After the deterioration of relations between Russia and the West, and some disruption to Russia’s efforts to influence Ukraine’s European and NATO political course, the Kremlin activated its policy in the Caucasus and Caspian Sea region. The main goal of Putin’s policy is to preclude the political influence and activity of Western powers in unsettled conflicts like Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Kremlin’s purpose is to marginalize and to distance itself from the OSCE Minsk Group initiatives.
Russia believes that the time has come to resolve the Karabakh issue between Armenians and Azerbaijanis by compelling one of the sides of conflict. Moscow adopted the Eurasian doctrine to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh issue in favor of Azerbaijan, which seems more acceptable for its geopolitical and economic plans. Basically, as Russia assumed, the acceleration of negotiation around Nagorno-Karabakh is directly connected with Moscow’s goal to carry out military-political expansion in the South Caucasus.
Putin’s plan to settle the conflict is clear. Russian policy towards Armenia is highlighted by its comprehensive impact features:
First, Armenia’s sudden volte-face away from a closer relationship with the EU since September 3, 2013 was caused by Russian political pressure and threats. As the Ukrainian crisis started, the Russian leadership aimed to isolate Armenia politically from the Western states and Iran, constraining Armenia to relinquish its sovereignty in favor of Russia’s interests. Moreover, notwithstanding the fact that most of Russia’s gradually increasing demands contradict the interests of Armenia, its weak and hesitating leadership reluctantly fulfils them. Particularly, strengthening its intelligence and ideologically pro-Russian oriented individuals in the presidential administration and in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Moscow achieved its purpose to deflect Armenia from the pro-Western path. In this plan Moscow relied on the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Nalbandyan, who certainly satisfies the orders from the Kremlin, having a comprehensive contribution from the Presidential administration and advanced political parties such as the “Republican” and oppositional “Prosperity” parties. The only state institution struggling for independent policy that still remains is the Ministry of Defense, due to the numerous high-ranking officers that are experts on various military institutions of NATO’s member-states. Meanwhile, it is absolutely clear that Moscow has no enthusiasm for the revival of the economy of Armenia, which is stuck in stagnation since 2009.
Second, Russia is continually undermining Armenia’s security system, propagandizing that the future of the people and the state depends on Russia’s will. Otherwise, Armenia has no alternative but to be drawn into Russia’s economic and political projects, as the South Caucasus is part of a traditional Russian sphere. Additionally, pro-Russian media and satellite organizations imply that if Armenian authorities or political opposition adopt the Western direction of development, like Ukraine and Georgia, they will instantaneously face Russia’s determined and formidable resistance. There is an assumption that Russians, in the case of Armenia’s political redirection, are going to use all possible means and methods to thwart those plans even by affording Azerbaijan to restart the conflict either towards Karabakh or Armenia.
To achieve the previously mentioned psychological consequences among Armenian society, Russian leadership conspicuously set in motion different large-scale military exercises with the participation of the entire personnel of the 102nd military base and airbase of “Erebuni”, situated nearby Armenia’s capital. Overall, Russians conducted military exercises from the Russian base in Armenia from October 13 to 17. In addition, on October 16, Colonel General Victor Bondarev officially announced that Moscow is planning to expand its airbase in Armenia, factually without the consent of Armenian leadership. This tactic is directed not only towards society, but first of all it had a certain effect of enforcement against President Serzh Sargsyan and his political team.
The third and final factor of the Russian policy towards Armenia is closely connected to Azerbaijan. In this case, Russia promotes a policy of continuous intimidation of Armenia by openly militarizing Azerbaijan and supporting the modernization of its military power. Moreover, from the political aspect Russia adheres to Azerbaijani positions, simultaneously, opposing Azerbaijan to the United States on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. A case in point: during the current year some Russian experts, who have close ties with the Putin administration, repeatedly accused the US in their reluctance to return Karabakh to Azerbaijan and are interested in the persistence of the status quo.
The known military contract between Russia and Azerbaijan, in which Russia is going to deliver until the end of 2014 offensive weaponry costing $5 billion, definitely affects the reaction of Armenia. Meanwhile, Moscow is using this fact as a tool for disseminating additional tensions among Armenian society, and this is one of the reasons why Armenia’s parliamentary opposition announced the beginning of a protest movement but refused to criticize Russia’s expansionist policy.
Thus, these three basic aims of Russia concerning Armenia form Moscow’s approach towards the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Moscow applies different tactics and methods with Azerbaijan, trying to illustrate a reliable partnership and friendly attitude. Russia intends to control Azerbaijani oil and natural gas capacities and transportation infrastructure. Baku in certain circumstances may offer to supply its oil and gas to Europe through the Russian territory, accepting Putin’s rules and energy policy concerning Europe. In exchange for this political service, Ilham Aliev’s government may gain the patronage of Russia in the Karabakh issue. Furthermore, the Kremlin may convince Baku to join the Eurasian Union in exchange for several territories of Karabakh. Interestingly, for the ideologists of the Eurasian doctrine, Azerbaijan is more valuable than Armenia, and this is why Russia is deeply interested in developing a close relationship with Azerbaijan. Additionally, another benefit that Moscow emphasizes is the significant capacities of the Azerbaijani minority in Georgia, which can be used with the support of Baku after the final deterioration of Armenia and the Armenian factor in the South Caucasus.
Putin strongly believes that settlement of the South Caucasian conflicts and particularly Karabakh issue resolution are Russia’s prerogative only. And now, for the future development and expenditure of the Eurasian Union, Moscow is interested in the quick resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. To accomplish this goal, Russia attempts to monopolize the right of intermediary, with the purpose of imposing its own position on the OSCE Minsk Group. From the other side, after Armenia’s involvement in the Eurasian Union, there are the first signals that Russia is going to coerce Armenia to relinquish the seven territories around Nagorno-Karabakh in order to deepen its influence in Azerbaijan. Furthermore, some Russian officials believe that 2015 will be the time of great changes in the Caucasus. This means that Putin will pursue the goal to eliminate the recent status quo in the South Caucasus, implementing the policy of coercion against Armenia and the policy of conviction towards Azerbaijan. All the changes will be directed to mitigate Western impact on the region. Such a disposition suggests that Karabakh will be used as a tool of Russian domination in the region.
Because of insufficient participation by NATO, the United States, and the EU in the military-political integration of the South Caucasian states—particularly in Armenia—Russia is able to dictate to the region as Putin wills.
Some representatives of the Russian political elite, sympathizers of the Soviet might of the past, and Russian hegemony adherents do not rely on Armenia as a sovereign state. And now, from the background of Russian military-political expansion in the South Caucasus, Putin’s leadership has a strong reason to liquidate Armenia as an independent political factor. In 1991, during the agony of the USSR, Moscow decided to organize a referendum for the future of the Union, and the question put to voters was “Do you consider necessary the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics in which the rights and freedom of an individual of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” Armenian local authorities boycotted this referendum and undertook the organization of a national referendum in order to re-establish the Armenian Republic, occupied by the Soviets in 1921. Ninety-nine per cent of Armenian voters were for national independence, whereas Azerbaijani authorities organized the referendum dictated from Moscow and 94.12% of registered voters gave their consent for saving the Soviet Union. These different paths adopted by neighboring Caucasian states had a considerable effect on Russian social and political elites in prospect. These are the roots of the Putin administration’s attitude nowadays. Recently, Russia feels more comfortable with Azerbaijan. The bilateral relations are benefiting a political convergence than relations with Armenia, which is traditionally orientated towards the West on par with Georgia.
From the global point of view, Russian-Azerbaijani rapprochement is determined by the political aspirations of Turkey to have close ties with Russia. Specifically, Azerbaijan might become a convenient factor for Russia to contain both the West and Iran. In this point the interests of Turkey and Russia may coincide; Azerbaijan as a restraining factor may be used concurrently either by Russia or Turkey. Subsequently, Moscow would like to see Azerbaijan and Turkey enter the Eurasian Union.
Therefore, to summarize these factors we may suppose that 2015 is going to be a critical juncture for Armenia and its society, as well as for some institutions still maintaining their independence despite Russian pressures. In these conditions Armenia needs a concrete contribution from the West, which is rather real and can be quite effective in case of support and collaboration with the Ministry of Defense of Armenia. Also, it is important to be aware of the basic reasons for the failure of integration between Armenia and the EU, connected to the lack of concrete guarantees of security, which could have been given by NATO. Nevertheless, it is noticeable that sovereignty and independence of Armenia might be an obstacle for Russia’s newly adopted expansionistic policy in the Caucasus. Moreover, the Armenian military as a guarantor of state sovereignty and a crucial factor of stability in Nagorno-Karabakh vividly hampers Russia in carrying out its purpose. Furthermore, Moscow believes a significantly pro-western oriented Armenian military staff can easily become a supporter of the US, NATO, and EU interests in the Caucasus. Finally, the systematic deterioration of the Armed Forces of Armenia will open an additional avenue to shake democracy in Georgia.
Armenia needs technology from the influence of Russia and the newly acquired sovereignty. Successful, continued cooperation between Armenia and NATO in the defense sector can be an example and experience for the development of cooperation with the West in a wider range—economic, legal, and political. Armenian society is in certain confusion, but it will surely embrace acceptance of the initiative of the European Union and NATO.
 “A large-scale exercises the 102nd Russian base started in Armenia,” “Regnum” Russian Information Agency, 14 October 2014, http://www.regnum.ru/news/polit/1856601.html .
 “Russia to bolster military presence in former Soviet states,” The Guardian, New East Network, 16 October 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/russia-bolsters-military-presence-former-soviet-states .
 Sergey Markov, “The United States and Azerbaijan will discuss Nagorno-Karabakh,” “Vestnik Kavkaza” News Agency, 01 April 2014, http://www.vestikavkaza.ru/video/Sergey-Markov-SSHA-i-Azerbaydzhan-obsudyat-Nagornyy-Karabakh.html .
 Sergey Markov, “Nobody will force Baku be against Russia” (Video), “Haqqin AZ” Azerbaijani Inform Agency, 5 May 2014, http://haqqin.az/news/21725 .
 Soviet Union Referendum, 1991, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_Union_referendum,_1991 .