As the West Turns to Azerbaijan, Armenia Turns to Russia

Azerbaijan and Armenia have long been linked as former Soviet republics, believed by many to be on basically the same path. More than ever, this is obviously incorrect; Azerbaijan and the West are growing closer, while Armenia has chosen the path of Russia and Vladimir Putin’s vassal state.

Armenia’s illegal occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and the other Azerbaijani provinces it occupies relies on both hard power – its decrepit military, backed by Russian hardware and an implicit Russian security guarantee – and soft power, through the use of its diplomatic corps and public relations campaigns that obfuscate the nature of the occupation. Because of Armenia’s choices, it must now rely on the former more than ever.

Over the last week, that soft power has begun to fail. In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Azerbaijan has experienced a series of small victories that together suggest that the long occupation of its territories by Armenia may finally be swinging toward justice.

First, British MP Robert Walter has been named the rapporteur on Nagorno-Karabakh. Walter has had a long and distinguished career in British politics, and is known for his evenhandedness in foreign affairs. He not only received more votes, but is arguably also a significant improvement over French MP Jean-Claude Mignon, the former President of PACE, a member of the France-Armenia Friendship Group in the French National Assembly, and a supporter of the Nagorno-Karabakh “Embassy” in France. (Nagorno-Karabakh is governed by a puppet regime that supplies Armenia with its Presidents and acts as an extension of Yerevan. Its government is recognized by Armenia alone.)

Azerbaijan also saw the proposed report titled “Escalation of Violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Other Occupied Territories of Azerbaijan” referred to PACE’s Political Affairs Committee; this is a win on two fronts, as Armenia had both opposed having the report move forward on its substance, and had fought tenaciously against the title of the report describing the reality of its occupation on the ground. Armenian ambassadors have been hard at work in European capitals for months, especially on the latter – because Yerevan knows that to call a thing by its real name is the first step in dealing with it.

Though these issues are small steps in the right direction, in the scheme of international recognition of the ongoing Armenian atrocity in occupied Azerbaijan, they are suggestions of a much larger shift underway – one in which Armenia finds fewer and fewer places to hide its crimes.

This disintegration of Armenian soft power has not been an isolated series of events; it has happened even while Armenia has come more and more to adopt the status of Russian client-state, withdrawing from the West and siding increasingly with Putin’s renascent Russian Empire. This process began long ago, when Armenia realized that its only hope of holding its ill-gotten gains lay with Russian backing; but now Armenia is about to enter Russia’s Eurasian Customs Union, the thinly-disguised Russian imperial project designed to disrupt EU-integration, and is performing joint exercises with Russian troops. Armenia last performed joint drills with American troops years ago; it has now forsworn any future efforts with the United States.

Even here, however, Nagorno-Karabakh is becoming a headache for its occupier. Some observers – including the President of Kazakhstan, which is already part of the Customs Union – recently wondered how occupied Nagorno-Karabakh would fit into this union, as Armenia will only be able to join within the UN-recognized borders. (Multiple resolutions by the United Nations, European Union, OSCE, and other international bodies calling for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenia from Nagorno-Karakbakh and the seven surrounding Azerbaijani provinces have gone unheeded.) Noting that he did not appreciate the comments of Nursultan Nazarbayev, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan replied that Nagorno-Karabakh “isn’t an integral part of Armenia.”

So slowly, the West is coming to realize that it has not so much lost Armenia to Russia, as Armenia has abandoned the West for a power more sympathetic to its rogue behavior.

Here, again, Azerbaijan provides a useful contrast. With its sensitive geo-strategic location, wedged between Russia and Iran, the oil-rich Caspian Sea to the East and Armenia to the West, Azerbaijan has tried to maintain balanced relations with both the West and Russia. Yet unlike Armenia, Baku has not been swept up by the de facto Russian Empire. Instead, it continues to expand its ties to the West through consistent engagement with bodies such as PACE and as a secure energy partner, bringing it closer to the nations that prize freedom and democracy.

Armenia deserves the West’s opprobrium for yielding to its worst inclinations; and with that example in mind, the West should support and reward Azerbaijan’s difficult stance.

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