The new concept of Russian foreign policy was published on March 31, 2023. It is noticeable that the Russian Foreign Ministry prepared a draft of the updated concept back in early 2022. Perhaps the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine and its consequences made adjustments to the document. To understand the main changes in the new concept, it is important to compare it with the previous version, which was published in 2016. We can highlight the following important changes that are relevant to Armenia.
Hierarchy of regional priorities. Beginning with the very first concept, which was published in 1993, the key regional priority for Russia was the CIS. This continuity has been maintained throughout the five concepts. And the new concept is no exception. However, for the first time, this region is called the "near abroad." The concept of "post-Soviet space" has gone out of circulation. On the one hand, it might seem like a replacement for the wording. At the same time, the concept further describes the future process of integration on the Eurasian continent. Considering the CIS space outside the context of the "post-Soviet" region will positively influence the development of regional cooperation within the framework of other organizations.
Conflict Resolution. In the previous edition of 2016, approaches to conflict resolution in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh were separately outlined. In the new version, both descriptions have disappeared. So, Russia does not publicly propose its approaches/vision for conflict resolution. The wording about the possibility of resolving the conflict within the framework of institutions with the participation of the West (in particular, the OSCE Minsk Group) is also removed. At the same time, it is emphasized the Russian intention to pay special attention to the resolution of conflicts, first of all, on the territories of the neighboring states. The increase of Russia's peacekeeping role within the UN, CSTO, and on the bilateral level (agreements with parties to the conflict) is a separate point. That is, the resumption of negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group is not a relevant option for Russia. In general, Yerevan can refer to the lack of formulation as a “window of opportunity”: Moscow does not yet have a position on the future of Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, we can formulate and propose our own agenda on the issue.
Domestic affairs of Russian allies. For the first time, the concept identifies Russia's focus on preventing the inspiration of “color revolutions” and other attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of Russia's allies and partners. This thesis goes in one context with the resolution of armed conflicts. It can be argued that Moscow, having successfully implemented this experience in Belarus and Kazakhstan, is ready to assist the current regimes in the post-Soviet space to maintain stability along Russian borders. Additionally, it is indicated that Russia intends to oppose the deployment or strengthening of the military infrastructure of unfriendly states and other threats to its security in the near abroad. Primarily, infrastructure is seen as a military presence. However, the EU observation mission or the discussed international mission for Nagorno-Karabakh could also be included within this definition.
Protection guarantees for Russian allies. For the first time, the new concept clearly indicates “ensuring guaranteed protection of Russia, its allies and partners under any military and political scenario in the world.” This “umbrella” includes both bilateral agreements and multilateral formats. As Armenia's experience has shown, Russia's red lines regarding this assistance are very unclear. Obviously, this issue needs specification, which can be initiated by Armenia: How are these guarantees expressed, and also, in what form will the assistance be provided when the military-political situation develops in one or another direction? An agreement between Yerevan and Moscow on at least these two issues would make relations between the two countries more predictable.
“Greater Eurasian Partnership”. For the first time, a Russian doctrinal document outlines the concept of the “Greater Eurasian Partnership.” It implies the linking of all integration projects on the continent: the EAEU, the SCO, ASEAN, and China's “One Belt, One Road” project. All these projects are initiated by regional actors and exclude Western presence. In this sense, Russia's position finds a practical dimension: the processes in the Eurasian content are the domestic affairs of the continent. In this case, Armenia has advantages over Azerbaijan. Both states have the status of "dialogue partner" of the SCO. Armenia's membership in the EAEU opens up new opportunities for it after the signing of FTAs between the EAEU and Iran, as well as if an agreement is reached with the UAE, India, Indonesia, and others. Moreover, the Iranian direction has an important place in Russia's foreign policy within the Islamic world (priority order: Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt). Perhaps Armenia can initiate a trilateral cooperative Armenia-Russia-Iran format in both the economic and security spheres.
Turning from the regional to the global dimension of international relations, it is important to note that the keynote of the new concept is the natural process of forming a multipolar world order. The following is relevant for Armenia. As part of this process, Russia will intensify cooperation with its allies and partners and will suppress the attempts by unfriendly states to obstruct such cooperation. So, we can talk about Russia's intention to conduct a proactive policy in this regard. It is hard to say how exactly this will be expressed in the case of the Armenian-Russian relations. So far, Russia has expressed concern about the EU mission and the implementation of sanctions against Armenian milk products.
Continuing to explore the global dimension of international relations in the new Russian concept, it is also important for Yerevan to pay attention to the following. Firstly, the analysis of the new concept showed that only four countries are considered "sovereign and global centers of power": Russia, the US, China, and India. That is, the other states are either not independent in the implementation of their foreign and domestic policies or do not have global interests. For example, there is no such characteristic with regard to European states. Second, from Moscow's point of view, the United States and the European countries pose a security threat to Russia.
Second, from Moscow's point of view, the United States and the states of the European continent pose a security threat to Russia. That is, any policy of Washington or Brussels is seen by Moscow, at least on a declarative level, as obviously anti-Russian. However, the main “inspirer, organizer, and executor of the aggressive anti-Russian policy of the collective West” is the United States. In this sense, any rapprochement between Armenia and the West will be perceived by Moscow as an anti-Russian policy. However, in case of an active dialogue between Armenia and the EU, Russia's reaction may not be so crucial and harsh. The American direction of Armenian foreign policy will be perceived quite clearly. Realizing this may be important, including in the context of the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiation process. "The Washington platform" is more toxic for Russia. Therefore, even though European mediation will be perceived by Moscow as competitive and undesirable, the agreements reached through the mediation of Brussels will be taken into account.
If the current leadership in Armenia plans to take Russia's position into account, at least in its long-term strategic planning, then both positive and negative directions can be identified. The first group includes Armenia's rapprochement with Iran and India. That is, the development of trade, economic and military-technical cooperation with the two aforementioned countries will not have a negative impact on relations between Yerevan and Moscow. On the contrary, the continuation of Western involvement attempts in the region is likely to take place at the cost of a worsening of the dialogue between Armenia and Russia. Meanwhile, so far Moscow has not put its partners before the "West" or "non-West" choice.
Sergei Melkonian, Ph.D., Research Fellow, APRI Armenia.
These views are his own.