By Levon Baronian
In the last month, we have witnessed what appears on the surface to be a sharp and sudden deterioration of relations between the Pashinyan regime in Armenia and the country’s strategic and military ally, Russia.
In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published last Sunday, Pashinyan said Armenia’s policy of relying on Russia to guarantee its security was a strategic mistake because Moscow has been unable to deliver and is in the process of winding down its role in the wider region. And the exchange of insults between Armenia’s Parliament Speaker Alen Simonyan and Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova showed a complete breakdown of relations at the highest levels.
When Pashinyan and his cronies came to power in 2018 as the result of the so-called “Velvet Revolution”–which was openly welcomed by the West–mainstream media, western funded operatives and other pundits, Armenian and non-Armenian alike concertedly hailed Pashinyan’s spring-time revolution, using almost identical language.
For example, Larisa Minasyan, of the George Soros funded “Open Society Foundations,” expressed that she was “thrilled to witness the Armenian people’s commitment to seeing their demands for democracy met” and that the “promise of democracy can be harnessed, as it was in my country, to force other autocrats out of office.” 1
A longtime leader of the ARF Western United States, Viken Hovsepian, who has since been expelled from the ARF for his failed attempt to align the worldwide organization with Pashinyan, called the revolution a “shining example in the history of democratic processes” in his ode entitled “The Promise of May” dedicated to Pashinyan’s revolution. 2
The euphoria around Pashinyan was largely connected to a clear understanding that Pashinyan’s emergence was a pro-Western shift in Armenia’s leadership, long sought and financed by various means, direct and indirect, including millions of dollars in grants from U.S. and other Western linked government and non-profit institutions.
However, to consolidate his newly acquired power, Pashinyan quickly attempted and for a time succeeded in duping Moscow that he was no threat to the Russian hegemony in the region. Pashinyan was keen to understand that if Russia viewed him as a threat, his fate would likely follow that of Saakashvilli in Georgia or Yushchenko in Ukraine.
Literally, within his first weeks of power, Pashinyan met with Putin in Sochi and supposedly sought to deepen “the strategic relationship of allies between Armenia and Russia” and assured Putin “that in Armenia there is a consensus and nobody has ever doubted the importance of the strategic nature of Armenian-Russian relations.” 3
This chicanery was not only consistent with Pashinyan’s duplicitous character–after all, for years, Pashinyan had worked as a yellow journalist where he would slander prominent individuals for the right amount– it was also a foreshadowing of his mode of operations for retaining power over the next five years.
Despite his lies to Moscow, however, the Western investment in Pashinyan quickly started paying dividends. Pashinyan and his team, largely comprised of longtime Western funded operatives, quickly and deliberately sabotaged Armenia’s strategic relationships with its neighbors, Russia and Iran, which had served as the basis for Armenia and Artsakh’s fragile security. Armenia’s partnerships with Russia and Iran had nothing to do with anti-Western or anti-American sentiments, as Armenia had always welcomed cooperation with the United States and the West. After all, for several years, Armenia hosted the largest United States Embassy in the world, and then the second largest, after the U.S. Embassy in Iraq was built. Armenia had also participated in various economic, military, and political partnerships with the United States and European countries since its independence. Armenia’s geopolitical partnerships with Russia and Iran were based primarily on the fact that Armenia was surrounded on both sides by the genocidal Turkey-Azerbaijan tandem that had sought to wipe Armenia and Armenians off the face of the world and continues its belligerence towards the country to this day.
However, within a few months of taking power, Pashinyan’s government succeeded in antagonizing and effectively weakening Armenia’s relationships with both Russia and Iran.
In July of 2018, Pashinyan ordered the arrest of Armenian General Yury Khachaturov, who was the Secretary-General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russian-centered security alliance that is the counterpart to NATO. Khachaturov was charged with “overthrowing the constitutional order” in connection with his actions as commander of the Yerevan garrison during events in March of 2008, when street violence led by Pashinyan’s mentor Levon Ter-Petrosyan were suppressed by police and military forces. Khachaturov was tried alongside ex-president Robert Kocharyan, ex-defense minister Seyran Ohanyan (who was Chief of the General Staff in March 2008), and former secretary of the Security Council Armen Gevorgyan. The trial ended in March 2021 after the Constitutional Court of Armenia declared the article of the criminal code under which Khachaturov was being tried unconstitutional.
Aside from Russia, Pashinyan’s government deeply strained relations with Iran, when in September of 2019, Armenia announced that it would be opening an embassy in Israel, in what was an unexpected and logically incohesive move considering Israel’s open and explicit military and financial ties with Azerbaijan.
It appeared Pashinyan was on course to irreparably damage and eventually sever ties with Iran and Russia, moves that undoubtedly amused the West, but had resulted in no tangible commitments yet of military and financial support from Western governments.
One would think that if the leader of Armenia was consciously dismantling the security alliances that kept Armenia relatively peaceful and safe since 1994, he would at least try to avoid provoking his enemies in the meantime, until he could guarantee other partnerships and support necessary to safeguard the nation. Not Pashinyan. He deliberately derailed the pro-Armenia progress made during years of negotiations within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group and announced that he would be resetting negotiations from his own new starting point.
Prior to Pashinyan coming to power, Aliyev had acknowledged that he had his hands tied by the international community, which he openly criticized for not helping Azerbaijan regain control over Artsakh and its territories. 4
Pashinyan not only threw that diplomatic advantage away, he intentionally did everything within his means to stoke a war with Azerbaijan. He not only stalled negotiations as part of the OSCE Minsk process, claiming that he would not negotiate on behalf of Artsakh 5, he made statements such as “Artsakh is Armenia, Period!” which dismantled the position of previous Armenian governments that Armenia was not laying claims to Azerbaijani territory, but rather that Artsakh and its people had the right to self determination and were never part of an independent Azerbaijan to begin with, after seceding from Soviet Azerbaijan per the USSR’s laws.
In short, on one hand Pashinyan did everything to dismantle Armenia and Artsakh’s defenses, and on the other hand, everything to stoke a new war with Azerbaijan. While this may seem counterproductive, it was actually consistent with Pashinyan’s past. Afterall, in his book titled “The Other Side of the Country,” Pashinyan clearly stated “My heart tells me Artsakh should remain whole, but my mind tells me we don’t need those lands, and we must be ready to say loudly, that we will return those lands for the sake of peace.” 6
So, this brings us to the question at the heart of why it was so important for Pashinyan to “say loudly, that we will return those lands for the sake of peace?”
Because, ultimately, for Pashinyan and his sponsors, retaining Artsakh came at the expense of being forced to retain strategic alliances with Iran, and more importantly Russia. Without the need to retain Artsakh and secure Armenia’s national security against Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia would no longer need Russia or Iran, and could eventually move toward kicking those two regional powers to the curb, and by extension out of the Transcaucasus altogether.
That strategic objective, however, had nothing to do with what was best for Armenia and Artsakh’s national interests and everything to do with the geopolitical objectives of his sponsors, for whom Armenia and Artsakh were mere acceptable collateral damage for eliminating Russia and Iran from the region.
It was nothing personal against Armenia and the Armenian people, who had always been hospitable and balanced in their relations with the United States and the West. Rather, Armenia and Artsakh were inconvenient obstacles in the West’s larger schemes for diminishing Russia’s and Iran’s influence in the region, and ultimately strangling the two hostile regimes by cutting them off from a North-South axis that did not serve the alternative East-West axis for geopolitical and energy purposes.
In the fall of 2020, Pashinyan and his sponsors succeeded in bringing on the war that would be the pretext for losing the entirety of Artsakh and ultimately forcing Russia out of the region.
It almost worked, until Putin finally slammed the brakes on the war and forced both Pashinyan and Aliyev to abort their plans and sign the November 9 tripartite agreement between Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, by which Russian peacekeepers entered Artsakh and ended the hostilities. By doing so, Russia not only succeeded in derailing the plot to remove it from Armenia, but also succeeded in securing Russian boots on the ground on internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan for the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Pashinyan’s apologists, in an attempt to deflect criticism for Pashinyan recognizing Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan, often cite Putin’s earlier comments doing the same.
What they fail to realize or rather mention is that for Putin, the actual motivations to state that Artsakh is part of Azerbaijan are actually the exact opposite of Pashinyan’s motivations. By recognizing Artsakh as part of Azerbaijan, Pashinyan effectively washes his hands of Artsakh, but in doing the same, Putin actually gives himself a reason to stay in Artsakh and by extension Azerbaijan, as the supposed guarantor of Artsakh’s people’s security. As a result of the 2020 Artsakh War, Putin succeeded in not only keeping Russian forces in Armenia but also managed to insert them into so-called Azerbaijani internationally recognized territory as well.
Aliyev and Pashinyan, who ultimately serve the same anti-Russian agenda, are both unhappy with this reality and are both inclined to keep escalating the conflict in the region, until another prefabricated war breaks out so that they can complete the unfinished business of completely handing Artsakh over to Azeri control and making Russia’s presence there no longer necessary.
Unfortunately, the United States and West continues to encourage that scenario by treating the Armenian nation and people, their loyal friends, as acceptable collateral damage in their larger desire to constrain and weaken Russia.