Annoyed At Bolton’s Armenia Remarks, Moscow Shows Few Levers of Pressure On Yerevan

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 30 October 2018
Annoyed At Bolton’s Armenia Remarks, Moscow Shows Few Levers of Pressure On Yerevan

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has completed his four-nation tour to Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia though pundits across the region are discussing his remarks and comments on issues for what the top security official came to the region Moscow considers its backyard.

Bolton’s call for Armenia and Azerbaijan to procure American weapons instead of Russian ones is still reverberating in ears, triggering wide-ranging reactions both in Armenia and Russia. In remarks about the purchase of U.S.-made weapons by Russia’s closest ally in the South Caucasus, acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said “if the United States puts forward lucrative offers, then we will respond”. He actually let Moscow know that Armenia is not tied to the Kremlin all-out diktat on issues related to the procurement of weapons though prices of the Russian weapons for Armenia are much lower than for other buyers. At the same time, the acting prime minister stressed that his government is not restricted in any way in the acquisition of weapons.

Earlier, Bolton, in an interview, spoke about the possibility of the sale of U.S. weapons to Armenia and Azerbaijan. In addition, the adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump said that if Pashinyan wins the elections, he will have a good opportunity to take "decisive measures" to resolve the Karabakh conflict. In response to Bolton’s remarks, the Armenian prime minister criticized him for this statement and demanded “to speak for himself,” and not for the peoples of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In the meantime, Moscow’s anticipated reaction did not take long to wait and the Foreign Ministry called "unceremonious" a statement by US National Security Advisor John Bolton, urging Armenia to abandon its friendship with Moscow and buy American weapons.

The Foreign Ministry compared Bolton’s words with an earlier statement by US ambassador to Yerevan Richard Mills, in which the diplomat spoke about Washington’s continued targeted support to certain groups in Armenia, in which he promised to give the country $26m to "strengthen civil society and the media" the Russian Ministry said.

Russia attributed Bolton’s remarks to direct intervention in Armenia’s internal affairs, adding that Bolton "demanded that Armenia to abandon the "historical cliché" in its international relations with Russia, without particularly concealing that this is a traditional friendship with Russia.

"He also said that he expects from Pashinyan, after the parliamentary elections in the country, proactive steps towards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Naturally, he did not forget to advertise the American weapons that Armenia should acquire instead of Russia," the Foreign Ministry added.

The head of the parliamentary faction of the Republican Party of Armenia, Vagram Baghdasaryan, commenting on the words of the American official, said that Yerevan "does not have historical clichés, but has national values and refusal from them is unacceptable," and advised representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group countries to refrain from "stirring up interest in armament" as it means pushing for war.     

Bolton’s visit took place against the background of preparations for elections in Armenia, which became more active after Nikol Pashinyan resigned on October 16 from the post of premier of Armenia in order to create a pretext for dissolving the parliament.

The head of the Regional Policy Development Center, Ilya Grashchenkov, opined that Bolton’s appeal to Armenia to abandon friendship with Russia is a step inherent in its logic.

"Bolton believes the West should unite in confrontation with Russia, respectively, to maintain a close friendship with it means to betray the interests of the West. And since the U.S. is trying to involve Armenia in the sphere of Western influence, as previously Georgia, he speaks frankly, denoting an extreme boiling point, that is, in principle, to cease friendly contacts with Russia,” the pundit said.

But he speaks out, not understanding all that long history and friendship that binds our peoples. Therefore, to come up with such a categorical statement is to insult the Armenians themselves. Many of them have relatives living in Russia, many live in Russia themselves, that is, these are bilateral ties, contacts, and families... the pundit comforted himself without realizing the public mood in Armenia.

He admitted that the new Armenian government views his nation’s further relations exclusively in the direction of the western vector.

Also commenting on Bolton’s remarks, Armenia’s ex-defense minister Vigen Sargsyan said he was perplexed about the U.S. official’s statements that Armenia should become independent and pursue sovereign foreign policy. For some reason, he believes that this is a hint for a review of relations with Russia. “I don’t remember a case when American partners called into question a strategic alliance between Armenia and Russia,” he said.

In fact, the independence and sovereignty of Armenia are contrasted to strategic relations with Russia. In other words, Armenia’s former defense minister recognizes that under the conditions of a strategic alliance with Russia, one can speak of Armenia’s independence only with reservations.

On the purchase of the U.S. weapons, Armenia’s official position is that “it is clear that such issues are not solved in one meeting, and the reaction of Armenia is quite adequate. At the same time, Moscow hardly hides its irritation, especially since it has not so many levers of pressure on Armenia left. She has to silently swallow the statements of U.S. officials, breaking the unspoken rules.

If Russia had levers against the new government of Armenia, it would have applied them primarily in the economy. Meanwhile, in Armenia, they talked about the likelihood of the revision of the holy of holies - the gas contract with Russia, and Moscow has nothing to answer. On the contrary, it is necessary to make conciliatory gestures, because objectively Russia's influence in the region is lost.

The events of April-May 2018 did not affect the economic ties between Armenia and Russia, said Andrey Babko, the trade representative of Russia in Armenia. Nevertheless, he noted that the internal political situation, in particular, some “revelations” in Armenia do not contribute to maintaining a comfortable investment environment and may scare off investors.

Recall that in mid-August, employees of the State Revenue Committee of Armenia searched the offices of the South Caucasus Railway Company (SCR). Babko noted that Armenian politicians should be aware of the fact that three quarters of enterprises in Armenia are companies with Russian capital.

Meanwhile, at the recent EAEU forum in Armenia, the head of the commission for the protection of economic competition, Artak Shaboyan, unexpectedly pointed out a number of violations by Russia. He told about dumping in Russia, that Russian airports set higher prices for Armenian planes, that supermarkets buy products only through intermediaries.