Op-ed: how Armenian relations with the Kremlin affect domestic political processes
The Armenian opposition claims the authorities are purposefully causing a deterioration in Armenian-Russian allied relations, assessing the attempts of the Armenian government which came to power after the “velvet” revolution of 2018 to strengthen the sovereignty of the country, build its own foreign policy and withstand external pressure as “anti-Russian”.
What is happening in the domestic political life of Armenia? How do Armenian-Russian relations figure in the issue? Below, political observer Hakob Badalyan weighs in.
The struggle for Russian patronage
The post-revolutionary stage of the domestic political life of Armenia has moved into a stage of political struggle. Forces that, one way or another, were involved in the revolutionary process on the basis of their own interests, have begun an active struggle before the next parliamentary elections, although they are planned for 2023.
In parallel, the process of reformatting Armenian-Russian relations is taking place and these two processes are quite closely interconnected.
Armenia has always been in the zone of influence of Russian interests, and, by and large, domestic political life in the country has always been a kind of shadow process of Armenian-Russian relations.
The entire internal political struggle in Armenia, resistance or competition, must be viewed through the prism of the struggle between Armenian sovereignty and Russian superpower interest.
The Russian elite could never and cannot imagine an Armenia which is building an independent foreign policy. And in Armenia, I must admit, there have always been forces that, tirelessly, demonstrated their loyalty to Russia.
This approach is inherent in apolitical elites and societies that do not have state thinking and traditions. That is, people do not strive for the possibility of becoming an independent entity, but seek a strong center that will provide them with dominant positions in domestic political field (money, power).
Russian imperialism and the Armenian “I”
Times are changing, and today we are witnessing a reformatting of Armenian-Russian relations.
After the “velvet” revolution, the Armenian authorities began to promote the principle of mutual recognition of the sovereignty of both states and non-interference in the internal affairs of each country.
At the same time, there are forces that are trying to present this process as manipulation of the Armenian-Russian relations.
They speculate on various issues, in particular, anti-corruption processes, which affected, inter alia, the interests of Russian companies operating in Armenia. The refusal of the new government to engage in the corruption that existed before the revolution are represented by the opponents of Nikol Pashinyan as an attempt to have Russian companies withdraw from Armenia on the order of the West.
The processes pertaining to the Constitutional Court have also proved fertile ground for manipulation. The government seeks to replace the members of the court, claiming they are illegitimate and loyal to the old guard. Russian elites, political and economic circles who do not want changes in the format of Armenian-Russian relations use the topic of the resignation of members of the Constitutional Court, appointed under the previous government, as an instrument of pressure on Armenia.
The Armenian authorities have repeatedly stated that relations with Russia should be based on mutually beneficial common interests, and this is not to everyone’s liking. Representatives of the Russian elite use the vassal status of Armenia for financial and political purposes. They enjoy the support of some forces in Armenia, which now and then put forward a thesis about the ‘anti-Russianness’ of the current government.
Recently, leader of the Prosperous Armenia party and one of the richest people in Armenia Gagik Tsarukyan announced the aggravation of ‘anti-Russian relations’ and emphasized that anti-state and anti-Armenian forces are responsible, and that he would do everything to prevent the growth of anti-Russian sentiments.
Protect your own interests
A similar game had already been started once, when during the era of Serzh Sargsyan’s presidency, Armenia moved towards European integration, and Armenia was actively led away from this path. As a result, Armenia refused to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union and joined the Eurasian Economic Union, operating under the leadership of Russia.
But today in Armenia there is a legitimate government, which has great public support, and in conditions when the old world order is falling apart and a new one is forming, it should advance its own interests. In this new situation, it is not known what will happen to Russia in 5 or 10 years, whether it will have the same opportunities in the region, whether it can provide some kind of protective barriers for Armenia.
Armenia should build its foreign policy in such a way as not to be dependent on the support of Russia alone, even more so given Russia is still committed to the Russian-Turkish treaties signed in the last century, on the basis of which the Armenian lands were divided, and also given that Russia has sold billions of dollars of weapons to Azerbaijan, which led to the April war in 2016.
We have no guarantees that tomorrow Russia will not bargain with Turkey at our expense, so reformatting Armenian-Russian relations based on common interests is a vital issue.
Armenia needs a strategic partnership with Russia just as much as Russia needs a strategic partnership with Armenia. The prospect of equal relations has no alternative for both sides