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Baku’s factor or fear of Russia: Armenia’s walkout against NATO

Photo: aravot.am

Armenia refused to attend NATO Agile Spirit – 2017 multinational drill underway in Georgia for a series of reasons. Experts say Armenia made a U-turn at the last gasp, as Azerbaijan decided to attend the drill again at the last gasp. Recall that Armenia has a very sad experience of attending a NATO event with participation of Azerbaijan. In 2004, Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov viciously killed Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan in Budapest. The officers were attending a NATO-organized English-language training courses there. Perhaps, this time, the Armenian military were not provided with sufficient security guarantees to attend the NATO drill in Georgia.

The second reason was possible negative response by Russia, Armenia’s military and political ally. As Russia-West relations have soured dramatically, Yerevan’s notorious complementary policy seems to fail as well. Drills by Moscow’s key geopolitical rival on its border cannot but trouble it for obvious reasons, all the more so, because its CSTO partner participates in it.

Georgia’s defense ministry representatives were certainly surprised to find out that Armenian military did not attend the drill. Armenia’s defense minister refused to comment on the decision, first. Later, Deputy Minister of Defense Artak Zakaryan said Armenia did not confirm its participation in the event. At the same time, he failed to explain why Armenia was included in the list of participants. He repeated that Armenia’s Armed Forces did not announce any plans to attend NATO drills in Georgia, though, he said, some corrections were made to the country’s plans.

In late August, Defense Ministry of Georgia announced that Armenia is among participants of Agile Spirit 2017 multinational drill of NATO and Partners in Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Georgia on September 3-11. The maneuvers were designed to enhance U.S., Georgian, and regional partner interoperability and strengthen the understanding of each country's tactics, techniques, and procedures. The drill will involve Armenia, Georgia, U.S., Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania, and Ukraine, the Defense Ministry of Georgia reported then. Armenia did not disclaim the reports and it was perceived as an agreement to attend.

Today, Armenia Deputy Minister of Defense Artak Zakaryan assured media that Armenia’s refusal to attend the drill was in no way connected with Azerbaijan’s sudden decision to attend it. He denied any external pressure as well.

Hrant Margaryan, one of the leaders of ARF Dashnaktsutyun Party, a member of the ruling coalition in the parliament, ruled out the external factor too. “Armenia is an independent state with its national interests and is free to decide whether to attend an event or not. It was Armenia’s sovereign decision and there are no two ways about it,” he told journalists on September 4. As a CSTO member, Armenia has never played off against NATO, Margaryan said. He sees nothing surprising in Armenia’s refusal, since “policy is the art of achieving the possible.” “A decision of many months can be changed in a moment for some tactical reasons. It’s normal,” Margaryan said.

Unlike Margaryan, political analyst Styopa Safaryan is inclined to believe that Armenia did not attend the drill after Azerbaijan decided to participate in it. He recalled the above tragic incident in Budapest. “No matter how strong NATO condemns that incident, I do not think that what happened next, including extradition of Ramil Safarov to Baku, is comfort to Armenia,” Safaryan told tert.am. Recall that Safaryan was extradited in August 2012. In response, Armenia quitted diplomatic relations with Hungary. The then U.S. president Barack Obama demanded explanations from Budapest, but has not received any.

As to the Russian factor, Safaryan called the idea illogical. “Even if Russia pressed Armenia, why didn’t it refuse to participate until the last moment. It could happen much earlier,” he said.

Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Caucasus Institute, believes Armenia’s relations with CSTO allies was behind its decision not to attend the NATO drill in Georgia. “I am speaking about Russia, of course. I have no specific data, these are just my assumptions. Russia’s relations with the West are experiencing a crisis,” Iskandaryan told EADaily. “Perhaps, Armenia refused to attend the NATO drill at the last gasp because of some changes in Moscow. Something has evidently changed in Moscow. It could be connected with many factors,” he said.

“I guess Armenia just tried to avoid political pressure,” Tevan Poghosyan, the head of the International Center for Human Development, ex-member of Armenian parliament, told EADaily. He is sure that such behavior seriously damages the country’s image.

“Such decisions that are made in a blink of eye create a reputation of an ‘unpredictable partner’ in the world community,” Poghosyan said. He is sure that such behavior will make foreign countries feel skeptical about Armenia. The country has lost another chance to become “stronger and more combat efficient,” he said.

P.S. Noteworthy that on the same day, on September 3, 2013, amid Russia-West dispute over Ukraine, Armenia made a U-turn after four-year-long negotiations for the Association Agreement with EU and aligned with the Russian-led Customs Union of Belarus and Kazakhstan that was later developed into Eurasian Economic Union.

By Arshaluys Mghdesyan

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