Why It Is Important to Diversify Armenia’s Foreign Policy

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Why It Is Important to Diversify Armenia’s Foreign Policy

YEREVAN, DECEMBER 8, ARMENPRESS. In recent years, perhaps the most discussed topic by international scholars, experts and politicians is the gradual transformation of the post-Cold War unipolar world order. There are different opinions about the process of transformation, the timing, and the main elements of this newly emerging world order. However, almost everyone agrees on one issue: the unipolar world is gradually becoming history, and before the final formation of the new world order, the next decade will be characterized by instability, conflicts, and economic shocks. Climate change and the ever-increasing role of digital technologies, including artificial intelligence, are additional factors of instability that make it even more difficult to assess, predict and formulate policies based on geopolitical developments in the coming years.

Changes in the world order also have an impact on the security architecture of the South Caucasus. The security system formed in the region since the mid-1990s consisted of two main pillars. One of them was the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey strategic partnership formed with the support of the USA, aimed at exporting Azerbaijani oil and gas to international markets - bypassing Russia and gradually increasing Western influence in the region. This was counterbalanced by the Russia-Armenia strategic partnership, with the deployment of the Russian military base and Russian border guard troops in Armenia, and Russia's significant involvement in Armenia's economy. Iran was not directly involved in these two groups, but supported the Armenia-Russia partnership, viewing the growing influence of Turkey and the United States in the region as a threat to its vital interests.

The second phase of this system began to take shape in the 2010s. This was due to both the transformation of the world order and regional changes. First, it is necessary to mention the change in Turkey's foreign policy. Whereas before, Turkey was an extension of the West to serve American interests in various regions, it gradually began to turn into an independent actor, ready to oppose the US if necessary. Parallel to this, relations between Russia and the West started to become more strained, which escalated in 2014 after the Ukrainian crisis. Under these new conditions, the transformation of Russian-Turkish relations from purely competitive to a competitive-cooperative format began. It received its first practical application in Syria with the launch of the Russia-Turkey-Iran regional "Astana format". The change in Russian-Turkish and Turkish-American relations, as well as the intensification of the conflict between Russia and the West, began to affect the security architecture of the South Caucasus. The previously operating system, Turkey-Azerbaijan-Georgia versus Russia-Armenia tandem, gradually began to lose its importance.

The first practical impact of these changes was felt during the 2020 Artsakh war, when Russia did not prevent Turkey from directly engaging in military actions, and after the end of the war, agreed to the creation of a joint Russian-Turkish monitoring center in Aghdam.

The start of the third phase of the regional security architecture came as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war that started in February 2022. Now, Russia objectively has much less resources to influence regional developments, while at the same time, the importance of Azerbaijan and Turkey for Russia has significantly increased. The Russo-Ukrainian war has also sharply intensified Russia-West discord, threatening to turn the entire post-Soviet region, including the South Caucasus, into a center of Russia-West, and above all, Russia-US conflict. Russia is trying to maintain its influence in the region as much as possible, while the main goal of the US is to limit Russian presence in the region. In this context, it is necessary to note that the EU, unlike the USA, does not consider its activities in the region solely from the point of view of weakening the positions of Russia, but prioritizes the establishment of stability and peace in the South Caucasus.

Under these newly formed conditions, there is a need for Armenia to change its foreign policy approach. What has worked to this or that extent for the past three decades may no longer be sustainably effective. At the same time, the collapse of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and the deportation of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have significantly increased Armenia's security challenges, which necessitate urgent solutions.

One of the ways to address the challenges of Armenia's foreign policy can be its further diversification. It should be noted that since independence, Armenia has tried to diversify its foreign policy to some extent, including by developing relations with the EU, NATO, and the USA. However, after the collapse of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and the growing challenges for Armenia’s security architecture, additional diversification of its foreign policy has become essential. Armenia needs new security partners, and in this context, the development of bilateral relations with India and France is a step in the right direction. Diversification of security relations can also include rapprochement of relations with such traditional partners as Greece and Cyprus, as well as the launch of multilateral formats, including Armenia-India-France-Greece and Armenia-Iran-India formats. In the context of diversification, the development of relations with the Arab world is also essential, and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia is a right step in that direction.

At the same time, Armenia should be very careful not to associate foreign policy diversification with anti-Russian stances or moves. Russia still has considerable influence in the region, and the formation of hostile relations with the latter will not in any way contribute to the strengthening of Armenia's security. It is also necessary to consider the fact that despite Russian-Turkish cooperation observed in various regions in recent years, the expansion of Turkey's influence in the South Caucasus contradicts Russian interests, and in this context, Armenian-Russian interests coincide.

Armenia should also avoid becoming a new battleground for the West-Russia and/or the democracy vs. authoritarianism conflict. It may cause additional problems in the relations with Russia and Iran, which will most likely be used by Azerbaijan in the context of its strategy to isolate Armenia in the region. From this point of view, it is necessary to pay additional attention to the further intensification of relations with Iran.

Diversification of Armenia’s foreign policy also should coincide with the diversification of economic relations. Currently, more than 40 percent of Armenia's exports go to the Russian market, while Armenia imports a significant part of its energy resources and grain from Russia. Such a high degree of dependence on the Russian market creates certain problems. At the same time, economic diversification is a long-term and complex process, and here again haste and politically motivated moves can cause significant problems for local businesses.

In the coming years, the main direction of Armenia's foreign policy should be to deepen relations with new security partners while at the same time maintain existing ties with Russia. Considering the deepening conflict between Russia and the West, this is quite a difficult task, but not impossible. Two of Armenia’s neighbors, Georgia and Azerbaijan, are taking quite successful steps in this direction, and it is advisable to study their experience as well. Diversification of foreign policy is also important for the states of Central Asia, and in this context, it is important to study the policies implemented by them in this direction as well.

Benyamin Poghosyan, Senior Research Fellow, APRI Armenia


Armenia, Yerevan, 0002, Martiros Saryan 22


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