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Armenia shifts away from Russia and seeks closer ties with the West

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Armenia, a former Soviet republic and a long-time ally of Russia, has announced a major shift in its foreign policy orientation, as it seeks to establish closer relations with the West amid growing tensions with Moscow.

The Armenian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that it will hold joint military exercises with the United States from September 11 to 20, aimed at preparing its forces for international peacekeeping operations. This is the first time that Armenia will host such drills with the US, which is seen as a rival and a threat by Russia.

The announcement came after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan criticized Russia’s role as a peacekeeper in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, where a war broke out last year between Armenia and Azerbaijan, another former Soviet state.

Pashinyan accused Russia of failing to protect Armenia from what he called the continuing aggression of Azerbaijan, which has blocked a vital road connecting Armenia to the ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. He also suggested that Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine had weakened its ability to meet Armenia’s security needs.

Armenia has been increasingly disillusioned with Russia since the 2020 war, which ended with a humiliating defeat for Armenia and a loss of territory to Azerbaijan. The war also exposed the limits of Armenia’s membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russian-led military alliance of post-Soviet countries.

Armenia this year refused to allow CSTO exercises on its territory and declined to send troops to current bloc exercises in Belarus. It also expressed interest in joining the NATO-led Partnership for Peace program, which aims to enhance cooperation and dialogue between NATO and non-member countries.

Armenia’s pivot to the West is also motivated by economic and political factors, as it seeks to diversify its trade and investment partners and to strengthen its democratic institutions.

Armenia is already a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), a trade bloc led by Russia, but it has also signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the European Union in 2017, which covers areas such as political dialogue, human rights, justice, security, trade and investment.

Armenia has also been receiving substantial aid and assistance from the US, especially after the 2018 Velvet Revolution that brought Pashinyan to power on a platform of anti-corruption and democratic reforms.

Armenia’s move away from Russia and towards the West is likely to have significant implications for the regional stability and security, as well as for the global balance of power.

Russia may view Armenia’s actions as a betrayal and a threat to its interests and influence in the South Caucasus, a strategic region that borders Turkey, Iran and the Caspian Sea1 Russia may also seek to counter Armenia’s alignment with the West by increasing its support for Azerbaijan or by exerting more pressure on Armenia through economic or diplomatic means.

The West, on the other hand, may welcome Armenia’s shift as an opportunity to expand its presence and engagement in the region, as well as to promote its values and interests. The West may also seek to support Armenia’s sovereignty and security by providing more assistance and cooperation in various fields.

However, both sides may also face challenges and risks in dealing with Armenia’s new foreign policy direction.

Russia may risk losing a key ally and partner in the region, while the West may risk provoking a confrontation or a crisis with Russia or Azerbaijan.

Therefore, both sides may need to exercise caution and restraint, as well as dialogue and communication, in order to avoid further escalation or conflict in the region.

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