Moscow's move to improve relations with Baku points to serious shift in Russian policy: Director of Armenian Center for National and International Studies

Moscow's move to improve relations with Baku points to serious shift in Russian policy: Director of Armenian Center for National and International Studies

Director of Armenian Center for National and International Studies Richard Giragosian especially for Trend

In response to the recent state visit to Armenia by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, during which the visiting Georgian leader was awarded a medal from Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and an honorary degree from the Yerevan Sate University, several leading members of the Russian Duma (or lower house of the Russian parliament) were very critical of the Armenian authorities. 

Yet ironically, there was also domestic criticism within Armenia itself, by many who questioned the Armenian president's decision to "award" the Georgian leader with such "honors," while the majority Armenian population of southern Georgia's Javakheti region remain subject to profound under-investment, under-development and widespread poverty, as well as victim of Georgian policies that have failed to uphold the most basic civic rights for the Armenian community within Georgia.

But the Russian reaction was both sudden and surprisingly strident. While this reaction by some Russian politicians does not necessarily reflect any sudden negative developments in Russian-Armenian relations, it is significant for three reasons.  

First, the immediate Russian criticism of the Armenian reception of the Georgian leader reveals more about Moscow's continued hostility toward Saakashvili, even now almost one year after the war between the two countries. In this way, the primary message of the Russian response was directed more against the Georgian leader than his Armenian hosts.

Second, the Russian response and criticism of Armenia reveals a deeper and, for Armenia, a more disturbing trend, whereby Russia has been increasingly arrogant and short-sighted in its treatment of Armenia, the only reliable ally for Moscow in the region. Moreover, Russian policy toward Armenia has been generally taking Armenian friendship and loyalty "for granted," rather than as an expression of a true strategic partner. And from this context, there is a danger that Moscow will only continue to treat Armenia as a "vassal" state, rather than as a strategic ally.

And finally, the third significant aspect of the Russian response over Armenian-Georgian relations is the timing, especially as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Baku on his own state visit just days after the Georgian leader was in Armenia. 

This latest demonstration of Moscow's move to improve relations with Baku suggests that Armenia should be more concerned with a more serious shift in Russian policy, marked by an improvement and expansion in Russian-Azerbaijani relations and perhaps leading to a modification in Russia's traditionally pro-Armenian stance on regional issues, including even the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Thus, it is not the Russian reaction to the Saakashvili state visit to Armenia that matters most, but the deeper developments that the Russian reaction to the visit has revealed.

Opinions expressed in this article may be different of those held by Trend

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