Armenia’s New Security Architecture: Russia as Geopolitical Bodyguard

Illustration by Armine Shahbazyan.

The tectonic shift in the realities that shape Armenia’s security infrastructure have produced two tiers of developments: one that requires a domestic reconfiguration of the country’s security architecture, and another that leverages the Russian security alliance as a geopolitical safeguard. Prior to the 2020 Artsakh War, only the domestic security configurations were envisioned to address the security complexities involving Artsakh, while Russian security guarantees were specific only to the Republic of Armenia.This conceptual doctrine, however, has been altered in the new post-war armature, as Russia’s presence in Artsakh may now be reconfigured into Armenia’s broader security architecture. Qualifying the Russian presence in Artsakh as an extension of Russia’s military presence in Armenia, regardless of the differences in mandate, Armenia’s security policy must undergo a paradigm shift: Russia must be leveraged as Armenia’s “geopolitical bodyguard.”

This proposed security doctrine, as an extension of the dire need to secure Armenia’s physical security, is loosely designed upon the United States’ relationship with Japan and South Korea after WWII. The underlying objective is to mitigate the heavy cost of sustaining the country’s security architecture by designating components of physical security to a regional hegemon, reducing costs and allowing the allocation of surplus resources to domestic growth and development. In the long-term, this can lead to immense domestic benefits.

It is a foregone conclusion that Armenia, by itself, would become a complete pariah in the region, considering the Azeri-Turkish military alliance, its continued vertical military integration under the concept of “one nation-two states,” and the irredentist policies of both actors. The empirical and material realities, especially by any measurement of power that may be analytically utilized,[1] attests to a considerable disparity in power, whether militarily, economically, or diplomatically. Compounding this discourse on Armenia’s physical security is the further disparity in demographics, both the sheer numerical considerations, as well as the proportion of youth to the broader population, with Armenia’s low birth rates lagging behind its two aggressive neighbors.[2] The collective picture is that of a highly ambitious nation, but one that is attempting to crawl out of a deep hole, a herculean task that is obstructed by decades of underdevelopment, mismanagement, systemic corruption, regional fracturing, continuous war-footing, and currently, the complexities of a post-war society.

The broader discourse, to this end, boils down to two general frameworks: 1) In order for Armenia to forfend its physical security, it must have the economic, military, structural, institutional and collective power-capabilities to be able to do so; and 2) How can Armenia achieve this if it substantively lacks the prerequisite economic, military, structural, institutional and collective power-capabilities?

There has been extensive discourse on what Armenia’s post-war security architecture should look like, yet there is an oceanic difference between the normative premise of should and the concrete, empirical process of how. Indeed, Armenia should develop a more powerful and mobile military, with advanced drone and anti-drone technologies. Indeed, Armenia should have a more robust mobilization process, a well-developed professionalized reserve force and a highly efficient military infrastructure. Armenia should develop a potent military-industrial complex, where domestic technological and arms manufacturing will lead to self-reliance. Indeed, Armenia should become so powerful that its physical security should no longer be a subject of discourse, but rather, a subject of authority in the regional balance of power. There isn’t much debate on the assumptions of what Armenia should do or should become; however, a more prescient axiom presents itself: there is a fine line between wishful thinking and reality. In essence, we know what should be done, but the more important and difficult questions are the howsHow can Armenia proceed in attaining all the necessity prerequisites that will guarantee its physical security? How can Armenia develop a more powerful and mobile military, with advanced technology, when it lacks the infrastructure and the resources to do so? How can Armenia develop a highly efficient military infrastructure, when it lacks the sufficient means to do so? How can Armenia develop a potent military-industrial complex, when it lacks the capital, expertise and infrastructure to undertake research and development? In this context, before conceptual and even policy discourse can be entertained on the ideas of what Armenia should do or should become, we must confront the material and foundational limitations. In more simple terms, the cart cannot be placed before the horse.


Armenia’s Limitations

In this context, any discourse on Armenia’s physical security must begin with addressing the institutional, infrastructural and material limitations that Armenia suffers from, and more importantly, develop policies and programs to alleviate these limitations and thus enhance the substructural capabilities of the country. Armenia’s physical security is inherently hinged on Armenia’s economic growth and development, and this, in turn, is heavily contingent on the political, social and institutional health of the country. There can be no discourse on how things should be, when the resources and capabilities that are prerequisites for such demands are simply lacking or underdeveloped. So, how can Armenia go about developing and strengthening its economic, social and political foundations while at the same time developing its military capabilities that are on par with its neighbors? It cannot… not at this stage.

Since the latter is contingent on the former, Armenia must first develop economically before it can sufficiently develop militarily. How can Armenia address this conundrum? Fundamentally, Armenia needs to reconfigure the political economy of its security architecture: utilize its security alliance with Russia, through a mechanism of burden-sharing, where Russia’s geopolitical interests are aligned with Armenia’s security interests. In this formulation, Russia assumes a healthy portion of the costs (not simply monetary, but in manpower, military resources, logistics, etc.) for Armenia’s security architecture, justified through a policy of burden-sharing and mutual adjustment of interests. Further, considering the relative integration of the two militaries, especially in Armenia’s air defense sector, the broadening of this security framework clearly aligns with the interests of both actors. Loosely similar to America’s guarantees of security to Japan and South Korea after WWII, the prevailing logic presupposes that, by concentrating and allocating much of the state’s resources to domestic and economic development, and thus curtailing the degree of resource-allocation toward physical security, the “protected” state may exponentially speed up growth and development. The payoff, of course, is the abdication of regional influence by the “protected” state to the acting hegemon; however, considering the alignment of regional interests between the “protected” state and the hegemon, the act is not so much an abnegation, but rather a reification of the geopolitical realities.


False Sense of Security

An honest self-reflection clearly demonstrates that Armenian society, for the last three decades, abdicated economic and political progress for a false sense of security. The ideational prowess of nationalism, the misleading logic of forcing peace upon the enemy and having to deal with, in return, the policies of coercion and provocation[3] by the enemy, culminated in a collective security failure. Not only was Armenia not ready for war in 2020, it turns out that Armenia had not been ready for war for quite some time. Armenia’s security policies appear to have been driven more by ideational boasting than the facts on the ground; more by regime security than national security; and more by falsely convincing the population of its military strength than actually having developed such strength. For these reasons, aside from the need for economic growth to serve as a prerequisite for military advancement, Armenia must, in a parallel fashion, also undertake robust institutional and structural reforms within its security apparatus.

This, in turn, brings us back to the lingering question at hand: How can Armenia implement institutional reforms in its security apparatus when it is consistently at a war footing and thus lacks the political will and the material means to do so? As is becoming clear, not only does Armenia need research and development, a military-industrial complex and a highly-efficient military, it actually needs to reform the institutional and infrastructural factors that can allow for such developments to take place. The issue, then, is not only specific to the political economy of national security, but also to the reforming and strengthening of the state’s institutions and the extent to which it can effectively implement the security architecture. The institution of the army itself must undergo extensive reforms, ranging from its organizational structure to operational capabilities to technological advancement to modern armament to the very need for a more intellectual military brass and a rearticulation of Armenia’s outdated military doctrines. As the predominant state structure that is responsible for the physical security of the nation, Armenia’s military must not only be developed through economic and technological resources, it must also undergo crucial reforms that will both mitigate the existing shortcomings and also produce outcomes that reinforce the collective strengthening of the country’s security infrastructure. In the current security and economic conditions that Armenia finds itself in, these important changes cannot sufficiently take place. Its recourse, then, must be a recalibration of its security policies, the reconfiguration of Russia as a burden-sharing ally in its security architecture, and the incremental process of intensely concentrating on domestic progress, economic growth and institutional reforms.


Abdication of Sovereignty?

There are, of course, going to be certain questions or concerns presented by pundits or analysts who would view this new security architecture as being an abdication of Armenian sovereignty, or the strengthening of Russia’s hold over Yerevan, or simply the formation of a dependency structure that makes Armenia a chattel of Russia. While such concerns may very well be genuine, they are, however, inconsistent with the empirical developments. For one, Russia’s military presence in Armenia and the region is a reality, one that is above and beyond what any regional actor can do. In this context, a pragmatic consideration of the power configurations must inherently trump any ideational precepts that speak of preferences. Whether any of the three South Caucasus states prefer it or not, Russian presence in the region is a foregone conclusion. Second, utilizing the existing geopolitical realities to maximize benefit remains the most tenable option for Armenia. In this context, it is not a question of what Armenia wants or prefers, but rather what Armenia is able to sufficiently achieve or acquire given the circumstances. And third, there is a prevailing misconception that Russia seeks to intervene in the domestic affairs of post-Soviet states and thus control or dominate domestic politics. Pursuant to this logic, by reconfiguring Russia into Armenia’s security architecture, critics of the idea may contend that Armenia is inviting Russian interference and subsequent dominance of official Yerevan. Fortunately, scholarly research and empirical findings refute such presuppositions.

The body of scholarship on Russia’s behavior in the post-Soviet space demonstrates three general patters: 1) Russia seeks intervention in the domestic affairs of states within its sphere of influence only if the policies of such states conflict with Russia’s national interests;[4] 2) Russia is a pragmatic rather than an ideological actor, and to this end, it does not have regime preferences but rather a preference for alignment of interests;[5] and 3) Russian interference in the domestic affairs of post-Soviet states have actually been limited due to risk propensity. In qualifying the empirical data, Russo-Armenian relations preclude Russian interference into the affairs of official Yerevan.


Russia’s Red Lines

Research findings demonstrate that Russian interference into the domestic politics of states within its “near abroad” are specific to sets of circumstances that are methodically defined by Russia’s national and geopolitical interests. Observable analytical patterns show that Russia’s so-called red lines for undertaking direct or military intervention in its spheres of influence are met by two conditions. Both conditions must be simultaneously met to qualify for Russian intervention. First, Russia is more likely to directly intervene or act militarily if its vital national interests are attacked, threatened or severely challenged. And second, Russian intervention is more likely if a given country within its sphere of influence, regardless of democratic breakthrough or through so-called “color revolutions,” seeks to “escape” Russia’s sphere in order to join a “hostile alliance.”[6] In this context, Russian intervention is context-specific, must meet a certain threshold, and must outweigh the risks of non-intervention. Interestingly, both the Russian-Georgian War of 2008 and Russia’s post-Maidan invasion of Ukraine met the two conditions stipulated by the red line threshold. In the case of the former, Georgia’s Rose Revolution and its domestic democratization was not inherently problematic for the Kremlin, but Tbilisi’s desire to remove Georgia from the Russian sphere and immerse itself into a “hostile alliance” (NATO) did cross Russia’s red line. For this reason, Russian military intervention remained specific to geopolitical concerns and the Kremlin’s perception of Georgian behavior as being a direct threat to Russian security. Similarly, Russia’s post-Maidan military intervention in Ukraine was prefaced by Kiev’s objective of escaping the Russian sphere and joining what the Kremlin qualified as a hostile sphere.

The circumstances concerning Armenia lack such correlative relations, for Armenia has never expressed desires of “escaping” Russia’s sphere of influence, nor has it advanced policies or engaged in behavior that has threatened or challenged Russia’s national or geopolitical interests. Consequently, analytical findings assert that “color revolutions” are “not enough by themselves to prompt Russia to stage either a covert or overt intervention,” and nor does Russia “intervene militarily just because a post-Soviet country is undergoing democratization.” These findings are consistent with Russia’s restraint regarding Armenia after the Velvet Revolution, as well as the absence of Russian intervention in Kyrgyzstan after the Tulip Revolution of 2005. To this end, considering Russia’s preference to not interfere in the domestic affairs of post-Soviet states, minus instances where the specified red lines are crossed, the assumption that Russia would intervene in Armenia’s domestic politics if incorporated into the latter’s security architecture lacks substance and evidence.

The alignment of mutual interests, Armenia’s acquiescence to Russia’s geopolitical policies and Russia’s obligingness to guarantee Armenia’s physical security, provide fertile grounds to reconfigure Armenia’s security architecture without developing concerns of potential Russian interference into Armenia’s domestic affairs. This, in essence, will qualify Russia as Armenia’s “geopolitical bodyguard,” allowing for burden-sharing and integration of military resources. Concomitantly, this will also allow Yerevan to reallocate resources into implementing growth-inducing policies, institutional reforms, political and economic progress, and the very foundations for sustainable development. In sum, the long-term trajectory of constructing a strong and secure Armenia remains heavily reliant on maintaining peace in the foreseeable future, rebuilding Armenia’s economic and security infrastructure, and upon the fruition of these goals, becoming a self-reliant regional power. For this process, at least in the immediate future, to cogently have a chance of gaining momentum, the presence of a “geopolitical bodyguard” is a necessary condition, for which the 2020 Artsakh War demonstrated there is only one candidate.



1-Michael Beckley, “The Power of Nations: Measuring What Matters.” International Security, 43 (2), Fall 2018.
2-Research demonstrates that demographic transitions influence the likelihood of interstate conflict, where countries with large numbers of young people as a proportion of the total population are more prone to war than societies with an older population. See Brooks et al., “The Demographic Transition Theory of War: Why Young Societies Are Conflict Prone and Old Societies Are the Most Peaceful.” International Security, 43 (3), Winter 2019.
3-Allan Dafoe et al. “Coercion and Provocation.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 65 (2-3), September 2020.
4-Michael McFaul, “Putin, Putinism, and the Domestic Determinants of Russian Foreign Policy.” International Security, 45 (2), Fall 2020.
5-Lucan Way, “The Limits of Autocracy Promotion: The Case of Russia in the ‘Near Abroad.’” European Journal of Political Research. 54 (4), 2015.
6-Simon Sardazhyan, “Armenia: Why Has Vladimir Putin Not Intervened So Far and Will He? Russia Matters. (April) Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Harvard Kennedy School. 2018.