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Now is the Time for the West to Transform Armenia into a Major Non-NATO Ally

Now is the time for the West to undo past mistakes and integrate a valuable country into becoming a future non-NATO ally

Police blocked the way to protesters during a rally against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan, Armenia, on 12 June. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy
Police blocked the way to protesters during a rally against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan, Armenia, on 12 June. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy

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Over the past few years, major geopolitical shifts have occurred in the South Caucasus, where Armenia is turning westward while Georgia is becoming heavily influenced by Russian politics.

Armenia, which has fought several devastating wars since 2020, stood at a disadvantage against a more heavily armed and internationally backed Azerbaijan, but this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Russia, behind the scenes, would play an instrumental role using hybrid warfare tactics that helped lead to Armenia’s precarious situation, where Yerevan is now looking for reliable partners. Because of such a geopolitical shift, now is the time for the West to undo past mistakes and integrate a valuable country into becoming a future non-NATO ally.


Armenia’s Security Conundrum

Armenia’s geography is kryptonite to the country as Yerevan is sandwiched between two countries that have historical hostilities against them, such as the Armenian Genocide with Turkey and conflicts over territory with Azerbaijan.

Armenia, for the past 200 years, has been under the fold of Moscow since the Russian conquest of the Caucasus and subsequent Soviet Union. Having a historical connection to Karabakh, Josef Stalin would transfer the then Armenian majority autonomous oblast to Azerbaijan, igniting a brutal sectarian conflict.

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The redrawing of borders by Moscow and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union led to numerous wars and displacement, and the South Caucasus was no exception. The First Karabakh War was a major victory for Armenia but came at a price, including mass displacement on both sides.

Subsequent Armenian governments would be heavily Kremlin-backed by the new Russian Federation, and Azerbaijan would spend decades building its military from the ground and strike back at Armenia at the most opportunistic time.


Second Karabakh War and Russo-Armenian Split

Several pro-Russian governments in Armenia allowed decades-long autocrat Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin to have a foothold in the South Caucasus, but Armenia’s Velvet Revolution subsequently impeded this. Removing the pro-Russian Sargsyan government for a more open-to-the-West one was a blow the Kremlin would hold a grudge on akin to Ukraine’s Maiden.

Azerbaijan would ignite the Second Karabakh War in 2020 and, this time, be far more prepared than Armenia, which stagnated in its military and international standing. Supplemented by Turkish and Israeli drones and military advisers from the former, Azerbaijan was able to capitulate Armenia in less than 44 days and take the majority of the Karabakh region.

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The capitulation was Russian-backed, and Putin, using renewed soft power akin to operations in Syria, would send a sizeable contingent of soldiers to act as peacekeepers. Armenia was also humiliated, and they would have no choice but to accept Russian protection as, without geopolitical support like Azerbaijan had, the country would continue to stagnate.

Analysts would claim that Russia was the true winner of the 2020 war as it gave the Kremlin a physical presence in Karabakh not seen since the height of the USSR. Moscow also helped dictate terms of the trilateral agreement, in which Yerevan even had to cede districts to Baku that weren’t captured in the war.


Growing Ties Westward as Russia Becomes Unreliable

Against the backdrop of the 2020 war, Armenia would once again face a military confrontation with Azerbaijan, this time in Armenia proper.  In late 2021, Azerbaijan’s military invaded several points of Armenia, and despite requesting assistance, only a US-mitigated ceasefire would occur.

Armenia is in a Russian-created defensive alliance called the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), which the Kremlin envisioned to rival NATO. However, the organisation is highly uncooperative with various kleptocrats and internal conflicts, such as the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan clashes.

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CSTO did not come to Armenia’s aid in 2021, and the heads of state minimally put diplomatic pressure on Azerbaijan’s dictatorship to mitigate tensions. From this, Armenia’s government started to drift away from CSTO.

In 2022, Russia, which is increasingly looking for ways to digress and evade sanctions on the backdrop of the invasion of Ukraine, grew increasingly close to Azerbaijan and Turkey. Primarily, Russia uses its one true power, energy through gas and oil, into the two Turkic countries to evade sanctions, for which Turkey has recently come under scrutiny.

The final 2023 lightning war by Azerbaijan saw the remaining Armenians of Karabakh flee, and the region was officially ethnically cleansed of the millennia-old population. Russian peacekeepers were once again completely idle to the aggression, even when several of their military forces were killed by Azerbaijani shelling.

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Armenia would not only start to look for other nations with common interests, but Yerevan would also attend American-sponsored peace talks, at which Azerbaijan and Turkey would display ire.

Armenia also could not compete with Azerbaijan, which has a more favourable international platform but was also militarily backed by the Turkish and Israeli governments and quietly the CSTO member states of Russia and Belarus.

In leaked documents reported by Politico on 13 June, it was ultimately weapon shipments from Belarus to Azerbaijan that infuriated the Armenian government, where the current Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, stated no minister would ever visit Belarus under his cabinet along with intentions to leave CSTO.


How Integration into Non-NATO Ally Status Can Work

Armenia is in a precarious situation where it cannot fully sever relations with Russia unless it also has security guarantees from a major power. Armenia could use the model of India, UAE, and Vietnam of countries maintaining good relations with all geopolitical spheres but simultaneously growing a strong system.

Akin to smaller countries such as South Korea, Israel, and Estonia, Armenia has a growing technological industry with great IT specialists and scientists. Growing the tech industry could be beneficial to closer ties with regional and world powers that may want to invest in the country.

Applying for NATO membership could put Armenia in indefinite purgatory as Turkey. By extension, Hungary would never vote to forward ascension or keep Yerevan in limbo unless both countries were given concessions akin to the geopolitical standoff against Finland and Sweden.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, speaks during a news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at the State Department, on June 18. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo

Yerevan could instead become a major non-NATO ally status with growing bilateral ties with each member state akin to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, Argentina, and the UAE. Currently, France is growing military and bilateral relations with Armenia, leading to open condemnation from Azerbaijan, in which the latter is using hybrid methods in New Caledonia.

However, the main concern of Armenia’s integration into the West would be security along the borders, especially as threats of a new war loom against Azerbaijan. France and India are currently sending heavy weaponry to Armenia, and though this is progress, other efforts should be taken.

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Due to the large contingent of Azerbaijani soldiers on the Armenian border and CSTO being an inept defensive alliance, a small contingent of NATO forces should be placed on the contact lines akin to the Kosovo mission.

Only a few hundred NATO troops, supplemented by American advisors who could train the Armenian army and mold them into the Western military doctrine, could suffice. The US has already been growing ties with Armenia through the NASA-sponsored Artemis program and the army training.

A country with a tremendous upside and a growing economic and IT sector, Armenia should be molded into non-NATO ally status. Surrounded by existential threats and ‘guarantors’ run by self-serving kleptocrats, Armenia could face even greater disasters unless having stronger-backed international security assistance.


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