Experts comments CACDS - Southern Caucasus

Benyamin Poghosyan: "The Foreign Policy of Armenia in 2019. Outcomes and Prognosis 2020"

The 2019 was not marked by fundamental changes in Armenian foreign policy. Despite all discussions and experts' opinions regarding the possible deterioration of Armenia - Russia's relations or serious changes in the Karabakh negotiation process, the new government of Armenia largely continued its predecessor's policy. Armenia - Russia alliance continues to be the cornerstone of Yerevan foreign policy. The visits of President Putin, Russian Defense and Foreign Ministers in October - November 2019 conducted that Armenia has little if any alternative to significantly amending its external relations.

May be the only new pattern in Armenia - Russia's relations are an effort by the new Armenian government to prove its loyalty to Russia and reject any claims of a hidden "Anti-Kremlin agenda". This situation is exploited by Russia to increase pressure and get additional concessions. The key example was the decision to send the Armenian Humanitarian Mission to Syria despite clear objects from the US. The possible signature of a memorandum on granting Russian specialists access to biological laboratories established in Armenia through US funding may be another proof of this reality.

Nothing revolutionary happened also in Armenia - EU relations. They continued to be centered on the implementation of the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement signed by the former Government in November 2017. The Road Map was approved in June 2019 and initial negotiations are underway to launch the visa liberalization dialogue with the EU. Some EU member countries, such as France, Sweden and the Czech Republic, are rather skeptical about this issue but most likely until the end of 2020 the decision will be made to launch a dialogue with no clear end date.

The Karabakh negotiation process has its own ups and downs. After the January and March 2019 meetings of the two leaders in Davos and Vienna as well as several discussions held between Ministers of Foreign Affairs in January, April, June and September there was some hope of possible advancement in the negotiation process. The November 2019 reporters' visit to Armenia, Karabakh and Azerbaijan, the first such move since 2001 was perceived as a real progression in the context of the preparation of populations for peace. However, the December 2019 meeting in Bratislava as well as speeches of Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers during the OSCE Ministerial Conference have shown that nothing has changed in two sides perceptions. However, the statement by the OSCE Co-Chair of the Heads of Delegations which again emphasized the significance of the Madrid Principles and Six Elements published by the Co-Chair of the Presidents in 2009-2012, might have brought the negotiation process back to the summer of 2009. Meanwhile , that process resolved in the Kazan failure of June 2011 and the war of April 2016. This should worry the Armenian side as the Kazan document prepared during the 2009-2011 negotiations and based on the so-called “six elements” was unacceptable for absolutely majority of Armenian and Karabakh society. Meanwhile, after the April 2016 war perceptions in both Armenia and Karabakh were hardened by any means that any attempt to convince the Armenian society of the necessity of a 'Madrid based solution' would definitely result in tough rejection with possible domestic instability.

Another key event of 2019 was the Armenian Genocide recognition by both the US House of Representatives and the Senate. The move was the result of a combination of different factors; US - Turkey tensions, approaching US elections, effective lobbying by Armenian organizations, etc. However, the real benefits to Armenia's moral satisfaction are not so clear. The key issue in Armenia - US relations for Yerevan is the task of bringing American investments and we should wait to see if these resolutions will have any effect on this.

As for Armenia - Turkey relations, there are no prospects for breakthrough. Relations with Armenia are not a priority for the current Turkish government and given deepening the AKP - the Nationalist Movement Alliance, the Turkish government stand on Armenia most likely will be harden. Thus, any changes in bilateral relations are possible only after the change of government in Ankara.

There are several key issues to watch in 2020. The first is the Karabakh negotiation process. The next meeting between the two foreign ministers will take place in January 2020 and there are some signs of possible leaders' summit at the first half of the year. However, all solution options discussed since 1994 envisage the change in Nagorno-Karabakh Republic territorial integrity. This will bring about tough security risks for both Karabakh and Armenia and therefore is unacceptable for the absolute majority of Armenia and Karabakh population. Thus, the only possible way forward for Armenia is to insist on the implementation of the May and June 2016 Vienna and Saint Petersburg agreements on ceasefire violations investigative mechanisms and the extension of the OSCE monitoring mission as preconditions for any serious negotiations. Given the Azerbaijan negative approach on this issue as it will deprive Baku the possibility of using the start of a new war as an effective blackmail tool, this approach may give Armenia the necessary time to articulate a new framework of the solution and present it to the mediators as an alternative to the Madrid principles and elements.

Another key issue concerning Karabakh is the March 2020 Presidential and Parliamentary elections there. Definitely, the Armenian government is interested in having friendly authorities there. Meanwhile there are candidates who are severely criticizing the current Armenian authorities. However, given the level of influenza that Armenia has in Karabakh, we may assume that the most likely new President of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic would be an acceptable person for Yerevan.

The key to EU relations for 2020 is the launch of the Visa Liberalization Dialogue and the effective implementation of the CEPA. However, the EU is not a strategic player in South Caucasus and Brussels can not bring significant chasnges to Armenia.

Armenia should review its relations with China too. In spring 2020 the new Chinese embassy building will be opened in Yerevan. However, as of now, Armenia has no strategic vision for its relations with Beijing and bilateral connections based on Chinese donations of public buses and ambulances. Meanwhile, given its membership in the Eurasian Economic Union and the GSP + system with the EU, Armenia should elaborate a strategy and position itself as a trading and production hub for Chinese companies to enter Southern Russia and EU markets. Given the infrastructure constraints faced by Armenia emphasize should be put on the production of goods that can be shipped by air, such as smart watches, smart phones, tablets and laptops.

Thus, most likely Armenia will face no significant changes in its foreign policy in 2020. The strategic alliance with Russia will remain firm in place and some minor improvements are possible in relations with the EU and China. However, the key task for Armenia is to avoid repeating the 2011 situation when it will be offered to sign an unacceptable document on Karabakh.

Benyamin Poghosyan, Chairman, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies