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Moscow Times: Can Armenia have an honest conversation with Russia?

Moscow Times: Can Armenia have an honest conversation with Russia?

PanARMENIAN.Net - On Saturday, September 8 Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin are meeting in Moscow for the third time in just four months. Since assuming office, Pashinyan has wanted to reiterate that Armenia has remained a loyal ally to Russia. But Moscow is skeptical. At the time when even allied autocracies like Belarus and Kazakhstan are diversifying their foreign policy away from Moscow, a young democrat, elected on an anti-corruption platform, isn’t the leader Moscow would immediately trust, political commentator and journalist Grigor Atanesian says in a fresh article published on The Moscow Times.

The first significant test for Moscow was brought about by the Pashinyan’s government’s legal campaign against the former regime. First, a high-profile member of parliament, two brothers and two nephews of ex-President Sargsyan, as well as his bodyguard and other senior figures, were charged with graft and illegal weapons procurement among other felonies.

Then in July, former President Robert Kocharyan was indicted by the Special Investigative Service. SIS, which reports to the prime minister, is investigating the deaths of ten people killed amid the violent dispersal of anti-government protesters on March 1, 2008. Throughout his two presidential terms, Kocharyan was a reliable ally of Vladimir Putin and after leaving office served as a director for Sistema PJSFC, one of Russia’s largest investment companies.

Amid this crackdown, Pashinyan’s team is apparently looking for ways to smooth tensions, Atanesian says. Last week, Armenia dropped out of the upcoming NATO drill in Georgia and might send troops to Syria to join Russia's humanitarian project. A sense of what could be in works was alluded to by Russia’s General Alexander Novikov, who said Armenia was committed to sending sappers to join the demining effort of the Russian-led coalition in Syria.

The deployment of Armenian troops in Syria, if it were to happen, would have a damaging effect on Armenia’s relation with the West, said regional security analyst Eduard Abrahamyan. “Such a move would effectively mean partially sharing responsibility with Russia for everything Russia has done in Syria.”

"Whether Armenia joins Russia in Syria or not, issues preventing the Russian-Armenian alliance from being genuine lie far outside the Mediterranean. The two countries are allied within a military bloc and free-trade zone, CSTO and the Eurasian Economic Union respectively. Both organizations are largely dysfunctional and are seen in Yerevan exclusively as channels of communication with Moscow. These channels are critical given that over the past decade, Russia has sold Azerbaijan — Armenia’s archenemy — weapons worth more than $5bn," the author says.

"No matter who is in charge in Yerevan, it is Russia’s willingness to provide Baku with the state of the art weaponry that could further push Armenia to look for other security partners."

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