Aug 29, 2010

Armenia – Moscow’s outpost in the South Caucasus

The presidents of Russia and Armenia have signed an agreement extending the presence of Russian forces at the military base in Gyumri until 2044. However, at this juncture the agreement is not the most pressing issues: whether we want to admit or not, Russia has finally won in the South Caucasus, and the gradual ousting of the West from serious strategic interests in the region is now only a matter of time.

Moscow and Yerevan signed an agreement back in March 1995 allowing Russian forces to be stationed at the base in Armenia for 25 years. According to Paragraph 3 of the old agreement, the Russian military base was obliged to protect Armenia’s security along with Russian interests along the border of the former Soviet Union. It means that Russian soldiers located in Gyumri took responsibility for the protection of Armenia’s territory from Iran and Turkey - the latter a NATO-member.

This paragraph has been removed from the new agreement signed last week and, according to the new fifth protocol, the Gyumri Russian military base will now be ready to avert any threat that Armenia faces from either Turkey and Iran, or other post-Soviet neighboring states – Georgia and Azerbaijan. Read More..

The importance of this clause cannot be understated. Officials in Baku may forget the possibility of the return of Nagorno Karabakh and other Azeri territories by force as Russia will now stand by Armenia overtly.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in Yerevan, that within the framework of the ODKB collective security agreement, Russia assumes the responsibility to come to the aid of any of its member states. As Armenia is part of this agreement, an attack on it will be perceived as an aggression towards all member states and the collective security mechanism will be launched.

Does this sound familiar? For the last two decades, Georgia has been trying (at least in principle) to join the NATO for this very reason: so that in case of an attack on Georgia, article five of the North-Atlantic Alliance Charter will become operational, an attack on any NATO-member state would be perceived as an attack on NATO and military countermeasures from all NATO countries would be launched.

For Georgia this security guarantee has remained at the level of words and promises. But our neighbor Armenia, has been able to ensure a similar and much more effective mechanism for its security, through the opposite camp to NATO – ODKB. This has not only clarified the picture for Azerbaijan (for the next several years, at least) but the situation around Georgia has become even more tense.

If the Russian military base in Gyumri is obliged to protect Armenia’s interests with regards to any neighboring country, will Armenia itself - as an ODKB member - not be obliged to provide the same support to Russian military units in the South Caucasus? If Russia resumes military actions against Georgia tomorrow, will the Kremlin not use the capacity of the Russian base in Gyumri? Will it not order the 18 Russian MiG-29 bombardiers located at the Yerevan-Yuzhni military airport into Georgian skies, or will the Russian S-300V and Armenian S-300PS zenith-missile batteries not start controlling and targeting Georgian airspace from the south? And will the Russian armored column not approach the Armenian-Georgian border checkpoint at Sadakhlo, as it did during the war of August 2008?

Whether we want to believe it or not, as an ODKB member, Armenia, with its new bilateral agreement becomes obliged to fight next to Russia. The most unfortunate thing is that this will require a complete revision of bilateral relations between Georgia and Armenia and the signing of a new mutual agreement.

It is not a secret that Georgia has tried to keep certain balance with regard to the frozen conflict between neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. This standpoint is in Georgian interests as well, as open support for one side or another may result in armed riots in Akhalkalaki region or disturbances among the Azeri population in Shida Kartli.

However, with its recent agreement, officials in Yerevan have made a very challenging move, they have violated the existing balance, which will probably lead to greater links in the sphere of security between Tbilisi and Baku, especially given that a large proportion of Georgian and Azeri territories are currently occupied and that both countries now face similar problems.