CACDS - Southern Caucasus

Ruben Mehrabyan: "A New Stage of Armenia-US Relations: Multilevel Priorities for the Commonness of Values ​​and Interests"

7 May of this year The first meeting of the Armenia-US Strategic Dialogue took place in Yerevan. This is a new format in the relations between the two countries, which seems to have been formed to bring these relations to a standpoint in which they are held by reasons of objective and subjective nature.

As a result of the meeting, two documents were signed - assistance agreements, in which financing is specified in the amount of up to 16 million dollars in order to stimulate economic growth and effective management. USAID also announced the launch of a new initiative with a duration of 2-3 of the year, for the first year of which it provides for funding of 6 million dollars. "This new initiative will promote the Armenian government's agenda for democratic reforms, will stimulate the involvement of citizens and help to ensure the results visible to the Armenian people," the official statement said.

The representative US delegation was headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent, which included the US Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Armenia Lynn Tracy, as well as senior officials from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Commerce, and a number of US Department of State offices .

From the priority relations to the dead point

The United States provided financial assistance to Armenia by about $ 2,5 billion for the entire period of independence, which, in per capita terms, has led Armenia to be one of the main recipients of American aid in the world over the last quarter century. In recent years, aid has steadily declined, last year it was less than 7 million dollars, and for the following fiscal year, the indicators have not yet been clarified. According to trade turnover with the USA, Armenia occupies approximately 170th place and thus it is in the group of outsiders.

With each change in the team at the White House in Washington, priorities have changed for various reasons due to events of global significance. Whether the 2008 crisis, the deterioration of relations with Russia, the transition to a crisis with 2014 year, the Arab Spring processes, transatlantic relations, the institutional crisis in the European Union and the refugee crisis. And with each such "turn" the amount of financial assistance to Yerevan shrank.

The change in the political team in Washington DC in 2016 and in Yerevan at 2018 has become a kind of starting point for a new stage of relations, which is different than a dead end that can not be characterized.

In the presence of the enormous, wealthy, politically and economically active and influential Armenian diaspora in the United States, the qualitative and quantitative indicators in bilateral relations between Armenia and the United States appear to be unsatisfactory, and it is obvious that this understanding exists in both capitals.

The Armenian Revolution is not for sale

The velvet revolution in Armenia occurred at a time when it would be capitalized on a Georgian or Ukrainian model, firstly, difficult due to the lack of "demand", and secondly, it was also risky in terms of an easily predictable Moscow response. Moreover, such a question in the foreign policy agenda of the revolutionary team, as it was repeatedly announced from the very first days, simply was not. The message was that the agenda of the revolution is purely internal, and foreign policy does not provide for any geopolitical reversals.

Due to the disadvantaged policies of the former authorities, the new team has already inherited a sharp decline in US interest in Armenia and perception as a partner whose opportunities are limited by the abnormally high and asymmetric influence of Russia. Turning points on this path can be considered the refusal of Armenia from the Agreement on Association with the EU, joining the EAEC, as well as voting against resolutions at various international sites calling on Russia to order, the assignment of Russia to the remaining assets, which Moscow has not yet managed to fully take to the hands . And this is all - on the background of steadily deteriorating relations between Russia and the West and the strengthening of the sanctions pressure on Moscow.

After the revolution, the sending of an Armenian humanitarian mission to Syria, which caused an adverse reaction in American political corridors, was also added to the layers, and the perception that there are three countries in the Syrian conflict on the side of Assad are Russia, Iran and Armenia. And if the confrontation with Russia deepens, hostility in relations with Iran is intensifying, then, in the case of Armenia, fortunately, the case has not reached the cold reaction with cautions.

The second point is the processes around the project of the American company Lydian on gold mining at the Amulsar field near the Jermuk Balneological Resort. The agreement was concluded by the former authorities, ignoring the concerns of the inhabitants of nearby settlements and eco-activists, as well as a number of NGOs, which saw high corruption risks in this regard. At the moment, it seems that the case can reach international courts if the agreement is made impossible in view of the potential environmental threat to the entire water basin of the region, including Lake Sevan. In the near future, the results of international environmental expertise will become known, which will be the basis of government decisions, however, it appears that the company remains intransigent in suing the Armenian government in an international court, which may negatively affect the investment attractiveness of Armenia, and before all for the American business.

Former Yerevan, on the other hand, was criticized by Washington on the fact that the US reaction to historic changes in Armenia was "practically zero", while in Armenia, in general, there were completely different expectations.

Nevertheless, changes in the light of the revolution in Armenia have opened a new page in relations with the United States. True, this page is currently, it can be said, pure, and you can write anything on it. John Bulton, adviser to the President of the United States on National Security, who visited Yerevan as part of a regional visit, stated his unequivocal support for democratic change in Armenia. After all, whether we want it or not, they are objectively aimed at eradicating all the negative factors hindering the development of Armenia, including the leveling out of factors determining the influence of Russia - abnormal for civilized interstate relations.

Clarification of the starting positions of a new stage of relations

After Obama-Sargsyan met in New York, 2015, in fact, did not have high-level meetings between the leaders of Armenia and the United States. Even before J.Bolton's visit to Yerevan, and especially after him, the talks about the possible visit of Nikol Pashinyan to Washington and the meeting of the Armenian Prime Minister with the US president intensified. However, at this time, as can be judged from the background in the media space, such a question is not worthy, and in this respect, the "reconnaissance" visit by J. Bolton practically did not change anything, but only designated in a sense "red lines".

With the arrival of Armenia's new ambassador to the United States, Lynn Tracy, at the end of February this year. and intensive meetings with the heads of major state institutions seems to have emerged, and the idea of ​​a new format in bilateral relations, called "Strategic Dialogue", was born. As mentioned above, the first meeting in the framework of the 7 in May took place in the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, following which statements were made by the head of the American delegation, George Kent, on several key issues.

"We met today in the spirit of friendship and cooperation, and we are glad to be in Armenia with this representative delegation. These 8 hours of meetings have passed very quickly, and we have confirmed the spirit of cooperation, partnership, and are ready to continue working with Armenia. We want to see a prosperous Armenia, a democratic Armenia that lives peacefully with its neighbors, "said the American diplomat.

JK Kent, answering a journalist's question about whether there was a move in the plan of John Bolton's November proposal on the possibility of purchasing American weapons with Armenia and the development of military-technical cooperation, said that "after John Bolton's visit to Armenia on the purchase of military equipment by the United States developed No, about which I could report. "

Turning to the issue of regional security, George Kent said that the United States wants all countries peacefully coexist with their neighbors. "That's why we are a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, we work with the governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a peaceful way of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. We also participate in international Geneva discussions, which are trying to find a solution to the issue of the occupied territories of Georgia - Abkhazia and South Ossetia, "said JK Kent. Adding also that "as a member of the OSCE, which includes the countries of the South Caucasus, we adopt basic principles that include non-use of force or threat of force, as well as the principle of territorial integrity and the right of people to choose their own future."

Grigor Hovhannisyan, deputy head of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, speaking at the press conference from the Armenian side, said that an agreement had been signed, which "fixed the level of dialogue that we have set for the whole day". According to an official press release, Mr. Kent spoke with the head of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, Mr. Zograb Mnatsakanyan, about the importance of bilateral meetings and a solid basis of bilateral relations. And during the meeting with Prime Minister N. Pashinyan from the Armenian side, it was noted that the continued deepening of friendly relations and constructive partnership with the United States is of great significance for Armenia, which is at the stage of radical democratic reforms and is moving forward through institutional and economic strengthening of democracy. As an important institutional institution, Nikol Pashinyan called cooperation in the reform of the judiciary, the fight against corruption, as well as electoral and police spheres. According to the prime minister, free and democratic elections were held in Armenia, which should be guaranteed from the institutional point of view, and it is very important to carry out reforms in these directions. Touching upon the opportunities for developing economic ties, the head of state considered the prospective cooperation in the field of reservoirs, infrastructure, technologies and environment construction.

George Kent noted that the United States is interested in developing relations with Armenia and cooperation in the priority areas for our country, and that the United States welcomes Armenia's commitment to democracy, economic progress, as well as steps in various directions, and are ready to support the Armenian government in the process of implementing reforms.

Conclusion

Taking into account the foregoing, it can be stated that a new format called "Strategic Dialogue", created to continue relations in the context of new realities, adequately reflects the level and, as yet, the weakening essence of the Armenian-American relations in the present period, which can be characterized by the formula: multidirectional priorities in the commonality of values ​​and interests.

First of all, the problem is that, by talking to the realpolitik plane, one has to admit that the Armenian side is not able to interest the United States in matters of its current priorities in the absence of a generally regional US strategy. Armenia does not fit neither anti-Iranian nor anti-Russian configurations, if any, in the region, will be needed for Washington.

Second, as we can see, the possibility of acquiring US weapons instead of Russians by Russia by John Bolton instead of Russia in order to deprive Russia of the possibility of asymmetric influence on the parties to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict does not turn to a practical plane, although, according to the statement of Armenian Defense Minister David Tonyan, discussions in the sphere military-technical cooperation has been and will continue.

Thirdly, signs of US activation in the region are not seen. The policy pursued is predominantly "symptomatic" because Washington has other priorities - world trade, the DPRK, Iran, Venezuela, the Middle East, and only then - transatlantic relations that are not in the best condition, and even Ukraine with Georgia do not occupy the upper lines in the ranking of the priorities of American politics.

Therefore, the tasks of the Armenian side in the short term may be steps aimed at halting the trend of a decline in US interest in Armenia. First of all, in the international arena, it is necessary to refrain from steps that can be negatively interpreted in Washington. Secondly, Armenia can increase its participation in peacekeeping international missions, which also comes from the Armenian interests and the Armed Forces of Armenia. Thirdly, Armenian capital in the United States can be of great help, and it is primarily about small and medium business, whose increase in the Armenian economy under the new conditions can prepare the ground for raising the interest of already larger players, and not only of Armenian origin .

Ruben MEGRABYAN, Expert of the Armenian Institute for International Relations and Security, editor of the Russian-language version of "Aravot", Yerevan, Armenia