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Summary

  • Armenia’s declared multi-vector foreign policy, sometimes diplomatically described as one of ‘complementarity’, has proven hard to implement. Over time, the country has sacrificed this balance for the sake of hard security. As a result, its geopolitical alignment has tilted towards Russia while security has deteriorated, as shown by the 2013 U-turn on the EU association agreement and the four-day war in Nagorny Karabakh in April 2016 respectively.
  • Armenia’s foreign policy manoeuvring space is constrained by a challenging neighbourhood and Western–Russian contention in Eurasia, but the country’s previous leaders have miscalculated too. They have failed to gauge the extent to which Russia’s growing assertiveness in the region is altering the essence of the supposed ‘strategic partnership’ between Yerevan and Moscow. As Russia has grown closer to Azerbaijan and Turkey, its primary role as a security provider and regional balancer for Armenia has been compromised. At the same time, Armenia’s over-reliance on Russia has been exacerbated.
  • For a long time, Armenia’s domestic democratic deficit damaged its international standing and undermined its sovereignty. The effects of the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of April/May 2018 may reverse this, as a popular new government is feeling more empowered in its foreign relations. This unexpected political transition is also emblematic of the fact that Armenia has been widely misunderstood.
  • Over-reliance on Russia and Western detachment from Armenia’s problems have reinforced each other. The West’s support for democracy has been limited; it never took the country’s bottom-up democratization potential seriously, and chose to vouch for incumbents who lacked legitimacy. In parallel, the West has resigned itself to seeing Armenia in Russia’s orbit. These factors help to explain why the growing scepticism of Armenians towards Russia has not resulted in more sympathy towards the West.
  • Although the government has pledged to make no critical changes in foreign policy, there is now an opportunity to live up to the country’s long-declared aspiration for a multi-vector foreign policy, now dubbed ‘Armenia-centric’ by the newly installed cohort of policymakers. Armenia seems determined to protect its sovereignty in relations with Russia, to further ties with the West, and to re-energize cooperation with Georgia and Iran.
  • To overcome entrenched attitudes that Armenia has no foreign policy alternatives because of geopolitical constraints, Armenian politicians, diplomats and policymakers should keep an open mind about possible geopolitical bargains, rather than resigning themselves to geopolitical determinism. Decision-making needs reform both institutionally and in terms of strategic planning. Armenia’s security planning should change too, as democratic governance and smart foreign policymaking are now slowly being acknowledged as important components of security. Addressing the asymmetry of relations with Russia is the first imperative, and will determine relations with other actors. If Western countries want to be of help, they need to become more engaged in reform of the state, and in the creation of a safer security environment in the region.