Vienna, July 30 – Yerevan’s announcement that it will take part in military exercises this fall under NATO’s Partnership for Peace program underscores an important and to Moscow disturbing trend: Public statements to the contrary, all former Soviet republics now prefer to cooperate with the Western alliance rather than with the Russian Federation.
In some cases, Sobkorr.ru’s Yuri Gladysh says, they have made this choice with enthusiasm believing that it is better to have a big friend far away than a big friend next door, but in others – and that seems to be the case with Armenia – they have chosen NATO over Russia as “the lesser of two evils” (www.sobkorr.ru/news/488ED1F94EA6D.html).
On Monday, Armenia’s defense ministry announced that NATO’s September 20-21 Partnership for Peace exercises will take place on Armenian territory and that Armenian troops will participate in them, a stinging defeat for Moscow that has long viewed Armenia as its closest ally in what many Russians call “the near abroad.”
But Russian officials should not have been surprised. On the one hand, the Sobkorr.ru site reports, more than half of all Armenians now have a positive view of the Western alliance – some 52 percent in a recent poll – with only 35 percent having a negative and thus pleasing-to-Moscow attitude.
And on the other, in recent months, Yerevan has been involved in exploratory conversations with Turkey despite the centrality of the events of 1915 in the life of the Armenian nation. Indeed, Gladysh says, were it not for that historical memory, “Armenian would already long ago been among those countries oriented toward close cooperation with [NATO].
Given Armenia’s decision, the Sobkorr.ru analyst says, it is time to “honestly answer a simple question – which of the former union republics and now members of the ephemeral Commonwealth [of Independent States] is sincerely striking toward a new union ‘under the canopy of fraternal bayonets’ of a powerful Russia?”
Most observers, Gladysh continues, include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Armenia as the most likely candidates for such a “new Union.” But an honest answer, he suggests, shows that “not one of the countries enumerated above is interested in any union on a political basis, especially, alas, under the aegis of Russia.”
Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan, he says, simply don’t need it and are increasingly directing their attention to their neighbors in Southeast Asia. Belarus is better off as an independent state so that it “preserves the possibility of successfully converting into real capital its favorable geographic position.” For those three, “Russia is not a subject of interest.”
Indeed, Gladysh suggests, Russia has “not been able to present to its neighbors” any attractive vision for their future relationship, and so they like all the other “newly independent states” are looking to the defense alliance that most Moscow officials still view as ineluctably hostile to Russia.
Armenia, he continues, “occupies in this list a special place. Despite longstanding ties with Russia and a sense that Moscow is its protector against Turkey and Azerbaijan, “this small Caucasus republic is ‘the weak link’ in the modest ranks of [the Russian Federation’s] allies.” Yerevan’s decision shows that its “patience is ending” with Moscow’s “loud but empty declarations” and that Armenia cannot expect anything from Russia. Moreover, while Armenia does not have a land border with Russia, it does have borders in the south with “an active member of NATO.”
Consequently, Gladysh concludes, “Armenia willy nilly is choosing the lesser of two evils.” And in this case, he says, “‘the lesser evil’ turns out to be close [and] constructive cooperation with the West” and with the West’s most important alliance – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“What an infuriating irony of Fate!” Gladysh says. A great deal had to be done or left undone for “Armenia to begin to turn away from its historical ally and direct its vision to its long-time opponent.” But that is what Russia has succeeded in doing, a tragedy from her point of view but quite possibly a breakthrough to a better future for Yerevan.