Eduard Abrahamyan, Movses Ter-Oganesyan
Both the political crisis in Armenia and the conflict with Azerbaijan showing no signs of abating.
The political crisis in Armenia has intensified after Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation and shows no signs of ending. This crisis proves that Russia maintains two major levers of influence over Armenia: Armenia’s corrupt oligarchic system and the military threat stemming from Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s leader, Ilham Aliyev, has maintained a zero-sum approach to the conflict in Artsakh (formerly Nagorno-Karabakh) for approximately the last ten years. This is largely because Aliyev has used his country’s profitable oil exports to fund a massive military build-up. As Azerbaijan has grown rich and powerful, its relationship with Russia has improved. Russian President Vladimir Putin has become increasingly willing to bargain with a more powerful Azerbaijan at Armenia’s expense, effectively abandoning his traditional alliance with Armenia.
Russia’s shift in alliances has resulted in the marginalization of Armenia. This shift has included a refusal to adhere to the OSCE arms embargo to the conflict zone. In doing so, Russia has ignored the interests of the region. Since 2010, Russia has procured up to five billion dollars worth arms and military equipment for Azerbaijan while subsequently delaying weapons sales to the Armenian side. This has increased the risk of war by tipping the balance of military power in Azerbaijan’s favor. Such lopsided weapons sales became a major contributing factor in causing that Four-Day War of April 2016, a conflict that resulted in Armenia losing territory for the first time since 1994.
Even though the political crisis in Armenia lessened with the election of opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan as Prime Minister on May 8, the situation nevertheless remains tense. This ongoing political crisis still provides a unique opportunity for Russia and Azerbaijan to make territorial gains through the use of force. In order to appreciate how powerful and intractable Armenia’s domestic crisis is, it helps to recall its origins.