The United States has taken a surprising step by announcing its upcoming military exercises with Armenia. This move has raised concerns in Russia, a long-time supporter of Armenia and a fellow member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The exercise, named “Eagle Partner 2023,” while expected to be relatively small, is seen as another indication of Armenia’s shifting away from Moscow’s influence due to the Kremlin’s failure to resolve the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The Armenian Defense Ministry has stated that the Eagle Partner 2023 exercise, scheduled from September 11 to 20, aims to prepare its forces for international peacekeeping missions, focusing on stabilization operations during peacekeeping tasks involving conflicting parties. The exercise will involve 85 American soldiers and 175 Armenian personnel, with the U.S. troops being members of the Kansas National Guard, which has a 20-year history of training alongside Armenian forces. Notably, heavy weaponry will not be part of this exercise.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov expressed Russia’s concerns about this development, particularly given the current situation. Russia has traditionally held significant influence in the South Caucasus region, where Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia emerged as independent states following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russia maintains a military base in Armenia, and Armenia is a member of the CSTO, which is led by the Kremlin.
However, tensions between Moscow and Yerevan have escalated due to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Nagorno-Karabakh, recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan, is inhabited mainly by ethnic Armenians and governed by the self-declared Republic of Artsakh. The conflict saw a major clash in 2020, resulting in an Azerbaijani victory. Russian peacekeepers were subsequently deployed to maintain the ceasefire, but they have been unable to prevent renewed tensions and maintain access to the crucial Lachin Corridor, a road linking Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. The corridor’s closure has led to significant food shortages in the region.
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Recent developments include the removal of the head of Russia’s peacekeeping force, Colonel General Alexander Lentsov, due to tensions over the corridor. This is the second commander change in 2023, following Major General Andrei Volkov’s replacement in April.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan admitted that Armenia had relied too heavily on Russian protection, highlighting the need for diversifying security partnerships. Pashinyan’s measures to reduce dependence on Russia have included rejecting CSTO exercises on Armenian soil, refraining from sending troops to alliance drills in Belarus, and refusing to sign a joint alliance declaration that failed to condemn Azerbaijani incursions into Armenian territory.
Armenia’s recent arms purchases from France also signal a shift towards Western partnerships. Traditionally, Armenia has primarily relied on Russia for military acquisitions. However, Armenia’s defeat by technologically superior Azerbaijani forces in 2020 underscored the need for modernizing its military capabilities.
Additionally, Armenia’s proposal to ratify the Rome Statute, the foundational document of the International Criminal Court, reflects its growing alignment with Western values. The court’s issuance of an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in connection with charges of forced mass deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia further strained bilateral relations, with Russia deeming the plan “absolutely unacceptable.”
In another apparent move away from Russian influence, Anna Hakobyan, the wife of Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, is set to attend an aid summit in Kyiv organized by Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. This participation underscores Armenia’s evolving foreign policy orientation, which increasingly aligns with Western interests.