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July 7, 2009

ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian Comments on

Yerevan—Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) Director Richard Giragosian issued a statement today commenting on US President Barack Obama’s two-day summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow:

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev concluded an important new arms control agreement that will reduce the two countries’ nuclear arsenals by as much as one-third, as part of an update to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction treaty (START). In addition, the two leaders also signed agreements on resuming military-to-military cooperation, restoring efforts to combat nuclear proliferation and regarding Russian permission for US military forces to transit Russian territory and airspace to conduct operations in Afghanistan.

Although the Moscow summit resulted in an important new improvement in US-Russian relations, the two leaders need to be reminded of several further imperatives.  More specifically, the US and Russian leaders need to devote greater attention to the need for cooperation in forging security and stability in the South Caucasus.  Within this context, there are five essential points for their consideration:

  1. Arms Control for the South Caucasus:  There has been a dangerous “arms race” underway in the South Caucasus for the past several years, as Azerbaijan has steadily increased defense spending.  Most notably, Azerbaijan has increased its defense budget from $175 million in 2004 to almost $2.5 billion for 2009.  Even more troubling is the aggressive and militant rhetoric by Azerbaijani officials, threatening to launch a new war against Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh.  In order to counter this Azerbaijani threat to regional security and stability, there is a need for a new “arms control” agreement for the South Caucasus, with the US and Russia cooperating to prevent and persuade Azerbaijan from acting on its threats of war;

  2. Russia Needs to Recognize Armenia’s Strategic Value: Russia needs to recognize the fact that Armenia is the only reliable ally for Moscow in the region and needs to treat Armenia with respect.  Moreover, Russian policy toward Armenia should no longer treat Armenia as a “vassal” state, rather than as a strategic ally, and it must not prevent Armenia from exercising its own sovereignty and independence, including deepening ties with the European Union (EU) and NATO, if it so desires;

  3. There Are No Shortcuts to Democracy: Both the United States and Russia seek stability in the South Caucasus.  But neither country has demanded enough from the Armenian authorities.  Both Moscow and Washington need to send a strong message to Yerevan calling on the Armenian government to sincerely and seriously resolve the country’s ongoing political crisis by inviting a new international inquiry into the tragic events of March 2008, which left at least ten people dead and wounded many more, and take steps to overcome the polarization of Armenian society.  The Armenian authorities must also be reminded that they must now learn to govern – and not just rule -- the country and must be called upon to satisfy mounting demands for change and expectations of reform;

  4. The Need for a New Approach Toward Nagorno Karabagh:  If the US and Russia sincerely seek to resolve the Nagorno Karabagh conflict, they must adopt a new approach that includes recognizing Nagorno Karabagh as an equal party to the conflict and engaging the democratically-elected leaders of Karabagh as full participants in the peace talks.  Only with the participation of Nagorno Karabagh can the US and Russia hope to achieve any meaningful progress in mediating the last “frozen” conflict in the region;

  5. Time to Pressure Turkey:  Although there is a real opportunity for a significant improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations, both Washington and Moscow should recognize that the burden for such a breakthrough now rests solely with Turkey and reaffirm the reality that the issue has no direct link to the Karabagh conflict.  It is also clear that Turkey needs to take the next step by opening its closed border with Armenia and establishing diplomatic relations and must, like Armenia, impose no preconditions for such a move.  Lastly, the US and Russia must not mistakenly praise Turkey for opening the border and extending diplomatic relations with Armenia; such a move is not a concession to Armenia but is merely the basic behavior of civilized countries and the minimum expectation of normal relations between neighbors.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) is a leading independent strategic research center located in Yerevan, Armenia.  As an independent, objective institution committed to conducting professional policy research and analysis, ACNIS strives to raise the level of public debate and seeks to broaden public engagement in the public policy process, as well as fostering greater and more inclusive public knowledge. Founded in 1994, ACNIS is the institutional initiative of Raffi K. Hovannisian, Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Over the past fifteen years, ACNIS has acquired a prominent reputation as a primary source of professional independent research and analysis covering a wide range of national and international policy issues.

For further information on the Center call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am; or visit www.acnis.am.

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Armenian version