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Armenia Is Literally Joining Forces With Russia

The United States will pay for improved Armenian elections. That doesn't mean Armenia will rotate away from Russia.


The drama between soft and hard power is about to play out on the stage of Armenia.

The U.S. Embassy in Armenia announced this week that the United States, along with the European Union and the governments of the United Kingdom and Germany, will provide financial support for a new voting process in Armenia. The new processes are meant to decrease electoral fraud. According to a statement, posted Monday on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page, American envoys will help “strengthen trust in the Armenian electoral process via same-day voter authentication and the publication of signed voter lists after the elections.” The statement concludes by noting that the United States was the first country to recognize Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, stressing the strength of the relationship between the two countries, and that Washington remains “strongly committed to being a part of Armenia’s ongoing democratic growth and in helping it become the independent, secure, and prosperous nation its people deserve.”

Is this, then, a sign that Armenia is to tighten ties with the United States and Western Europe?

Not quite.

Armenian Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan is currently in Moscow, where he and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu are expected to sign an updated military task force agreement this week. Under this agreement, Russia will legally be able to use its military to ostensibly protect Armenia. In an interview with Izvestia prior to his Russian rendezvous, Sargsyan said Russia and Armenia have between them not only a long-term alliance, but also centuries of friendship and brotherhood.

That Russia is pulling Armenia ever closer is upsetting to some in Azerbaijan, where some lawmakers are asking for reconsideration of their country’s close relations with Russia. Azerbaijan’s relationship with Armenia is fraught over, among other things, the frozen conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, in which Russia has played peacemaker, and from which it has therefore sometimes been accused of benefiting.

But before Western watchers get too excited: If it is unlikely that Armenia forsake Russia for America’s electoral embrace, it is even less likely that Azerbaijan would turn away from Russia and toward true democracy.

Photo credit: MIKHAIL METZEL/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin