Armenia has often acted like Russia in both backing territorial integrity of states and backing the ‘self-determination’ of the Karabakh region in Azerbaijan.
A peace treaty would end Armenia’s isolation and dependency on Russia by opening its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. The peace dividend would bring benefits to Armenia in the economic, energy and trade fields to everybody in the South Caucasus and the broader region.
Since the 2014 crisis, Armenia has used Russia’s support for the ‘self-determination’ of Crimea to justify the same right for Karabakh; in other words, Armenia has supported Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukrainian territory. In 2022, Armenia backed away from supporting illegal invasion of Ukraine and began abstaining in votes at the UN.
Armenia is therefore pursuing a highly contradictory foreign policy.
On the one hand Armenia applauds separatism in Crimea while on the other, the same country’s Ministry of Foreign of Foreign Affairs (MFA) refuses to back Russia’s occupation of other Ukrainian territories. Perhaps Armenia diplomats and intelligence officers were on extended vacation since 2014 and this is the reason, they failed to notice Russia first invaded in 2014 – not in 2022 – when it occupied half of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s 2014 invasion and occupation of the Donbas did not for some reason register with Yerevan’s MFA while this year’s Russian invasion and occupation did. Armenia never halted its support for Russian-backed Crimean separatism in Ukraine while at the same time Yerevan ignored Russian-backed separatism in the Donbas.
In international law the concept of self-determination only applies to states and not to territories within states. In addition, the Soviet Union’s republican constitutions only permitted republics – not autonomous republics – to secede (i.e., have self-determination).
Similarly, the UN definition of self-determination only applied to colonies and not parts of their territories; for example, the secession of Biafra from Nigeria in the late 1960s was opposed by the UN. Putin made the nonsensical justification of Crimea’s secession from Ukraine by referring to the UN Charter ‘which speaks of the right of nations to self-determination.’ Armenian leaders seem to argue the same mythical right.
There are two major reasons why the Armenian MFA pursues a contradictory foreign policy. The first is Russian influence and the second is because of the widespread influence of the nationalist Armenian diaspora.
The first, Russia’s contradictory foreign policy is inherited from the Soviet Union which was a leading supporter of the UN enshrining the concept of the right of self-determination. Moscow promoted self-determination in Western European colonies while rejecting any notion this concept could be applied to the non-Russian republics of the Soviet Union, let alone autonomous republics in the RSFSR.
President Vladimir Putin’s Russia follows the same path. The Kremlin backs self-determination outside Russia in Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine but denies self-determination within the Russian Federation to Chechnya, Tatarstan, Kalmykia, Buryatia, Karelia and elsewhere.
In continuing to back ‘self-determination’ for Karabakh, the Armenian MFA upholds the Soviet and Russian mocking of international law.
In all four cases – Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine – separatism was artificially supported by the Soviet and Russian army and secret services and Russian nationalist mercenaries. Once the conflict was fanned and underway, Russia demanded the right to militarily intervene with so-called ‘peacekeeping’ forces. Russia has never promoted peacekeeping as this would lead to the resolution of the conflict and end the necessity for the stationing of Russian peacekeeping forces.
The second, the nationalist Armenian diaspora has always had strong influence over the Armenian MFA. Nationalist Armenian emigres are especially numerous and active in the US and France where they have had had the greatest influence. The US and especially France sided with Armenia in the Minsk Group set up by the CSCE (now OSCE) in 1992 to find a negotiated settlement of the Karabakh conflict.
In lobbying for ‘self-determination’, the nationalist diaspora is supporting pro-Russian forces in Armenia who have led street protests since May 1 against the Nikol Pashinyan governments attempts at accepting Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. The protests are led by discredited separatist leader and former Armenian President and Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan who supports Armenia joining the Russian-Belarusian union.
In supporting the pro-Russian opposition against the EU-brokered peace talks, the Armenian nationalist diaspora is acting on behalf of the Kremlin who see the treaty as a threat to their sphere of influence in the South Caucasus. If discredited former Armenian politicians such as Kocharyan return to power, they will lose Armenia’s independence by increasing Russia’s control. In contrast, if Pashinyan stays the course and signs a peace treaty, Armenia will no longer be dependent on Russia.
The US and EU should provide strong support to Pashinyan’s embattled government which seeks to preserve and diversify Armenia’s independence and end decades of conflict in the South Caucasus. In doing so, the US and France should recognise the pro-Russian Armenian nationalist diaspora as working contrary to Western interests in the region. With Pashinyan, Armenia will stay a free country but with Kocharyan Armenia will join Belarus as a Russian colony.