Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), Russia has never been more unpopular in Armenia than nowadays – and it has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine, for a change.
The former Russian President, loose cannon Medvedev, even resorted to threatening the life of Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan: “Guess what fate is awaiting him”, he said, in a typically deranged outburst.
Across the proverbial aisle, nationalist Armenians demonstrate in the streets and call for Pashinyan’s impeachment as a “traitor” for his role in the 2020 capitulation agreement and for his inactivity in the face of current Azeri aggression. Either way, his days are numbered.
Ironically, Pashinyan’s premiership is the outcome of exactly such sentiments directed at his predecessors in 2018.
Ostensibly, Russia and Armenia are allies. But Russia is selling weapons to both former Soviet republics: to Armenia and to its mortal enemy Azerbaijan (though only the former enjoys a discount on its purchases).
Three years ago, the two polities clashed militarily, resulting in well over 6,000 fatalities. Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh in Armenian), an enclave of 120,000 militant Armenians at the heart of Azerbaijan, was then at stake as it is now.
In 1994, the new state of Armenia borrowed the Serbian playbook and teamed with local Armenian militias to conquer not only Nagorno-Karabakh but vast swathes of outlying lands. Azerbaijan was able to reclaim these territories only in 2020.
On that occasion, Russia unwisely stepped in at the behest of Armenia and dispatched a contingent of peacekeepers to the disputed, still smoldering region. Skirmishes abounded ever since 1994 and never ceased.
Fast forward to this week for a repeat of the hostilities. Starting in December 2022, Azerbaijan blocked the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia, known as the Lachin corridor. Russian peacekeepers stood idly by, abrogating their duty for all to witness.
Azerbaijan claimed that the thoroughfare had been abused by the Armenians to smuggle weapons in and extract mineral resources.
But the siege thus enforced on Nagorno-Karabakh led to an alarming drop in the levels of foodstuffs and to the menace of an imminent famine.
It took months for the Red Cross to arrange for the shipment of a paltry 20 tons of flour as well as some rudimentary medical supplies. To the dismay of all Armenians, the convoy transitioned through Azerbaijani-held territory.
Conveniently, on cue, 4 soldiers and 2 civilians were blasted to smithereens by Armenian landmines. This gave Azerbaijan the pretext to shell the enclave with artillery.
Exactly like Kosovo in former Yugoslavia, tiny mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh is culturally and historically significant to both foes.
Exactly like Kosovo, it enjoyed an autonomous status within the surrounding territory of Azerbaijan during the good ole’ times of the USSR.
Exactly like Kosovo, the Armenian majority drove out the indigenous Azeris in an act of ethnic cleansing made possible by the abrupt disintegration of the Russian land empire.
In 2020, the picture had been reversed, with about 90,000 Armenians displaced, setting their abodes ablaze to deny them to the incoming Azeri settlers.
And this is where it gets interesting: Armenia hosts a Russian military base. It used to be a steadfast ally of Putin’s. There are sizable and influential Armenian minorities scattered throughout Russia, especially in its cities and in the south of the Russian Federation.
But relations between the erstwhile dyad have deteriorated visibly.
This year, Armenia turned down a Russian request to conduct military exercises of the CTSO (Collective Treaty Security Organization) on its turf. Instead, it held joint exercises with US troops.
To add insult to injury, Armenia has been providing Russia’s archenemy, Ukraine, with “humanitarian” aid.
The conflict in its backyard is further eroding Russia’s image as an omnipotent regional force (let alone a superpower). It failed to prevail on Azerbaijan to honor its commitments and reopen the corridor to Armenia. It even suggested that Armenia should recognize Azeri sovereignty over the beleaguered and contested region. In short: it doesn’t pay to be Russia’s ally nowadays.
In the meantime, Armenians trapped in the fighting are desperately attempting to flee the scene to Russia via the Russian-controlled airport of Stepanakert (Khankendi is the Azeri name of the capital). Thousands are internally displaced and hundreds are killed. Talks are being held between the two warring communities in Yevlakh.
Russia is losing the war in Ukraine. Russia is forfeiting its support in Armenia. Russia has lost its access to Western markets and financial infrastructure. Putin’s days seem more numbered by the day.
Opinions expressed in the op-ed section are solely those of the individual author and do not represent the official stance of our newspaper. We believe in providing a platform for a wide range of voices and perspectives, even those that may challenge or differ from our own. As always, we remain committed to providing our readers with high-quality, fair, and balanced journalism. Thank you for your continued support.Sincerely, The Brussels Morning Team