Armenian PM Freaks Out Ahead Of Crucial Polls, Slams Azerbaijan’s Karabakh Separatists

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 30 November 2018
Armenian PM Freaks Out Ahead Of Crucial Polls, Slams Azerbaijan’s Karabakh Separatists

Armenian acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has lost his nerve and advised the separatists from Azerbaijan’s breakaway Karabakh region “to focus on their own shit” while on a campaign trail in regions. He advised them not to pose their nose into the election campaign without elaborating on reasons for the first ever public criticism of the separatist Karabakh leadership.

This reveals deep and growing confrontation between acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the Karabakh separatists. The latter is unhappy about the position of the new Armenian leadership and behind-the-curtain developments vis-à-vis Yerevan and Moscow and its negative implications for the separatist region. The separatist Karabakh leaders advocate closer ties with Russia since they are thankful to the Kremlin for the separatism and the occupation of Azerbaijan’s lands.

They are absolutely aware of the fact that once the relations aggravate and reach the point when Armenia decides to abandon the Kremlin sphere of influence, the separatists shall see the end of their illicit and unlawful actions and the occupation of Karabakh and other Azerbaijani lands.

The call of the Armenian prime minister to Karabakh leadership not to interfere in the events in Armenia caused a backlash in the separatist region. “Never a single leader in Armenia was so angry with the representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh. Not a single leader in Armenia allowed himself to arrange a “public flogging” of the representatives of Karabakh,” Karen Ogadzhanyan, a so-called Karabakh human rights activist, said in a remark.

“Who allows you in such an inappropriate manner to speak about the leaders of Karabakh?! Even the leader of the enemy state does not allow himself to do so,” Ogadzhanyan said.

Nikol Pashinyan continues to use the Karabakh issue in his election campaign. If he attacks the Karabakh separatists so sharply, then, apparently, the conflict has gone too far. But at the same time, this does not mean that Pashinyan is ready for constructivism. He exploits the theme that there can be no talk about the return of territories, and that his task in general is to bring the Karabakh separatists back to the negotiating table. In fact, he is well aware that the return of the separatists to the negotiating table is unrealistic.

Nevertheless, he talks about this in order to finish this transitional game to the end. Pashinyan is looking for ways to fill the vacuum in which the country is in now. Today, Armenia is a backward republic of the South Caucasus, and the economic crisis is aggravating in the country. To solve basic problems, Armenia needs an anti-crisis program and Pashinyan overlooks the main tasks and problems of the republic. Apparently, he lacks resources. He does not have an integral team; he does not have a conceptual approach to solving managerial, production processes. Armenia is stuck in a transitional period, when the old is not completely “dead”, and the new has not yet been born. And Pashinyan supports this situation.

Everything is temporary, and there is no certainty about the future of Armenia. And Armenian citizens are waiting for change, social change. The people of Armenia are kept waiting, assuring "Take your time, everything will be." And what will be, at the expense of what will be, remains a mystery. In the meantime, Pashinyan contributes to chaos not only in his own country, but also abroad. And the so-called “people of Karabakh” is actually only about 60,000 people who live under the bayonets of the barracks regime under poor living conditions. If Armenia itself is suffocating from economic insolvency, social insecurity, what about Nagorno-Karabakh, we wonder?

Pashinyan tirelessly talks about the so-called right of Armenians to self-determination. But what can be self-determination if there is already one Armenian state - the Republic of Armenia? And Azerbaijan will never allow the creation of a second Armenian state on its territories. And the fact that Pashinyan is now attacking Karabakh separatists is not a reason for optimism. Apparently, he is trying to replace the "alien" separatists with "his", but in the end, the separatist essence of Karabakh remains unchanged. Today in Armenia, we see anti-theater and nothing else.

On the other hand, Armenia’s relations with allies in CSTO is going from bad to worse though it would be naïve to expect him to admit it ahead of the crucial parliamentary elections on December 9. “We, in fact, have not worsen our relations with any countries, but fixed the poor and deprived position of Armenia, which we inherited in this and not only in this organization,” acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told a campaign rally.

According to him, unlike the previous authorities, they do not intend to hush up the security issues of vital importance in Armenia.

“We do not intend to reconcile with the situation around us. We consider it important that the obligations of Armenia to the allies and the obligations of allies to Armenia in the CSTO are clarified. We declare these issues in order to improve and develop relations with partners, if we do not address these problems, the situation will deteriorate even more and create new problems for us,” N. Pashinyan said.

Referring to the question of the appointment of the CSTO Secretary General, acting prime minister noted: “The question of the CSTO Secretary General is very small and insignificant issue; the more important are the issues that are discussed in this context. We will consistently protect the interests of Armenia and Artsakh.”

Here are more details of the deepening conflict between Armenia and other CSTO allies from Armenia’s perspective.

Internal Discord in CSTO May Be Pushing Armenia to Leave Russia-Led Alliance

The issue of naming a new secretary general of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has become another bone of contention between supposed allies Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The alliance’s heretofore formal head, General Yuri Khachaturov, a former chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces, was officially recalled from his post by Yerevan on November 2, due to his participation in a violent crackdown of opposition protests in Armenia back in 2008. The circumstances surrounding picking Khachaturov’s replacement have once again highlighted the profound disunity of Russia’s treaty allies.

Tensions mounted soon after the November 8 meeting, in Astana, Kazakhstan, of the CSTO Collective Security Council—the organization’s supreme decision-making body, represented by the heads of the six member countries. The objectives for the Astana meeting were to discuss inter alia security issues related to Afghanistan, the establishment of a coordination council for the standardization of military equipment, as well as the approval of institutional amendments that would permit the CSTO to offer “observer” and “partner” statuses to non-members. In their final declaration, the CSTO leaders also formulated a collective response toward the United States’ professed intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as well as expressed firm support for Russia’s activities in Syria. However, the sore point in the deliberation was the designation of a new secretary general, which sparked reciprocal criticism among the allies even as Russia largely remained silent on the issue.

Although Armenia had recalled its selection for CSTO secretary general (chosen by the previous government in Yerevan), it nevertheless insists that an Armenian representative must be allowed to hold the post until 2020, when General Khachaturov’s term would have ended. Kazakhstan and Belarus, however, disagree. Noting that the final decision is yet to be made at the forthcoming December 6 St. Petersburg summit, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev demanded that the rotational principle set forth in the CSTO regulations be upheld. Specifically, he advocated that Belarus should now be eligible to nominate its candidate for a new secretary general, as it is next, after Armenia, in alphabetical order. It would make little sense to install another candidate from Armenia, who would serve for only a year, Nazarbayev posited.

On November 12, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with the Azerbaijani ambassador to Minsk, in anticipation of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s coming trip to Belarus (which occurred on November 19). Reportedly, Lukashenka relayed to Azerbaijan’s envoy certain details of the closed-door discussions held during the recent CSTO Collective Security Council session and concluded that he has “three candidates for the secretary general role from Belarus.” This revelation triggered sharp censure from Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia’s interim prime minister. Pashinyan declared he “will demand clarifications [from Lukashenka] concerning the discussion of internal CSTO affairs with [non-member] Azerbaijan.” Pashinyan noted that the classified format of deliberations between treaty allies is an underlying principle in politico-military organizations, and he criticized Nazarbayev for backing Belarus.

The Belarusian foreign ministry rebuked the new Armenian head of government, declaring, “Perhaps, Pashinyan has not yet realized that the rules of so-called street democracy are not acceptable in big politics”. In turn, Pashinyan heatedly alluded to Lukashenka’s regime being a “dictatorship” and virtually accused Belarus of explicitly colluding with Azerbaijan against Armenia.

Concurrently, Armenia’s acting Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan asserted that the premature recall of Armenia’s representative from the top CSTO post “does not mean that another Armenian official loses the legitimate right to occupy the vacant position”. Mnatsakanyan later added that the alliance’s normative regulations refer to member states rather than to individuals, and hence “Armenia is eager” to fill the vacant secretary general post with a “relevant candidate”. This statement implies Yerevan may seek to apply its veto or even threaten to pull out of the CSTO altogether. Separately augmented by the increasingly ambivalent Russia-Belarus relationship Armenia’s growing boldness to take firm positions regarding its national interests may escalate the inter-state frictions apparent within the Moscow-led regionalist structures.

Almost none of the CSTO members consented to Armenia’s new candidate for secretary general - conspicuously, including Russia. On one hand, Moscow’s stance may have been driven by a desire to “punish” Yerevan for the detention and prosecution of Yuri Khachaturov - who is loyal to Putin - as well as for Pashinyan’s bold rhetoric more generally. But on the other hand, Moscow may want to position Stanislav Zas, Belarus’s Security Council secretary, to take the reins of the CSTO as its secretary general. Some Belarusian experts believe that this would provide the Kremlin additional leverage over Minsk considering Zas’s (widely deemed Lukashenka’s “valuable asset”) consistent efforts to successfully impede Russia’s ability to boost its military presence and influence in Belarus.

The fact that neutral Azerbaijan appears to exercise more influence within the CSTO than member Armenia highlights the systemic problems inside this organization. Moscow, with its regional military infrastructure and post-colonial attitudes, is the only factor uniting the alliance’s member states, which all have contrasting interests and values. As an institutional vehicle for legitimizing Russia’s self-declared zone of privileged influence over the post-Soviet space, the CSTO lacks both common values and a shared strategic vision to unite its members as well as ensure internal cohesion. The persistent crises amongst its members have come to epitomize the profound unsuitability of the CSTO as a regional stabilizing platform and have further degraded its international credibility.

The rhetoric coming from Armenia’s political elite suggests Yerevan is determined to turn the page on its post-Soviet political era, which heretofore had been marked by an oligarchic-leaning, corrupt autocracy and subservience vis-à-vis Russia. That domestic political shift in Armenia, combined with the unrelenting disputes inside the CSTO (as described above), are progressively turning the organization into a “pseudo-alliance” with only nominal commitments by its members to defend one another in the event of outside aggression. Russia’s more than $5 billion worth of lethal arms sales to Azerbaijan, to the detriment of its CSTO ally Armenia - along with similar actions by Belarus and Kazakhstan - certainly buttress this argument, especially from Yerevan’s point of view. Therefore, the eventual dissolution of the CSTO may be just a matter of time. In such a case, Armenia might find it reasonable to leave this club, though almost certainly while seeking to maintain its strategic bilateral link to Russia.