Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Is Armenia playing it both ways with the CSTO and NATO?

Joshua Kucera over at Eurasianet has flagged up some interesting statements by Armenian officials, affirming that the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) would intervene on Yerevan's side in a new war with Azerbaijan. The Armenian Defence Minister has said that the Moscow-led regional security bloc would provide "an appropriate response" to any "potential aggression", i.e. from Baku over the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But as Josh notes, Nagorno-Karabakh is not legally part of Armenian soil and therefore not bound by CSTO provisions on mutual defence, so an Azerbaijani attack to retake Karabakh would not legally trigger CSTO intervention. And some Armenian analysts have viewed the cautious attitude of CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha, and his call to avoid hasty statements and provocations, as the bloc "washing its hands" of Karabakh.

This may be a storm in a teacup. The Defence Minister's statements were made at a conference in Yerevan on May 20 entitled the “CSTO and South Caucasus: Regional Peace and Security Perspectives”, organised by the Defence Ministry and the CSTO itself, so it is hardly surprising that he emphasised the positive cooperation that Armenia has with the bloc.

In this light, it's interesting to consider the news from a couple of weeks ago that Armenia is to triple its troop contingent in Afghanistan, from 45 to 130, in support of the NATO mission there (Armenian soldiers are currently guarding an airport in Kunduz). There is even talk of doubling this increased contribution, up to 260 personnel.

This isn't on the level of eager NATO aspirant Georgia, with around 1000 troops in volatile Helmand. But for a country with so stated NATO ambitions, and with such a reliance on the CSTO, mooted as an alternative or even a rival to the Atlantic Alliance, it does show remarkable flexibility. Looks like Azerbaijan isn't the only state in the neighbourhood who can have a 'multi-vector foreign policy'.

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