After the intense April confrontation on the Karabakh-Azerbaijan Contact Line last year, the Armenian public expressed dissatisfaction with Russian policy in the region concerning selling offensive weapons to Azerbaijan. The first major military-technical contracts between Moscow and Baku were signed during Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency (2008-2012). In that period, the Armenian side pretended that nothing had happened. Armenia was in a state of political “intoxication” after the agreement extending Russia’s use of the 102nd military base in Gyumri until 2044.
Initially, Russia transferred S-300 PMU-2 Favorit air defense system to Azerbaijan, which was originally intended for Iran. After that, Baku received 94 units of T-90S tanks in the most advanced serial configuration, including the new modification of the Shtora electro-optical active protection system and target tracking machine. Besides that, Azerbaijan got 100 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, 18 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers and six units of heavy flamethrower systems “Solntsepek.”
The problem is that the Armenian side, being a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), was aware of the fact that Moscow was actively developing its military-political dialogue with Baku. Why did Yerevan not take appropriate measures? Perhaps, Armenian authorities believed the assurances by the Russian side that these weapons would not be used against Armenia and the Armenian people. Moreover, many high-ranking officials in Moscow expressed an opinion that the sale of arms to Azerbaijan stemmed from the interests of Armenia. They explained it with the fact that “weapon” is an element of political influence that allows Russia to receive instruments of pressure on official Baku. It is noteworthy that the same officials made sharply contradictory statements. On the one hand, it was argued that the armament of Azerbaijan is a political factor; on the other hand, they stated that it was simply about business that brought substantial revenue to the Russian budget.
Later, as the Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev who started the military-technical dialogue with Azerbaijan, repeated that Moscow would not allow using Russian military equipment against Armenia. He also added that Russia’s refusal to supply Baku with equipment would lead to the strengthening of other external factors. Experts that are close to the Kremlin specified the Prime Minister’s statement, noting that Turkey, Israel, and the West were ready to take Russia’s place. The Armenian public calmed down after an extensive information campaign. However, after the April War, Russia could not provide any clear explanations for why Azerbaijan used the heavy offensive systems “Solntsepek” and “Smerch.” In general, this war illustrated that Moscow did not have total influence on Baku, which Russia had been talking about for the past six years.
With regard to the real policy, it is hard to accuse Russia of dishonest behavior towards its Armenian partners. For many centuries, Russian royal families pursued policies based on the interests of their state, without making any choice between certain countries and peoples. Nowadays, little has changed. Russia believes that Yerevan is in full military and political dependence and the Armenian orientation to Moscow is uncontested. Indeed, Armenia is a member of all pro-Russian integration projects: CSTO, the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEC). Unlike Kazakhstan and Belarus – other members of these blocs – Armenia has consistently supported Russia at the bilateral level and in the framework of international organizations. However, it would be absurd to blame Moscow for such a loyal attitude on the part of Yerevan. Politics does not admit such narratives as “should behave in an allied way,” “fraternal peoples” and “justice and devotion.”
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (second from right) inspects Russian-made S-300 PMU-2 Favorit anti-aircraft missile systems at a military base in November 2015.
The Gabala Radar Station had a range of up to 6,000 kilometers and was designed to detect missile launches as far as the Indian Ocean. The radar’s surveillance covered Iran, Turkey, India, Iraq and the entire Middle East. The Radar Station hosted about 1,000 Russian servicemen and about 500 Azerbaijanis.
Being aware of Armenia’s dependence, Moscow seeks to strengthen and expand political dialogue with Azerbaijan who conducts a clear anti-Russian policy. For example, Baku increased the annual rent for the Russian side in the Gabala Radar Station from 10 to 300 million dollars (the radar station was built by the Soviet Union in 1985 in the Kabala district of Azerbaijan SSR and was operated by the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces) which led to the eventual closure of the facility in 2012. In addition, unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan is actively building up military-technical relations with Turkey, a member of the NATO bloc that is hostile to Russia. It is with this Azerbaijan that Moscow is developing serious strategic relations of a long-term nature. What is the reason for that?
In fact, Azerbaijan simply has a clear and consistent political position, which is communicated to the vast Russian socio-political environment by all possible ways and means. Suffice it to say that such influential politicians as Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Curator of the Russian military-industrial complex, and Leonid Slutsky, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the State Duma, lobby for the interests of Baku in Russia.
The Role of the Armenian Community
For a long time, Armenia has sent people to Russia who could not promote the country’s national interests effectively. Representatives of Armenian diplomatic missions have always been several times weaker than the ones of Azerbaijan. In turn, the Armenian Diaspora in Russia could not play the role of a lobbyist for the interests of official Yerevan. Incidentally, the criticism of Russian policies was automatically transferred to the two million-strong Armenian community. Many experts in Armenia condemned Diaspora organizations because they could not influence the policy of Russia. However, such accusations are groundless. The fact is that the specifics of the Russian Federation does not allow any particular ethnic community to influence the process of making important political decisions. And this applies not only to Armenians but other ethnic groups as well. For instance, representatives of the Jewish Diaspora are among the richest people in Russia. However, this fact does not help the local Diaspora to block Moscow’s actions that harm the interests of Israel. Moreover, one should not forget a crucial detail – Diaspora organizations in Russia, the United States or France are made up of citizens of these countries and will be used as an instrument of influence of Moscow, Washington or Paris on the country of origin. Similarly, the money of Moscow philanthropists Samvel Karapetyan or Ruben Vardanyan is a Russian financial and political factor, not an Armenian one. In other words, we should not overestimate the role of the Armenian communities in the process of lobbying the state interests of Armenia in different parts of the world.
How Does Azerbaijan Work Then?
Many experts mistakenly believe that the Azerbaijani Diaspora plays a serious role in the process of establishing the dialogue between Moscow and Baku. In fact, certain success of Azerbaijan can be explained by a state approach. The Russian politician thinks in state categories and will not discuss the issue of blocking arms supplies to Azerbaijan with a citizen whose country of origin or ethnicity is Armenian, regardless of the wealth and influence of that citizen. Azerbaijan creates and finances non-governmental organizations throughout Russia that are run by Azerbaijani citizens. Meantime, representatives of the ethnic group act just like a political bonus. Any country that strives to achieve success in public lobbying should make its citizens the heads of such organizations, minimizing the risks from possible problems of double loyalty.
To break the situation in our favor, it is necessary to take some significant steps. The first is to move from business orientation to state policy. Besides that, it is necessary to strengthen diplomatic missions with highly professional staff who can comprehend and analyze the processes that occur in Armenian-Russian relations. The second is to abandon the overestimated expectations regarding Armenian Diaspora structures. It is important to take the first steps towards the formation of non-governmental organizations and foundations, which will be financed from Yerevan and will lobby the state’s national interests in Russia. The third is to use our membership in CSTO, the Customs Union, and the EAEC to promote our pragmatic national interests (as Kazakhstan and Belarus do). In general, Armenia has ideal starting positions for active lobbying of its interests in Russia.