Moscow Fearful Of Losing Its Military Bases In Armenia And Tajikistan – Analysis


Since Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and his team—who come from a generation formed not in Soviet times and do not speak Russian as a native language—took power in Yerevan six years ago, Armenia has been turning away from Russia and toward the West.

Moscow has supported the domestic opposition to Pashinyan’s team and has even tried to overthrow him in response to this turn and because of its interest in maintaining influence in the Caucasus. Moscow has used the tactic of divide-and-rule politics, currying favor with Azerbaijan to develop its much-ballyhooed north-south trade corridor (, December 19, 2023).

Despite treaty obligations to support Armenia in 2020 and again in 2022 when Azerbaijan restored control over Karabakh and adjoining territories, Moscow’s failure to follow through infuriated most Armenians and gave Pashinyan additional reasons for turning away from Moscow and toward the West. Yerevan has been hopeful that Western countries could provide it with the assistance Russia has not.

Yerevan’s agreement two weeks ago to return four villages to Azerbaijan as part of the peace process sparked new protests not only in border regions, but in the capital itself (see EDM, April 23). Moscow saw a new chance following this decision to exploit Armenian discontent with Pashinyan, which has increased even more since his government demanded that Russian border guards leave the region where the protests originated. This most recent round of protests continue and have similarly had echoes in Yerevan as well (Kavkaz Uzel, May 2). Once again, Moscow’s hopes that it can use unrest for its own ends have thus far gone unrealized. Still worse from the Kremlin’s point of view, Yerevan is now reportedly mulling demands for the closure of the Russian military base at Gyumri (Ekho Kavkaza;RITM Eurasia, April 20).

That consideration might raise the stakes for Moscow on its own, but more importantly, this move from Armenia may prompt other former Soviet states to reconsider the presence of Russian forces in their own countries. Some Russian security analysts suggest that the government of Tajikistan, already outraged by Moscow’s treatment of Tajik migrant workers in the wake of the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack, is being “infected” by such Armenian thinking and may demand that Moscow close its military base in Tajikistan. This move would, in the minds of some Russian writers, represent the wholesale collapse of Russian influence in the former Soviet space. These analysts suggest that this is the direct result of Moscow’s obsessive focus on Ukraine—to the neglect of developments elsewhere across the “near abroad” (, April 28; reposted at Charter97, April 29).

Lest the situation develops in that direction, Moscow has stepped up its pressure on the Armenian government to block such a demand. The closure of Moscow’s military bases in Armenia and Tajikistan, however, is probably unlikely in the near term, given that both Yerevan and Dushanbe have long-term agreements concerning these bases, the first until 2044 and the second until 2042.

Even if there is little likelihood Moscow would agree to withdraw, however, any open discussion of this possibility in Armenia and Tajikistan would create problems for the Kremlin. Russia has less leverage in Armenia today than history might suggest. Armenians have long been angry about the Gyumri base and the behavior of Russian officers there, as well as about how the bilateral accord regarding the base does not place any restrictions on the number of soldiers Moscow can place there (Novaya Gazeta, December 10, 12, 2023).

The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Armenia is minimal, thus reducing Moscow’s ability to play on any Armenian interest in having the support of another nominally Orthodox Christian country (Window on Eurasia, March 10). Additionally, the new ethnic Russian diaspora in Armenia, which arrived after 2022, is far more liberal and Europe-oriented than the one Moscow has exploited in neighboring Georgia, and is anything but supportive of Moscow’s position (Window on Eurasia, June 3, 2023).   

That leaves Russia with its three traditional options. First, ally itself with domestic opponents of Pashinyan, as it has been doing since 2018 (see EDM, April 8). Second, disseminate an active program of propaganda and disinformation (see EDM, October 5, 2023). Third, declare that Armenia is about to be destroyed economically and politically by its leaders and claim that only Moscow can prevent that from happening (see EDM, March 5, 14; VPO Analytics, May 1).

So far, as even some Moscow analysts admit, these threats have not worked (Vzglyad, April 27). Pashinyan and his government have parried these challenges with remarkable success. They have used a combination of tough police action against demonstrators both in the border villages and in Yerevan and numerous meetings with the protesters to prevent the demonstrations from spreading (Vestnik Kavkaza, April 28; Kavkaz Uzel, May 2). They have challenged Russian propaganda about the border, highlighting that any concessions are intended to leave Armenia with internationally recognized and secured borders, and argued that Armenia’s rapprochement with the West in no way threatens Russia.  Rather, Yerevan has indicated that Armenia remains interested in having good economic and even political relations with Moscow (Vestnik Kavkaza, April 30).

Such declarations have been so fervent that some Russian writers argue they represent an Armenian effort to “make peace” with Russia (Vestnik Kavkaza, April 28). That view finds some support in the wake of Armenian Foreign Minister Tigran Balayan’s declaration that “Russia has nothing to fear from the European Union in the South Caucasus,” given that Armenia’s location means that “historically and practically it has so many links to Russia,” and that anyone who thinks Armenia can break all of them is living in a fantasy world (, April 28). 

Vestnik Kavkaza, however, says that “if Yerevan really wants to calm Moscow, it should give guarantees that there will be no spread of any military presence of the European Union, the United States, and NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] onto the territory of Armenia and not waste time talking about that in the media” (Vestnik Kavkaza, April 28). Given Moscow’s attitude, tensions between Russia and Armenia are likely to grow. Moscow can be expected to use the resources it has, including ties with the Armenian opposition, to try to force Pashinyan to change course, lest he be ousted.

That conclusion is all the more likely because Moscow now has the additional concern that what Armenia is doing is serving as “a bad example” to Tajikistan. Some Russian outlets report that Dushanbe’s consideration of closing of the Russian base on its territory utilizes exactly the same language Armenian officials are using about Gyumri (, April 28; VPO Analytics, May 1). Such reports are likely to prompt Moscow to use what resources it has to step up the pressure not only on Armenia but on Tajikistan as well, a move certain to trigger new and broader conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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