Armenia Freezes Participation in Collective Security Treaty Organization, Further Poisoning Ties With Russia

Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan has told the national assembly that Armenia is “freezing” its participation in the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.

He first delivered the news to media in his main new benefactor country, telling France 24  on Feb. 22. “As for what comes next, we shall have to see,” he said. Indeed.

Pashinyan added that as of now there’s no discussion to close Russia’s base in Gyumri in northwestern Armenia as that is subject to another treaty. But a permanent exit from the CSTO would appear imminent considering the anti-Russian course Armenia has been on for months now.

Why Is Armenia “Freezing” Participation in the CSTO?

Pashinyan and Armenian nationalists continue to scapegoat Russia for the country’s recent defeats.

“The Collective Security Treaty has not fulfilled its objectives as far as Armenia is concerned, particularly in 2021 and 2022. And we could not let that happen without taking notice,” Pashinyan said.

At the risk of oversimplification, following the USSR collapse, Azerbaijan joined the Armenian nationalists’ enemy list and were equated with Turks as the two new countries fought over their border and Nagorno-Karabakh. Although Armenia won control of the territory, it came at a high cost. Yerevan had no other choice but to fully embrace Russia as security guarantor. The Armenian democratic movement did not view Moscow as a friend, but it needed protectorate status in order to ensure victory.

So Armenia emerged from the conflict with the Nagorno-Karabakh exclave (internationally recognized as Azerbaijan territory), mostly surrounded by enemies, and reliant on Russia for protection (it’s also reliant on Russia economically).

In the 2020 war in which Armenia was outmatched by Azerbaijan, the peace was brokered by Russia, and Moscow had since been attempting to work with both sides to implement parts of that agreement and resolve the Nagorno Karabakh issue. When Pashinyan complains about the CSTO not fulfilling its objectives for Armenia he is referring to article 4 of the Collective Security Treaty, which establishes that an aggression against one signatory would be perceived as an aggression against all. In Pashinyan’s view Moscow should have fully backed Armenia even if that meant going to war with Azerbaijan. Instead Moscow worked to restrain Azerbaijan, which possessed the military advantage, and sent 2,000 peacekeepers.  Russia enjoys close ties with Azerbaijan and would prefer instead a lasting Russia-brokered peace that preserves Moscow’s dominant role in the region.

There was also little need for Russia to intervene forcefully on behalf of Armenia. It was previously conventional wisdom that the Armenian fear of being overrun by its neighbors Azerbaijan and Türkiye cemented Yerevan’s reliance on Moscow for protection and meant it couldn’t turn West, but that was upended last year when PM Pashinyan began to undertake the gambit while still at odds with Azerbaijan and Türkiye.

It should also be noted that Armenia’s “loss” of Nagorno Karabakh was entirely self-inflicted. And it came under the guidance of the West.

Against the backdrop of the Ukrainian war and the new Cold War, mediating countries began to compete for the status of the main moderator of the Armenia-Azerbaijan negotiations. Yerevan began to favor the West, and talks mostly moved to Western platforms. It was during those meetings that Armenia agreed to officially recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.

Once Armenia did so (and PM Pashinyan declared so publicly), the die was cast. The region was (and is) recognized as Azerbaijani territory by the international community but was overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Armenians. Roughly 100,000 of them fled to Armenia after Azerbaijan blockaded the region for months and then moved militarily to assert control in September – an operation that resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Despite moving the negotiation process under the guidance of the West and publicly recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory, the Pashinyan government has sought to lay all the blame for its loss at the feet of Russia. And Pashinyan now largely refuses to participate in summits with Russia.

While all of this has been happening, there has also been a step-by-stp poisoning of ties with Russia from Armenia’s side, including the following:

  • Not allowing the head of the Russian Society for Friendship and Cooperation with Armenia into the country.
  • A visit by Pashinyan’s wife to Kiev along with a shipment of humanitarian aid, the first sent by Armenia to Ukraine since the outbreak of the war.
  • In October, Armenia joined the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The ICC, which much of the world views as no more than a political tool of the West, has an outstanding arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. That now means that if Putin were to visit Armenia he should face arrest there. Moscow called the ratification by Yerevan a “hostile act.” It’s certainly interesting timing on Armenia’s part considering the statute came into effect all the way back in 2002.
  • Armenia hosted military exercises with the US late last year.
  • There have been media reports that Armenia will supply weaponry to Ukraine, although those haven’t been reliably confirmed.

Pashinyan’s announcement on the freezing of CSTO participation came after he met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of MI6, Richard Moore, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. Pashinyan’s office released only a brief notice of the gathering without mentioning anything that was discussed, so we can only guess.

Germany is also reportedly dangling a bunch of money to entice Yerevan to take anti-Russia steps, such as purging the government and armed forces of anyone harboring friendly views towards Moscow.

Faced with Armenia’s situation of conflict with neighbors and reliance on Russia, it seems it had roughly three options:

  1. Continue the Russia-led peace process and work to carve out some mutually beneficial arrangement with its neighbors.
  2. Do “a” but use a flirtation with the West to apply some pressure on Russia and maybe get some better terms in agreement. Instead Armenia opted for…
  3. Torpedo relations with Russia (and we’ll have to see what happens with Iran) while turning fully to the West. And do this despite the current relative decline of the West in terms of power – at a time when even POLITICO now recognizes that the West destroyed Yugoslavia and now Ukraine has been chewed up and is in the process of being abandoned. There are many differences between Ukraine and Armenia, but the similarities in the anti-Russia path are starting to add up. We’ve seen this show before, and what’s unfolding in Armenia is like watching a slow-motion car crash.

From the West’s perspective it makes sense: use Armenia to apply pressure on Türkiye, Russia, Azerbaijan, or just foment chaos in the region. But that strategy implies the willingness to risk devastation for Armenia. The question is, what is in it for Armenia? Or what’s in it for the Armenian officials like Pashinyan who saw the West’s sinking ship, and decided to climb on board?

What Comes Next?

Neocon think tanks in Washington like the RAND Corporation and Middle East Media Research Institute have long advocated for stirring up trouble in the South Caucasus as another way to weaken Russia and Iran and potentially cause a rift between the two.

So far, the opposite is happening. It is bringing all the other regional players closer together and further isolating Armenia.

The spook-run Middle East Media Research Institute gloats that Russia doesn’t uphold its end of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which is made up of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. Presumably Washington will now tell other former Soviet states that Russia cannot be trusted.

The West is also attempting to play games in Azerbaijan in an effort to create headaches for Russia, but Baku appears less willing to play along. For example, when the new US ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mark Libby, was hastily dispatched to the country in December, one of his first actions was to visit the Alley of Martyrs dedicated to those killed by the Soviet Army during Black January 1990. Azerbaijanis weren’t falling for it.

Back to Armenia. By openly embracing the West (and potentially inviting Western forces into Armenia), Yerevan is also straining ties with its other regional backer: Iran whose President Ebrahim Raisi told Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan on Feb. 15 that the intervention of “outsiders” in regional disputes would only exacerbate issues. It was a clear reference to the US and the EU. From the Armenian Mirror-Spectator:

Armenian opposition groups say Tehran’s stance is another reason why Yerevan should exercise caution in its dealings with the West. They argue that unlike the West, Iran could intervene militarily to prevent Azerbaijan from opening an extraterritorial corridor to its Nakhichevan exclave through Syunik, the only Armenian region bordering the Islamic Republic.

Armenia is now in a precarious position, having said no thanks to its security guarantor while Azerbaijan and Türkiye are eager to take more Armenian land to open a corridor connecting the two countries.

Aside from Armenia insisting on EU involvement, the main roadblock to any deal between Baku and Yerevan remains the Zangezur Corridor – a transportation connection between Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave wedged between Armenia, Turkiye, and Iran.

On January 10, Aliyev stated that, if this corridor remains closed, Azerbaijan refuses to open its border with Armenia anywhere else. Armenia says the border issues must be resolved as part of any peace deal.

The nine-point ceasefire agreement signed under Russian mediation that ended the 2020 war included a  stipulation that Armenia is responsible for ensuring the security of transport links between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, facilitating the unhindered movement of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions. Azerbaijan and Turkiye have latched onto that point, insisting they have the right to set up transportation links through southern Armenia.

Baku wants travel of people and cargo between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan to be free of inspection and customs and expects Yerevan to agree to the deployment of Russian border guards along the corridor.

Moscow agrees with the deployment of its border guards, even if it doesn’t see eye to eye on the customs issue (it wants the Russians to conduct the security checks).

As the Caucasus sit at the key crossroads of East-West and North-South transportation routes, any alteration to its ecosystem would have far-reaching consequences. Armenia is likely banking on that fact in order to secure outside help. Will it be enough?

France and India are currently the two biggest backers of Armenia, which is spending a boatload in the process. Armenia has almost doubled its defense spending since 2022  when it was roughly $750 million. It is now around $1.5 billion.

France, which is the home to the largest Armenian diaspora community in Europe, is sending 50 Arquus Bastion armored personnel carriers, Thales-made GM 200 radars, and Mistral 3 air defense systems. There are also discussions to send CAESAR self-propelled howitzers, as well as 50 VAB MK3 armored vehicles manufactured by Renault Trucks Defense.

“Yerevan is looking to those partners who truly provide security,” French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu said on a recent trip to Armenia. Just how much security France can provide is an open question. After all, AFP just reported the country (and all of Europe) is facing a gunpowder shortage, as well as a range of other problems.

India, which doesn’t want to see Türkiye-Azerbaijan control of trade routes in the Caucasus due to their close ties with Pakistan, is also upping its support for Armenia, supplying PINAKA multi-barrel rocket launchers, anti-tank munitions, anti-drone systems, and other ammunition to Armenia. It was India’s first export of PINAKA and announced New Delhi’s stance on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

Meanwhile, Armenia continues to bring its armed forces up to NATO standards and increase interoperability. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently outlined Russia’s concern. From TASS:

“I hope, Yerevan is aware that any deepening of cooperation with the alliance may result in its losing sovereignty in the sphere of national defense and security,” Russia’s top diplomat said…

“This cannot but cause our concern. We have repeatedly drawn the attention of our Armenian colleagues to the fact that NATO’s true goal is to strengthen its positions in the region and create conditions for manipulation based on the ‘divide and conquer’ scheme,” Lavrov concluded.

Being stuck in the middle can be lucrative in the new not-so-Cold War if one plays their cards right. Türkiye is one example where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan thrives at extracting concessions from both sides, but it can also be risky (see: 2016 Turkish coup attempt).

There is little evidence that Pashinyan is as skilled a player, and if NATO attempts to use Armenia to destabilize Azerbaijan and/or Turkiye like it exploited Ukraine against Russia, the results could be devastating for Armenia. And it’s highly unlikely NATO would be riding to the rescue.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    This is really sad reading this. Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan is going to lead his country into yet another war expecting that NATO would drop everything and come down and rescue him. I suppose that he first wants to let NATO build a coupla bases there first. But Armenia is in the same boat as the Kurds – surrounded by countries that are hostile to their interests and they too will come a cropper. No country bordering Armenia is going to step forward and come to their defence, not even Georgia. Certainly the CSTO will let Armenia swing in the wind. And I doubt that Azerbaijan will try to occupy Armenia after the next war but they might impose a peace treaty where Armenia becomes demilitarized like Russia wants for the Ukraine. And Pashinyan? Probably find that he will turn up in a mansion in Florida right next door to Juan Guaidó, another has been that never was.

    1. Alan Roxdale

      expecting that NATO would drop everything and come down and rescue him

      I don’t think anyone can reasonably expect that anymore. More likely Pashinyan’s role is to make Amernia a failed state, and ripe territory for the training and export of militants and general chaos. A new northern Syria in the Caucuses, bordering both Russian and Iran. I assume to add an extremist christian militia element to the mix. Or maybe just get another money laundering pit in case Ukraine implodes.

  2. Candide

    It’s sad and wonderful to have Conor’s tutelage for following this “slow motion car crash.” It qualifies for one of Alex Christoforou’s “Clown world” awards, particularly with Europe’s gunpowder shortage and “a range of other problems.”

  3. ciroc

    When Macron mentioned the possibility of sending French troops to Ukraine, I think he was actually describing the after-sales service for Armenian customers. Buy French weapons, get French troops for free!

  4. Stephen T Johnson

    This whole thing makes my head hurt. It seems like the Armenians are rushing post haste to slit their own throats. Doubtless the diaspora have a significant role, but I can’ even formulate an ending for

    “Ditching Russia and ignoring Iran while still having totally rotten relations with Turkiye and Azerbaijan will be totally awesome granted some French and American deals because…”

    Notwithstanding the glaring evidence of Ukraine and Georgia, I can’t even think of a prospect for a tiny, poor and landlocked country like Armenia.

  5. Jack

    Thank you for this update. ” It was during those meetings that Armenia agreed to officially recognize that Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.” Why did they do that?

    1. Stephen T Johnson

      Good question!
      My best guess is that they had concluded they could not (or maybe just didn’t want to) maintain that exclave, but didn’t want to directly abandon it, so came up with an indirect way to get there.

      To me, the really odd part is that they never seemed to bother to seek diplomatic support after the initial establishment of Nagorno Karabackh. Eez a meesteree!

    2. Yaiyen

      I think they did it to trap Russia, when Armenia recognize Karabakh Russia couldn’t anymore keep peace troops there because Armenia gave up the land, now if Russia would keep the force there Azerbaijan would have start war with Russia peace troops, Armenia would have said then this is not our business.In this situation Armenia win either way. Armenia is planning to go west so they are helping destabilize Russia and they need people to hate Russia to do this

  6. Altandmain

    The self inflicted nature of this crisis for Armenia is staggering. At the behest of the neocons in the West, the Armenians have gone out of their way to alienate Russia, who was the best friend they had. Russia and Armenia are both Orthodox Christian, although strictly speaking Armenians are of a different church.

    Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan will go down as one the worst leaders Armenia ever had. There hasn’t been a hard look at the West and what happens to Western puppets. Zelensky and Ukraine are good examples. The West doesn’t care about Armenia; they are using the Armenians to try to weaken Russia. it’s the same move that Ukraine was being used for.

    They’ve alienated Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Türkiye now. The West is unable to provide the assistance that would be needed to replace the relationships that Armenia has with its direct neighbours. In other words, Armenia has done something that is completely harmful to its own interests.

    Armenia doesn’t have a powerful military nor any real means to defend itself, should it come down to military action. They have previously lost to Azerbaijan and the nation’s could be forced to make further territorial concessions if it loses another conflict, if not outright putting the nation’s future in jeopardy.

    Given what has happened, I would not be surprised if the West has bribed Pashinyan or interfered in the politics of the nation in some way that we do not yet know about. Otherwise, none of what they have done makes any sense.

  7. Feral Finster

    When it can, the West is forcing countries to choose sides and it should be abundantly obvious by now which side the Armenian government has chosen.

    1. Chris Maden

      Both sides – the West and China/Russia/Iran – are forcing small countries ro choose sides. Look at the South Pacific: China’s signing security treaties left, right and centre, and Australia is scrambling to catch up. Look at Eastern Europe, where Russia continues to court, e.g. Hungary, Slovakia and many Balkan countries. Such is the nature of empires.

  8. Roland

    Open war between NATO and Russia seems likely. I think the Armenian gov’t is just trying to stay out of it.

    The Armenians also might feel that their national interests were sacrificed in the recent Caucasian war, because Russia was more anxious to avoid a confrontation with Turkey, than they were to protect their ally. Given the overall military situation, it is difficult to see how Russia could have taken anything other than a conciliatory approach. Nevertheless, Armenian disappointment with the alliance is understandable.

    It’s a propaganda win for NATO, at a time when they’re short of good news. But again, I believe the Armenians are just trying to get themselves out of the line of fire.

    I wonder if this “live jackal” policy will work for Armenia. The Armenians are probably screwed anyway. Given the USA’s conflict with Iran, the West will probably continue to foster Azeri interests at the expense of the Armenians. So after the Russians sacrificed Armenian interests for geopolitical reasons, the Americans will do it, too. Another tasty treat for the cynics!

    One of these days, the AKP is bound to lose power in Turkey. The old line secular militarist types in Turkey are traditionally hostile to Armenia (it is Erdogan who originally favoured an improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations.) The US establishment barely tolerates the AKP, and they would give any other Turkish gov’t the green light to make minor regional adjustments. That will be a bad time for Armenians or Kurds.

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