Few self-described ‘domestic uprisings’ can be viewed in isolation. As the world becomes ever more inter-connected, there are almost always multiple geopolitical angles. Such is the case with the current unrest in Armenia that has seen self-described “opposition leader” Nikol Pashinyan mobilise protesters calling for the ouster of Serzh Sargsyan. Insofar as Sargsyan has now resigned as Prime Minister, Pashinyan has achieved his primary goal although he maintains calls for fresh elections, in spite of the fact that in April of 2017, Sargsyan’s Republican Party won 58 seats in a 105 man National Assembly while Pashinyan’s party only won 9 seats. On the morning of the 25th, Pashinyan is set to meet with interim Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan to discuss what happens next.
While all of this has been happening, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement to welcome Iran into a free trading agreement with the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) of which Armenia is a co-founding member. As Armenia is the only EAEU that borders Iran and as both countries already have very strong trading relations, Iran’s status as a free trading partner of the EAEU would not only mean an increase in bilateral trade between Armenia and Iran, but Armenia would also become Iran’s gateway to the vast EAEU market which also includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. With both Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi openly discussing the fruitful potential of a Sino-EAEU free trade agreement as a part of One Belt–One Road, clearly Iran has just signed up to something with monumental potential.
Of course, with any prospect for Eurasian driven prosperity creation in Iran, the US will clearly fume at the fact that Iran is taking another step towards being shielded from the ill effects of US sanctions. As the US is seriously considering withdrawal from the JCPOA (aka Iran nuclear deal) under pressure from Tel Aviv and the US based “Israel” lobby, Iran’s agreement with the EAEU could not have come sooner.
The official Russian narrative on Armenia attests that the events in Yerevan are localised and therefore nothing which would threaten Armenia’s position in the EAEU. Likewise, most of the Armenians supporting the protests have been careful to avoid the “trigger words” associated with more uncivilised ‘colour revolutions’, namely, the overtly neo-Nazi Kiev coup of 2014.
While many have focused on the dynamics between Moscow and Yerevan during the protests, Armenia’s excellent relations with Iran have been woefully ignored. Irrespective over whether the protests in Yerevan are mostly organic or mostly foreign backed, the fact of the matter is that if they continue, the US will likely seize on them and try their best to draw a divide between Armenia and Iran. The fact is that while the events in Yerevan look and sound less like an overtly anti-Russian ‘colour revolution’ than that which transpired in Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2008 and Ukraine again in 2014 or the various neo-Nazi marches that frequently occur in the Baltic states, is because the penultimate target this time is not Russia but Iran. Those looking for a classic anti-Russian ‘colour revolution’ aren’t finding what they are looking for because they are looking for the wrong thing.
While Barack Obama’s government was more anti-Russian than anti-Iranian, with Trump the opposite his true. If the situation in Armenia de-stabilises, the US could use its wealth to try and seduce Armenia with the prospects of greater trade with the EU and USA with a caveat being that Armenia closes the door to Iran. The US and EU are already trying to accomplish this overtly and even under the “look both ways” government of Serzh Sargsyan, many have raised concerns about the future of Armenia’s trading partnerships.
If the situation deteriorates, there is every chance that the US and EU could try and not only force Armenia to turn its back on the fraternal Islamic Republic which is home to a substantial number of Armenian Christians, but such a move could help to force Armenia out of the EAEU by proxy. Furthermore, if a future pro-US regime in Yerevan were to become a pawn in Washington’s larger anti-Iranian push, one could see Armenia turned into a base from which the US could launch provocations against Iran, contrary to the desires of Armenians who have family on the Iranian side of the border and positive feelings about the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Much depends on the forthcoming meeting between Pashinyan and Karapetyan. If both men can reach a compromise or if Pashinyan in particular is willing to quit while he’s ahead, things will likely stabilise. If not, Russia could lose influence in south Caucasus, although an anti-Russian Yerevan would only push Russia closer to oil rich Azerbaijan. Furthermore, if Iran were to lose its all-weather friend in Armenia, Iran’s dealings with Azerbaijan as an alternative ‘gateway’ to the wider northern Eurasian space would require Russian mediation should tensions between Baku and Tehran ever flare back up. Thus, Russia may if anything be less concealed with the prospect of ‘losing Armenia’ than many Russian officials are willing to publicly let on. In such a situation, Russia has the ability to turn a negative into a positive, Azerbaijan will be able to strengthen its already healthy ties with Russia, Iran would lose its best friend in the Caucasus and be at the mercy of healthy Moscow-Baku ties in respect of maintaining a healthy gateway to northern Eurasia via the North-South Transport Corridor and ultimately Armenia would be isolated on all sides, as in reality the US and EU don’t have any long term desire to plough money into a small landlocked nation with few internationally desirable resources.
This complex web of good and bad scenarios will likely become clearer in the next 24 hours.