West's attack on Azerbaijan and Rosoboronexport
At the beginning of this week Western media attacked Azerbaijan, also hitting Russia in the process. It seems that this attack, carried out by such well-known publications as The Guardian, Le Monde, Le Figaro, was coordinated and directed against the government and the ruling elite of Azerbaijan. Non-governmental organization OCCRP accused them of laundering almost $3 billion - including through Rosoboronexport. The press service of Azerbaijani President denied those accusations. Its report says that George Soros and Armenian lobbyists are behind the publication. One of the authors of the publication in The Guardian is the journalist of Armenian origin Dina Nakhapetyan.
We will try to analyze this publication in the current political context, since no matter how much we would like to believe otherwise, it's a rare case when an investigation of international non-governmental organizations against individual countries is carried out without an order from above. It's even more rare when it appears on the front pages of huge international media. So who benefits from this the most? In order to answer that question, it is necessary to analyze current situation in the region in the context of changing geopolitical conditions.
Increased attention of Western media to Azerbaijan and its authorities is not new, and current publication is not the first article of this kind. And it won't be the last. Ilham Aliyev, a pragmatist to the core, has been holding the West within arm's reach. Azerbaijan cooperates with the EU and the US in energy sector, in the fight against terrorism, but keeps its domestic policy under strict control. All Western and pro-Western funds and NGOs, which tried to affect socio-political processes in the country, have been slowly but surely driven out of Azerbaijan over the past few years, and their local partners' financing has been cut. Aliyev doesn't want to sign the association agreement with the EU. He believes that its provisions don't correspond to Azerbaijan's national interests. But the main "sin" of Azerbaijani leader is that against the background of escalation of the conflict between the US/the EU and Russia, not only Baku didn't slow down, but on the contrary, it intensified cooperation with Moscow in trade, economic, political and military spheres.
Rosoboronexport as a bonus target
It's also easy to explain why Rosoboronexport was targeted along with Azerbaijan. After all, we are talking about a state-owned company of strategic importance, which oversees one of the most promising and dynamically developing areas of Russian export. In 2016, total volume of Russia's military sales amounted to more than $15 billion, of which Rosoboronexport accounts for about $13 billion. For comparison: at the beginning of 2000s, when Rosoboronexport was just created, volumes of its sales amounted to $3.7 billion (about $5.1 billion in 2016 prices). There are plenty of people who want to buy Russian weapons in the world, so the attempt to damage Rosoboronexport's reputation with such publications fits into the logic of informational confrontation between the West and Russia. But this is just a pleasant bonus, rather than a main goal of those who ordered this publication.
Russia's defense mechanisms in Caucasus: "A", "B" and "C" countries.
Volume of cooperation between Moscow and Baku in the field of arms procurement grows annually against the background of overall political and economic rapprochement. Both are considered by the West as one of the key obstacles to strengthening its own influence in strategically important South Caucasus region. South Caucasus is a gateway to rich Caspian basin. This region is extremely sensitive to external influence, especially considering how close it is to turbulent North Caucasus.
Russian-Azerbaijani cooperation and pragmatic consideration of each others strategic interests became one of Russia's defense mechanisms, which prevents the West from influencing the region. Another safety mechanism is allied relations between Russian and Armenia within the framework of the Eurasian integration space, as well as presence of Russian troops in Gyumri. Finally, the balance of powers between Baku and Yerevan, which Russia was able to build, and which it also considered in its arms supplies policy, also plays a huge role in the region. The term "balance of powers" doesn't mean that the parties are equal. In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it just means that "A" side won't be able to hold its own in the war against "B" side without the support of "C" side, and therefore "A" side is forced to remain loyal to "C" side. Considering military-economic potential of Azerbaijan and Armenia, it's not hard to understand who is more powerful.
Under such conditions, Kremlin is genuinely not interested in the outbreak of a new war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as a result of which it can "lose" at least one of the friendly South Caucasian countries. A clear example is the role that Russia played in April of 2016, when Azerbaijan and Armenia were close to resuming full-scale military operations in Karabakh. Without Russian intervention, clashes would continue.
"Weak link" in the region's architecture
However, each country of the region has its own interests, which aren't necessarily the same as Russia's interests. That's why sometimes very interesting geopolitical paradoxes appear. For example, Russia's ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Unione, Armenia, turns into ally of the West in its attempts to weaken Russian-Azerbaijani ties. Its leadership has repeatedly publicly expressed its discontent over supply of Russian weapons to Azerbaijan.
It's also impossible to dismiss influential Armenian diaspora in the West, which influences decision-making process in Yerevan. The West didn't forget about the project of getting Armenia out of Russia's orbit even after the failure of Hillary Clinton's idea of opening Armenian-Turkish border in 2009. It is clear that today's Turkey is not the partner for the US and the EU that it was eight years ago. Their Turkish allies and architects of the "Zurich protocols" are now on the sidelines of Turkish political life, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned from the "father of Islamic democracy" into another "authoritarian leader."
In the current conditions, it was decided to influence Armenia not through Erdogan's unacceptable Turkey, but through Armenian diaspora and Western institutions of "soft power", which can operate in Armenia freely. There are three active structures of George Soros in the country: Open Society Foundation, Partnership for Open Society and Eurasian Partnership Foundation. USAID, Western embassies, various Brussels and German political funds and numerous local NGOs work there without any serious state control over financial flows. Western institutions have become valuable guests in Armenia: on July 8, 2017, representative office of German-based Heinrich Böll Foundation was opened in Yerevan.
Only very stable and strong government can afford to calmly watch such activities of Western-funded institutions and funds in their country and do nothing. It can easily end up like the situation with ex-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, who gave Western funds a "green light" in his country. When he realized that the country could not flirt with both Russia and the West, it was too late - society was electrified, and his authority was extremely weak.
Is Serzh Sargsyan strong enough to withstand Western scenarios, demostrated in the course of various "color revolutions"? Can economically weak Armenia, whose residents sell their votes to candidates in local elections for $20, refuse to receive financial assistance from their rich diaspora that exists in the West? Obviously not.
Over the past years Armenian government and society have become less and less loyal to Moscow. Without state support, Russian language is almost forgotten. Armenia flirts with the West more and more. In 2013, Serzh Sargsyan was ready to sign an association agreement with the EU at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. Only a trip to Moscow prior to that changed his opinion in favor of joining the Customs Union. Now Armenia once again prepares to sign an updated agreement with the European Union, which, according to Sargsyan, "will reflect the depth and scale of bilateral relations." At the same time, Armenia also intensifies its cooperation with NATO, which is evidenced by participation of the CSTO member in the Noble Partner 2017 exercises in Georgia. Armenian soldiers also were supposed to participate in the ongoing NATO exercises in Georgia, but they did not come at the last moment - experts say it happened because of pressure from Moscow. In an interview with "Radio Liberty", speaker of the Armenian Foreign Ministry Shavarsh Kocharyan not only didn't object the statement that Armenia "joined the Eurasian Economic Union, cooperating with the dictator country", but also indirectly agreed with this, only saying that "our strategic and economic interests require it."
Article published by The Guardian
To sum it up, it can be said that the latest Western attack on Azerbaijan and Rosoboronexport pursued several goals:
- To damage the image of Azerbaijani authorities, which try to keep the distance in relations with the EU and the US, and signal Azerbaijani government that it should not maintain close ties with Moscow.
- To once again attack Russia, by tying successful state-owned company to corrupt schemes.
- To send signal to Armenia that the West is still holding the door open for it, by mentioning such important topic as Russian-Azerbaijani military cooperation.
Let's hope that while assessing delicate "proposals" of Western partners and creating comfortable conditions for activities of Western NGOs in the country, Yerevan won't forget one thing: maintaining the balance in the existing conflict, which is the guarantee of political survival of the current government in Yerevan, is impossible without stabilizing role of "C" country.