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Home » Pelosi’s visit to staunch Russia ally Armenia: A risky trip

Pelosi’s visit to staunch Russia ally Armenia: A risky trip

by Hamazasb Klanian
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The U.S. official’s visit to Armenia, one of the closest allies of Russia, has been perceived as dangerous. Whether the costly trip – paid for by an Armenian-Russian tycoon – will bear any fruit remains to be seen

The tiny post-Soviet nation of Armenia welcomed the speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, on Sept. 17. This high-level visit was intended to show the “strong commitment to security, economic prosperity and democratic government in Armenia,” according to an official statement. Despite being months in the making, the visit took place just as a three-day border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan concluded.

For the past 30 years, Armenia and its neighbor Azerbaijan have conflicted over Karabakh. Despite being designated as Azerbaijani territory by international law, Karabakh also has a substantial Armenian community. When Armenian forces occupied sizable portions of Azerbaijani land during the first war following the demise of the Soviet Union, around 600,000 Azerbaijanis were expelled from their homes. The “no conflict, no peace” impasse ended when a full-scale war broke out amid the pandemic in 2020. Ever since then, daily confrontations persist between the two sides not only in Karabakh but also along the border. The most recent border escalation in September 2022 resulted in over 200 deaths from both sides.

On a more positive note, the 2020 war has considerably increased the likelihood that the two countries will find peace. In April 2022, European Council President Charles Michel invited the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan to Brussels. Even though a full peace accord is yet to be achieved, several optimistic developments have raised hopes about this historic momentum. The path toward Armenian and Turkish reconciliation has also made some strides. Both nations have appointed special representatives and even opened their borders, albeit only to people from third countries.

In these uncertain times, Pelosi went on a trip to Armenia. She similarly traveled to Taiwan earlier this year despite objections due to the visit’s potential to strain already uneasy relations with Beijing. Pelosi also cared to draw a line between her visit to Taiwan and her visit to Armenia by saying that “from the U.S. to Ukraine to Taiwan to Armenia, the globe faces a choice between democracy and autocracy.” Comparing Taiwan to Armenia is erroneous, if not downright misleading in many ways, even though Pelosi’s team and Armenia would surely accept this narrative.

‘Our ally is Russia’

First off, Taiwan has been the steadfast ally of the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific for many decades. Even though the U.S. does not recognize its independence due to its official “One China” policy, maintaining Taiwan’s sovereignty is a crucial part of the foreign policy of the U.S. and its regional allies. On the other hand, to call Armenia an “American ally” would be the biggest falsehood ever. This little landlocked country has been an ally of Russia ever since it was founded. It belongs to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which was established by the Kremlin to expand its military dominance over the area known as the “zone of influence.” Armenia is also a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union, which was established in response to the 2014 invasion of Ukraine to stave off economic sanctions from the West.

“Our ally is Russia,” said Armenian Premier Nikol Pashinian with pride on Sept.14. Given that Armenia is home to three Russian military bases and a task force of around 3,000 soldiers stationed against NATO’s eastern flank, this assertion should not be surprising. However, the alliance between Armenia and Russia goes beyond military cooperation. Over the years, Armenia and Russia have regularly acted in opposition to U.S. regional interests, vehemently challenging the rule-based global order that Washington and its allies support.

At the behest of Pashinian, Russia most recently dispatched a contingent to suppress the protests in Kazakhstan in January 2022. Moreover, Armenia has continuously refused to recognize the territorial integrity of Georgia, a nation pursuing a Euro-Atlantic path. The stark political differences between Armenia and the West were perhaps best manifested by Yerevan’s position on Ukraine. Former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan was the only foreign leader to applaud Putin for the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Armenia has also regularly voted against Ukraine – along with Syria, Iran and North Korea – on multilateral platforms.

While the world was still reeling from Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, Pashinian traveled to Moscow to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Armenian-Russian relations in April 2022. Both leaders signed a statement condemning Western efforts against Russia and vowed to withstand what they referred to as “unjust sanctions.” This promise was kept quite promptly. Since Putin’s invasion began, Armenia has become a haven for Russian companies trying to avoid Western sanctions.

But Armenia’s support for the anti-American axis does not end with Russia. One of Armenia’s closest political allies is Iran, another ardent adversary of the U.S.-Iranian oligarchs, who were the target of Western sanctions, and have long sought refuge in Armenia. Pro-Iranian insurgents killed U.S. forces using weapons they obtained through Armenia in Iraq. While threatening to destroy American ally Israel, Iran’s supreme religious leader has regularly expressed his support for Armenia. Iran recently threatened to invade Azerbaijan because Baku closely collaborates with two steadfast American allies, Türkiye and Israel, undermining Tehran’s regional stance.

Syria issue

Syria is also one of Armenia’s allies. At a time when the world was striving to isolate the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, Armenia did not sever any ties with Damascus. On the other hand, the Armenian military frequently provided “humanitarian” assistance to the regime. At the direction of Pashinian, whom Pelosi met with in Yerevan, the Armenian and Russian military forces began a joint mission in Syria in support of the Assad regime in 2019.

Moreover, Taiwan is a nation that fights to save its democracy from the Beijing administration, which shares the same ethnic identity as the people of Taiwan. Armenia, however, is not in conflict with its neighbor over styles of governance but rather because of its territorial claims toward Azerbaijan. Considering this, it is still a mystery as to why the third most powerful American official went to Armenia, a close ally of Russia and Iran.

Perhaps understanding the specifics of Pelosi’s visit can help to solve this riddle. First and foremost, the delegation provides us with information. Pelosi traveled to Armenia with Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo, two lawmakers representing districts with sizable populations of Armenian Americans. Another representative, Frank Pallone, has been an outspoken supporter of Armenia since the 1990s. Working with both Armenia and Azerbaijan for many years, former American diplomat Matthew Bryza argued that “Pelosi’s visit was mostly about the domestic politics.”

But one element in particular needs careful consideration. Ruben Vardanyan, an Armenian-Russian tycoon, provided a significant portion of the funding for Pelosi’s three-day trip, which cost a whopping $120 million. Vardanyan has close ties to the government in Russia and his name was also added to the Putin Accountability Act due to his clandestine support for the invasion of Ukraine.

Regardless of personal motivations, Pelosi’s visit to Armenia, a close ally of Iran and Russia, and her expression of views there, which oppose U.S. regional interests, would not be well-received. As well as strengthening anti-American sentiment in countries that are regional partners of the U.S., Pelosi’s visit will aid states that have been battling against the rules-based order that the U.S. has long backed. But even from Armenia’s perspective, it is obvious that Pelosi’s visit had little to no effect on the nation; instead, it jeopardized the fragile peace efforts with Azerbaijan.

Source: Daily Sabah

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