Armenia has lately been boosting cooperation with both NATO and Russia, prompting questions about how far it can play both sides of the geopolitical conflict.
This fall, Armenia has hosted top NATO officials and the U.S. secretary of the navy, and in September Armenian units trained by the U.S. and NATO countries for deployment in international missions, like that in Afghanistan, conducted an exercise, reported RFE/RL:
[S]ome 600 soldiers of the volunteer unit simulated their participation in a multinational peacekeeping operation in an exercise watched by U.S. military instructors. The exercise also involved what the Armenian Defense Ministry described as a successful “self-appraisal with NATO standards” by the brigade’s Staff Company.
But this fall, Armenia also hosted exercises of the Russia-run Collective Security Treaty Organization and has signed an agreement with Russia on joint arms production, a provision of which requires Armenia to "rely exclusively on Russian-made and supplied weapons," writes analyst Richard Giragosian in a piece at Oxford Analytica:
For the first time, Armenia is being excluded from procuring Western arms, limiting its options and potential partners and, at least in theory, hindering its pursuit of interoperability with NATO standards.
This has raised questions about Armenia's ability to manage this balancing act, with Armenian and Western officials -- who are now regularly asked about it -- saying there is no contradiction in its ties with the West and Russia. Armenian Public Radio reports on U.S. ambassador to Armenia John Heffern:
Ambassador Heffern said there is no competition between the United States and Russia in the region. “We work very closely with each other, especially on the Minsk Group process,” he added.According to John Hefffern, there is no competition between the collective Security Treaty organization (CSTO) and NATO. “Armenia has a special relationship with Russia and the CSTO and has an important partnership with NATO, the Ambassador said, adding that he sees no conflict between the two at all.
Armenia's ambassador to NATO says the same:
Armenia’s CSTO membership is a part of country’s military-political strategy but it is not damaging the relationship with NATO.
“We believe such cooperation is advantageous to Armenia. The ongoing reforms are carried out in separate directions with NATO’s assistance,” he said, pointing out defense and security reforms.
Nahapetyan is hopeful that concrete moves will be taken in the future to state progress in Armenia-NATO relations.
“There is no contradiction between cooperation with two blocs. We will continue developing steps defined by the President of Armenia as the main foreign policy directions,” Nahapetyan added.
And the leaders of both Armenia and NATO also agree that there is "no contradiction":
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke of “potential for further development of our partnership” when he visited Yerevan in September. He insisted that there is “no contradiction” between Armenia’s military alliance with Russia and closer ties with NATO.
President Serzh Sarkisian similarly said after talks with Rasmussen that Yerevan will continue combining its membership of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) with growing cooperation with the U.S.-led alliance.
It's true that there is no contradiction, in the same way that the U.S. can both be a member of NATO and hold joint military exercises with Russia. It's just understood that Armenia's ties with Russia are so strong that a few U.S./NATO cooperation programs here and there aren't going to make any difference. As Armenia's NATO ambassador put it, Armenia is no Georgia:
The essence of cooperation with NATO and Georgia and Armenia are fundamentally different, in that neither in the short term nor the long term is the question of NATO accession on our agenda.
If Armenia started to suggest that it wanted to join NATO, or leave the CSTO or kick out the Russian base in Gyumri, then Moscow would start to worry. But until that unlikely point, Russians won't be jealous of any new suitors to Armenia.