Russian is losing ground to English as a second-language for Armenians.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat May 12 22:05:44 UTC 2007

*Eurasia Insight*:
Haroutiun Khachatrian: 5/10/07

Changes may come after Armenia's upcoming parliamentary vote, but don't look
for them in the country's close bilateral ties with Russia, a group of
Armenian and Russian experts concluded at a May 10 government-sponsored
conference in Yerevan. "I am often asked: What will happen after the
elections? The answer is: nothing will happen in terms of foreign policy,"
said political scientist Alexander Iskandarian, head of Yerevan's Caucauss
Media Institute. "Because there are no forces in Armenia which are striving
to come to power with the purpose of spoiling its relations either with
Russia or the West."

The most outspoken members of Armenia's opposition are largely pro-Western;
pro-government parties, billed as the frontrunners in the parliamentary
race, take a more measured stance; or, in the case of pro-government
Prosperous Armenia Party, an avowedly pro-Russian stance. Prosperous Armenia
Party leader Gagik Tsarukian recently told one Russian media outlet that 90
percent of Armenia's foreign relations should be focused on Russia and only
10 percent on the West. A party representative, however, confirmed
Prosperous Armenia's support for the current official government policy of
attempting to balance Armenia's ties with both.

No doubt with such considerations in mind, Russian parliamentarian
Konstantin Zatulin, director of the Moscow-based Institute of Commonwealth
of Independent States, noted that the timing of the conference was
deliberate. The gathering was organized by Zatulin's institute, which
recently opened a Yerevan branch office, and supported by the Armenian
government. "It is extremely important for us in Russia to know what will be
the situation in Armenia, in a country which is of great importance for
Russia," Zatulin said. Zatulin is one of more than 40 Russian Duma deputies
who are observing the May 12 parliamentary vote.

Competition between Russia and the West was among the main topics discussed
at the event. In a nod to Armenia's existing foreign policy, Armenian
Justice Minister David Haroutiunian, a leading member of the ruling
Republican Party of Armenia, assured conference participants that the
country wants to preserve its ties with both Russia and other outside powers
interested in the South Caucasus, a veiled reference to the United States
and other Western states. Both Russia and the West want stability in the
region, he continued, but differ on tactics. "[E]ach side believes that the
best way of keep stability is by establishing its own dominance. Armenia
does not share this vision, and this is why it will oppose efforts to push
Russia out of the region," the minister said.

Haroutiunian named Armenia and Russia's joint membership in the CIS
Collective Security Treaty as the most important aspect of relations between
the two states, noting that he preferred the term "alliance" to

In turn, Aleksei Gvinianin, a Russian foreign ministry department head who
represented the ministry at the conference, hailed Armenia for providing "a
good source of security, given Russia's problems in both the North and South
Caucasus." In an apparent tit-for-tat overture, Gvinianin did not exclude
the possibility that Moscow could join Western countries in encouraging
Turkey to reopen its borders with Armenia. Policy-planning cooperation on
this front with Yerevan was also proposed.

Sympathy for Armenia's own sensitive areas in its relations with the West
was made clear. Gvinianin went so far as to recommend that Armenians not
take recommendations about the parliamentary elections from the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office for Democratic Institutions
and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) as "truth of the last instance." Moscow has a
long history of conflicts with the OSCE about the organization's various
activities in the former Soviet Union.

Russian political scientist Vitaly Tretyakov, editor of the Moscow News
weekly, added that former Soviet republics might not have any other choice
but to ally with Russia on various issues, as the "EU or NATO cannot grow
infinitely." Tretyakov went on to predict that further incentive for strong
Armenia-Russia ties could lie in the creation of a new organization of
former Soviet republics, in which Russian President Vladimir Putin, would
play a leading role. Tretyakov put the timeline for such an event at "less
than a year," but did not provide further details or cite sources for his

Nonetheless, as shown at the conference, ties between Moscow and Yerevan are
far from trouble-free. Russian representatives did not answer questions from
Republican Party parliamentarian Armen Ashotian on whether signatories of
the 1992 CIS Collective Security Treaty would help Armenia in case of
"possible aggression" from Azerbaijan, nor whether Russia might recognize
the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh if Western states recognize the
breakaway territory of Kosovo in the Balkans.

Other problems were also raised. Political scientist Iskandarian noted that
Russia is losing its traditional influence in Armenia since Moscow "works
only with the state and not with [Armenian] citizens." Among more than 30
think tanks in Armenia, he added, only two or three are supported by
Russians. At the same time, he noted, Russian is losing ground to English as
a second-language for Armenians.

Moscow-based political scientist Andranik Migranian had a simple
explanation: Russia is still recovering from the economic collapse of the
1990s, he claimed. Assistance to Armenian civil society will "increase
rapidly," he predicted.

*Editor's Note*: Haroutiun Khachatrian is a Yerevan-based writer
specializing in economic and political affairs.

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