While media attention remains transfixed on Russia’s alleged influence in the 2016 U.S. election, a less-discussed unholy alliance involving Moscow continues to fly under the radar.
Those raising concern over the Trump administration’s relationship with the Russians should also be alarmed about the foreign policy marriage between Armenia and Russia, as well as its consequences for American-Armenian ties.
Mirror image foreign policies
Upon visiting Russia in March, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said he and Putin discussed “issues related to the coordination of foreign policy.” Using even stronger language, Putin said, “During the exchange on the current international and regional problems, it was noted that the positions of Armenia and Russia are close to each other or coincide. Our countries are striving to coordinate activities in the framework of the U.N.”
“Close to each other” is an understatement. In fact, the foreign policies emanating from Moscow and the Armenian capital of Yerevan are virtually one and the same. Look no further than Los Angeles, where Armenia’s consul general, Sergey Sarkisov, is a Russian citizen and a notorious Russian oligarch.
The Los Angeles consulate’s website states that Armenia “is consistent in strengthening and deepening the special partnership and allied relationship with Russia, based upon the traditional friendly ties between the two nations.” The consulate’s foreign policy webpage does not even mention the U.S., despite the fact that this is Yerevan’s diplomatic mission to an American region.
‘Transit route towards Iran’
If it were limited to rhetoric, perhaps the uncomfortable Armenian-Russian alliance could be tolerated. But the situation gets much more precarious when arms enter the picture.
Russia, in February, announced its transfer of advanced aircraft to Armenia, while promising the Armenians a $200 million weapons credit. Moscow also rolled out a plan to utilize Yerevan as the connector for Russia’s regional power grid extending to Iran. Sargsyan said in March that Armenia sees “great potential in becoming a transit route towards Iran and the Persian Gulf.”
The “transit route” that Armenia is seeking to facilitate would benefit an Iranian regime that is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. Iran is currently emboldened by the $150 billion in sanctions relief coming its way from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers—with the pact’s signatories including Russia and the U.S., under the former Obama administration. The current American administration needs to understand that economic aid to Armenia means indirectly supporting the very nuclear accord that President Donald Trump has repeatedly opposed.
In April, Yuri Khachaturov, an Armenian Armed Forces general, was appointed to lead the Collective Security Treaty Organization, commonly known as “Putin’s NATO.” This development illustrates the degree of Russia’s influence over its neighbors—particularly Armenia, the least sovereign of the post-Soviet states. Armenia is filled with Russian military bases and weapons, and its external borders are guarded by Russian security officers. Russia even patrols Armenia’s airspace.
In November 2016, Russia placed its nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles right next to America’s NATO-member Baltic allies and announced plans to do the same in its annexed territory of Crimea—essentially threatening the entire Black Sea region. President Sargysan, upon arrival of his gifted missiles, did not miss a beat and proceeded to threaten its neighbor, Azerbaijan, with violence.
American aid to Armenia
Russia’s strategic deployment of its vassal, Armenia, marks a clear and open defiance of U.S. interests in the international arena. Yet America funds Armenia to the tune of $22.4 million annually, while USAID devotes $2 million per year to Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-occupied territory that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in a dispute over the territory since 1991 but agreed to a cease-fire in 1994; tensions have reignited in recent years, with the two countries reportedly “closer to war than at any time since 1994.”
Conflict of interest
The Minsk Group, which purports to mediate between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, includes French, Russian and U.S. diplomats. How can Russia, Yerevan’s puppeteer, be an objective mediator in a conflict involving its puppet?
Moscow funnels substantial military aid to Armenia that perpetuates the latter’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian occupation defies U.N. Security Council Resolutions 853, 874 and 884, as well as U.N. General Assembly Resolutions 19/13 and 57/298, which all describe Karabakh as Azerbaijani territory.
By acknowledging the true face of the Armenian-Russian alliance, both the Trump administration and members of Congress can craft a more sensible U.S. policy toward Eurasia, while all Americans can inject the discourse on U.S.-Russia ties with key information on the role of Armenia—an element that should have been part of the discussion all along.
Jacob Kamaras is an editor for the Jewish News Service, and is noted for his work on the Middle East and American politics. His writing has appeared in FoxNews.com, the Washington Times, Independent Journal Review, The American Spectator, and CNS News.