BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
By all accounts Russian President Vladimir Putin has been having a good week. And, it’s only Tuesday.
On Monday, he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev were all smiles after discussing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, following which they met with their Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani. The three leaders, two of whom—Iran and Russia–claim a special kinship to Armenia as strategic partners, issued a declaration in Baku to deepen and develop cooperation on a wide range of areas, including trade, energy and banking. They also discussed loosening visa requirements for travel.
Then on Tuesday, Putin met with his recently re-christened “friend,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in St. Petersburg to thaw relations between the two countries after Turkey downed a Russian jet late last year on its border with Syria. That incident seemed to have been a catalyst for strained relations between the two neighbors, until Ankara offered a tacit apology, turning the two foes back into friends.
The Putin-Erdogan meeting, the first since the helicopter downing, comes weeks after a coup attempt in Turkey has allowed Erdogan to tighten his grip over its citizens through purges and arrests that are reminiscent of another era in that country’s history, one that concluded with the Armenian Genocide.
Although both Moscow and Ankara have stressed that the Putin-Erdogan talks would focus on rebuilding their strained relations, it is a sure bet that the Karabakh conflict will be on the agenda. We all know what Erdogan wants when it comes to Karabakh, and it is looking more and more like that Putin, along with the other OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries, the US and France, are pushing the same dangerous agenda.
A Turkey-Russia détente was hinted at a curious time as it came not long after another meeting in St. Petersburg, which brought together two other regional leaders—Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian. They emerged from that meeting poised to continue their discussions around the Nagorno-Kararabakh conflict resolution and agreed to implement provisions that would quell the military attacks on the borders.
On Wednesday, Sarkisian will fly to Russia and hold talks with Putin. The two leaders have confirmed that the Karabakh conflict will be on the agenda of talks, but have also issued boilerplate announcements signaling that the meeting will be a routine discussion of issues related to the Eurasian Economic Union, which Armenia abruptly joined two years ago.
On the eve of the Sarkisian-Putin meeting, Armenia’s Defense Ministry announced that Russia will begin delivery of weapons that it had promised in return for a multi-million loan package it was guaranteeing to Armenia for that purpose. The delivery of these weapons were delayed and Armenia felt the brunt of it during the four-day war in April, when Azerbaijan used weapons it had purchased from Russia against targets in Artsakh.
When Armenia complained about continued Russian arms sales to Baku, Moscow asserted that it would remain an arms supplier to Azerbaijan, because if it doesn’t, Aliyev would seek them from elsewhere. It is clear that Baku is not relying on Russian weapons, as it is also acquiring drones and equipment from Israel, which made their debut on the battlefront in April.
Last month, Moscow sealed the deal when the Armenian Parliament approved legislation on a joint Russia-Armenia air defense initiative, which would essentially leave it up to Moscow to dictate air defense in Armenia.
While Russia continues to assert that it is not monopolizing the Karabakh peace talks, and it merely aims to assist Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a compromise solution for a better future for both people, it is doing its utmost to consolidate power and create levers of influence to advance its agenda in the region.
We can also be sure that the “Daredevils of Sasoun” situation, which has amplified local discontent in the Sarkisian administration, will be part of the Putin-Sarkisian meeting, as Russia is a key stakeholder in Armenia’s domestic situation, since this and successive administrations auctioned off everything to Russia ensuring Moscow’s chokehold on both Armenia’s domestic and foreign policies.
[NOTE: Those calling for regime change in Yerevan, should propose concrete measures that will enable Armenia to emerge from Moscow’s shadow].
From where I am sitting, Sarkisian will go to Moscow on Wednesday to get pressured from an ally who is acting more like feudal lord, as Putin tightens the noose around Armenia, while also tightening its grip on the region.