Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently admitted that relying solely on Russia for security was a “strategic mistake” for his country. This candid admission has significant implications for Armenia’s foreign policy and regional security dynamics.
For decades, Armenia has been heavily dependent on Russia as its main strategic partner, particularly in matters of defense and security. The two countries have had a long-standing military alliance, with Russia providing arms, military training, and basing rights for its forces in Armenia. This partnership has largely been fueled by Armenia’s historical enmity with neighboring Azerbaijan, with whom it has an unresolved territorial dispute over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
However, the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan exposed the weaknesses of this lopsided security arrangement. In a six-week-long war, Azerbaijan successfully recaptured substantial territories it had lost in the 1990s, and Armenia eventually had to sign a ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia. The outcome of this conflict raised questions about the effectiveness of Armenia’s heavy reliance on its Russian ally. Pashinyan’s acknowledgment of the strategic mistake is therefore a much-needed introspection on the country’s security policy.
Pashinyan’s statement comes as Armenia seeks to diversify its foreign relations and reduce its dependence on Russia. It reflects a broader recalibration of Armenia’s foreign policy orientation towards a more balanced and multi-dimensional approach. This shift is driven by several factors, including geopolitical developments and domestic political considerations.
Firstly, the changing regional dynamics in the South Caucasus have necessitated a reevaluation of Armenia’s security posture. The Nagorno-Karabakh war demonstrated the rising military capabilities of Azerbaijan, which were bolstered by significant arms acquisitions from Turkey and the support of Turkish-backed jihadist mercenaries. This made it clear to Armenia that it must forge new alliances and bolster its defense capabilities to avoid being marginalized in the region.
Secondly, domestic political considerations also play a role in Armenia’s realignment. Pashinyan came to power in 2018 with a strong mandate for reform and an anti-corruption agenda. However, his government has faced significant domestic challenges and opposition, including criticism for mishandling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Acknowledging the strategic mistake of relying solely on Russia for security could be a way for Pashinyan to regain public trust and demonstrate his commitment to charting a new course for the country.
Armenia’s efforts to diversify its foreign relations and enhance its security have already been witnessed in recent engagements with other regional and global actors. Armenia has sought closer ties with the European Union, the United States, and NATO, engaging in discussions surrounding potential cooperation in defense and security matters. This reflects a broader desire to reduce its overreliance on Moscow and build a more resilient security architecture.
However, it is important to note that Armenia’s journey towards increased security diversification will not be without challenges. Russia still maintains a strong military presence in Armenia and is likely to continue exerting influence over the country. Additionally, Moscow may potentially view Armenia’s strategic realignment as a threat to its own interests in the region, and could react accordingly.
Nonetheless, Pashinyan’s candid admission marks a significant turning point in Armenia’s security policy. By acknowledging the need for a more balanced approach and actively seeking new alliances, Armenia is taking important steps towards ensuring its long-term security and stability. The diversification of its foreign relations will not only contribute to Armenia’s national interests but also foster a more stable and secure South Caucasus region.