BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
What is happening right now in Ukraine is the worst possible scenario for both sides, in fact all sides.
First of all, this is an enormous tragedy for the people of Ukraine who have fallen victim to the Russian invasion which should have been avoided at all costs. No one can justify the destruction of a country and the killing of innocent people. We should support peace, common sense and safety of all human beings.
Let us ignore the unrelenting propaganda, misinformation disinformation, and hypocrisy which have inundated the media before and during the war. No need to play politics or partisanship with people’s lives.
Let us now move from emotional statements to the real world which can only be ignored at our own peril. Since the beginning of the world, the powerful has always imposed his will on the weak. There is no escape from this. It has always been this way and will continue to be this way. All those who believe in truth and justice are sadly mistaken. They live in a make-believe world.
Russia, as a powerful country, felt that it was being threatened by Western powers encroaching on its sphere of influence and wanted to protect its national interests. Whether we agree or disagree with the Russian view is immaterial. This is how the Russians perceive the situation. And when you are a powerful country, right or wrong, you try to impose your will on others, one way or another. The precedent for this situation is the Russian invasion of the Republic of Georgia in 2008 when the latter flirted with the idea of joining NATO. Russia occupies large parts of Georgia to this day.
Those in the West who have been making sanctimonious statements about big bad Russia attacking an innocent country are conveniently forgetting how the western countries themselves behaved for decades, even centuries. The imperial powers of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy went around the world conquering dozens of smaller, poorer and weaker countries, subjugated them, plundered their natural resources, killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of natives, until they rose up and tossed the aggressors out.
The United States, the self-declared paragon of democracy and human rights, has attacked and occupied several countries in the past imposing its will around the world. The U.S. government has overthrown many leaders who have refused to toe its line and submit to America’s wishes. There are dozens of such examples, the latest of which is Iraq. Who can forget the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the Soviet Union deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles away from the United States? The two countries came to the brink of nuclear war on that occasion. There is also the long-standing U.S. policy of the Monroe Doctrine which states that any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas by foreign powers is considered a hostile act against the United States. How is this different from Putin’s interpretation of Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine? Finally, Pres. Biden’s actions against Russia are partially prompted by his intent to raise his record low rating of 37%. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that only 33% of Americans approve Biden’s handling of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, while 47% disapprove.
It would have been preferable to engage in direct negotiations between Russia and Ukraine to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. As it is often said, “war is diplomacy by other means.” The more outside powers such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom meddled in this dispute, the worst it got, since each of these countries, pretending to defend Ukraine, were, in fact, pursuing their own interests. The crux of the issue is the disagreement between Russia and the West about an alleged pledge made by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union that NATO will not expand to Eastern Europe, threatening Russia’s security. Nevertheless, NATO did expand to several Eastern European countries, which Russia viewed as a hostile act.
Russia decided to impose its will on Ukraine, fearing that if it did not act promptly, Ukraine would join NATO, after which it would be impossible to neutralize the perceived danger, due to the NATO policy of “attack on one member country is deemed an attack on all.”
There should have been a compromise found on both sides to avoid war. Most people thought that there would be no war and that Russia was amassing troops on Ukraine’s border to pressure it to reach a compromise solution. Regrettably, the Russian attempt to influence Ukraine ended in a full scale invasion destroying large parts of the country’s infrastructure and causing untold casualties. It could be that Ukraine refused to compromise relying on Western assurances that it would come to its aid militarily and economically, if it resisted Russian demands not to join NATO. In addition to providing military hardware and economic assistance, Western countries tried to block Russia’s actions by issuing a series of draconian sanctions, which failed to alter its decision. The hopeful news is that Russian and Ukrainian delegations held their first direct talks on Monday and agreed to meet again.
Turning to the effects on Armenia of the war and sanctions on Russia, Armenia is caught in the middle of its alliance with and reliance on Russia and its standing with the rest of the world. As they say, when two elephants jostle, the ant gets stomped on, regardless of which elephant wins.
The biggest problem that Armenia has is the absence of a competent leader who would be able to come up with a skillful solution to extricate itself from this extremely complicated situation. Since the start of the war, Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has not made an official declaration. Nevertheless, on three separate occasions, Armenia has taken sides and made statements regarding this conflict.
The most problematic action Armenia took was last Friday when the Council of Europe voted to suspend Russia’s membership in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers. Armenia was the only country that voted with Russia against the measure. Forty two countries voted yes. Turkey shrewdly abstained and Azerbaijan did not vote at all. Western countries will not look too kindly at Armenia’s support for Russia. Likewise, Russia will not look too kindly at Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s votes. The war in Ukraine is sure to limit Turkey’s ability to walk on a tightrope between NATO and Russia. Azerbaijan’s similar tightrope walk will also be curtailed by not voting with Russia in the Council of Europe, thus undermining the declaration of “allied cooperation” signed on Feb. 22 by Russia and Azerbaijan.
Secondly, when Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Vahan Hunanyan, was asked if Armenia will join Russia in recognizing the “independence” of the Ukrainian regions of Donesk and Lugnask, he replied: “There is no such issue on [Armenia’s] agenda.” Putin will not be pleased with that answer. He has many ways to pressure Pashinyan to toe the Russian line in this crisis.
Finally, speaking at a meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council in Kazakhstan on February 25, Pashinyan suggested that prompt measures be taken “to minimize or circumvent” the anti-Russia sanctions approved by the West following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The anti-Russia sanctions are sure to have a major impact on Armenia’s frail economy as Russia is Armenia’s largest trading partner. As they say, when Russia sneezes, Armenia catches a cold. The $861 million remitted in 2021 by Armenian workers in Russia to their families in Armenia will be sharply curtailed due to the collapsing ruble and increased unemployment.
There is also a long-standing controversy between Armenia and Ukraine. Both sides accuse each other of betraying their trust and siding with their enemies. In 2014, Armenia, along with nine other countries, voted with Russia against a UN General Assembly resolution which declared the pro-Russian Crimean referendum invalid. Armenians respond by recalling that Ukraine voted in the General Assembly in 2008, for a resolution demanding the withdrawal of “Armenian forces” from Nagorno Karabagh. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine announced during the 2020 Artsakh war: “We support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty just as Azerbaijan always supports our territorial integrity and sovereignty.” Furthermore, Ukraine sold lethal weapons to Azerbaijan prior to the 2020 war.
One should not forget that there are around 500,000 Armenians who live in Ukraine. When other countries shut down their embassies in Ukraine and withdrew their nationals, the Armenian Embassy continued functioning and Armenian nationals remained in Ukraine risking their lives.
With each passing day, more innocent civilians are being killed in Ukraine, more sanctions are being imposed on Russia and more ominous threats are being issued. Common sense should prevail before the world reaches a doomsday scenario.
The only solution is reaching a compromise through peaceful negotiations. Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth will leave everyone blind and toothless.