Armenia’s refusal to attend ongoing NATO Agile Spirit 2017 drill in Georgia was a quite logical, if not anticipated, decision. The multinational drill started on September 3 and will continue for eight days.
It is the 7th Agile Spirit drill. Conducted with the support of U.S. marine corps, the drill aims to improve interaction of Georgian military with officers from U.S. and other countries, their crisis response preparedness and participation in joint operations as part of the NATO Rapid Response Force. Nearly 500 U.S. troops have arrived in Georgia to participate in the event.
Armenian military were expected to participate in the event along with officers from Georgia, U.S., Bulgaria, Latvia, Ukraine, and Romania. On the eve of the drill, Armenia announced its refusal to attend the event. There are several reasons behind Armenia’s “walkout.” EADaily has already addressed the first two reasons in an article earlier. It was about Russian and Azerbaijani factors.
This article is an attempt to study the issue in a wider context. It appears that Armenia’s refusal to send military to Georgia may become the litmus paper that has determined or will yet determine Armenia’s geopolitical position in the regional and global power landscape.
Noteworthy that before Armenia’s “walkout,” U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills made quite interesting a statement in an interview with RFE/RL Armenian Service. “The goal for our Armenian friends, for the Armenian government is to make sure that Armenia can make its own sovereign decisions about what path it should choose, what economic and political models it follows,” Mills said.
The statement is focused on at least several factors. First, Washington fears that Armenia may refuse from signing the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area initiative with EU under pressure of Moscow, indeed. Meantime, Moscow has not made any negative signals. Furthermore, a format of political cooperation of a Eurasian Economic Union member-states amid recent tensions in the relations of Brussels and Washington may help building bridges between the two integration unions. In this light, the U.S. diplomat’s suspicions and concerns are vain.
But wait, there is more. Before Mill’s interview published on August 26, Russian Defense Ministry representative Alexander Novikov told journalists Armenia is ready to join the Russian-led coalition to demine Syria. Although, Yerevan considered it untimely to provide any details, it is normal that Armenia seeks to join demining operations in Syria.
Thousands of Armenians that survived horrors of bloody slaughter are still in Syria. Noteworthy that having a big community in Syria, Armenia has refrained from any interference into the Syrian crisis, confining itself to calls for consolidated efforts to fight terrorism and other similar statements. Consequently, the decision to join Russia’s initiative is a belated but still necessary step.
The U.S. strategists could not but use Armenia’s idea to join demining activities in Syria to express “concern” about Armenia’s sovereignty. U.S. and Russia are known to have different stances on the Syrian crisis. Washington’s task is to stonewall Moscow’s efforts to settle the conflict in the Arab country, including through attempts to discourage Armenia from joining the demining activities in Syria.
The experience of the last years shows that any attempts to put Armenia in a dilemma without taking into account local specifics and geopolitical realities is inherently a wrong and inefficient undertaking, first of all, for the ones who try to force the country to make that choice. We saw such attempts in 2013 when Armenia was to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. Potential breach of operations with the key trade and investment partner, Russia, and no concrete alternative offers by EU made Armenia make a U-turn and refuse from signing the AA then. Brussels did not accept the Armenian leadership’s suggestions to find mechanisms that would allow combining the two foreign policy vectors.
We are witnessing a similar situation today, as they try to hold Armenia from joining Russia’s initiatives in Syria and involve it into various NATO projects. Perhaps, the ongoing NATO drill was that very “red line,” crossing which Armenia considered dangerous for the given stage.
Yet, Armenia’s leadership often makes hasty steps lacking any strategy. For instance, the defense minister of Armenia speaks about threats to Russia’s south by Turkey, while Armenia cooperates with an organization Turkey is an active member of. Moreover, Ankara is actually performing the role of Georgia’s lawyer at NATO by supporting the country’s aspiration for the Alliance and promoting its own agenda of cooperation with it at the same time.
Evidently, NATO’s further expansion into South Caucasus depends on Turkey. No prize for guessing what will be Armenia’s role in that simple plan.
EADaily’s Caucasian Bureau