Armenia’s refusal to join a new Russian-dominated alliance of former Soviet republics would have jeopardized continued Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh, a prominent pundit close to the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Andranik Migranyan essentially agreed that Moscow exploited Armenia’s heavy dependence on Russia for security in pressing Yerevan to seek to join the Customs Union.
“If there was pressure, it wasn’t an ordinary pressure. What happened was more of a deal,” Migranyan said, citing “first-hand” information about Russian-Armenian dealings that led to President Serzh Sarkisian’s dramatic volte face.
Sarkisian unexpectedly opted for Customs Union membership in late August, less than two months after his government completed three-year negotiations with the European Union on signing an Association Agreement. The EU abandoned the wide-ranging agreement as a result.
In Migranyan’s words, the Russians sent the following message to Sarkisian last summer: “If you join this structure [Customs Union,] you will have this and this possibilities. If you join that structure, you may have this and this but you may lose this and this. So there was a sober calculation [by the Armenian leadership.]”
Asked whether Karabakh was part of that “deal,” the Armenian-born political scientist said, “You know, the Karabakh issue is a matter of strengthening of Armenia’s independence and security. Russia certainly plays a very decisive role in these issues. Obviously, if Armenia was to move in a different direction, that could have an impact on all aspects of Armenian statehood, including Karabakh.”
In their public statements, Armenian government leaders have denied that Sarkisian’s U-turn was the result of strong Russian pressure. Still, some pro-government politicians in Yerevan claim that failure to join a bloc which Russia plans to turn into a Eurasian Economic Union would have put Armenian control of Karabakh at risk. They implicitly cite the fact that Armenia heavily relies on Russian military assistance in its intensifying arms race with Azerbaijan.
Migranyan, who heads the New York office of a Russian think-tank close to the Kremlin and is a staunch advocate of President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy resented by the West, also said that the Eurasian Union will be not only about economic integration. Its member states may coordinate their foreign and security policies and even introduce a common currency, he said.
Speaking in Yerevan, Migranyan at the same time dismissed suggestions that Putin’s Eurasian project is a thinly veiled attempt to recreate the Soviet Union. He did admit, though, that Moscow plans to pull the strings in the new union.
“Big nations, which have greater resources, have more effective arguments in their cooperation with partners,” Migranyan said, pointing to the “dominant” U.S. role in NATO. “This is a natural law.”