YEREVAN/JAN. 11 2023 (The Bulletin) — Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan cancelled planned war games with Russia and accused Russian forces of endangering the fragile peace in the region.
This criticism is a major policy change for Armenia’s leaders who had always looked to Moscow to impose some sort of control over Azerbaijan, their arch-enemy.
Now, though, with the Kremlin weakened and distracted by its invasion of Ukraine, a frustrated Mr Pashinyan has ditched decades of Armenian diplomacy.
“Their lack of response means that Russia’s military presence in Armenia not only does not guarantee Armenia’s security but, on the contrary, creates threats to Armenia’s security,” he said after cancelling a high-profile annual military exercise led by the Kremlin’s CSTO security group called ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood’.
This is the second consecutive year that the ‘Unbreakable Brotherhood’ has been cancelled. Kyrgyzstan cancelled it in 2022 after the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.
In Gyumri, outside a large Russian military base, protesters shouted anti-Russia slogans and waved placards.
They blame Russian peacekeepers for not doing enough to end a month-long blockade of the Lachin Corridor, a stretch of road running through Azerbaijan-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh to Stepanakert.
People in Stepanakert have been cut off from Armenia for a month. Reports are filtering out of the city that food is running low.
Azerbaijan defeated Armenia in a war for control of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, capturing the territory around Stepanakert. Under a peace deal thrashed out by Russia, Azerbaijan was to allow Armenians to live and administer Stepanakert, the largest town in Nagorno-Karabakh, and also keep the Lachin corridor clear.
But Baku has said that it has no control over the alleged environmental protesters blocking the road. Russian peacekeepers watch on but have not cleared the road.
Emboldened by support from Turkey and sensing Russian weakness, Azerbaijan appears to be pushing hard for more concessions from Armenia. It launched a blitz attack on Armenian forces last summer, triggering fighting that killed 300 soldiers.
Armenia has turned to the US and Europe for help. US and EU diplomats have tried to negotiate peace and Armenian media reported that a British spy chief visited Yerevan at the end of December.
Azerbaijan has accused France and the EU of bias and quit peace talks, worrying analysts .
“It’s a bad situation getting worse: a developing humanitarian crisis and a sad harbinger of more conflict in 2023,” said South Caucasus analyst Thomas de Waal.
— This story was published in issue 532 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin, on Jan. 16 2023
— Copyright the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin 2023