Armenian trucks idle in Upper Lars. Russia's response to the CSTO boycott?
Upper Lars checkpoint
On the only land road connecting Armenia with Russia, 964 Armenian trucks are idle at the Upper Lars checkpoint. According to the official version, the road is closed due to unfavorable weather conditions. However, Armenian drivers report other causes, such as documents and sanitary issues.
Armenia is now actively discussing whether there is a political context in the road closure related to the aggravation of Armenian-Russian relations.
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On November 23, Minsk hosted the regular summit of the Collective Security Council of the CSTO military bloc operating under the auspices of the Russian Federation. The Armenian Prime Minister did not participate in the meeting. He expressed hope that his CSTO partners would be sympathetic to his decision. Recently, both Pashinyan and other Armenian officials have boycotted meetings within the CSTO and with CIS partners. At the same time, they claim that “there is no intention to change the foreign policy vector.” However, at the beginning of the year official Yerevan announced that it would not host CSTO military exercises, then refused the quota of deputy secretary-general in the bloc, recalled its ambassador and did not appoint a new one.
Justifying these decisions, the Prime Minister and his team recall that in 2021 and 2022, during the advance of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces into Armenia’s sovereign territory, the country sought military assistance from the CSTO and Russia. However, it did not receive any assistance. Moreover, the CSTO announced that the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not delimited, which makes it impossible to understand whether there is an invasion into the territory of an ally of the bloc. According to Nikol Pashinyan, the statement that there is no border between Armenia and Azerbaijan means that there is no CSTO zone of responsibility: “And if there is no zone of responsibility, there is no organization itself.
The call to “avoid this direction”
The Russian Emergencies Ministry issued a call to use detours and avoid traveling in the direction of the Upper Lars checkpoint. It was reported that it was impossible to ensure “safe movement of vehicles”. On November 26 the traffic was restricted due to weather conditions, and from the next day the road was completely blocked.
Armenian vehicles could not heed the appeals of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and avoid this route, as there is no other land route from Armenia to Russia.
It’s not the first time
In early October, 60 Armenian cars loaded with cognac stood at the same checkpoint for two weeks. At that time, the Russian side had announced stricter customs control. All trucks had to wait at the checkpoint until the answers to the samples sent for laboratory testing were received.
Eventually, they were allowed to enter Russia, but the long wait increased transportation costs. About 95% of the cognac produced in Armenia is exported to Russia.
“Another manifestation of escalating relations”
MP from the Hayastan opposition faction Artur Khachatryan believes that no matter how much Pashinyan denies strained relations with Russia, this fact is obvious. He declares the situation in Upper Lars as “another manifestation” of the tension that has arisen in relations with Russia.
According to the deputy, this is how Moscow is reacting to Armenia’s boycott of the CSTO summit:
“Russia is speaking with certain messages. Let’s recognize that it was not an accident. In response to Armenia’s policy, they are pursuing a certain counter-policy”.
“I don’t see a political message”
Alen Simonyan, Speaker of the Armenian Parliament, told reporters that according to the information he has, “there was simply a change in the bodies carrying out service at the checkpoint”. He does not see an overt political message.
Simonyan does not think it is necessary to rush to conclusions, but does not rule out a political context, as relations are “a bit tense.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Araik Harutyunyan, referring to the incident at the Russian checkpoint, said:
“Now it is extremely important that Armenians both in Armenia and those living abroad buy exclusively Armenian goods. […] Such support for business is vital for strengthening independence and sovereignty. And the closure of some checkpoint near Lars will not affect us, if Armenian business finds new markets”.
Expert circles criticized this statement, calling it “lack of state thinking”. Political scientist Suren Surenyants wrote on Facebook that the government’s task should be to immediately solve the problems that arose at the Lars checkpoint, not to make speeches.
“It would be more useful if the Armenian government would consistently promote the improvement of the quality and production standards of Armenian goods so that their exports are not limited exclusively to the Russian market.”