Armenia and Russia, Pashinyan and Putin

Armenia cancels military exercises with Russia

The announcement comes after Armenian criticism of the role that Russia is playing in the South Caucasus and against Azerbaijan.

The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, has announced the suspension of the joint military exercises that his country planned to carry out with Russia amid tensions between Yerevan and Moscow over the role that the Russian peacekeepers deployed in Karabakh are playing in the conflict with Azerbaijan.

Speaking to reporters, Pashinyan confirmed that he sees “no reason to carry out CSTO (the NATO-like military organization that brings together Russia and other former Soviet republics) drills in the Republic of Armenia this year,” he said, considering them “inappropriate given the current situation”.

Pashinyan recently criticized the role that Moscow, which Armenia saw as “its main ally”, is playing in the South Caucasus and especially in the conflict with Azerbaijan for the control of Karabakh, implying that Russia has abandoned Armenia to avoid a confrontation with Azerbaijan, a country that is not a member of the CSTO but with which the Kremlin wants to maintain good relations.

The Armenian prime minister has also repeatedly accused Russian peacekeepers deployed in Karabakh of failing to protect Armenians living in the region, and has called for their replacement by a multinational force, possibly under UN command: something that could especially benefit France, an ally of Armenia who is seeking to replace Russia as an influential power in the South Caucasus.

With its attention on Ukraine, Russia loses influence in the Caucasus

Russia maintains some 2,000 troops deployed in the Lachin region, which Armenia returned to Azerbaijan after its capitulation at the end of 2020, including in the so-called Lachin corridor, a strip of land that connects Armenia with what remains of Artsakh, the self-proclamed pro-Armenian republic – recognized only by Yerevan – founded on occupied Karabakh.

Armenia also accuses Azerbaijani activists of blocking the passage through the vital Lachin corridor since last December 12 due to the passivity of the Russian peacekeeping forces. Azerbaijan, however, denies that the corridor is being blocked by activists, who denounce Armenia’s illegal plundering of Karabakh’s natural resources and the use of the corridor to transport military equipment.

The suspension of military exercises with Russia would therefore be an attempt to pressure Armenia against the Kremlin, albeit with rather limited effects. Analysts believe that Moscow, with all its attention and resources focused on the war in Ukraine, does not want to open a new conflict in the South Caucasus even at the risk of losing its influence in the region, and is maintaining a role that currently is no longer that of an actor, but of a simple spectator.