Armenia: Bystander in its own game
Demarcation, delimitation & the corridor
The Meghri corridor and border demarcation issues are on the agenda of Armenian politics. While both the public and the politicians are debating on this topic and arguing whether to „open the corridor“ or not, the political reality seems to be clearer: Unfortunately, the Armenian side is de facto not an active player both in the issue of the Meghri corridor and the demarcation process. In other words: No matter if the Armenian elites and the public want it or not, the likelihood of the demarcation process and „communication opening“ is quite high. Especially after the Nagorno-Karabakh war, Armenia lacks of bargaining power in order to influence the regional policy. After the withdrawal of the USA from Eurasia in general, Middle East in particular, the power vacuum was filled by Russia and Turkey. Although Turkey did not achieve all foreign political goals in terms of Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara could strengthen its influence in the region, especially in Azerbaijan.
The primary players in the South Caucasus are Russia, which can be classified as the dominating power, Turkey and Iran. The new format which was especially promoted by the Turkish side, namely 3+3 (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia + Russia, Iran, Turkey) undelines the new political reality in the region and could replace the OSCE Minsk group, thus weakening Armenian positions.
Lack of bargaining power and regional actors
Due to the little bargaining power of Armenia, the power shift and the leading role by Russia and Turkey in the region, Armenia will be forced to accept the opening of the corridor and the demarcation process. WIthout any doubt, we can assume, that the opening of the Meghri corridor will strengthen the Turkish-Azerbaijani ties, endanger the Armenian sovereignty and weaken the Armenian key-role as a transit country between the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea. Both Iran, Georgia, India and the European Union are not interested in the establishment of the Meghri corridor. Not only Armenia would lose its special role, but also Georgia and the EU would be cut off from Iran and, by consequence, India. Especially after the governmental crisis in Afghanistan, Armenia became more important for South Asia, especially India as an alternative route.
Russia, on the other hand, has different interests: On the one hand, Russia benefits from the Iranian blockade towards Europe, on the other hand, the corridor strengthens the Turkish-Azerbaijani axis. thus weakening the Russian role in Azerbaijan.
The USA is also not interested in strengthening the Turkish-Azerbaijani axis but also in weakening of Russian opponents in the region. Not least for this reason, the United States has been unusually reserved despite the Iranian military exercises on the Azerbaijani border. In one way or another, Persian, Indian, Georgian and European interests in particular overlap with those of Armenia on this issue, thus offering these countries as partners in purpose. Therefore, foreign policy should always be analysed on a case-by-case basis, without overestimating cultural or historical factors.
An attempt to minimize the inevitable damage
Armenian diplomacy will try to get the best possible advantages out of this unfavorable situation, in order to avoid the worst case scenario. First, before starting with both issues, Armenia and Azerbaijan have to establish a minimum of „trust“ – e.g. by returning all prisoners of war and starting negotiations on the minefield-maps. Second, in case the „communications in the region“ will be opened, the question arises, in which form this will take place: Opening the communications should not lead to loss of control over the „corridor“, i.e. no Turkish or Azerbaijani forces in Syunik in general, in the corridor section in particular. The opening of communication on Armenian side should also lead to the a) opening of communications through Azerbaijan (to Russia and Iran), b) establishment of the second route between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh as mentioned in the negotiation process 2020.
Third, the demarcation process is a matter of time: However, there are a couple of good reasons why the demarcation process should not be mediated by Russia (with Russian maps) but by the UN: The United Nations, to be more precisely the member states of the UN are recognising other states and their borders. A demarcation process carried out by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia could lack legitimacy and disadvantage the one or other side. Due to the fact, that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are member states of the UN, there should also be maps of both countries. Based on those maps and the documents of the UN, the demarcation process should take place. A mediation by the UN would a) be more credible and b) more legitimised than a mediation carried out by Russia. Last but not least, it would be a diplomatic victory if Armenia managed to exclude the Nagorno-Karabakh status issue from the demarcation process.
Armenia has to establish a multivectoral policy
When it comes to security and foreign policy in the region, it is more important for Armenia to establish a multivectoral foreign policy. Accepting the political realities on the one side (the Russian dominance), but developing strong ties with European partners on the one side, Iran, India, USA and Arab states on the other side. Besides the military aspect, Armenia can benefit from European expertise, financial aid and specific programmes. The 2,6€ billion EU pakacge for Armenia was not only the largest investment in the history of modern Armenia, but also the largest investment of the European Union towards the Eastern Partnership states. Second, besides the European states, there is a huge potential in deepening the relations with some Arab states on the one side, and India on the other side. The visit of the Indian foreign minister to Armenia and the working meetings between the Armenian president and the representatives of Saudi Arabia and UAE are a good starting point for further developments.