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Breaking away from Moscow: How Armenia shifts toward EU and possible Russia's reaction

Breaking away from Moscow: How Armenia shifts toward EU and possible Russia's reaction Emmanuel Macron, Nikol Pashinyan, and Vladimir Putin (collage by RBC-Ukraine)

Why did Armenia lean toward Europe, whether the people support the position of official Yerevan, and how Russia might react to the Armenian aspirations - read in the material by RBC-Ukraine.

The articles by Hraparak,, ArmenPress, TRT World, and Russian media, as well as comments from Armenian political analysts Armen Hovhannisyan and Ruben Mehrabyan were used to prepare the material.

In early March, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Ararat Mirzoyan, confirmed rumors that official Yerevan is considering a course toward joining the European Union. At the same time, Armenian media reported that the application for EU membership may be submitted no later than fall of this year. Such deadlines were supposedly set by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Before this, Armenia suspended its participation in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), after which Pashinyan even threatened a complete withdrawal of the country from the organization. And the Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia, Armen Grigoryan, hinted that Russian border guards could be expelled from the Zvartnots airport in Yerevan.

Karabakh rift

Relations between Armenia and Russia began to cool several years ago. During the Velvet Revolution in 2018, when thousands of Armenians took to the streets against the appointment of former President Serzh Sargsyan as prime minister and demanded a renewal of power in the country, Russia's behavior was peculiar.

Although official Moscow essentially silently observed the events, some representatives of the Russian elite still spoke rather unfavorably about the events in Yerevan. In particular, the press secretary of Rosneft Mikhail Leontiev called Armenia "burdensome" for Russia, which led to the Kremlin spokesman having to justify it.

Already then, the majority opinion among Armenians began to drift toward greater openness of Yerevan not only to relations with Russia but also with the European Union and the United States, said Armenian political analyst Armen Hovhannisyan to RBC-Ukraine. "Moreover, these discrepancies between the Armenian government and the Kremlin have been widening all the time. And this also influenced the change of priorities in Armenian society," he explained.

Геть від Москви. Як Вірменія бере курс на ЄС та якою може бути реакція Росії

Relations between Moscow and Yerevan began to cool as early as 2018 (photo: Getty Images)

But the turning point in Armenia's turn away from Russia, according to Hovhannisyan, can undoubtedly be considered the Second Karabakh War in 2020. During the escalation of the conflict with Azerbaijan, Armenia relied on the support of its CSTO ally, but it was obvious that Moscow had agreements with Baku and Ankara, and this overlap of the region was part of its plans.

"That became the starting point. Especially when after the war, people began to analyze Russia's behavior, what directives came from Moscow, and how the most closely associated with Russia political and military figures behaved, it became quite obvious that Russia in this war not only did not fulfill any obligations but was an ally of Armenia's enemies," explained Hovhannisyan.

The events of the fall of 2022, when Azerbaijan forcibly regained territories in Nagorno-Karabakh, Moscow essentially offered Yerevan to fulfill all of Baku's conditions, and Russian peacekeepers only hindered the Armenian troops, further influencing the attitude of the Armenian majority toward Russia.

After all the mentioned events, an ideological revolution of attitudes took place in Armenia, as well as a reassessment of attitudes toward the West. And Russia is no longer perceived by the majority as an ally. On the contrary, today Russia is in the "honorable trio" of Armenian enemies, along with Turkiye and Azerbaijan, according to Hovhannisyan, as evidenced by sociological surveys.

"This is how the population perceives it. Moreover, any steps or rhetoric by the state aimed at criticizing Russians receive a response. Specifically, an electoral response, let's say. For example, the "Republic Party" in the elections to the Yerevan City Council gained 11% of the votes precisely due to this anti-Russian rhetoric and became effectively a coalition partner of the ruling party," noted the political analyst.

Residents of the border regions of Armenia also have an unfriendly attitude toward Moscow, having experienced Russia's "allied assistance" firsthand. Especially when Russian peacekeepers fled from the border without warning Armenians about Azerbaijan's intentions to invade.

Геть від Москви. Як Вірменія бере курс на ЄС та якою може бути реакція Росії

Armenians were disappointed in Russia after the second war in Nagorno-Karabakh (photo: Getty Images)

However, Armenia has never had friendly relations with Russia, another Armenian political analyst, Ruben Mehrabyan, pointed out in an interview with RBC-Ukraine. "There was never any friendship. It was imperial politics, combining soft power, repression, aggression, and instigation of neighbors. In an empire, there are no friends. There could be no friendship by nature," he explained.

Armenia fell into Russian dependence almost immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when, according to Mehrabyan, Russia was perceived as irreversibly undemocratic and imperialistic. In 1997, a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance was signed between Moscow and Yerevan. It was a strategic mistake of the then-Armenian government.

"And it immediately backfired against Armenia, literally within a year with a state coup, and another year later with a terrorist act in the Armenian parliament, when the legitimate government was decapitated, and a 20-year criminal dictatorship began in the country. As a result, all assets were transferred to Russia. Now it is time to correct these mistakes and eliminate the consequences," Mehrabyan added.

Heading West

After the Russian betrayal during the Second Karabakh War, Armenia de facto withdrew from the CSTO, but de jure remains a member of the organization. At the end of February this year, Pashinyan publicly acknowledged for the first time the suspension of Armenia's participation in the CSTO and did not rule out a full withdrawal.

By mid-March, the Armenian Prime Minister effectively issued an ultimatum to Moscow, stating that the final decision regarding participation in the CSTO would depend on whether the organization clarifies what they see as their zone of responsibility.

"If not, Armenia will withdraw from the CSTO. When – I can't say," warned Pashinyan, also recalling the organization's inaction during the escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Another blow to the Kremlin was Pashinyan's demand that Russian border guards stationed at Yerevan's Zvartnots Airport, under the 1992 agreement on controlling Armenia's borders with Iran and Turkiye, be removed by August of this year.

Геть від Москви. Як Вірменія бере курс на ЄС та якою може бути реакція Росії

Pashinyan issued an ultimatum to Moscow regarding Armenia's participation in the CSTO (photo: Getty Images)

At the same time, discussions about a shift toward the European Union began in Yerevan. In early March, rumors circulated in Armenian media that Pashinyan intends to apply for EU membership, supposedly planning to do so by this fall. A few days later, in an interview with the Turkish channel TRT, Foreign Minister Mirzoyan stated that new opportunities are actively being discussed in Armenia, including the idea of EU membership.

The reaction of the Armenian population to the pro-Western steps of the official Yerevan is mostly positive, assures Mehrabyan. Moreover, there is a demand to expedite this process and not only limit it to statements but also to take concrete actions.

"Because there is now a real social demand to eliminate Russian military presence in Armenia, to officially withdraw from the CSTO, not only de facto but also de jure, and, of course, to apply for candidate status for EU membership," he added.

Armenia is also urged to take active steps within the European Union itself. In March, the European Parliament adopted a resolution hinting at readiness to support Armenia's European integration if official Yerevan chooses this path.

"Should Armenia be interested in applying for candidate status and continuing on its path of sustained reforms consolidating its democracy, this could set the stage for a transformative phase in EU-Armenia relations," the resolution text states, which, according to Pashinyan, is another reason to discuss Armenia's future vision.

Геть від Москви. Як Вірменія бере курс на ЄС та якою може бути реакція Росії

The European Union supports Yerevan's European aspirations (photo:

It is necessary to understand that this is not a one-step process, Mehrabyan noted in a conversation with RBC-Ukraine, but it is very important for a political decision to be made and for some idea of its phased implementation to be formed.

"Because over the past 30 years, we have become so deeply entrenched in this swamp that we simply cannot get out in one day," he explained.

According to Armen Hovhannisyan, despite publications in the media, there is no talk today of Armenia applying for EU membership. In general, it is difficult to predict the behavior of the Pashinyan government, as it is tied to fears of Russia. But, as Hovhannisyan added, at the official level, a certain agreement between Armenia and the EU is being prepared.

"It is quite likely that it will be an association agreement. We have the CEPA agreement, which is an agreement on comprehensive cooperation between the EU and Armenia. In 2013, we were ready to sign an association agreement even before Nikol Pashinyan came to power. This caused a reaction from Russia. Former President Serzh Sargsyan was summoned to Moscow, and overnight, Armenia applied to join the Eurasian Economic Union. Many consider this a black day for Armenia," said Hovhannisyan.

According to the analyst, the association agreement between Armenia and the EU could be signed as early as this summer. Another document that could cement Armenia's desire to become an EU member, in his opinion, does not exist today.

Threat from Moscow

The main problem for Armenia on its path to the EU undoubtedly can be considered Russia. Moscow blocked Yerevan's pro-European course in 2013 and will try to repeat it. Moreover, Russia is already making significant efforts toward this today, say the experts to RBC-Ukraine.

Moscow has a large toolkit to pressure Yerevan - from military presence in Armenian territory to fueling a new phase of the war with Azerbaijan. Russia, as Mehrabyan explained, uses Azerbaijan as a "blunt heavy object," and Azerbaijan willingly allows it to be used.

"This is essentially a war provocation. Azerbaijan's attack on Armenia. This is already being talked about publicly. Personally by Pashinyan. This is practically hinted at in Russia," emphasized Hovhannisyan in a conversation with RBC-Ukraine.

Indeed, as early as February this year, Pashinyan spoke of Azerbaijan's preparation for war with Armenia, and Russia, according to him, is adding fuel to the fire. The threat of aggression from Baku was also discussed in the US Department of State. At the same time, Moscow doesn’t even hide the fact that it is a beneficiary of this instability in the region and resorts to overt threats toward Armenia.

"The continuation of Yerevan's current course may ultimately inflict irreparable damage on our allied relations, create serious risks to the sovereignty of the republic, and finally destroy the existing effective mechanisms for ensuring the country's security," said the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, in March.

Геть від Москви. Як Вірменія бере курс на ЄС та якою може бути реакція РосіїMoscow fuels a new war between Baku and Yerevan (photo: Getty Images)

Another scenario, according to Hovhannisyan, is the activation of the fifth column in Armenia. That is the activation of opponents of Eurointegration and supporters of Armenia's existence in the Russian orbit. This fifth column, as the political analyst added, includes the entire opposition in the Armenian parliament.

"Currently, there is such a moment, let's say, a pre-mobilization for such forces. And this can be perfectly combined. Azerbaijani aggression, a difficult situation on the front and the border, possibly a humanitarian crisis. And against this background, those whom we call the fifth column of Russia in Armenia are already being activated," explained Hovhannisyan.

However, as the analyst pointed out, even those forces that oppose the European choice, their main argument is not the goodness of Russia or that it is an effective form of ensuring security, but that the Kremlin's revenge would be terrible, and it simply won’t let Armenia go. In other words, the Armenian population is simply being intimidated.

"So even those propagandists who oppose the European and Western choice, they present Russia to the population as a bogeyman, as a scary monster, with whom it is better to live in peace than to be in conflict. But they get an adequate response, and although this scare tactic exists, it becomes less and less effective," he added.

The West's factor

Keeping Azerbaijan from a new war against Armenia could be aided by the West. Specifically, American intervention compelled Baku to halt its "counterterrorism operation" in Nagorno-Karabakh in the fall of 2023. NATO's Secretary-General recently visited Baku and Yerevan to emphasize the importance of peace in the South Caucasus and urge Azerbaijan to sign a peace deal with Armenia.

The European Union acts as a mediator between Baku and Yerevan. Last year, the President of the European Council convened leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan for negotiations in Brussels. In early April, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, plans to meet with Pashinyan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss strengthening Yerevan's stability.

Геть від Москви. Як Вірменія бере курс на ЄС та якою може бути реакція Росії

The EU is helping Armenia reconcile its conflict with Azerbaijan (photo: Getty Images)

France undoubtedly stands as Armenia's main ally in the West, with a powerful Armenian diaspora within the country. French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly defended Yerevan and accused Russia of stoking the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

"Do you see what is happening? This is Russia's attempt to destabilize the situation. It wants to create chaos in the Caucasus to destabilize all of us," said the French President during the height of the Second Karabakh War.

This year, Macron began supplying arms to Armenia. This marked the first instance of a CSTO country receiving arms from a NATO member. Initially, rifles, radars, and armored vehicles were discussed, but Paris was prepared to provide missiles and anti-aircraft systems to Yerevan.

"I won't delve into excessive details about what weaponry will be sent, but all of it is defensive equipment because the priority in this region is the protection of populations and borders," stated French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu.

Today, according to Armenian political analysts, the West is helping Armenia normalize relations with Azerbaijan and Turkiye. For example, the issue of opening the Armenian-Turkish border and establishing diplomatic relations is one of the conditions for selling F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye. Although Ankara tries to tie compliance with these demands to a peace agreement between Baku and Yerevan, it only increases pressure on Turkiye and Azerbaijan.

Геть від Москви. Як Вірменія бере курс на ЄС та якою може бути реакція Росії

France is Armenia's biggest ally in the West (photo:

Alone, admits Hovhannisyan, Armenia finds it difficult to be prepared to confront Russia and Azerbaijan. But today, the West, diplomatically, and in the case of France, even militarily, demonstrates that in the event of a conflict, it will unequivocally support Armenia through all available means.

"This is not my phrase 'through all available means' – it's a phrase of Mr. O'Brien, the US Assistant Secretary of State. This phrase has already been voiced practically twice. Once during hearings in the US Congress, and the second time already in November 2023 when the conflict with Azerbaijan was very close to realization," Hovhannisyan added.

Ukrainian-Armenian relations

Since the onset of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, official Yerevan has attempted to avoid this issue in the public domain and effectively refrained from making statements regarding Kremlin aggression. However, against the backdrop of strained relations with Moscow, Yerevan's position began to undergo a radical change.

For instance, on the eve of the second anniversary of the start of the great war, Pashinyan stated that Armenia was not on Russia's side, and in general, regarding aggression toward Ukraine, Yerevan is not Moscow's ally.

"We regret that we cannot influence this situation. The people of Ukraine are friendly to us," emphasized Pashinyan.

Last September, the wife of the Armenian Prime Minister, Anna Akopyan, visited Kyiv to participate in a summit of first ladies and gentlemen organized by Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. It was then also known that Armenia had sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine for the first time since the full-scale invasion. And in October, on the sidelines of the European Political Community Summit in Granada, the first meeting between Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Nikol Pashinyan took place.

Геть від Москви. Як Вірменія бере курс на ЄС та якою може бути реакція Росії

Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Nikol Pashinyan for the first time (photo:

Another significant step toward the West and Ukraine was that Pashinyan did not congratulate Russian dictator Vladimir Putin on the victory in the election held by the Kremlin, including in the occupied territories of Ukraine.

"Undoubtedly, these are all symbols. This is such an obvious positive trend, although I consider it insufficient, it is impossible to deny that it exists," said political analyst Mehrabyan in a conversation with RBC-Ukraine.

According to him, this is due to the commonality of goals, interests, and values between Armenia and Ukraine, which are based on perceiving the international order in the post-Soviet space based on the 1991 borders.

"This is what Russia denies. Because Russia's obvious goal is to restore the Russian Empire within the former Soviet Union. And just like a hundred years ago, Moscow decided first and foremost to crush Ukraine, and dealing with the rest of the countries, according to Moscow's logic, would be easier. But everything has failed and continues to fail in Moscow," he said.

Mehrabyan is convinced that Ukraine will achieve the restoration of its territorial integrity. And this will be the guarantee that Armenia and Armenians will also succeed in holding out.