About us   Editorial Board   Advisory Board   Subscribe   Contact us  
 


CAUCASUS UPDATE

In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010

Last week, Russia signed a high-profile agreement to upgrade its military footprint in Armenia, and is rumoured to have offered advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to Azerbaijan.

News of the deal with Yerevan surfaced in late July when sources in both governments confirmed that the provisions currently governing Russia’s military base in northern Armenia, would be amended (RFE/RL, July 31). The amendment was signed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Armenia on August 20.

The mission of the 4,000 Russian troops based at Gyumri has been reaffirmed and expanded, and Russia’s tenure of the base has been extended by an additional 24 years, to 2044, with further extensions possible.

The forces at Gymuri will now be required to “protect Armenia's security together with Armenian Army units” (RFE/RL, August 15). Senior Russian officials have stressed that in practical terms this was not a significant change from the base’s current mandate (RFE/RL, August 19). Tellingly, Armenia’s President Sargsyan emphasised the base upgrade during their joint press conference, whereas President Medvedev mentioned it only briefly.

Some analysts have argued that because the new protocol only protects ‘Armenia’s security’, and because Nagorno-Karabakh is not legally part of Armenia, in the event of an Azerbaijani offensive to liberate its occupied territories “Russia will have no legal right to intervene” (RIA Novosti, August 19). This assumes that Russia has a high regard for the niceties of international law. If Moscow saw a war in the South Caucasus as a threat to its interests, it would not hesitate to intervene regardless of the text of the protocol.

In any case, according to Armenia’s President, previously the “base’s operation was limited [to] the former Soviet Union’s external borders, but this restriction has now been removed from the text of the agreement”. Also, the agreement “expands the [sphere] of [Russia’s] geographic and strategic responsibility” (Kremlin, August 20). It implies that Russia is now mandated to help protect Armenia’s borders not only with Turkey and Iran (Soviet Union’s external borders in Armenia), but with Azerbaijan and Georgia as well, removing any constraints from Moscow’s freedom of action.

Even aside from this change in mandate, it is short-sighted to view the new protocol as simply a procedural arrangement. The former lease on the Gyumri base did not expire until 2020; there was no need to extend it at the moment. The decision was political in nature, and makes more sense in the light of the other aspect of the Russia-Armenian strategic alliance.

Defence cooperation between Moscow and Yerevan is expected to advance considerably. This was apparent even before the reports on the new base agreement emerged: on July 22, Russian and Armenian officials announced plans to strengthen collaboration between their defence industries (RFE/RL, July 22). The two presidents’ agreement for the supply of “modern and compatible arms and specialized military equipment” underlines the growing cooperation.

The nature of this defence collaboration was made more explicit in early August, when Armenian Defence Minister Seyran Ohanian announced plans to acquire and develop long-range precision weapons (Stratfor, August 10). As Liz Fuller points out, “Russia is the only plausible source for such weapons” (RFE/RL, August 12). It seems as if the supply and joint manufacture of long-range missiles will form the backbone of the plans to upgrade military-technical cooperation.

By committing itself to guaranteeing Armenia’s security and supplying sophisticated hardware to it, Russia will apparently alter the balance of power in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, another piece of news indicates Moscow’s attempts to placate Azerbaijan. In late July, sources in the Russian Defence Ministry revealed that Moscow planned to sell $300 million worth of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Azerbaijan (Eurasianet, August 16). It is unclear whether the deal will go ahead but it certainly seems to be on the table.

The S-300 is an advanced defence system used to counter air attacks as well as other missile attacks. It would, in other words, be the ideal system to counter Armenia’s long-range missiles. Joshua Kucera notes that these ‘defensive’ weapons would strengthen Azerbaijan offensively by reducing its vulnerability to an Armenian attack (Eurasianet, August 19).

There are two potential explanations for the sudden upgrade in Russia’s alliance with Armenia. One, expressed by a number of Armenian analysts and oppositionists, is that Moscow is seeking to tighten its stranglehold over Yerevan (Eurasianet, August 12). Although Armenia has always relied on Russia as part of its security calculus, through both the Gyumri forces and through regular supplies of military hardware, these new developments could definitively deprive it of strategic independence.

Another explanation is that Moscow is simply attempting to increase its military exports to the region, providing the country’s flagging arms industry with a much-needed boost, and simultaneously strengthening its security presence in the region.

These recent moves make Russia’s official position as a neutral and unbiased party to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process even less tenable. These moves indicate once again that Russia remains disinterested in any change of the current status quo in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and continues to see the conflict as its major leverage over Armenia and Azerbaijan.



"Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010" | 4 comments | Search Discussion
The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.

by Vahakn on Tue Aug 24, 2010 7:48 pm
Why not consider the fact that it is because of Azerbaijan's war rhetoric that Armenia is always obliged to seek wider security measures?



by Elchin on Fri Aug 27, 2010 12:29 am
Why not liberating Azerbaijan's occupied territories so Azerbaijan stops war rethoric?



by Grigor on Sat Aug 28, 2010 6:16 pm
There are no Azerbaijan's occupied territories. There are liberated Armenian territories and occupied Armenian territories.

If Azerbadjanies attempt to attack Armenians again, we will kick them all the way to Baku.



by Zaur on Tue Sep 07, 2010 3:56 am
Come on..be realistic....liberating armenian lands??


PREVIOUS ISSUES

  Caspian Compromise Backfires for Russia and Iran, CU Issue 83, November 24, 2010
  Turkey in a Tight Spot on Missile Defense, CU Issue 82, November 11, 2010
  The OSCE and Kyrgyzstan’s Election, CU Issue 81, October 30, 2010
  Unblocking the US-Azerbaijan Relationship, CU Issue 80, October 07, 2010
  Nabucco Pipeline: Quo Vadis?, CU Issue 79, September 30, 2010
  Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010
  Armenian Politics: Rigidity Versus Flexibility, CU Issue 77, August 10, 2010
  Russia and Georgia: Ready To Talk?, CU Issue 76, July 21, 2010
  Can the US walk and chew gum at the same time?, CU Issue 75, July 9, 2010
  The Kyrgyzstan Crisis – A Qualified Success for Turkish Diplomacy?, CU Issue 74, June 24, 2010
  Brussels downgrades the Caucasus, CU Issue 73, June 07, 2010
  NATO’s New Strategic Concept and the Caspian Region, CU Issue 72, June 01, 2010
  Joe Biden and European Security, CU Issue 71, May 13, 2010
  Behind the US-Azerbaijan row, CU Issue 70, May 6, 2010
  Turkey and Iran: The risks of failure, CU Issue 69, April 30, 2010
  Kazakhstan, the OSCE, and the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, CU Issue 68, April 19, 2010
  The Implications of the Moscow Bombings, CU Issue 67, April 12, 2010
  Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010
  The EU and Abkhazia: Between a rock and a hard place, CU Issue 65, March 16, 2010
  Fallout from the US ‘Genocide’ vote, CU Issue 64, March 9, 2010
  Ukraine's elections and future of GUAM, CU Issue 63, February 10, 2010
  Less Democracy, More Security: Kazakhstan and the OSCE, CU Issue 62, January 18, 2010
  Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 60, January 4, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 59, December 31, 2009
  The Turkmenistan-China Pipeline Changes the Energy Balance, CU Issue 58, December 21, 2009
  Russia’s European Security Treaty, CU Issue 57, December 7, 2009
  The ‘Kidnapping War’ in Georgia and its Implications, CU Issue 56, December 3, 2009
  Azerbaijan Shifts its Energy Priorities, CU Issue 55, November 23, 2009
  The South Caucasian States and Afghanistan, CU Issue 54, November 11, 2009
  Is Turkey turning East?, CU Issue 53, November 2, 2009
  What is Russia’s Gameplan for Iran?, CU Issue 52, October 26, 2009
  Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Where Next?, CU Issue 51, October 19, 2009
  The Armenians of Georgia: A New Flashpoint in the Caucasus?, CU Issue 50, October 12, 2009
  Turkey’s EU Membership: Will The ‘Armenian Opening’ Help?, CU Issue 49, October 5, 2009
  The Missile Defence Shift: Implications for the Caucasus, CU Issue 48, September 22, 2009
  Rising Tensions in the Black Sea , CU Issue 47, September 14, 2009
  Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan: The Clock Is Ticking, CU Issue 46, September 7, 2009
  The Battle of the Bases in Central Asia, CU Issue 45, August 31, 2009
  Russia, Israel, and the S-300s, CU Issue 44, August 24, 2009
  The motivations behind Turkey's 'Kurdish Initiative', CU Issue 43, August 17, 2009
  The Implications of the Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan Dispute, CU Issue 42, August 10, 2009
  What has changed since the August war?, CU Issue 41, August 3, 2009
  The Internal Dynamics of Armenia’s Karabakh Policy, CU Issue 40, July 20, 2009
  Gazprom’s Baku Triumph, CU Issue 39, July 06, 2009
  Ingushetia: The New Chechnya?, CU Issue 38, June 29, 2009
  Georgias Economy - A Matter for Diplomats, CU Issue 37, June 22, 2009
  ‘Progress’ In The Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process, CU Issue 36, June 08, 2009
  Iran's Azerbaijanis and the presidential election, CU Issue 35, June 01, 2009
  Nabucco and South Stream - The Race Heats Up, CU Issue 34, May 25, 2009
  China and Central Asia, CU Issue 33, May 19, 2009
  Russia, Georgia, and NATO - A Bad Week, CU Issue 32, May 11, 2009
  The Obama Administration’s Emerging Caucasus Policy, CU Issue 31, April 27, 2009
  Integration and Division in the Caspian Sea, CU Issue 30, April 20, 2009
  The Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement - Implications for the South Caucasus, CU Issue 29, April 13, 2009
  Turkey's local elections and Armenian issue, CU Issue 28, April 6, 2009
  Is There Life Left In The Nabucco Project?, CU Issue 27, March 30, 2009
  Problems and Prospects for Russian Military Reform, CU Issue 26, March 23, 2009
  Russia and Georgia: Not back to war, CU Issue 25, March 16, 2009
  Armenia: Heading towards crisis?, CU Issue 24, March 9, 2009
  Drug trafficking in the Caucasus, CU Issue 23, February 23, 2009
  Russian-led military block: A real counterweight to NATO?, CU Issue 22, February 16, 2009
  Are the International Missions in Georgia still relevant?, CU Issue 21, February 9, 2009
  Israel and Azerbaijan: Baku’s Balancing Act, CU Issue 20, February 2, 2009
  The North Caucasus in 2009: A Bleak Forecast, CU Issue 19, January 26, 2009
  The Military Balance in Nagorno-Karabakh, CU Issue 18, January 19, 2009
  Russia, Iran, and Barack Obama in 2009, Part II, CU Issue 17, January 12, 2009
  Looking forward to 2009 in the Caucasus and beyond, Part I, CU Issue 16, January 5, 2009
  The opportunities and the risks of NATO’s new supply routes, CU Issue 15, December 22, 2008
  The Black Sea Ambitions of Armenia, CU Issue 14, December 15, 2008
  Another Small Step for Nabucco, CU Issue 13, December 8, 2008
  Will Saakashvili survive politically?, CU Issue 12, December 1, 2008
  The latest fashion: conflict mediation, CU Issue 11, November 24, 2008
  The Baku Energy Summit, CU Issue 10, November 17, 2008
  Obama and the Caucasus, CU Issue 9, November 10, 2008
  Kazakhstan's oil options, CU Issue 8, November 3, 2008
  Is the Minsk Group being sidelined?, CU Issue 7, October 27, 2008
  Gas and oil developments in the Caspian region, CU Issue 6, October 20, 2008
  Where next for the Georgian peace process?, CU Issue 5, October 8, 2008
  Unrest in the North Caucasus, CU Issue 4, September 29, 2008
  Saakashvili's future, CU Issue 3, September 22, 2008
  Iran after the Georgian War, CU Issue 2, September 15, 2008
  Football diplomacy, CU Issue 1, September 8, 2008
       
 
  © 2006-2010 CRIA
  All rights reserved

Editorial Board
Advisory Board
Our Authors

Back Issues
Caucasus Update
Current Issue

Contact Us
Subscribe
Join us on Facebook