'Bad aftertaste' after Bolton's visit to Armenia

Mikhail Belyaev, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
'Bad aftertaste' after Bolton's visit to Armenia

The visit of National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, John Bolton, to the South Caucasus was remembered, first of all, by his frank anti-Russian statements made by a high-ranking U.S. official in Armenia. Moreover, Bolton started to offer Yerevan discourteous advises on how it should set its foreign policy agenda.

It is noteworthy that the Armenian leadership, including Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, did not respond to Bolton's words about the need to get rid of the "historical cliché", which was a frank call to reconsider relations with Russia. The only thing that Pashinyan "snarled" at was the National Security Advisor's statement about the initiative steps to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which should be taken by the Pashinyan government after the parliamentary election.

On the other hand, the Russian Foreign Ministry reacted rather sharply: "At a recent briefing, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson commented on the “farewell” speech made by former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard M. Mills before he left Yerevan. He publicly instructed the leaders of the receiving country on economic policy matters and promised lavish funding to local NGOs for controlling the government. It appears that there can be no greater impudence that cannot be discerned from direct interference in domestic affairs. But this is not so. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, who visited Yerevan the other day, demanded openly that Armenia renounce historical clichés in its international relations (and hardly bothered to conceal the fact that this implied Armenia’s traditional friendship with Russia). He also said that he expected Nikol Pashinyan to voice initiatives on the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement after the national parliamentary elections. Naturally, he did not forget to advertise U.S. weapons that Armenia should buy instead of Russian weapons."

Meanwhile, during Bolton's visit Nikol Pashinyan said that "there is a real opportunity to bring Armenia-U.S. relations to a new level." According to Pashinyan, Yerevan is ready to take this opportunity. Almost immediately upon completion of Bolton's visit, the pro-Western Armenian media, which traditionally support Pashinyan, were full of headlines about the “new milestone” in the Armenian-U.S. relations, and analysts of all kinds started talking about a "fundamentally new situation" which, according to them, would allow Yerevan  to take Russia, which is losing influence in the region, down a peg.

Against this background, the vague position of Pashinyan, who did not stand up to defend Armenian-Russian relations in the context of Bolton’s statements, is disappointing. “Can you imagine what kind of hysteria would arise among our 'pro-Western experts' if someone from Russian officials made such statements? Bolton, in fact, decides who we can have for friends and who we cannot. This is absurd," the leader of the Democratic Party of Armenia, Aram Sargsyan, told Sputnik.

It is difficult to disagree with Sargsyan that, if such statements came from Moscow, Armenians would have accused it of all sorts of evils, starting with disrespect for Armenia's sovereignty, ending with 'betrayal of Armenian interests.' And even though that Armenia, in principle, can afford to continue controlling Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding seven regions only thanks to the military-economic support from Russia.

What do we see in the case of John Bolton's statements? The silence of the government and the absolutely uncritical attitude of the pro-government experts against the background of barely concealed euphoria regarding the possibility of buying American weapons, which economically weak Armenia is not able to afford. In fact, besides individual deputies of the broken and disorganized Republican Party of Armenia, not a single serious political force dared to criticize Bolton’s anti-Russian comments in Yerevan.

In general, once-unthinkable things happen in "new Armenia": the CSTO secretary general was arrested at the prime minister’s direction, the Russian Railways subsidiary in Armenia was raided, the Sasna Tsrer terrorists, who killed three police officers and opposing 'Russian colonialism' were released with the prime minister's support. At the same time, the American emissaries speak with the new government using the language of instructions, without receiving a clear response from Pashinyan and his team. The visit of John Bolton to Armenia again actualized the issue of the nature of the new Armenian government and Yerevan's new foreign policy vector. One may repeat the populist mantra about the new government's "pro-Armenian" policy, but it is time for Pashinyan to give concrete answers to the question of how the country sees itself in the geopolitical system.