflict, it’s also about the fact that the Armenian leadership essentially recognized Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over Karabakh.”5
Concerns around a Moscow backed coup have subsequently risen. Pashinian was not the clear winner of Sunday 17 September’s elections and is falling in the ratings, with protests in Yerevan demanding his resignation. The former ruling party is close to the Kremlin and there is a chance a third party could take power from Pashinian if Moscow backed them. Most worryingly, the Telegram channel «Bagramyan-26» spread a message in which they reported that the Kremlin sanctioned the scenario of a coup d’état in Armenia, which could be carried out by the 3,000 fighters of PMC Wagner stationed there6.
Iran is stoking revanchist sentiments in Armenia, with 54% of the Armenian population receptive to a security partnership with them7. Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned Azerbaijan on 18 September: “If Azerbaijan wants to carry out a military operation against Armenia, we will respond with a 10 times stronger operation.”8 Iran could intervene if the ceasefire fails, with video evidence suggesting that several Iranian armored vehicles can be seen near the Iran-Azerbaijan border9.
The conflict is an evolving situation and Armenia cannot be certain what will happen in the short-term, with a Moscow-backed coup on the horizon. It will need the help of powerful partners to help protect its security and territorial integrity. Who it pursues as its long-term security partner will shape its future for generations to come.