The pseudo-colour revolution in Armenia is almost complete as the ruling Republican party has stated that in spite of its healthy majority in the National Assembly, it will not nominate a new prime minister. This leaves the door open for protest “leader” Nikol Pashinyan who has already made a pact with the main opposition party Prosperous Armenia, to become the new prime minister after further negotiations which already appear to be blowing in the direction of Pashinyan.
Based on Pashinyan’s ‘good luck streak’ in having each of his successively more ambitious demands continually met by the leaders of the governing Republican party, it appears that Pashinyan has no meaningful resistance to his clear plans to rule the country. It is looking increasingly like a matter of ‘when and how’ than a matter of ‘if and why’.
Understating Russia’s ‘do no good – do no harm’ priorities
With many wondering why Russia has said so little about Armenia in recent weeks, the real answer is one that many Armenians themselves might now want to hear, although they owe it to themselves to listen with a rational perspective. With relations between Moscow and Ankara and the wider Russian world and wider Turkic world at historic highs, Russia’s pragmatic political class are not about to put these good relations into question by getting involved in any conflicts in Armenia, certainly not so long as Armenia is violently at odds with its Turkic neighbours, particularly Azerbaijan.
At a time when the western powers are up to their old tricks of trying to divide Russo-Slavic Eurasia from Turkic Eurasia, Russia simply cannot afford poor relations with any Turkic power. For Armenia, this means that while Moscow will never take sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it does mean that from Russia’s soft power perspective, it remains more prudent to avoid sending signals to Baku of being in league with Armenian nationalists, than it is for Russia to aligned itself with patriotic Armenian forces that Baku sees as a threat to its territorial integrity. This is further compounded by the fact that Ankara controls the Turkish Straits, Russia’s gateway out of the Black Sea, while Baku’s position linking Iran to Russia via the North-South Transport Corridor, as well as Azerbaijan’s oil fields, makes Azerbaijan and Turkey more strategically important partners for Russia than Armenia.
Syria and Donbass – the litmus test for Russian morality
This is not to say by any means that Russia is insensitive or callous to Armenia. Russia would ideally like to form a Caspian to Black Sea trading corridor between Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey, but the political realities of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Yerevan’s disputes with Ankara over the events of 1915 will not allow this anytime soon, much though such a corridor could bring enhanced prosperity for all involved, especially Armenia which is the economically weakest link in the region.
Ultimately though, Russia thinks strategically and not altruistically. The same is true of any great power. The only difference is that while Russia draws a red line at committing acts of harm in the name of strategic interests, the US does the opposite. In this sense, Russia’s foreign policy ethics are based on a geopolitical version of the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors. As the Oath states, “do no harm” and this is how Russia operates in geopolitics. While the ‘do not harm’ approach is objectively more ethical than the US and European approach of ‘do harm to anyone who stands in your way and then lie about it by barking about ‘freedom and democracy’, the fact remains that nowhere in post-Soviet Russia’s foreign policy is there any indication of going out of one’s way to do a morally correct duty. Those who see Russian foreign policy in another light are conflicting the doing of good deeds for self-interested reasons with a moral philosophy that simply doesn’t exist in Moscow any more than it exists anywhere else.
The classic example of this is that the current Russian government continues to help Syria fight its war against Takfiri terrorists, while Moscow has done nothing to help the Russians of Donbass to fight their war against aggressive fascism, save for occasional deliveries of medical aid and foodstuffs. Why is it that Russia has done more for the Syrian Arab Republic than for the ethnic Russian republics of Donbass? The answer is that Syria houses Russia’s only Mediterranean port at Tartus while Donbass’s resources include old coal mines in need of urgent modernisation. While many in the Russian opposition including the LDPR and KPRF want to help both Donbass and Syria, the fact of the matter is, the current government does not. If Russia can sit back and watch Russian people in Donbass be slaughtered, Moscow is certainly not going to do anything to stop a self-defeating and thus far non-violent agitation in Yerevan.
The high stakes for Armenia and Armenia alone
For Armenia this means that Moscow will likely continue watch and wait, not least because they know that the US has little use for a landlocked Armenia in the long term. In the short term of course, the US could as geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko suggested integrate Armenia and Georgia into an EU trading bloc. However, because Armenia and Georgia are so far from the European Union, this too would be more of a way of forcing Armenia out of the Eurasian Economic Union than a means of actually integrating Armenia into a larger western bloc. For Armenians, this reality would mean little more than cheap Eurasian goods whose prices are artificially inflated by local corrupt oligarchs, being replaced by expensive EU goods whose prices would then also be that much more artificially inflated by corrupt local oligarchs.
As far as the US using Armenia to provoke Iran is concerned, this would be logistically difficult for the US because of Armenia’s location and besides, with US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has far easier ways to provoke Iran on its borders should tensions between Washington and Tehran reach that critical mass. Instead, the US will likely use Armenia as a means of cutting Iran off from a direct link with the Eurasian Economic Union on the eve of an Iran-Eurasian Economic Union free trade agreement coming into effect. While this would be a slight setback for Iran, ultimately, Iran would simply pivot towards using the North-South Economic Corridor into Azerbaijan in order to have a direct link with Russia, the leading member of the Eurasian Economic Union. Such a plan could even accelerate Azerbaijan’s integration into the Eurasian Economic Union, something that Moscow would be all too happy to facilitate.
Thus one sees that while the US can certainly take advantage of the pseudo-colour revolution in Armenia in order to cut off Yerevan from its natural economic and cultural partners, it will not be able to do much more. In this sense, Armenia is far less useful to the US than Ukraine or even Georgia. In Armenia there isn’t even an opportunity to exploit ethno-religious tensions because unlike the artificial state of Ukraine or the poorly drawn post-1991 borders of Georgia, Armenia is an ethnically, linguistically and religiously homogeneous state. This goes a long way towards explaining why the “revolution” in Yerevan has been non violent. Ultimately, Armenians are a single people who have no desire to shed the blood of their brothers in broad day light. This compares favourably to an ethno-linguistic-confessional mish-mash of blood lust that is Ukraine.
While Nikol Pashinyan seems to be on the verge of fully “winning” his “revolution”, for Armenians nothing has been won while some vital economic opportunities may ultimately be lost. One set of oligarchs will likely be replaced by another set and while the US is guilty of exploiting the situation and while Russia is for its own part guilty of not explaining its own ‘do no harm’ geopolitical position to Armenians, for both Moscow and Washington there are bigger priorities to address and bigger fish to fry. Ultimately, unless Armenia embraces multipolarity, jails and removes oligarchs of all stripes from power and works with Moscow to reach some sort of settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, things will have gone from bad to a little worse. With this reality sinking in, the true shade of this particular “colour revolution” is a hazy shade of grey.