15 years ago, in December 1999, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan stated in Yerevan:
“Contradictions between the U.S. and Russia have become more exacerbated than ever before. In case of new exacerbation of relations we will be forced to repudiate the principle of complementarity and make a choice between the U.S. and Russia”.
Presently, representatives of official Yerevan do not make such statements, even though it is an open secret that the relations between Russia and the West are way more exacerbated than 15 years ago. And the paradox is that Armenian President’s September decision [on Customs Union membership] itself can be misinterpreted - Moscow surely believes Armenia already made its “choice” six months ago.
Irrespective of the final resolution of the Ukrainian crisis and the state of things in Crimea, the relations between the West and Russia will never be the same. Vladimir Putin will never get oblivious of the “President Putin's Fiction: 10 False Claims About Ukraine” document published by the U.S. State Department last week.
Ironically, over the past 10-15 years, exactly Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution served as a factor for Russia and the U.S. to continue cooperation even when the tension between them simply reached its peak.
After George W. Bush assumed the office, Russian-U.S. relations were at first thought to fall into the abyss but a number of foreign observers adhered to the opinion that the talks held between Armenian and Azerbaijani Presidents in Key West in April 2001 served as a catalyst to improve U.S.-Russian relations.
In particular, The Washington Post wrote in its editorial:
''U.S. administration officials say the Nagorno-Karabakh talks provided a chance for the Bush and Putin governments to work together cooperatively after months of tension over spies and arms-control issues''. And National Security Advisor to the U.S. President Condoleezza Rice used to claim that NK conflict settlement is a “good example of U.S. cooperation with Russia and France”.
Presently, neither Moscow, nor Washington make statements casting shadow on their partnership with regard to OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship. Unfortunately, the possible breakdown of the triple co-chairmanship caused by further exacerbation of the situation in Crimea cannot be ruled out. Russia is likely to entitle itself as a sole mediator in the NK talks. Obviously, Ilham Aliyev is less likely to approve of such behavior. Beyond doubt, he has more room for maneuver than his Armenian counterpart but it will hardly be sufficient for an overt confrontation with Russia.
Other than that, it’s yet unclear as to how Russia and the West will interpret the principle of self-determination if Crimea separates from Ukraine and makes part of Russia.
Considering that Armenia-EU relations have entered a period of obscurity and in the foreseeable future, they will not return to the level reached before the Armenian President’s decision on Customs Union membership, Yerevan will hardly face serious losses in this field.
Armenia-NATO relations as well as the bilateral military ties with the U.S. provide more reasons for concern. Over early March, I was at NATO Headquarters in Brussels and one of the senior officials of the Alliance told me:
“We were apparently not happy with what we heard on September 3. Nevertheless, you keep on cooperating within the boundaries you have set for yourself and in this context, the decision on Customs Union membership hasn’t affected Armenia-NATO relations”.
This situation, however, is not static. It is highly likely that in case of further exacerbation of relations as well as the freezing of NATO-Russia Council, Moscow will “recommend” Armenia to follow its example. Unfortunately, Yerevan lacks the resources that would let it say “no”.
The possible freezing of Armenia-NATO relations will not only anchor Yerevan's geopolitical “choice” once and for all, but will also deprive it of every opportunity to take advantage of the privileges for defense reforms, modernization of military education and building of peacekeeping capabilities, which make Armenian army modern and competitive.
I am not attempting to draw a downbeat picture; what I am trying to do is to view the possible options for the course of events. I hope they will not be translated into reality but I would like to believe that Armenian authorities consider all possible scenarios today.
In case of external uncertainty internal consolidation might prove to be conclusive. But such consolidation requires real democratization, real rule of law, resolute fight against corruption and long-term development projects. The more we delay these measures, the more likely it is that the most adverse foreign policy scenarios will become a reality.
Ara Tadevosyan is the Director of Mediamax.