Putin's 'Mini-NATO' Is Breaking

Putin’s ‘Mini-NATO’ Is Breaking

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on Monday said that his country could exit the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as the leader continues to pull away from Russia.

The CSTO is a military alliance of six nations that’s been likened to a smaller version of NATO, and Pashinyan’s remarks on the bloc is the latest example of public frustration he’s expressed in recent months that relates to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Armenia and Russia have long been close allies, but tension has built between the two countries due to what Pashinyan characterizes as a lack of support from Putin in Armenia’s continuing dispute with neighboring Azerbaijan.

Armenia engaged in a six-week war with Azerbaijan in 2020. Issues have since lingered between the nations, and Armenia accused Azerbaijan in 2021 of moving forces into its territory and demanded without success that the CSTO condemn the move.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, left, are pictured on November 23, 2022, in Yerevan, Armenia. Pashinyan’s frustrations with Putin and the CSTO bloc could trigger his country’s withdrawal from the organization.
“I cannot rule out the possibility of Armenia’s de jure withdrawal from the CSTO or a freeze on its membership,” Pashinyan said during a Monday press conference, according to Interfax news agency.

Later this week, Pashinyan is scheduled to speak with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev at a Moscow meeting hosted by Putin. Pashinyan on Monday indicated that at least one issue between the countries might soon be resolved, saying that Armenia could recognize the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan if certain conditions are met.

During the Moscow talks, attention will likely be paid to the interactions between Pashinyan and Putin. In November, the Armenian prime minister seemingly avoided Putin during a photo of CSTO leaders, which followed Pashinyan’s refusal to sign a CSTO declaration.

In January, the strain between Armenia and Russia was further exemplified by Pashinyan’s announcment that his country would not host Russian-led military exercises for the CSTO in 2023. Only days before that announcement, the Russian Ministry of Defense had said that Armenia would be the site of this year’s annual exercises.

Monday’s remarks were not the first time that Pashinyan has hinted at pulling out of the CSTO. In March, he said that his country was not quitting the bloc but rather that the CSTO was withdrawing from Armenia.

“My assessment is that the CSTO is leaving Armenia willingly or unwillingly, and we are worried about this,” he said at the time, according to Public Radio of Armenia.

Pashinyan made similar comments on Monday, saying Armenia could leave the bloc if nothing is provided by continuing its membership. He added that staying in the group could have disadvantages for his country.

“If it becomes clear that the CSTO has left Armenia, the status of organization member, which gives nothing, will hinder Armenia’s discussions of security,” Pashinyan said, according to Interfax.

“Do you think we have not been offered by other countries to buy weapons and military hardware?” he added. “Of course, there has been such an opportunity; however, the closure of that opportunity was mostly explained by Armenia’s membership in the CSTO.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov addressed Pashinyan’s statements by saying Russia will continue dialogue with Armenia about the bloc before adding a positive evaluation of the CSTO.

“This is an organization that has repeatedly demonstrated its effectiveness in various situations. It has a potential to develop,” Peskov said, according to Russian-state media outlet TASS.

Simon Payaslian, a professor of modern Armenian history and literature at Boston University, told Newsweek that “Armenia currently serves a strategic significance within Russia’s geopolitical considerations in the south Caucasus.”

“Considering the broader geopolitical aspirations of both Turkey and Iran, it would not be surprising that Russia appears determined to maintain its security ties with Armenia. However, in Armenia itself there have been growing calls for a greater ‘delinking’ from Russia in matters of military security and economy,” Payaslian said. “For some time now Armenia has sough—or attempted to pursue—an equidistant relations between Russia on the one hand and the West on the other.”

“Putin at this stage has two options regarding Armenia: Either to invade Armenia as he did in Georgia and currently in Ukraine, or to accept the reality that Armenia will gravitate towards the West,” Payaslian added. “Armenia has been under Russian or Soviet control for more than two hundred years. Perhaps it is time for Yerevan to shift its orientation toward the West.”

Newsweek has reached out to Pashinyan’s office via email for comment.

Update 05/23/23 6:o0 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to include comment from Simon Payaslian.  » …
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