Armenia, Relations with

Armenia, Relations with
   Armenia, formerly the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1936 until its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, was incorporated into the Russian empire in the early 19th century. Armenia is a small, transcontinental country in the southern Caucasus; it borders Turkey, Georgia, Iran, and Azerbaijan. With no contiguous border with the Russian Federation, a shared faith in Eastern Orthodoxy, and only a nominal ethnic Russian population, Armenia has been called “Russia’s only ally in the south” by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
   Both Russia and Armenia are founding members of the Russianbacked Collective Security Treaty Organization. Russia’s 102nd Military Base is located in Gyumri, Armenia, and Armenia forms part of the air defense perimeter of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Armenian border guards work in conjunction with the Federal Security Service (FSB) and regular Russian military personnel guard the CIS borders with Turkey and Iran. Russia has long supported the Armenian people against their historical enemy, the Turks.
   During World War I, Ottoman Armenian support for the Romanov Empire was a catalyst for the Armenian Genocide of 1915; as the ethnic cleansing turned violent, tsarist Russia functioned as a refuge for tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians. Moscow’s support for a nominally independent Armenian republic within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the 1930s was welcomed by the worldwide Armenian diaspora, despite totalitarian controls on the economy and society.
   In the waning days of the Soviet Union, Moscow further ingratiated itself with the Armenian authorities and the community abroad by backing the Communist government and later independent Armenia against neighboring Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988–1994). During the conflict, ethnic Armenian forces in the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, aided by the Armenian government and Russian mercenaries, were able to wrest control of the region away from Azerbaijan and establish the Lachin Corridor to connect the region to Armenia proper. In 1994, the Russians brokered an end to formal hostilities. In the years after the conflict was frozen, Russia secretly provided arms and other military supplies to Armenia. In 1997, Boris Yeltsin and Levon Ter-Petrosyan signed a comprehensive “Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance,” deepening the country’s dependence on Russia.
   From the mid-1990s onward, Armenia faced a crippling AzeriTurkish blockade on its eastern and western borders. As a consequence, Armenia’s economy, and particularly its energy sector, is dominated by transnational Russian interests, and in particular, Gazprom. Russia also controls the telecommunications and railway sectors. Remittances from the large number of Armenian guest workers in Russia are also a vital part of the country’s economy. During the second administration of Vladimir Putin, Russia undertook a modest realignment in the southern Caucasus, placing a greater emphasis on Azerbaijan, much to the dismay of Armenian policymakers. In this new environment, Putin put pressure on Armenian president Robert Kocharyan and Azerbaijan’s head of state, Ilham Aliyev, to resolve the crisis; however, no final solution was agreed. Moscow’s rapprochement with Baku brought other changes in the region as well. Yerevan is particularly distressed over the construction of the Olya-Astara-Qazvin rail line connecting Russia to Iran via Azerbaijan, thus bypassing Armenia altogether. Armenia has compensated by expanding its diplomatic and trade links with the United States and Iran. Despite such efforts, RussianArmenian relations were reaffirmed by the current president Serzh Sargsyan, who quickly shored up his relationship with Moscow in the wake of the disputed 2008 Armenian presidential elections and their violent aftermath. However, the 2008 South Ossetian War has severely complicated Armenia’s diplomatic position, since it is so closely tied to Russia, but dependent on neighboring Georgia for international trade, as nearly three-quarters of its imports and exports pass through the Black Sea country.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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