The Armenian government has adopted a neutral stance toward the armed attack launched by Russia on Ukraine on February 24.
The governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan were silent following Russia’s recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, on February 21. When asked whether the recognition of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk by the Armenian government is possible, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vahan Hunanyan said that there is “no such issue on the agenda.”
“We surely want the existing issues between our two friendly states to be resolved through diplomatic dialogue, negotiations, and in accordance with the norms and principles of international law and the UN Charter. We hope for the necessary steps to be undertaken towards reducing the tension and resolving the situation peacefully,” Hunanyan told reporters.
On February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The leaders discussed the “situation in Russian-Ukrainian relations and regional security issues.” Putin also invited Pashinyan to visit Moscow in the spring.
While Armenian authorities refrained from expressing their support for Russian recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk, Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan welcomed Putin’s announcement.
“The establishment of an independent state and its international recognition becomes an imperative especially in the face of existential dangers, as it is the most effective and civilized means of preventing bloodshed and humanitarian disaster,” Harutyunyan said in a Facebook post.
Harutyunyan expressed his hope that the Republic of Artsakh has “earned the international recognition of its sovereign state.”
Tigran Grigoryan, a Yerevan-based Armenian analyst from Stepanakert, criticized Harutyunyan’s congratulatory message.
“Armenian diplomacy must devote great efforts to ensure that Artsakh is never identified with other de facto states in the post-Soviet space,” Grigoryan wrote on Facebook.
He also said that Harutyunyan is “probably forced to make such statements from time to time” due to pressure from Russian officials.
On February 22, the Russian president and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev met in Moscow and signed a declaration raising the relationship between the two countries to that of “allied interaction.”
The declaration states that Russia and Azerbaijan will “build their relations on the basis of allied interaction, mutual respect for independence, state sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the state borders of the two countries.” It also states that the armed forces of the two countries will deepen their interaction, including by “holding joint operational and combat training activities.” The countries “may consider the possibility of providing each other with military assistance.”
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Armenian government once again refrained from expressing a position in the conflict, maintaining its neutrality while conveying its tacit loyalty to Russia.
For instance, on February 25, Armenia was the sole country to join Russia in voting against a decision by the Council of Europe to suspend Russia from the organization. Russia’s rights of representation in the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly have been temporarily revoked as a result. Russia will remain a party to Council of Europe conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights.
Furthermore, on February 28, Armenia abstained from a vote held by the United Nations Human Rights Council to hold an “urgent debate” at the request of Ukraine.
Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center in Yerevan, said that the Armenian government is demonstrating “strategic silence.”
“Although Armenia’s position, as the only other country besides Russia to oppose that move, dangerously isolates Armenia, there was little choice and even less of an alternative for Armenia,” he told OC Media.
Yet Giragosian warned that open loyalty from Armenia toward Russia could endanger “any sense of diplomatic balance” and threaten to “push Armenia into a vulnerable and isolated position on the wrong side of history.”
Russia has been reaching out to its traditional allies in the post-Soviet sphere to secure their support since the start of the war. On February 26, Putin held phone calls with Pashinyan and Aliyev. While the press release from Pashinyan’s office does not mention the war in Ukraine, Aliyev and Putin “discussed the situation amid the escalation of events in Ukraine,” according to Aliyev’s office. Pashinyan and Putin discussed “issues related to the activities of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.”
Heads of the member states of the EAEU, a Russian-led trade bloc of five former Soviet states, met in Kazakhstan this week to discuss measures to counteract the economic fallout from international sanctions leveled against Russia.
“Of course, it is obvious that sanctions will have a clear impact on the economic climate in the Eurasian region, and in this regard, we need to discuss what operative decisions we should make to minimize these negative consequences and if possible, bypass them by taking appropriate steps,” Pashinyan said during the summit.
The ruble plummeted about 30-percent against the US dollar on Monday following a range of sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and other Western countries targeting the Russian baking sector and state-owned companies.
Former finance minister Vardan Aramyan said that the devaluation of Russian currency could impact the competitiveness of Armenian goods in the Russian market.
“The Russian ruble has weakened against the Armenian dram and will continue to depreciate. This, of course, will affect our exporters, as they will lose their price competitiveness,” he said during a February 28 interview with Sputnik Armenia.
Aramyan also said that the sanctions could reduce demand for Armenian goods among Russian consumers. “People will have less money, which will lead to a decrease in purchasing power and demand for goods, including in relation to our goods that ended up on the Russian market,” he said.
Russia is Armenia’s number one trading partner. Deputy Minister of the Economy of Armenia Narek Teryan said last week that trade between Armenia and Russia topped $2.6 billion in 2021.
Aramyan also said that the sanctions may reduce remittances from Russia, negatively impacting the Armenian economy.
Armenia received $2.1 billion in remittances from the diaspora in 2021, as stated by the Union of Banks of Armenia on February 16. The largest share of transfers, about $866 million, came from Russia.
Despite official silence, some Armenians have expressed support for Ukraine in opposition to the Russian armed attack. On February 27, the Ukrainian embassy in Yerevan organized a small demonstration with under 100 participants to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Armenian public opinion on the conflict is complicated by Ukraine’s ongoing support for Azerbaijan, including during the 2020 Artsakh War.
Yet demonstrations in Armenia pale in comparison to mass protests in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Thousands of people gathered in Tbilisi on Tuesday for the sixth day of protests to demand the resignation of the Georgian government over its inadequate support for Ukraine. Hundreds of people attended a protest in Baku at the Ukrainian embassy on Sunday to condemn the Russian invasion.
Indeed, Armenia is the only South Caucasus country that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not tweeted about since the start of the war.
“Incredible Georgian people who understand that friends must be supported! Grateful to everyone in Tbilisi and other cities who came out in support of Ukraine and against the war. Indeed, there are times when citizens are not the Government, but better than the Government,” he tweeted on February 25.
I continue negotiations with international partners. Had a conversation with 🇦🇿 President @presidentaz. We appreciate the humanitarian aid and medicines provided. Thank you for your support to 🇺🇦
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 26, 2022