Withdrawal Of Russian Troops From Armenia Could Prove Even More Fateful Than Their Pullout From Azerbaijan – OpEd


Russian and international media have devoted enormous attention to Moscow’s decision to withdraw its so-called “peace keepers” from Azerbaijan and to close the monitoring center it had operated with Turkey since 2020 even though it had a mandate to keep them there until 2025.

But in a certain sense, this decision became almost inevitable after Baku established complete control over Qarabagh and the Armenian separatist regime there disbanded. After all, if there were no parties to keep separate and defend, there was little reason that these forces should remain despite the hopes, expectations and fears of some that Moscow would not pull them. 

Moreover, Moscow desperately needs additional manpower for its expanded invasion of Ukraine; and the 2500 plus Russian soldiers now being pulled out of Azerbaijani territory either directly or indirectly will be able to make a significant addition to the Russian army now fighting in Ukraine.

Consequently, while some writers have been alarmist about what Moscow has done in Azerbaijan, asking if Russia is “leaving the South Caucasus” and thus leaving it to other powers (vestikavkaza.ru/analytics/rossia-pokidaet-kavkaz.html and rosbalt.ru/news/2024-04-19/stanislav-pritchin-chto-oznachaet-dosrochnyy-vyvod-rossiyskih-mirotvortsev-iz-karabaha-5060250), such fears seem overblown.

On the one hand, Baku has long pursued a balanced foreign policy, one that seeks good relations with both Moscow and the West. The departure of Russian troops from Azerbaijan doesn’t change that. And on the other, Baku and Moscow negotiated this departure in advance of 2025 rather than their exit being the result of Baku’s unilateral demands.

The situation with regard to Russian forces inside Armenia is different. There is a Russian military base there at Gyumri and Russia has been providing border guards for Armenia along its borders with Turkey and Iran since 1993 and with Azerbaijan since the front between Armenia and Azerbaijan stabilized in the mid-1990s.

Now, with Moscow agreeing to withdraw its “peace keepers” from Azerbaijan because the situation has changed, Yerevan has called on Moscow to follow the same logic and pull its border guards from Tavush Oblast along the Azerbaijani border (ekhokavkaza.com/a/pashinyan-rossiyskie-pogranichniki-pokinut-tavushskuyu-oblastj-armenii/32913701.html).

But Yerevan’s action is not simply an effort to be treated in an equal fashion. In March, for example, Yerevan directly called on Moscow to pull its border guards from the Armenia capital’s airport; and many Armenians have expressed the hope that Russia will ultimately close its Gyumri base.

And Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has been reorienting Armenia’s foreign policy away from Moscow and toward the West and especially France, breaking with Yerevan’s longstanding one of being closely allied with Russia in order to defend itself against what it fears are threats from Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Now, some commentators are worried that his efforts to get Russian troops to leave are paving the way for Armenia’s rapprochement with and even membership in NATO, something Moscow completely opposes and will certainly resist (ritmeurasia.ru/news–2024-04-20–mirotvorcy-uhodjat-iz-karabaha-a-pashinjan-idet-v-nato-72836).

If Armenia succeeds in getting Russian troops to leave, that will create a new geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus; if Moscow works to prevent this as it can be counted on to do, that raises the possibility of more conflict within Armenia and possibly between Armenia and its neighbors. 

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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