Serge Sargsyan (au centre), Président Arménien, entouré de ses homologues des pays membres de l'OCTS ainsi que du secrétaire général de l'organisation Nikolai Bordyuzha (à gauche). Crédit Alexei Druzhinin / Kremlin Pool Photo via AP.

The Summit of the CSTO in Yerevan


It’s been three years since Armenia surprised us. This small Caucasian country, that comes across as slow moving and folkloric, has attained great importance among analysists since 2013, a situation confirmed by the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) on October 14th in the capital city of Yerevan.

Armenia has often found itself in the spotlight in recent years, following events such as the signing of the pact with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) at the Riga conference in September 2013, the recognition of the Russia-Crimea referendum in March 2014, the centenary of the Armenian genocide in April 2015, and the papal visit in June 2016.

On October 14th, Yerevan welcomed delegations of CSTO countries, an organization of which Armenia currently holds the presidency, only 6 months after heavy confrontation between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies in the Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia and the CSTO

The CSTO is a political and military organization comprising several former Soviet Republics. It consists of six member states: Russia, White Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It serves as an organization of mutual protection. According to quite a few observers, it seems to be a rather dissuasive role toward the CSTO and toward signing parties. ‘It appears that quite a few members do not take the CSTO seriously and that they see it as more of a formality’’, explains Mikael Zolyan, analysist for the think-thank Regional Studies Center, based in Yerevan.

Armenia has been a part of this organization since 1992, that being a few months after its achievement of independence. The choice was dictated by multiple disputes with Azerbaijan regarding the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was undergoing secession, and also regarding the fear of a Turkish military intervention, which had always supported the territorial demands of Azerbaijan.

The agenda of October 14th featured issues such as the perspectives of the organization up until 2025, the situation in Syria, as well as terrorism, particularly in central Asia. Some measures decided at the CSTO meeting included the creation of a crisis center linked to the security of member states, and an agreement to draw up a unique, unified list of terrorist groups.

‘’ For Armenia ‘’ continued M. Zolyan ‘’ protection against Turkey takes first priority. It is unlikely that members of the CSTO will take action against Azerbaijan in the case of a new escalation, such as the one in April. However, Armenia’s membership of the CSTO is ultimately a guarantee that Azerbaijan will refrain from attacking Armenian territory. This allows Armenia to buy arms from Russia at a good price, leveling the playing field between Armenia and Azerbaijan on a military front.

The Nagorno-Karabakh dispute

An enclave encompassing mostly Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh was tied to Soviet Azerbaijan by Stalin, when he redrew the map of the Caucasus in 1923. With the collapse of the USSR, the region was divided by a Civil war. Nagorno-Karabakh declared itself as a de facto independent republic in May 1994 but it was not recognised by many countries worldwide. The conflict caused 30 000 deaths and led to around one million people becoming refugees. It marked the defeat of the Azerbaijani army, resulting in the diplomatic breakdown between Armenia – which supported the separatists – and Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan. Since then, the borders between Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan have been militarized.

Armenia is part of both the EEU and the CSTO. The debate over Nagorno-Karabakh is of great importance in the international relations of the region, especially with regards to Russia, which is now seeking to repair its diplomatic and economic relations with Turkey. When questioned on Turkey’s role in the resolution of the conflict, M. Lavov remained vague and ambiguous. He stated that that it is the leaders of the Minsk Group (Russia, America and France) who should deal with the resolution of the conflict. Turkey’s role should, according to him, remain of second importance.

The dispute over Armenia’s borders is a real puzzle. Officially, Nagorno-Karabakh did not belong to them, and the UN recognised it as being part of Azerbaijan. But the Armenian army is present there and heavily involved in confrontations that took place there. Two presidents of Armenia, Robert Kotcharyan and the current incumbent Serge Sarkissyan, originate from Nagorno-Karabakh and fought during the war, which lasted from 1992 to 1994.

Because Nagorno-Karabakh is not officially recognized by the UN, any threat made by Azerbaijan towards Nagorno-Karabakh could not lead to an intervention of the CSTO in support of Armenia. The agreements of the members apply to single international borders recognised by the international community, which is not the case with Nagorno-Karabakh. The summit of the CSTO was not the bearer of guarantees regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenian independence or tied to Armenia.

‘’Setting aside the confirmation of alliances’’, concluded Mr Zolyan ‘’at the end of the day, I do not think that there were many expectations for this summit. Our priority is our relationship with Russia.’’

The banner photo: Serge Sargsyan (center), Armanian president surrounded by his counterparts from CSTO members, as well as the general secretary of the organization Nikolai Bordyuzha (on the left). Credits Alexei Druzhinin / Kremlin Pool Photo by AP.

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