Tensions appear to be escalating between allies Russia and Armenia after the latter’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan distanced himself from Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent comments.
About 120,000 ethnic Armenians are expected to enter the country from Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region that separatists have long claimed as Armenia but which has long been internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The neighboring nation declared full control of the region last week and launched a blitzkrieg offensive to seize it. After the victory of Azerbaijani forces, Armenians in the region are on the verge of leaving, fearing the possibility of ethnic cleansing.
In comments during a national address on Sunday, Pashinyan signaled his intention to distance Armenia’s foreign policy from Russia, calling its security alliance “ineffective” and “insufficient.” Armenia is one of the former Soviet republics that make up the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military alliance in which member countries pledge to support each other in the event of attack.
However, with Russian military power preoccupied with the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin refused to send troops to Nagorno-Karabakh, citing the Armenian government’s recognition of the region as Azerbaijani.
“The external security systems in which Armenia is involved are ineffective when it comes to protecting our security and Armenia’s national interests,” Pashinyan said. “It has become obvious to all of us that the instruments of the CSTO and the instruments of Armenian-Russian military-political cooperation are not enough to protect the external security of Armenia. We must transform and supplement the instruments of external security and internal affairs of Armenia, in cooperation with all partners ready to take mutually beneficial measures.
News week contacted Russian officials by email for comment.
Alongside Russia and Armenia, the CSTO has four other former Soviet member territories: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The alliance was formed in 2002 and, in addition to agreeing to provide military aid, it prohibits its members from joining other military alliances, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Conflicts have erupted twice between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh since the fall of the Soviet Union, most recently in 2020. In September 2022, the Armenian government invoked Article 4 of the CSTO, which states that “aggression against the member states of the CSTO is considered by other participants as aggression against everyone”, thus acting as a call for military aid. Since then, Pashinyan has openly criticized Russia’s minimal response, with some protesters in the country calling for its withdrawal from the deal.