Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Tuesday announced that he had refused to host Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) peacekeeping drills in Armenia — explicitly rebuffing Russian support not only to Artsakh, but the Republic of Armenia itself.
“The military presence of the Russian Federation not only does not ensure the security of the Republic of Armenia, but also creates a threat to its security,” he told a room of hand-picked reporters.
He specified that his government “informed the CSTO joint headquarters in writing that we do not consider it appropriate to hold such military exercises in the Republic of Armenia in this situation. Those military exercises will not take place this year,” Pashinyan said.
The press conference came a day after Pashinyan-aligned demonstrators attempted to surround the Russian military base in Gyumri, the sentinel on the border with hostile Turkey, demanding Russia’s expulsion.
It was the latest step in a pattern of sabotage, which began with Pashinyan’s 2018 jailing of Armenia’s respected CSTO representative General Yuri Khachadurov over spurious claims, later thrown out, and the ill-fated dismissal of CSTO warnings of an impending Azeri attack and rejection of preventative military drills in September 2020. Last fall, Armenia again declined to participate in CSTO drills, and Pashinyan capped the year by making a public spectacle of rejecting a military support package in the final minutes of a summit attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian Defense Ministry has announced that units of the Russian Ground Forces will take part in a peacekeeping exercise of the CSTO to be held in Armenia, according to the website of the Russian Defense Ministry.
Pashinyan’s latest rebuffing of a military exercise explicitly aimed at bolstering CSTO’s peacekeeping capacity and interoperability, and which would have brought Russian ground troops to counter the Turkish buildup on Armenia’s borders, comes as Russia’s peacekeeping mission in the Artsakh Republic is under unprecedented pressure from Baku and now Yerevan. Pashinyan, in parallel with his consolidation over all key levers of power, namely the judiciary and police, has dropped even verbal support for Artsakh’s right to self-determination, gifting Erdogan and Aliyev fresh diplomatic leverage to demand the end of the Russian protectorate, eliminate Artsakh as an autonomous republic, and then continue with the ongoing campaign to sever Armenia from its vital lungs to the outside world through Georgia and Iran.
Russian peacekeepers stationed on the precarious low ground beneath the occupied fortress city of Shushi are currently locked in a month-old standoff with Azeri forces on the artery connecting Artsakh to Armenia. Baku has strategically put forward unarmed personnel posing as eco-activists as the veneer of its blockade, effectively controlling the media narrative and precluding the use of force for their removal. While Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan has called for the peacekeepers’ mandate to be strengthened and numbers boosted, the Pashinyan administration has done the opposite — working to convince the Armenian public and Diaspora that Artsakh’s submission to Azerbaijan is in the best interest of the nation.
Despite Azerbaijan’s failure to honor its most basic obligation to return Armenian POWs following the 2020 war, Pashinyan has expedited conditions for Aliyev’s demands, which now extend to claim over the capital Yerevan, to be fulfilled. Pashinyan’s administration pulled the Armenian military from Artsakh in July and then in August enforced the ceding of the Berdzor artery — the umbilical cord of gas, electricity, hydroelectric and telecom infrastructure between Armenia and Artsakh, leaving the local Artsakh Defense Forces and Russia’s two-thousand man contingent as the only force inside a noose of Turkish and Azeri troops vulnerable to gas and communication blockades.
The planned CSTO peacekeeping exercises, unveiled by the Russian Ministry of Defense on the first day of the New Year, would logically bolster the peacekeeping mission in Artsakh and send a defiant message to Ankara and Baku following joint Turkish-Azeri drills which saw Turkey keep its forces ominously stationed in place — as was done in the runup to the 2020 aggression.
Pashinyan on Tuesday effectively rejected the military support he for months has claimed to be seeking from Armenia’s chief ally.
The threat to Armenia today is no less than that to Artsakh. Of the three regional powers impacting Armenia — Russia, Iran and NATO’s second largest army Turkey — only one seeks Armenia’s destruction as a sovereign nation.
With the US-led NATO alliance locked in a protracted and deepening struggle against Russia in Ukraine, there will be no Western arming of Armenia against Turkey, and neither Pashinyan handing over Artsakh nor expelling Russian troops from Gyumri will change that but will only leave Armenia exponentially more vulnerable.
The US State Department announced last year — when Iran held military exercises along the Arax River bordering Azeri-occupied areas of Artsakh and in support of Armenia’s territorial integrity — that Washington stood firmly in support of Azerbaijan.
The Pashinyan administration, by courting Turkey and Azerbaijan and shunning Armenia’s natural allies, invites the truncating of Armenia and paves the way for genocide.
Those Armenians who wish to see the homeland secure must comprehend that the only Western intervention will not be salvation from France or America, but invasion via the easternmost member of NATO: Turkey. The ongoing expulsion of Russia spells genocide.