The majority of the international community condemned Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine, and thousands marched in Tbilisi, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and other cities to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people. To say it in a broad way, Caucasian countries are compelled to pursue a cautious foreign policy due to their proximity to Russia and possible threats from it. Despite unprecedented support from the Georgian people, the Georgian government made several problematic decisions that disappointed Kyiv, but, surprisingly, made Kremlin propagandists satisfied. While Georgia has been the main focus of attention during the war, it is also worth considering what kind of politics Armenia and Azerbaijan are pursuing in these troubled times.
To put it simply, Armenia is Russia’s staunchest ally in the Caucasus region; they have a military alliance, and subsequently, there are two Russian military bases on Armenian territory with 3 000 Russian soldiers. Armenia relies heavily on Russia’s security umbrella to deal with its main competitors, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Russia is also Armenia’s main trading partner. For the reasons stated above, Armenia is a geopolitical hostage, and its actions in response to Russian brutal aggression against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are limited.
Russian propaganda tries to convey to Russian citizens that they are not alone in the war against “the West,” and as a result, a small pro-Russian rally in Armenia was widely publicized in Russia, portraying Armenian society’s support for Russia in the war, but obviously, a small number of protesters cannot represent the main viewpoint of the Armenian public. It is worth noting that demonstrations of this nature have occurred in other European countries as well. “Armenia supports Russia” is a weak message in Armenia, and it should be emphasized that dissatisfaction with Russia has grown in Armenia following the Second Karabakh War. Armenians believe that their country was left alone against Azerbaijani forces. On the contrary, despite the fact that Russia is Armenia’s closest ally, several pro-Ukrainian and anti-war protests took place in Yerevan, including in front of the Russian embassy.
To put all of these issues aside, it is undeniable that the Russia-Ukraine war poses a serious threat to Armenia; the country is encircled by its political rivals, and its main ally is heavily sanctioned by the west, which clearly affects Russian and, by extension, Armenian economies; if Russia is defeated in this war, its influence in the Caucasus region will obviously decline, and Armenia’s security architecture will face a myriad of threats. In this precarious situation, Armenia tries to strike the right political balance in order not to disappoint its main ally Russia, while also not making decisions that will enrage the West. The current situation resembles a “collision” between the country’s democratic and human rights values and its security and economic interests, which is obviously painful for the Armenian people and state.
There were some expectations that Armenia would recognize Donetsk and Luhansk in this situation, Nonetheless, the Armenian government figures issued official statements, which stated that this recognition was not on their political agenda even at the start of this violent conflict. Most likely, the country will remain neutral; its absence from UN votes against Russia is a strong indication of the country’s current position, but this can change if the power balance shifts drastically. Such a scenario is possible.
As a result of the war, Azerbaijan is also in a terrible situation, but not as bad as Armenia. The country is taking cautious foreign policy steps. However, it is worth mentioning that Azerbaijan is extremely active in providing much-needed humanitarian aid including supplies, food products and medicines to Ukraine. Furthermore, in this crisis, SOCAR energy Ukraine, the subsidiary of the Azerbaijani State Oil Company, provided Ukraine with 100 tons of fuel for ambulances and vehicles used by Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. This type of assistance is extremely beneficial to Ukraine, which is under brutal attacks. As a consequence, Ukraine’s president publicly thanked Azerbaijan for its assistance.
People demonstrated in Baku with pro-Ukrainian and anti-war slogans, similar to other Caucasian states, and most importantly, Azerbaijan strongly supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and thus does not recognize Donetsk and Luhansk. Despite this support, Azerbaijan strives for balance, and as a result, Azerbaijan, like Armenia, has not participated in previous United Nations votes condemning Russian aggression. Georgia, on the other hand, despite making some controversial decisions that irritated Ukraine, voted against Russia in every United Nations votes.
President Aliyv commented on the country’s position in the war and tried to explain the country’s actions:
“We support territorial integrity of Ukraine and of all other countries…We do it publicly. We do not hide behind big trees. We say what we mean. Yes, we have good relations with Russia, but with Ukraine we also have good relations. The principles of international law should not be interpreted based on political preferences.”
Despite some neutral positions, Russian propagandists appear to be angry over Azerbaijan’s humanitarian assistance to Ukraine; it is clear that anti-Azerbaijan sentiments have increased in Russian media. Some people have even openly discussed the possibility of launching a “tactical nuclear missile attack” on Baku. This statement was a shock to the Azerbaijani society. Such kind statements are considered as irrational, because Azerbaijan has avoided integrating with Western institutions in order to protect Moscow’s vital interests. Baku has made it clear that it does not seek NATO membership through its active participation in the Non-Aligned Movement.