RCDS Insights: Armenia’s “anti-Russian” Turn

RCDS Insights: Armenia’s “anti-Russian” Turn





Armenia has taken several actions that have been interpreted as a fundamental shift in its foreign policy.




In the past few weeks, Azerbaijan has carried out significant troop movements, building up military equipment on the border with Armenia and around Nagorno-Karabakh. These actions, accompanied by Baku’s intensified disinformation efforts to suggest that Armenia is staging military provocations, may indicate Azerbaijan is preparing to escalate the conflict militarily. At the same time, the Armenian government has taken several steps and issued statements that have been perceived as anti-Russian, leading to a backlash from Moscow. 


The driving force behind these recent developments stems from Armenia’s perception that Russia’s ability to uphold its security commitments has eroded, a sentiment underscored by the unopposed Azerbaijani incursions into Armenian territory in September 2022. Since then, Armenia’s response has been an attempt to diversify its diplomatic and security relationships. At the same time, it’s crucial to note that certain measures, while construed as part of a sudden “anti-Russian” stance, are the result of broader ongoing processes. Notably, one of them –– the Rome Statute ratification –– remains primarily unrelated to Russia, despite the implication that Armenia would be required to arrest President Vladimir Putin on an International Criminal Court warrant were he to enter the country again.


Armenia’s Rationale 


Armenia has taken certain steps, both in rhetoric and actions, that have been interpreted by some as a shift away from Moscow and a growing alignment with the West.


1. Armenia dispatched humanitarian aid to Ukraine with the accompaniment of Pashinyan’s wife Anna Hakobyan. Hakobyan also attended the Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen, organized by First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenskaya in Kyiv on September 6. These actions held clear political significance, given Ukraine’s ongoing war following Russia’s invasion, and were aimed at signaling Armenia’s non-involvement in Russia’s war efforts. In a June 2023 interview with CNN Prima News, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan explicitly stated, “we are not Russia’s ally in the war with Ukraine,” and underscored the precarious position Armenia finds itself in, caught between both sides, without being perceived as an ally by either Russia or the West.


2. On September 5, 2023, Armenia recalled its representative to the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), reassigning him as ambassador to the Netherlands. Although this withdrawal coincided with the end of the representative’s regular tenure, it appears that at the moment, Armenia has no plans to appoint a new representative to the organization.


3. Armenia is currently engaged in joint military exercises with the U.S. military, known as Eagle Partner 2023. These are not the first joint military drills between the two countries. It’s worth noting that the U.S. proposal for these drills had been under consideration by the Armenian government for some time. Armenia’s decision to finally proceed with these drills on its territory, despite the risk of straining relations with Russia, was primarily driven by concerns over a military escalation by Azerbaijan. It is aimed at deterring Baku and conveying a political message, and signaling an ability to impose limitations on Azerbaijan’s maneuverability. Armenia recognizes the possibility that in the event of a crisis, Russia might not intervene. Therefore, seeking increased Western involvement becomes a means to prevent such escalation.


4. Recently, Pashinyan gave interviews to La Repubblika and Politico, stating that Armenia cannot depend on Russia. At the same time, it must be noted that Pashinyan was not saying anything new, and that the interviews were contextualized with assessments of the security situation, and in particular that the CSTO did not act under its obligations to defend Armenia in the event of an attack, which happened in September 2022. The headlines of these pieces were provocative and seemed new, although Pashinyan had repeated these ideas multiple times for a domestic audience — but the consistent choice of words for international media indicates Pashinyan’s eagerness for those messages to be heard in Western capitals.


5. Armenia appears ready to ratify the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). This step will strengthen Armenia’s legal framework to address and prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Importantly, it also entails an obligation to extradite individuals suspected of these crimes, and this includes Russian President Vladimir Putin, should he ever set foot on Armenian territory. While the likelihood of Armenia arresting and extraditing Putin, even if he visited Armenia post-ratification, remains remote, the potential blow to Russia’s image with this move is significant due to Armenia’s nominal ally status. However, it’s important to note that this impending ratification is not part of any “anti-Russian” measures. The ratification process was already in progress before Putin’s indictment by the ICC and would have been introduced to parliament even sooner, if not for unrelated delays at the Constitutional Court. 




Armenia is not pursuing formal withdrawal from the CSTO, but it is essentially freezing its membership and seeking to create some distance from the alliance. This isn't a fundamental policy shift but rather an effort to broaden its diplomatic and security relationships.


These actions may provoke a growing backlash from Russia, as Armenia is treading a delicate line of brinkmanship and testing Russia's boundaries. However, it's vital to consider Armenia's structural economic and energy dependencies on Russia. It would be unrealistic to expect that Armenia fundamentally alters its foreign policy orientation towards the West without these dependencies being addressed and mitigated.