After enduring three years of regional instability, Armenia, a long-standing ally of Russia, is diversifying its choice of partners. Armenia’s historical alignment with Russia dates back to before World War I when it saw Russia as its sole hope for survival against the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal onslaught. This alliance only deepened when Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, as it sought a protector against its formidable neighbors, Turkey and Azerbaijan. This partnership remained stable until recent years, when dissatisfaction with Russia’s actions during Armenia’s conflict with Azerbaijan gave rise to feelings of abandonment. Consequently, Armenia has begun exploring alternative sources of protection, with a particular interest in strengthening its ties with the United States.
Robert Nicholson, president and founder of the Philos Project, an organization dedicated to safeguarding Christians worldwide, asserts that Armenia’s leadership, under the Pashinyan regime, is eager to shift away from Russia and towards the West, or at least to establish a more balanced relationship with Moscow. Nicholson contends that Armenia’s perception of Russia as an unreliable protector was exacerbated by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and his failure to lift the nine-month Azerbaijani blockade on Karabakh. He also highlights the cultural and political affinities between Armenia and the West, especially since the 2018 Velvet Revolution.
Recent developments have illuminated the growing tensions between Russia and Armenia. The Russian foreign ministry summoned the Armenian ambassador to express its displeasure with Armenia’s “series of unfriendly steps.” Among these actions were Armenia’s provision of humanitarian aid to Ukraine and an upcoming joint military exercise with American troops, involving 175 Armenian and 85 American soldiers. Nicholson points out that Armenia has previously engaged in exercises with American troops, even contributing troops to the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. These activities occurred during a period of relatively amicable relations with Russia.
Nicholson underscores that Armenia’s outreach to the West is not intended as a deliberate affront to Russia. Instead, it signifies Armenia’s engagement with the international community on its own terms. He argues that it would be irrational for Armenia to antagonize Russia deliberately, given its precarious geographical position as a small, landlocked country sandwiched between two formidable regional powers. Any perceived slights against Russia are more likely the result of misinterpretation, as Armenia’s stance on the current geopolitical landscape is more nuanced.
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Furthermore, it is essential to recognize that Armenian public sentiment is not solely directed against Russia. The European Union has also disappointed the Armenian populace. The term “value-based relationship” has become a subject of mockery among Armenians, following European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s use of the term during a visit to Azerbaijan. Her favorable stance toward Azerbaijan, motivated by a desire to secure non-Russian oil, has left Armenians disillusioned. Additionally, the contrasting reactions of the West to the Ukraine conflict and the Armenian-Azerbaijani war have fueled bitterness among Armenians.
There is also the issue of the limitations of U.S. support in the region. The cautionary example of Georgia, where U.S. diplomats advise against overt overtures to avoid antagonizing Moscow, serves as a reminder. Overestimating Western support led to a brief yet devastating war in 2008—a lesson Armenia is keen to avoid replicating.
Meanwhile, tensions between Yerevan and Baku are escalating once more, with both sides amassing military forces. The official believes that a revival of the 2020 conflict is probable, contingent on Baku’s calculations of the sustainability of another invasion. Given the current trajectory, the official warns that such an outcome may indeed be in the cards.