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Armenia Courts Western Allies as Relations with Russia Deteriorate

  • Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused two unnamed CSTO member states of secretly supporting Azerbaijan during the 2023 Karabakh War.
  • The Armenian government temporarily suspended broadcasts of Russia's Channel One over critical coverage of Pashinyan's leadership.
  • Russia recalled its ambassador to Armenia for consultations amid escalating diplomatic tensions.
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Armenian-Russian relations are experiencing another spike in tension. The Armenian government briefly pulled the plug on a major Russian propaganda platform, and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has accused two unnamed member states of a Moscow-led security alliance of conspiring to help Azerbaijan to reconquer Nagorno Karabakh.

Once strategic partners, Armenia and Russia have fallen out amid accusations by Yerevan that the Kremlin did not fulfill its obligations to defend Armenian security interests during the Second Karabakh War. The fighting ended in the fall of 2023, when Azerbaijani forces drove an estimated 100,000 Karabakh Armenians residents from the territory. Since then, Pashinyan’s government has downgraded relations with Russia, while forging stronger ties with the United States and European Union.  

Officials in Yerevan announced May 29 the suspension of broadcasts by Russia's state-owned broadcaster, Channel One, ostensibly citing unpaid debts to the Armenian agency that controls digital frequencies. But the move appeared to have a political connection too. The suspension followed Channel One's broadcast of a talk show featuring fierce criticism of Pashinyan’s leadership. Russian lawmakers during the program accused Pashinyan of undermining the Russian-Armenian alliance and of making excessive concessions to Azerbaijan that weakened Armenia’s national security. Channel One broadcasts resumed in Armenia, according to multiple media reports on May 31, after Russia covered its payment arrears.

Days before the ban was announced, Pashinyan accused "two" members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) of supporting Baku’s war efforts. Armenia is also a CSTO partner, but as part of the chill that has engulfed bilateral relations with Moscow, Yerevan has frozen its active participation in the alliance. 

"I know at least two CSTO member countries that participated in the preparation of the war against us. These countries may have created an illusion that they wanted to help us," Pashinyan said on May 22. "The aim of this war was the non-existence of an independent Armenian state". 

Pashinyan later mentioned comments by Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko made during his mid-May visit to Azerbaijan. The implication of Pashinyan’s assessment was that Belarus was one of the unnamed co-conspirators. 

The first country to react to Pashinyan’s accusation was Russia. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova challenged the Armenian prime minister to name names.

"I wonder which countries the Armenian prime minister was talking about. Should we all guess, or will they tell us later?" Zakharova told a news briefing in Moscow. 

Zakharova claimed that Russia had done its utmost to ensure that Armenia 'did not feel abandoned and forgotten' during the six-week war with Azerbaijan. Zakharova noted that Russia brokered a ceasefire agreement in October 2020, which Pashinyan initially rejected, resulting in further territorial losses for Armenia, before agreeing to another Russian-brokered ceasefire two weeks later.

On May 24, Russia recalled its ambassador to Armenia, Sergei Kopyrkin, for consultations amid ongoing diplomatic tensions. Zakharova announced the move, but gave no explanation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also offered no reason for the move, saying only that "ambassadors come regularly for consultations.”

By Ani Avetisyan via Eurasianet.org

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