Commenting on the news about Armenia’s rejection to participate in Agile Spirit in Georgia, the deputy minister of defense Artak Zakaryan said Armenia had never confirmed officially its attendance, therefore there could not have been a need to withdraw at the last moment. Zakaryan said he does not know why the Georgian ministry of defense described the situation in this way. He also said the reason for Armenia’s non-participation is not Azerbaijan’s participation. At the same time, according to Zakaryan, CSTO remains the main security umbrella for Armenia.
Zakaryan is right, Armenia has never officially confirmed its participation in the NATO exercise in Georgia on September 3-11. However, Armenia never said anything when the Georgian ministry of defense said that Armenia is among the participants. Whatever the reason, the Armenian ministry of defense did not explain that there is no final decision on participation, even after the Armenian press publication on Armenia’s participation.
Does this mean that Yerevan, nevertheless, considered participation, and the plans changed at the last moment? Once Armenia made such a decision on NATO training in Georgia. In 2009 Armenia rejected participation in the NATO exercise in Georgia at the last minute. However, at that time the Ministry of Defense did it with an official statement though the main reason was not stated, and there was an explanation that Armenia rejected due to “circumstances”.
Most probably, then the reason was the new wave of tension, about nine months after the five-day war. A few days before the NATO exercise one of the tank units of the Georgian army rebelled. Sahakashvili suppressed the uprising and then announced that Russia had organized. There was another outburst of the Russian-Georgian tensions. Apparently, this was the reason why Armenia refrained from doing something that would upset Moscow or simply Moscow told Armenia that it will be bad if Yerevan participates.
What are the circumstances now that Yerevan changes its intension? Currently a new stage of U.S.-Russian tension is underway. However, such tension existed several weeks ago when Armenia nevertheless took part in another NATO drill in Georgia. Earlier Armenia participated in a NATO drill in Romania. The U.S.-Russian tension is growing and might be more intense than a few weeks ago. Has this resulted in a sudden change in Russia’s attitude that has made Armenia more cautious or simply Russia “advised” to reject participation?
Or did Serzh Sargsyan think at the last minute that two Georgian drills would be too much, especially that there was another one in Romania? Did the Putin-Sargsyan meeting in Sochi have a role? Another circumstance is interesting here. After the drill in Georgia a wave of publications was observed in the Russian press which were negative on Armenia’s participation and presented this as if Russia is losing Armenia.
Why were these circles worried about the participation of Armenia? It would hardly be Putin’s worry because Putin would express his concerns otherwise but in press, especially that he was going to meet with Sargsyan in Sochi.
It seems more realistic that ahead of the meeting in Sochi some circles of the Russian government tried to “lobby” Putin’s “mood”. It is possible that the rejection of the second NATO drill was the victory of this “lobby”.
Interestingly, a few days ago the U.S. Ambassador Mills told Radio Liberty that the United States wants to be sure that Armenia makes sovereign decisions and continues to provide tools to Armenia to continue making such decisions.
The ambassador pointed the participation in NATO drill as evidence of a sovereign decision by Armenia. Now as the second drill is concerned, Armenia actually makes the ambassador face the opposite.
Theoretically, it is possible that the U.S. ambassador had made Serzh Sargsyan face the fact, presenting participation in a NATO drill as a sovereign decision, speaking about the tools, which induced the success of the “lobby” by the aforementioned circles.
On the other hand, it is possible that Serzh Sargsyan made a so-called sovereign decision, without any pressure from Russia but in order to create such impression. The point is that the “Russian pressure”, as an objective political factor, is one of the key subjective factors in his political trump cards.
Moreover, at the end of the day, the ambassador spoke about clarifying if the factor of the Russian pressure is real, it is really big or Serzh Sargsyan inflates it and maneuvers?