Armenia made clear on Tuesday that it would veto Azerbaijan’s possible bid to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led alliance of six ex-Soviet states.
A pro-government Azerbaijani parliamentarian, Ali Huseynli, said earlier this month that Baku should “seriously consider” applying for membership in the CSTO, saying that would increase chances of a Nagorno-Karabakh settlement favorable to his country. He also said that the CSTO gives its member states major military and economic benefits.
The remarks fueled speculation among pundits in and outside the region that the Azerbaijani leadership may indeed seek to join CSTO. Its potential membership bid would have to be approved by all countries making up the alliance, including Armenia.
“If such an issue is considered, Armenia will use its veto power,” Anna Naghdalian, a spokeswoman for the Armenian Foreign Ministry, told reporters.
Naghdalian also noted that the talk of Azerbaijan’s possible accession to the CSTO has so far been based on “some hypothetical information.”
Membership in the CSTO and a broader military alliance with Russia has long been a key element of Armenia’s national security strategy. It entitles the country to acquiring Russian weapons at discounted prices or even for free.
Yerevan has thus been able to at least partly offset Azerbaijan’s massive military buildup that began over a decade ago. But Moscow has been Baku’s leading arms supplier in the last several years. The Azerbaijani government has also purchased significant amounts of weapons from another CSTO member state, Belarus.
The current and former Armenian governments have criticized both Russia and Belarus for their arms dealings with Baku.
The Azerbaijani lawmaker floated the idea of joining the CSTO following a rare diplomatic dispute between Yerevan and Moscow resulting from criminal charges levelled against Yuri Khachaturov, the CSTO’s current secretary general.
Armenia moved to replace Khachaturov late last month after he was charged in connection with the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan. The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the retired Armenian general’s prosecution as politically motivated. A Kremlin official told Russian media that the criminal case against Khachaturov dealt a “colossal blow to the image of the whole organization.”
It remains to be seen whether Russia and others CSTO member states, notably Kazakhstan, will agree to appoint another Armenian as secretary general of the CSTO.
Naghdalian spoke on Tuesday of continuing “consultations” in the bloc on who should succeed Khachaturov as secretary general. But she did not go into details.
The CSTO member states agreed in 2015 that their representatives will take turns to run the organization on a rotating basis. They appointed Khachaturov as secretary general in April 2017 after almost two years of delay resulting from Kazakhstan’s and Belarus’s reluctance to have an Armenian hold the position because of their warm ties with Azerbaijan.
Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko admitted late last week that he had opposed Khachaturov’s candidacy. “We proposed different candidates for that post [of CSTO secretary general] but they didn’t listen to us,” he told Belarusian state television. “Now everybody admits that Lukashenko was right.”