By Stephen Blank –The Washington Times
Armenia’s revolution of April-May generated possibilities for real economic and political progress. In no small measure it succeeded because its leader, Nikol Pashinyan, stated that he “had no geopolitical agenda.” He repeatedly stated that Armenia would continue its course of membership in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union and their Collective Security Treaty Organization. And, since, he has repeatedly reiterated his government’s commitment to improving ties with Moscow.
However, despite rhetoric on efforts to democratize Armenia, Mr. Pashinyan has not only reaffirmed Armenia’s close ties to Russia, he has also displayed its deep intimacy with Iran. Emblematically, before coming to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly he is visiting Iran. In addition, he has made numerous statements and gestures indicating an unwillingness to negotiate on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue with Azerbaijan.
However, in so doing Mr. Pashinyan, possibly unwittingly, but nevertheless clearly, has placed his own democracy campaign at risk. As long as Armenia holds onto Azerbaijani territories it will not have peace. Instead it will have to continue its excessive dependence on Moscow that all but guarantees the eclipse of Armenia’s democratic aspirations. Moscow is already warning of “frank and serious talks”, i.e. difficult negotiations with Mr. Pashinyan due to his democratizing moves.
Simply, peace with Azerbaijan is a precondition for democratization in Armenia. War offers Russia multiple opportunities it will not forego to coerce Yerevan into subservience and act decisively to undermine Mr. Pashinyan’s reforms if not him personally. Peace, however, is the sole guarantee that Armenia can both democratize and move forward provided it receives strong Western backing.
This affects the United States because Mr. Pashinyan allegedly wants a meeting with President Trump in New York. Such meetings with a president possess great resonance in these leaders’ and at home and Armenia is no exception. Before this meeting possibly occurs, Mr. Pashinyan should give the United States reasons to support him.
However, Armenia’s subservience to Moscow and its retention of conquered territories going beyond Nagorno-Karabakh to include purely Azerbaijani and undisputed lands like the Azerbaijani province of Nakhichevan are incompatible with U.S. support or democracy. Therefore, to support, peace, democracy, and the advance of U.S. interests, a well-conceived initiative must be launched to break the deadlock with Azerbaijan and promote a peace settlement that would benefit everyone, except Vladimir Putin, the only actor whose interests are served by continuing strife.