Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The fading illusion of Armenia-NATO relations

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By Eduard Abrahamyan (05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)

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On June 18-20, 2015, NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly held the 89th Rose-Roth seminar in Armenia’s capital Yerevan. It mainly covered the current status of the Armenia-NATO partnership, security issues and challenges that recently emerged in the post-Soviet region and the Middle East. It was declared that the seminar would be unprecedented and firmly reflect positive developments in contrast to the setback in Armenia’s EU integration. The three-day meeting brought together a range of experts, representatives of alliance members and officials from different states, but was conducted against the backdrop of Armenia’s consistent albeit implicit “vassalization” by Russia.

Though Yerevan stressed practical cooperation and its contribution to various missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan through Partnership for Peace (PfP), it kept a certain distance from the intensive political dialogue that is a constitutive part of IPAP. The apogee of the deepening ties between NATO and Armenia came in the period 2010-2013, when Yerevan aimed to sign an Association Agreement (AA) and a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU, pursuing wide-ranging reforms in both its political-economic and defense sectors. In this light, the promising EU-Armenia relations were inevitably reflected in the ties between NATO and Armenia.

There is no formal institutional link between the EU integration process and NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership for the eastern neighbors, although the advance in partnering with the EU reflects positively on relations with NATO and vice versa. Therefore, there was an expectation in several segments of Armenia’s civil society and among some policymakers that despite its failure to integrate more closely with the EU, Yerevan still had a real scope for consolidating its partnership with NATO even following its engagement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). However, it soon became clear that Moscow’s strong objection to Armenia’s deepening integration with the EU would also seriously deteriorate the country’s relations with NATO, hence negatively affecting Armenia’s security.

The choices made by Armenian officials under heavy pressure from Moscow clearly impaired the country’s reliability in the eyes of the EU to the extent that the EU’s pledge to keep its door open for Armenia has become little more than a phrase.

Likewise, Armenia’s unexpected U-turn away from European integration in September 2013 implied a departure from the path of democratization, instead prioritizing its membership in organizations forged by authoritarian regimes like the Russia-led CSTO and EEU. Consequently, Armenia’s current policy is consistent with Russia’s interests, something NATO could not afford to ignore, and requiring a review of NATO’s relations with Armenia in light of the mounting standoff between the West and Russia.

Amid NATO’s gradually toughening stance vis-à-vis Russia’s belligerent policy, Armenia has taken a set of political steps which were at odds with NATO policy, most blatantly by voting against the UN resolution declaring Crimea’s referendum on joining Russia invalid, and hence for legitimating Russia’s occupation, along with few non-democratic states. This decision was apparently dictated by Russia, but it is noteworthy that it met little protest either from Armenian authorities or Armenian society at large. Moreover, groups of Russia-backed activists in Stepanakert and Yerevan managed to celebrate Crimea’s “self-determination,” placing the region in the same category as Nagorno-Karabakh.

By voting against its resolution, Armenia partly broke the PfP document signed in 1994, where Yerevan committed to the preservation of democratic societies, the maintenance of international law, and to fulfill in good faith the obligations of the Charter of the UN. Moreover, Yerevan damaged its relations with Ukraine, which is in the same NATO partnership framework as Armenia.

By pressure from the Kremlin and as spill-over effect of propaganda addressed to Armenian society, Armenia is being converted into a NATO opponent. Armenia is gradually turning into an isolated tool for Russia in its confrontation with the West, and in its strategy to as far as possible shield the South Caucasus from integration with the West in terms of security, communications, politics and values.

These developments vividly illustrate that Armenia can no longer be considered a prospective political partner of NATO, despite ongoing practical cooperation that will nevertheless likely be reduced after the Armenian peacekeepers leave Afghanistan.

In its effort to reverse Armenia’s relations with NATO, Moscow may finally compel Armenia’s Ministry of Defense to simply suspend its IPAP and PfP programs with NATO.

Moscow has successfully leveraged the political imperative of Armenia’s security, by which Armenia was induced to become a CSTO member. This military quasi-block on its own poses a threat to stability in the South Caucasus, serving Russia’s revisionist policy. It is also becoming clear that the CSTO, which is formally committed to bolstering Armenia’s security, has little capacity to fulfil such a function in practice. Moreover, the main military CSTO partners, Russia and Belarus, continuously contribute to arming Armenia’s main rival Azerbaijan.

The events surrounding Ukraine indeed had dramatic implications for Armenia’s relations with the EU and NATO. Yet the Ukrainian crisis also gave rise to a sense of hope in Armenian society and there is an increasing understanding that a collapse of Russian policy in Ukraine could help Armenia regain its sovereignty. However, by opting to remain in Russia’s orbit, Armenia has in all likelihood lost its potential to foster a democratic and prosperous state with a flourishing economy and simultaneously bolster its security. Armenia’s government still does not comprehend that security is better served by building a closer relationship with NATO.

(Image attribution: NATO)

Read 5381 times Last modified on Wednesday, 19 August 2015

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