Russia's influence in Armenia drops
The results of the "Caucasian Barometer" study, conducted periodically in South Caucasus by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) and published in December of 2017, in order to monitor socio-economic and political trends in the region, were very alarming. 1648 citizens over 18 years old throughout Armenia participated in this study, statistical error was around 2.3%. Experts familiar with the situation in the country keep saying about the fact that Armenia's population supports Russia less and less with each passing year, while Western funds and representatives of local civil society, supported by them, are systematically working to weaken Russian authority and influence. The "Caucasian Barometer" 2017 confirms these fears and shows specific data.
Answering the question of which state is currently "Armenia's main friend", 64% of the respondents named Russia. At the same time, in 2013, 84% of respondents called Russia the main friend, and in 2015 this figure dropped to 74%. In other words, in the period from 2013 to 2017, the credibility of Russia as the main friend of Armenia dropped by 20%. It's curious that in the same period of time, the number of those who consider France the main friend of Armenia grew from 4% to 17%. In addition, France is the only EU state in the survey, so it's fair to say that growing authority of the European Union and France in particular is obvious.
Another example that shows that Armenians view Russia differently was how respondents answered the question about Armenia's cooperation with the CSTO and NATO. Exactly 50% of respondents believe that Armenia mainting qually close ties with the CSTO and NATO. 5% of respondents said that Armenia should join NATO, and 27% said that Armenia should stay in the CSTO. Considering the fact that Armenia is completely dependent on Russia's security guarantees, receives preferential loans for arms purchases from Russia, and external borders of Armenia are protected by Russian military, only 27% is an extremely low figure. When it comes to question of which integration association should Armenia choose in the future, Armenian citizens' answer was pretty much the same: only 25% of respondents said that Armenia should stay in the Eurasian Economic Union. 54% said that the country should maintain equally close relations with the EEU and the EU, and 5% said that Armenia shoukd join the EU.
Finally, the opinion of Armenian citizens about the "Sasna Tsrer" criminal group aslo tells a lot. When the group stormed a police station in Yerevan in the summer of 2016, Colonel Arthur Vanoyan was killed and three more employees of the Interior Ministry of Armenia were wounded. At the same time, members of Sasna Tsrer stated that their goal was "to fight against Russian colonialism". Surprisingly, 19% of respondents completely supported the actions of this group. 17% said that they likely support the group's actions, 28% were neutral, 10% likely condemn and only 6% strictly condemn. In other words, overall, to a greater or lesser extent, 36% of respondents expressed their support for extremists, while only 16% of respondents denounced them.
It would be wrong to say that Russia's support for Armenia dropped in recent years, even though it would be a logical explanation for observed negative trends. After the clashes of April 2016, Yerevan received two preferential defense loans from Moscow, a discount on gas, and trade turnover between the countries increased by 30% in 2017 (by 23.5%, according to Armenian data). The problem lies in apparent inability of nominally pro-Russian Armenian authorities to conduct normal economic and social policy in the republic. And this problem is associated not only with high level of corruption in Armenian government, but also with Armenia's inability to reach an agreement with neighboring Azerbaijan about liberation of at least some of the occupied territories in exchange for restoring economic ties. In addition, Turkey expressed its readiness to open its border with Armenia if that happened.
Study also showed that population doesn't trust authorities. Right now only 6% of Armenian citizens completely trust current President Serzh Sargsyan. 12% of respondents trust him a little bit. At the same time, 20% don't trust him, and 44% don't trust the head of state at all. Indicators of popularity, or rather unpopularity of Sargsyan seem even more disastrous in the light of the country's future transition to a parliamentary form of government. The thing is that the National Assembly enjoys even less popularity than Armenia's leader - only 12% of support against 66% of those dissatisfied with its activities. Obviously, against this background, if Serzh Sargsyan will become a Prime Minister in April of 2018, it clearly won't help to strengthen the authority of current government.
For Russia, such development of events would result in extremely negative consequences. Thanks to Western and pro-Western funds, mass media and NGOs, who feel at ease in Armenia, failures in social and economic policy will be associated with pro-Russian policy of Armenian authorities and the country's membership in the EEU. The expected strengthening of grant and financial support from the EU after signing of the cooperation agreement in November of 2017 will also actively contribute to this process, as a result of which Armenian society will slowly move away from Moscow. There are few ways of preventing such scenario from happening. One of them is putting pressure on Armenian authorities so that they take steps to severely limit Western influence in the country. It's difficult to say how effective will such actions be in the long term, since they won't remove existing social and economic problems from the agenda.
Armenia's integration into regional cooperation with Azerbaijan and Turkey would be a great way out of this situation, since it turn the country from "appendix" of South Caucasus into a full-fledged partner. Current authorities in Armenia are ideally suited to accept uncomfortable compromises over Nagorno-Karabakh and to permanently leave political life of the country. And while the degree of influence of Western influence in Armenian society hasn't reached the point of no return, Russia has all necessary opportunities and levers to implement such scenario in Armenia, thinks to which there will be a change of elites, but not geopolitical goals. may occur in the country. It would be dangerous for Russian foreign policy interests to ignore situation in Armenia.