Will Russia invade Ukraine (again)?


Dr Simon Saradzhyan, Director, Russia Matters Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Not a day seems to go by now without dire warnings of an imminent Russian military invasion of Ukraine. Such warnings do not come out of the blue: A variety of sources—including government organizations, such as U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence, military and diplomatic agencies, and non-governmental organizations, such as Jane’s and Russia’s Conflict Intelligence Team—are reporting that the Russian military is amassing assets, including infantry, airborne, artillery, missile and tank units, in regions adjacent to Ukraine in numbers unseen since 2014. While the concentration of Russian tactical battalion groups vis-à-vis Ukraine is hardly disputable, tentative results of my research into the Russian leadership’s past decisions regarding military interventions indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to order these combat units to conduct an offensive against Ukraine unless Ukrainian President Volodymyr…

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How Will a China/Russia Lunar Station Impact the United States?

Belfer Center’s communications asked several colleagues and me: “How Will a China/Russia Lunar Station Impact the United States?
My answer is below and the entire Q&A’s is available at this link https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/how-will-chinarussia-lunar-station-impact-united-states

“What Roscosmos’s Dmitry Rogozin and CNSA’ Zhang Kejian signed on March 19 was a memorandum of understanding. These are typically not legally binding. If they do follow up on this with a legally-binding deal and jointly build a lunar station before Americans do so, then that could become Moscow’s and Beijing joint Sputnik moment in what would dent America’s reputation as the world’s leading technological power. It could also give both powers an advantage in what some see as an inevitable race for the Moon’s resources. Back on Earth, Sino-Russian station would also further  solidify what leaders in Moscow and Beijing have described as comprehensive partnership and strategic partnership. Since the U.S. views both Russia and China as competitors, further strengthening of partnership will not be in America’s interest.  That said, I don’t expect the station itself to have any tangible direct impact on U.S. national security in the short-to-medium.”

How Putin’s Karabakh calculus can undermine Russia’s clout in Post-Soviet Eurasia


Dr Simon Saradzhyan, Director, Russia Matters Project, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, recently published his take on Russia’s responses to this year’s crises in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Trenin infers from these responses that Russia’s foreign and security policies continue to be solely shaped by Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia’s national interests, but that these interests no longer require anchoring ex-Soviet neighbours to Moscow. As per ‘Moscow’s new rules’ set by ‘just one decider’ (that is, by Putin) Russia, according to Trenin, ‘is embracing its loneliness as a chance to start looking after its own interests and needs,’ and ‘the countries that emerged from the ex-Soviet republics are on their own.’

I do not contest Trenin’s proposition that Putin is the sole decision-maker when it comes to Russia’s foreign, military and security policies. That point has been…

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Levada poll: More than 2/3rd of Russians favored neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan in the conflict

Highlights of  Levada Center’s November 19-26 poll of Russians on the Karabakh conflict.

More Russians blame U.S./NATO countries than any other actor(s) for resumption of hostilities in Karabakh: 21% (Kremlin’s directives for fanning anti-US sentiment on Russian TV may have played a role, I guess, but do not fully explain).Second and third most-blamed are Azerbaijan (19%) and Turkey (15%) while Armenia is blamed only by 4%.

More than 2/3rd of Russians favored neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan in the conflict (Again Kremlin’s directives to Russian TV to portray Russia being equidistant to Yerevan and Baku may have played a role, but do not fully explain).

Share of Russians who support deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh grew from 46% in 2016 to 59% in 2020, almost 70% oppose Turkish peacekeeping in Karabakh.

Full results of   Levada Center’s November 19-26 poll of Russians on the Karabakh conflict:

Do you know about the recent military clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Karabakh?

I closely followed the development of events1130
I heard something, but not in details5960
I hear about it for the first time3010
Difficult to say<1<1

What party do you think initiated  resumption of military actions in Karabakh? (in % from those who have heard something about military operations)

U.S, NATO countries2321
Nobody in particular912
Difficult to say3722

Which side did you favor (sympathize with) in the Karabakh conflict?

Difficult to say155

What would be your attitude towards deployment of Russian peacekeepers in Karabakh?

Overall positive1727
Rather positive than negative2932
Rather negative than positive2419
Sharply negative1212
Difficult to say181

What would be your attitude towards deployment of Turkish peacekeepers in Karabakh

Overall positive3
Rather positive than negative12
Rather negative than positive32
Sharply negative37
Difficult to say16

Putin’s Karabakh Calculus Can Undermine Russian Clout in FSU (Was a Personal Gripe to Blame?)

Below is an unabridged version of my “Putin’s Karabakh Calculus Can Undermine Russian Clout in FSU (Was a Personal Gripe to Blame?)” commentary, which The Moscow Times published today: https://saradzhyan.wordpress.com/2020/11/19/putins-karabakh-calculus-can-undermine-russian-clout-in-fsu-was-a-personal-gripe-to-blame/

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, recently published his take on Russia’s responses to this year’s crises in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Trenin infers from these responses that Russia’s foreign and security policies continue to be solely shaped by Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia’s national interests, but that these interests no longer require anchoring ex-Soviet neighbors to Moscow. Per “Moscow’s new rules” set by “just one decider” (that is, by Putin) Russia “is embracing its loneliness as a chance to start looking after its own interests and needs,” while “the countries that emerged from the ex-Soviet republics are on their own,” according to Trenin. I do not contest Trenin’s proposition that Putin is the sole decision-maker when it comes to Russia’s foreign, military and security policies. That point has been made many times before and I too hold the view that Putin’s Russia is close to what Graham Allison described as a Model 1 actor in those policy domains. However, I disagree with Trenin’s proposition that Russia has decided to leave other former Soviet republics to their own devices to pursue what Vladislav Surkov before Trenin had described as “strategic solitude.” Neither do I think that Putin has concluded that disentangling Russia from the ex-Soviet neighborhood would be in Russia’s interest. Finally, I do not believe that Putin’s vision of the hierarchy of national interests was the sole guiding principle behind Russia’s response to the most consequential and deadliest of the three above-mentioned crises: the Karabakh war.

Putin’s Vision of Russian Interests Explains His Response to Political Turbulence in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan but Perhaps Not to War in Karabakh

One of post-Soviet Russia’s traditionally vital interests has been to keep formerly Soviet neighbors anchored to itself while preventing the emergence or arrival of alternative regional hegemons, so that Moscow can thrive in a friendly environment. Had that interest vanished under Putin, the Russian leader would not have supported separatism in eastern Ukraine in 2014 in hopes of enhancing leverage that could dissuade Ukraine from trying to “escape” to the West in the wake of the Revolution of Dignity. More recently, Putin would have neither provided material support to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime nor promised to send police reinforcements to his aid if he had not believed the massive protests in Belarus could lead to the replacement of “Europe’s last dictator” with a pro-Western leader. In contrast, Moscow chose not to intervene in yet another revolution in Kyrgyzstan, the same as with the previous two revolutions in the country, because there was no threat to the aforementioned Russian vital interest: The winner of the latest Kyrgyz revolution is as pro-Russian as his predecessor; therefore, there was no threat of losing this Central Asian republic to any rival hegemon, just like there had been no such threat in the aftermath of the 2018 revolution in Armenia. (To be clear, I am no fan of regional hegemonies, but accept them as part of geopolitical reality in most parts of the world, and the purpose of this article is to analyze how Putin’s views shape Russia’s response to the crises in the former Soviet Union.)

In contrast to the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, the Karabakh war clearly threatened this vital Russian interest. One did not need a crystal ball to see that Ankara would significantly expand its clout in the South Caucasus if Azerbaijan defeated Armenia with Turkey’s direct military support. (Moscow’s need now to negotiate with Ankara on the peacekeeping role Turkey will play in Karabakh is just one obvious sign of how this clout has grown already.) Russia was well aware of the scale of Turkish military support. This follows not only from statements by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and Foreign Ministry on Syrian jihadists dispatched by Ankara to fight in Karabakh but from intelligence on Turkey’s military support to Azerbaijan that was leaked to national media by Russian “military-diplomatic sources.” Neither did Russian leaders have to be psychics to see that Azerbaijan could win the war with that support, especially given the easily calculable disparities in power between Azerbaijan and Armenia. As I argued in early October, such an outcome runs counter to a number of Russian vital interests and could have been avoided if only Putin employed some of the leverage that Russia has vis-à-vis its ex-Soviet neighbors and Turkey to compel the warring sides to discontinue hostilities while Armenia was still able to repel most of the offensives. (To be clear, the lack of Russia’s support was just one of multiple factors that led to Armenia’s loss. Which Armenian leadership failures and structural factors need to be examined thoroughly by Armenia’s equivalent of America’s 9/11 commission.) Had Russia successfully employed its leverage early on to stop the hostilities, it could have solidified its role as the primary arbiter and security guarantor in that part of the South Caucasus without alienating either Armenia or Azerbaijan. It would have also helped to stem attempts by Turkey, with which Russia is at odds over Syria, Libya and Crimea, to expand its influence and presence in the South Caucasus and further east to the Turkic-speaking republics of Central Asia, with which it will be able to have a shorter transportation connection thanks to the peace deal.  

Obviously, Russia’s desire to maintain a constructive relationship with Turkey, which can act as a spoiler for Russia vis-à-vis Syria and energy exports among other things, may have played a role, as could Moscow’s desire to create additional leverage vis-à-vis Azerbaijan in the form of a Russian peacekeeping force in Karabakh. Such leverage can, perhaps, help advance Russia’s interest in preventing Baku—which got rid of remnants of a Russian military presence in 2013 and has been deepening alignment with Ankara—from drifting further away from Moscow, (though one could argue that the unprecedented level of Turkish-Azerbaijani military cooperation in the Karabakh war demonstrates that hopes of re-anchoring Baku to Moscow militarily would be futile). Moscow’s decision not to intervene in the conflict early also ensured that Turkey and Azerbaijan would not curtail their trade with Russia, which would have run counter to Moscow’s vital interest in ensuring the viability and stability of major markets for and flows of Russian exports and imports in the short term. However, I think, on balance, the expansion of Turkey’s role in the South Caucasus and the damage done to Russia’s reputation as a military ally in the eyes of the other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, (which I detail further below) may have outweighed these benefits. After all, Russia can live with Idlib out of Assad’s control, and Russia’s exports of gas to Turkey fell by almost 70% earlier this year, with one of the two pipelines running from Russia to Turkey left idle for months. Besides, Turkey and Azerbaijan combined account for less than 5% of Russia’s trade.

Can Personal Animosity Partly Explain Putin’s Response to War in Karabakh?

So, if Russia’s vital interests cannot quite explain why Putin chose not to employ Russia’s leverage to stop the the Karabakh war early on, then what can?  In the end, what I think did tip the balance of pros and cons of Russia’s early intervention in the war toward not intervening may have been Putin’s personal animosity toward Armenian Prime Minister Nikola Pashinyan. Trenin claims in his article that Pashinyan’s fault in the eyes of the Russian leadership was that he pursued a “multi-vector” foreign policy, “distancing itself [Armenia] from Russia and reaching out to the West.” It is true that Pashinyan did sound pro-Western compared to his predecessors, such as Serzh Sargsyan and Robert Kocharyan, before coming to power during the revolution of 2018. Moreover, upon taking power he sought to put pressure on local subsidiaries of Russia’s railway and gas monopolies. At the same time, however, Pashinyan kept Armenian military personnel in Syria as part of Russia’s mission there, nd vote with Russia at UNGA on such contentious issues as Crimea (one of the few countries to do so) and installed Russian-educated leaders at the helm of Armenia’s defense and security agencies (even if he then fired the security chief). He also publicly assured the Russian leadership of his intention to keep Armenia fully cooperating with Russia in all formats, essentially adopting the so-called complementary approach toward foreign policy crafted by his predecessors. The latter had Armenia participate in all Russian-led integration and cooperation projects in the former Soviet Union , but also cooperated with NATO and the EU. Sargsyan even dispatched Armenian soldiers to participate in NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan even though he was considered to be staunchly pro-Russian. As important, as Putin and Pashinyan know perfectly well, even if Pashinyan were to try to take Armenia to the West, neither NATO nor the EU would welcome such an attempt in the foreseeable future.

Where the Armenian leader did err with regards to Putin, however, drawing the Russian leader’s ire, was in prosecuting Kocharyan, who remains Putin’s personal friend. Pashinyan repeatedly ignored Putin’s clear signals to discontinue attempts to jail Kocharyan, while also seeking to prosecute then-CSTO secretary Yuri Khachaturov, which could not have pleased Moscow either. That Putin can take things personally in inter-state relations follows from his promise to hang Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili “by the balls.” Yet Pashinyan either was unaware of this quality of Putin’s or chose to ignore it. It was not until the war broke out that Pashinyan realized (perhaps as he made one futile call to Putin after another) that his treatment of Kocharyan may have impacted Putin’s decision-making. Pashinyan eased the pressure on the former Armenian president, even granting him permission to travel to Russia, but it was too late. It is possible that Putin may have calculated that by leaving Pashinyan with no choice but to accept grossly unfavorable terms for discontinuing hostilities he could create conditions for his ouster as a result of public discontent with the deal and for the subsequent ascent of a more pro-Russian leader to power in Yerevan.  

How Lasting Can Damage Be From Russia’s Failure to Intervene Early in Karabakh War?

Going forward, I cannot, of course, rule out that the public discontent in Armenia will eventually force Pashinyan (of whom I have never been a fan, by the way) out of power, especially if he continues to lose support. I have little doubt that such a development would please Putin. But, in my assessment, it won’t compensate for the damage that his decision not to compel the warring sides to peace early on has done to Russia’s efforts to ensure the continuous and growing involvement of its ex-Soviet neighbors in Moscow-led integration projects, such as the CSTO and Eurasian Economic Union in the longer-term. That damage is quite manageable at present, but it is not negligible, and it may grow in the longer term. In fact, members of these organizations may already be wondering why participating in all the Kremlin-led multilateral integration initiatives in post-Soviet Eurasia, like Armenia does, does not prevent Russia from being “equidistant” to you and your adversary even if the latter has initiated hostilities against you and, unlike you, is not Russia’s military ally and is relying on direct military support of an external power. Trenin’s explanation was that Russia only did “what it is formally obligated to do, but no more.” Indeed, neither the Collective Security Treaty nor bilateral Armenian-Russian treaties require Russia to come to Armenia’s aid unless fighting spreads to the territory of the Republic of Armenia. The problem with that explanation, however, is that Russia did promise to do more not so long ago through then-commander of Russia’s military base in Armenia Col. Andrei Ruzinsky. Specifically, Ruzinsky made the following warning in an interview with the Russian Defense Ministry’s official daily in 2013 when Sargsyan was still Armenia’s president: “If the leadership of Azerbaijan decides to use force to restore jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh, the base can enter the armed conflict per Russia’s CSTO obligations.” (Based on my 15 years’ experience as a defense and security jour­nalist in Russia, Krasnaya Zvezda reporters typically seek pre-approval for the questions they ask commanders and then vet the texts of the interviews before publishing, so Ruzinsky’s statement was no accident.) While Russia reportedly did continue flying military supplies to Armenia during the war, it could not have escaped CSTO allies’ attention that Russia’s military base in Armenia chose not to jam the game-changer in the conflict—namely, Turkish-made and Turkish-operated drones—which it could have done at negligible cost to itself and no casualties. In my view, Russia’s decision not to employ leverage to stop the conflict in early stages made a lasting impression on its CSTO allies in what may ultimately influence their geopolitical choices in the longer term should Russia’s national power decline substantially vis-à-vis alternative “guarantors of security” in the neighborhood.

Why Solitude Could Prove to Be Problematic for Russia

That Russia needs to continue fostering such alliances in its ex-Soviet neighborhood—contrary to Trenin’s argument in favor of “loneliness”—should be clear to anyone who attempts to match Putin’s ambitions with Russia’s capabilities. Time and again, Putin, his ministers and Russian strategic documents have underscored Russia’s intention to continue to play a lead role in global affairs, acting as a “counterbalance in international affairs” even as the world order is changing. Having the world’s largest nuclear arsenal ensures Russia’s role as a nuclear superpower and prevents aggression by nation-states but is not sufficient to back such a role in peacetime. To play that role without having to “punch above its weight” all the time, Moscow needs to ensure that traditionally important components of the combined national power of Russia and its allies, such as economic output and population, are significant enough for other great powers to take very seriously. That’s where alliances in the ex-Soviet neighborhood can come in handy. As I have noted earlier, if Russia were to integrate all the ex-Soviet republics—with the exception of the Baltics, Georgia and Ukraine, which are considered “lost”—into a Eurasian Union (see row “Russia+” in table below) that would increase Russia’s economic and demographic clout substantially, even though this union would still lag behind the U.S. and China in the aforementioned components of national power. Contrary to Trenin’s claim, it is the name, not “the idea[,] behind the former Soviet Union [that] is disappearing.” Call it Eurasian Union or Pax Russica, but the idea of keeping former Soviet republics close to Moscow to ensure it can punch at a greater weight in international affairs remains valid in Putin’s eyes and he will keep pursuing it if only because Russia’s departure from the neighborhood would be followed by the arrival of another dominant power. Geopolitics, after all, abhor a vacuum. And whoever fills it may not be to Moscow’s liking.

Share in world’s GDP as of 2019Share in world’s population as of 2019
Russia alone3.1%1.9%
Increase from Russia alone to Russia+32%69%


For Russia to maintain its role as a global player, per Putin’s vision, it needs its ex-Soviet neighbors to retain interest in its military and economic integration projects, especially as profound changes in the world order create uncertainties with regard to the future of Russia’s and other countries’ relative national power. Russia’s response to the war in Karabakh has been perhaps not the best way for a great power to incentivize such interest, to put it mildly. Whether caused by personal animosities between leaders or other nuances, a great power’s refusal to use even some of its peacetime leverage to prevent a humiliating defeat of its ally is bound to create at least some lasting resentment in that allied country, especially if its adversary has received crucial military support from an external power. More important, a failure to help an ally, no matter how small, prevent a staggering defeat is also bound to make other, larger allies of that great power wonder what kind of support they can expect from it in their hour of need. After all, countries prefer to participate in alliances that are built on mutual respect for each other’s military and security interests of existential importance. Such military and security alliances typically prove to be more lasting than those based on the premise that there is simply no alternative great power to either ally or bandwagon with per  the Russian saying of “there is no running away from a submarine.”

armenia’s loss in war: what factors led to it and how to mitigate them?

The lack of Russia’s intelligence support (early warning information that Moscow apparently had, but may or may not have shared with Yerevan) and military support was just one of multiple factors that led to Armenia’s loss, in my view. What other factors contributed to this loss and how to mitigate them in future should be a focus of Armenia’s equivalent of America’s 9/11 commission. The latter could seek answers to the following questions among others:

Among factors that such a commission could, perhaps, examine are both long-term structural factors such as depopulation, which contributed to the decline of Armenia’s national power relative to its nemesis, and the failings of individual top decision-makers, including both current and former leaders. These include the failure to adequately adjust defense procurement policies after the April 2016 war, which saw Azerbaijan employ attack drones, with the government procuring long-range multi-role fighters capable of flying to Ankara in the wake of that war rather than ramping up purchases of attack drones and air defense systems. It may also be worth asking whether Armenia’s preparedness for the war would have been higher if the time and energy, which the current leader had spent trying to prosecute his predecessor, were devoted to increasing that preparedness. It may be also worth asking whether implemeting Pashinyan’s wish to politically ‘neutralize’ his predecessors Sargsyan and Kocharyan was worth alienating the Russian leader, who counted Kocharyan as his personal friend and signaled his discontent with his prosecution to Pashinyan.

Another question is: If the current leader of Armenia chose to toughen his negotiating position without a qualitative improvement of the armed forces, then why did he do so and to what effect?

One also needs to examine whether the intelligence community had failed to detect Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s preparations or it misinterpreted them or the political leadership ignored the intelligence. Also, given the detailed leak to Kommersant on Turkish preparations and participation in the offensive by Russia’s “military-political sources”, one wonder whether and how much the Russian military intelligence shared with the intelligence community of Russia’s military ally, Armenia, ahead of the offensive.

Another question stems from the following passage in a recent WSJ piece: “Turkish analysts say the idea that Moscow would remain impassive while Russian-equipped Armenian forces were getting trounced by Turkish-backed Azeri forces was unthinkable, even as of a few months ago.” So whatr’s changed in those months in Russia’s attitude and why?

Finally, if Pashinyan did limit or ban redeployment of major units of the national armed forces from the Republic of Armenia to Karabakh to assist in repelling the offensives, then that needs to be look into as well.

This is an evolving draft.

Reversing Decline of Armenia’s National Power Versus Azerbaijan and Ensuring Armenia’s Viable Lasting Statehood

Below is the memo, which I co-wrote with my Armenia-based colleagues, whose names I am not at will to release, in the first half of 2016 to alert the leadership of Armenia on the almost continuous decline of Armenia’s national power versus Azerbaijan since both nations acquired independence after the demise of the Soviet Union. The memo was then submitted by one of my co-authors for then-president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan to ponder in July 2016. As that co-author informed me, President Sargsyan did read an Armenian language summary of the memo and liked it. However, and unfortunately, little, if anything was done to implement the memo’s recommendations meant to help prevent further decline of Armenia vis-à-vis Azerbaijan even though the memo warned that inaction could eventually lead to the demise of the Armenian statehood.

As someone who (1) conceived the idea for such a memo, wrote 90% of the narrative and did part of the calculations; (2) waited not until it became clear that its recommendations would not be acted upon, but also until the hostilities subsided, I feel I can now share our work with you.

The purpose of me doing so is not to tell anyone “I told you so.” Nor is it to claim that Sargsyan somehow is the sole person responsible for Armenia’s failure to develop enough strength to defend Karabakh against its nemesis. In my view, a confluence of structure and agency explain this failure and when it comes to agency, Armenia’s present leadership cannot pretend its failures and mistakes did not play a role in this unpalatable, to put it mildly, outcome. (While all these factors merit a thorough investigation so that lessons can be inferred and applied to to reduce probability of another loss, that’s not for me, but rather for the people living in Armenia and Karabakh to do so if they want to do so.)

Rather by sharing this memo I wanted, among other things, to highlight the real imbalance of power between Armenia and Azerbaijan to those who have, perhaps, been misled by the window-dressing of the kind we have all seen during this conflict. As for the primary goal of sharing this memo, it is to state that it is, perhaps, still not too late for all of us – who care about Armenia – to join forces to build  a successful and viable Armenian state – to start working towards fulfilling that hope, no matter how the past hostilities may seem to have impacted the odds.  For as the memo concludes: “Future generations will not forgive us if we don’t do our best…therefore, carpe diem!”

Reversing Decline of Armenia’s National Power Versus Azerbaijan and

Ensuring Armenia’s Viable Lasting Statehood

Mr. President.

The Armenian nation is now living in one of the brightest periods of its millennia-long history. For centuries, the Armenians had struggled to preserve their stateless nation, enduring unimaginable hardships, including attempted extermination, at hands of some of the rulers of the states they had lived in. All that changed in the 1990s when the Armenians established their state. It is our hope that the Republic of Armenia will not only continue to exist for centuries to come, but that it will also prosper to the benefit of its citizens. Unfortunately, the current environment, in which Armenia finds itself, is not conducive for its development, but it is the one in which the Armenians will have to live in for the foreseeable future, it seems.   Sustaining a nation’s power at levels sufficient for deterrence of full-scale external aggression is a key condition for preservation of that nation’s statehood in a hostile environment, especially, in times of global interregnum, when effectiveness of collective security mechanisms wanes. This deterrence, which we define as a nation’s ability to guarantee imposition of unacceptable costs on potential aggressor, cannot be either sufficient or credible, unless the nation has a thriving population capable of generating wealth and motivated to so because it shares the gains generated. The authors of this paper believe that the less numerous and less prosperous a nation’s population becomes relative to its adversaries with time, the more its national power shrinks and the greater the difficulty that state has deterring aggression. Moreover, an absolute decline of size and wealth of population can eventually lead to implosion of the state even in absence of an external aggression, in the view of the authors, who have interviewed experts on post-Soviet states from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown University, Moscow Higher School of Economics, and other research organizations in the course of their research. Therefore, creating internal conditions for increasing the size and quality of Armenia’s human capital is key to survival and development of state and the Armenian state is no exception, in the view of the authors, one of whom has also met with Dr. Daron Acemoglu and discussed the contents of this paper with this MIT professor.

This paper seeks to answer the following questions: (1) has the national power of Armenia declined relative to that of Azerbaijan, which is most likely to go to war with Armenia, since their independence from the Soviet Union, and (2) if, yes, then what internal conditions need to be created to stop and reverse this relative decline before this hypothetical decline in national power begins to threaten the existence of the Armenian statehood?  To answer the first of these two questions, we have employed a variety of methods of measuring nations’ power, which we have found to be frequently used in literature on the subject and which include methods developed by Western, Asian and Russian scholars, to gauge where post-Soviet Armenia stands in terms of national power when compared to Azerbaijan.  Results of the application of the multi-variable methods indicate that Armenia has been declining vis-à-vis Azerbaijan since both nations achieved independence from the Soviet Union.   Moreover, forecasts by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund show that the gap between Azerbaijan and Armenia will continue to widen in such key components of national power, as the size of economy and population.  The probability that the projected further widening of the gap between the national power of Armenia and that of Azerbaijan will lead to Armenia’s defeat is not negligible, in our view.  Nor is the probability that depopulation of Armenia may lead to a de-facto or de-jure end of Armenia’s existence as a sovereign state even in absence of external aggression negligible.  To answer the second question (whether Armenia’s relative decline can be reversed) we have explored what some of the best thinkers and policy-makers have recommended ensuring sustainable development of nations, focusing on those of their proposals that are applicable in the case of Armenia, in our view. Our recommendations for Armenia are foremost based on (1) Daren Acemoglu’s and James Robinson’s proposition that inclusive economic and political institutions are key to nations’ rise and prosperity, which these two professors have put forward and proved in their seminal volume on “Why Nations Fail,” and on (2) the lessons we have derived from what remains, perhaps, the world’s most successful exercise in nation-building: establishment and development of Singapore. 

To be clear, we do not want to sound alarmist. We do not believe that chances of Armenia failing as a state as result of external aggression or internal implosion are high. However, as we have stated above, this probability is not negligible while, as you know, the risk equals probability multiplied by consequences. The consequences of losing the Armenian state would be catastrophic for the Armenian nation, in our view. Therefore, we believe it is imperative to reduce the risk of such a development by lowering the probability.  Now is Armenia’s one chance in many centuries to retain a sustainable independent state for centuries and it would be unforgiveable and tragic to squander this truly unique, vital opportunity to ensure continued existence and development of the Armenian nation.  And it is imperative to seize that chance to sustain the Armenian state, or Armenians may not get a second chance for centuries to come, if at all, given the slow, but ultimately inevitable assimilation of Armenian Diasporas in other countries. 


As stated above, we have employed a variety of single-variable and multi-variable methods of measuring national power that have been developed by Western, Asian and Russian scholars. In doing so we used data from such reliable international organizations, as the World Bank and United Nations (though some of the measurements were constrained by absence of data for particular years).

The first single-variable method of measuring national power, which we have used, is measurement of GDP PPP in constant dollars.[1] This method showed Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s GDP expand by 254% and 247% respectively in 1992-2015. However, while Armenia’s GDP grew at a slightly faster rate, it still was 676% smaller than that of Azerbaijan as of 2015. One could gauge resources that each nation can mobilize for inter-state war if he or she were to compare not just GDPs, but also populations: Azerbaijan’s total population will continue to exceed that of Armenia by 320% in 2015-2020 while the male population of Azerbaijan will continue to exceed that of Armenia by more than 360% with the gap projected only to grow further, according to the World Bank’s projection.[2] The second single-variable method which we have used, is measuring energy consumption to gauge nations’ powers. This method has been proposed by Russian scientist Pobisk Kuznetsov and we will further refer to it to as the energy consumption method. Application of this single-variable method shows Armenia’s national power increased by a healthy 17% in 1992-2015 while Azerbaijan’s power declined by a 43%. Such a trend should generate optimism, as it shows Armenian nation have been progressing in that area. However, one should still keep in mind that Azerbaijan’s energy consumption stopped falling and started growing in the 1990s and that Azerbaijan still consumed 100% more energy than Armenia in 2005. As important, while capable of giving scholars of national power a rough idea of changes in dynamics of some of the elements of this power, such single-variable approaches, as measurement of GDP and population, cannot paint the whole picture for those who want to gain a more comprehensive understanding of whether nations are declining or rising or stagnating relative to each other. To gain such understanding, we have employed modifications of three multi-variable measurement methods of measuring national power and one well-established methods of measuring nations’ technological prowess. Results of application of all these multi-variable methods show Armenia has declined vis-à-vis Azerbaijan ever since the two nations gained their independence in the early 1990s.

One multi-variable method, which has been frequently applied by Western scholars of national power, is the so-called Composite Index of National Capability (CINC). CINC constitutes the mathematical mean of the ratios of country’s performance to world’s total: military expenditures, military personnel population, energy consumption and steel production. We introduced two modifications into this method to account for its flaws. First, we have replaced the measurement of the steel production with the measurement of value added manufacturing to account for the post-industrial trends in the global economy. Second, we  have calculated the geometric mean rather than the because the arithmetic mean of the ratios because the latter produces inaccurate results for measurement of country dyads when overall number of countries, data on which is available for calculation of global totals, changes. The resulting measurement of the Geometric Indicator of National Capability (GINC) shows that that Armenia’s national capability grew by 2% in 1992-2015 while Azerbaijan’s national capability grew eight times faster over the same period of time, increasing by 16%.  Armenia’s national capability stood at 0.04 (all figures in the text rounded up to the second decimal), which was the same as of Georgia’s national capability, but 300% smaller than Azerbaijan’s national capability of 0.12 as of 2015.  It is important to note here that even if we to apply the original CINC method, ignoring its flaws, it would still show Armenia declining versus Azerbaijan.  

Another method, which we use in this study, has been developed by Chin-Lung Chang of Taiwan’s Fo-guang University for measuring what he defined as China’s Composite Index of National Power versus other great powers. Chin-Lung has calculated this index as the arithmetic mean of the ratios of individual countries’ indicators to the world’s total in the following three categories:  critical mass (population and land area); economic strength (GDP); and military strength (military expenditures). We have modified this method to reflect the post-industrial developments. First, we have reduced the proportional weight of the economic strength and military strength in the total index by half and in doing so we cast more positive light on Armenia, which trails Azerbaijan in both categories. Second, we added a fourth ratio: innovative strength, using the number of patents filed by residents and non-residents as the proxy of measuring this strength. Again, just like it was the case with CINC, we have introduced this second modification to account for the global post-industrial trends. We have called the modified method: the Composite Index of Smart National Power (CISNP). The results of calculating CISNP of Azerbaijan and Armenia in 1992-2015 were not in Armenia’s favor. While, if measured with use of CISNP, Armenia’s national power increased by 9% in 1992-2015 to total 0.04 that year, Azerbaijan’s national power increased by 51% over the same period of time, totaling 0.14 (almost four times more than that of Armenia’s or Georgia’s) in 2015. That occurred even though we accounted for Azerbaijan’s loss of 7 districts adjacent to Karabakh in the calculations of the critical mass component.  

Finally, we used perhaps the best known of multi-variable methods of measuring national power. That method has been crafted by famous American scholar Ray S. Cline. [3] Cline’s formula for what we will further refer to as the Traditional Index of Perceived Power of Nations (TIPPN) is as follows:

Pp = (C + E + M) * (S + W)


Pp = perceived power.

C = critical mass= population + territory.

E = economic capability=GDP + GDP per capita + volume of foreign trade.

M = military capability = military personnel + defense expenditures.

S = strategic purpose.

W = will to pursue national strategy.

While we have calculated M; C; and E as ratios of country’s performance in these categories to that of USA’s, we have surveyed opinion of ten of country specialists and foreign policy experts to calculate the median values of S and W. Among others we have questioned individuals representing Harvard, MIT, and George Washington University, Washington-based Center for National Interest, Wheaton College, Georgetown University, [4] and Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Our calculations of TIPPN show Armenia’s power rise by 80% in 1995-2015. However, the same period saw Azerbaijan’s power rise by even more: 133%. As of 2015 Azerbaijan’s power (26.64) exceeded that of Armenia (11.31) by 233%. A calculation of TIPPN using means of S and W derived from the same surveys of the experts shows the gap between Azerbaijan’s and Armenia’s power expanding at an even greater rate.

Looking forward, the gap between the national power of Armenia and Azerbaijan may widen further if were to try to gauge the potential breath of that gap by analyzing IMF’s and World Bank’s a forecast for such key components of national power, as the size of GDP and population.  IMF forecasts that Armenia’s GDP will grow by 2.75% in 2017, 3% in 2018, 3.5% in 2019, and 3.5% in 2020. In contrast, Azerbaijan’s GDP will grow by 2.9% in 2017, 4.2% in 2018, 4.3% in 2019, and 3.4% in 2017.[5] The World Bank’s also projections show Armenia’s male population declining by 9% in 2016-2050 while Azerbaijan’s population will gain 11% in the same period.  If Armenia’s population currently equals 1/3rd of that of Azerbaijan, it will fall under 3 mn by 2050, equaling only a quarter of Azerbaijan’s population at that time, according to the World Bank. [6]

Recommendations for reversing Armenia’s decline:

As results of application of the aforementioned multi-variable methods and forecasts by the World Bank and IMF demonstrate, Armenia has trailed behind Azerbaijan in terms of national power and this gap may widen further, increasing probability that Azerbaijan may be tempted to try attack Armenia in hopes of taking Karabakh and adjacent territories rather than negotiate a peaceful resolution of the conflict over Karabakh.  Waiting for Azerbaijan to run out of oil and weaken cannot be a reliable strategy. Even if that were to happen in the next quarter of the century, Azerbaijan, sensing that its advantages in terms of national power over Armenia may erode, can strike as once the declining Sparta did against the rising Athens, falling in what has become known as the Thucydides Trap.  Moreover, even if Azerbaijan were to refrain from attacking Armenia, some of the current trends in Armenia, such as depopulation caused by declining birth rates and flight of human capital, may also come to threaten the Armenian statehood.

One way to reverse the negative trends is to foster development of inclusive economic and political institutions in the republic along the lines proposed by in Daron Acemoglu, whose work you have praised in the speeches that you delivered at MIT and Harvard during your Spring 2016 visit to the Boston area.  As Professors Acemoglu and Robinson convincingly demonstrate in their book on “Why Nations Fail,” nations do not prosper because of either their geographies or cultures. [7] Rather countries differ in success depending on whether their economic institutions are extractive or inclusive, according to Pr. Acemoglu and Pr. Robinson.[8] Inclusive institutions foster economic activities, leading to growth in productivity and, eventually, to prosperity.  These inclusive institutions are the opposite of monopolies and oligopolies, which arrest and reverse growth, as the two professors demonstrate convincingly by citing numerous historical examples. The authors of “Why Nations Fail” far from being along in holding a dim view of collusions in economy The economic science is even harsher on ‘unnatural’ monopolies and oligopolies, such as monopolies and oligopolies on imports or distribution of certain commodities and services. “Inclusive economic institutions that enforce property rights, create a level playing field, and encourage investments in new technologies and skills are more conducive to economic growth than extractive economic institutions that are tuned to extract resources from the many by’ the few and that fail to protect property rights or provide incentives for economic activity,” Acemoglu and Robinson write.[9] The two professors note that inclusive economic institutions need to be supported by inclusive political institutions, that is, those that distribute political power widely in a pluralistic manner and are able to achieve some amount of political centralization so as to establish law and order, the foundations of secure property rights, and an inclusive market economy.

Inclusive institutions cannot function well unless they are supported by an effective state apparatus. The state needs to guarantee a property rights, the law, public services, and the freedom to contract and exchange goods and services. The state has to maintain the coercive capacity to impose order, prevent theft and fraud, according to Acemoglu and Robinson. To function well, the society also needs other public services: roads and a transport network so that goods can be transported; a public infrastructure so that economic activity can flourish; and some type of basic regulation to pre- vent fraud and malfeasance. Though many of these public services can be provided by markets and private citizens, the degree of coordination necessary to do so on a large scale often eludes all but a central authority, according to Acemoglu and Robinson. The state is thus inexorably intertwined with economic institutions, as the enforcer of law and order, private property, and contracts, and often as a key provider of public services. Inclusive economic institutions need and use the state, according to Acemoglu and Robinson. “The key to understanding why South Korea and the United States have inclusive economic institutions is not just their pluralistic political institutions but also their sufficiently centralized and powerful states. A telling contrast is with the East African nation of Somalia” which is decentralized beyond reason, according to Acemoglu and Robinson.

Acemoglu and Robinson also note how important it is to watch for critical junctions constantly. They note how nuances, which seemed non-important at the time of their occurrence, can determine whether the nation will prosper or not for centuries. In their book the two professors cite the example of the 15th century when Spanish and French kings monopolized overseas trade while English could not because Elizabeth I was far less financially independent, so she had to beg Parliament for more taxes. These distinctions, which initially appeared small, started to matter a great deal in the seventeenth century as English traders enjoyed free hand and therefore out-traded Spaniards and French, generating much more wealth for England as a whole even if the Spanish and French kings enriched themselves at greater rate than their English counterparts. “Once a critical juncture happens, the small differences that matter are the initial institutional differences that put in motion very different responses. This is the reason why the relatively small institutional differences in England, France, and Spain led to fundamentally different development paths,” according to the authors of “Why Nations Fail.”

There are some obvious factors that would make the process of empowerment more likely to get off the ground. These would include the presence of some degree of centralized order so that social movements challenging existing regimes do not immediately descend into lawlessness; some preexisting political institutions that introduce a modicum of pluralism, so that broad coalitions can form and endure; and the presence of civil society institutions that can coordinate the demands of the population so that opposition movements can neither be easily crushed by the current elites nor inevitably turn into a vehicle for another group to take control of existing extractive institutions. But many of these factors are historically predetermined and change only slowly. Free media and new communication technologies can facilitate these changes, but they can help only at the margins, by providing information and coordinating the demands and actions of those vying for more inclusive institutions.  Acemoglu and Robinson conclude that “you cannot engineer prosperity,” but you can empower people to build it. Of course, transition to inclusive institutions encounters resistance. “Those who benefit from the status quo are wealthy and well organized, and can effectively fight major changes that will take away their economic privileges and political power.” [10] But a country’s political leadership, if it displays political will, can overcome such resistance and empower common people.  People should be empowered so that they can transform existing institutions into inclusive ones and do so peacefully rather than through revolutions because the latter backfire, according to Acemoglu and Robinson.  Building inclusive institutions in Armenia will not only increase prosperity, but will also reverse depopulation, which is caused not only by declining birth rates, but by outbound migration   that stems from lack of opportunities on the labor market and generally low living standards, in our view.

While Acemoglu and Robinson have outlined general theoretical concepts of how inclusive institutions can foster economic growth and prosperity in his writings, late father of modern-day Singapore Lee Kwan Yew has provided a practical example on how display of transformational leadership by nations’ leaders can lead to truly miraculous results in nation-building. We believe that Armenian policy makers may take cue from that that example, given certain economic and demographic similarities between Armenia and Singapore at the time of their independence (at the time of independence both nations had a population of several million and a GDP per capita of less than $600.) When Singapore first declared independence from Great Britain in 1963 and later from Malaysia in 1965, the environment around that state didn’t appear particularly promising either. Located on 63 islands and populated by different ethnic groups, Singapore had a number of powerful neighbors, some of which were quite hostile.  Yet, Singapore didn’t only survive as an independent state, but it also became one of the wealthiest nations in the world.  Its GDP per capita PPP in constant dollars soared from increased by more than 10805% from $516 in 1965 to $56,284 in 2014, according to the World Bank.

Of the key drivers of national growth and competitiveness identified by Lee, we believe the following four are of special relevance for Armenia: (1) standard of living, which depends on availability of resources, technological competence, educational standards and culture and discipline of workforce; (2) demographic growth driven not only by inbound migration, but also by pro-creation; (3) quality of manpower; and (4) economy “driven by new knowledge, new discoveries in science and technology.” [11] Nation’s success is particularly dependent on its ability to attract and retain talent, according to Lee. Lee’s warning should resonate strongly in Armenia, which has been bleeding talent for years. An estimated 1,000,000-1,600,000 people have emigrated from Armenia since 1991.[12] Many of those leaving Armenia are well educated and at the prime of their working abilities.  Armenia will lose what Lee has termed as the “final contest” with its neighbors if it doesn’t stop the brain-drain and start attracting talent, in our view.   The leadership of Armenia may consider adopting Lee’s following dictum as a motto in their effort to not only retain talent, but also draw such talents from the ranks of Christians from the war-plagued Middle East, for example: “My definition of a Singaporean…is that we accept that whoever joins us is part of us.  We need talent, we accept them.  That must be our defining attribute.” Armenian policymakers looking for outside-the-box ideas on how to both reverse the depopulation and make Armenia matter much more in the eyes of their Chinese counterparts can also take a cue from Beijing’s reaction to treatment of Chinese diasporas in third countries. If loss of income by several hundreds of Chinese traders caused by closing of a Moscow market warrants a note from China’s foreign ministry, then one might ask: Would China have a greater stake in Armenia’s security and prosperity if there were several thousands of Chinese peasants working on those Armenian (Karabakh) agricultural lands that suffer from shortage of labor?  We also believe that in order to retain talent in Armenia your government could expand programs, such as the Luys scholarship for Armenian students admitted to leading foreign institutions of higher learning, and complement them with creation of jobs, especially in the post-industrial sector of the economy.   Another key to a nation’s success is promotion of use of foreign languages, according to Lee. In fact, Lee insists on “making English the dominant language, as Singapore has.” While authors of this study would never propose that Armenia adopt English as first language, we do believe that universal and thorough knowledge of the English language, and preferably another lingua franca (such as Chinese), would significantly improve the quality of human capital in Armenia, allowing its companies to become more competitive in the age of globalization. 

Lee also believes that a nation’s success is also dependent on building and sustaining an effective system of public administration.  The effectiveness of that system can be ensured through attraction of top talent that is adequately compensated, whose performance is judged by merits of what they have achieved and who is subject to robust oversight, according to Lee. The current wages in Armenia’s public sector can hardly be described as competitive.  Wage increases in public sector should be accompanied with ridding of the state system of corruption and ensuring rule of law, according to Lee. As Lee noted, “there is a fundamental need for the rule of law.  It ensures stability and predictability.”  Armenia’s observance of the rule of law (property rights, freedom from corruption) is well below the world average, according to the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom put together by the Heritage Foundation[13]. Lee’s recipe for success should resonate especially strong in Armenia, given similarities in challenges that he faced when setting out to transform Singapore and challenges that post-Communist Armenia is facing.  “When I started, the question was how Singapore can make a living against neighbors who have more natural resources, human resources, and bigger space. We had to be different.  We had to differentiate ourselves from them, or we would be finished.  How did we differentiate ourselves from them?  They are not clean systems; [check previous sentence] we run clean systems.  Their rule of law is wonky; we stick to the law.  Once we come to an agreement or make a decision, we stick to it.  We become reliable and credible to investors.  World-class infrastructure, world-class supporting staff, all educated in English.  Good communications by air, by sea, by cable, by satellite, and now, over the Internet.” As Lee asserted: “A nation is great not by its size alone.  It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people, and the quality of their leaders which ensure it an honorable place in history.”[14]  We could not agree more.

 Concluding remarks:

 “Armenian people! Do not sleep! We are in a state of a permanent war, encircled by visible and invisible enemies and we have no friends,” Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church Aram I has observed in the wake of the four-day war in April 1.

Aram I was, perhaps, wrong to state that Armenia has no friends at all.  Armenia does have friends and it is important to ensure continuation of their support for existence and development of Armenia. That support should come not only from Russia, but also from US, EU, China[15], and other friendly powers. But what Aram I was right about that is that the four-day war in April 2016 has clearly demonstrated that Armenia could rely on no one, but itself for actual military defense of Karabakh, loss of which would trigger tectonic changes in Armenia.  It is important, in our view, to keep in mind that no amount of external support can avert weakening of a state and, possibly, its ultimate demise, if such internal negative trends, as insufficient levels of economic and political institutions’ inclusiveness that hinder economic growth and fuel outbound migration, are not addressed. Given the potential consequences of the continuation of these negative trends, Armenia cannot afford to just try muddle along. It is not too late to stop and reverse these trends. A display of truly transformational leadership on your behalf with support of the entire, consolidated Armenian nation, including citizens of Armenia and diasporas, can lead to deep systemic reforms that can attain such a reversal. This is Armenians’ one in many centuries chance to build a viable lasting statehood – and it is squandered, then Armenia might never come back as a state.  Future generations will not forgive us if we don’t do our best to build such a statehood. Therefore, carpe diem, Mr. President!

Charts and graphs:

[1] Daron Acemoglu, MIT professor and author of “Why Nations Fail,” has also framed decline and rise of nations mostly in relative economic terms in his 2005 work. Acemoglu, Daron. Thinking about the Rise and Decline of Nations. MIT. June 2005. Available at http://economics.mit.edu/files/969

[2] World DataBank, Health Nutrition and Population Statistics: Population estimates and projections. http://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=Health%20Nutrition%20and%20Population%20Statistics:%20Population%20estimates%20and%20projections#

[3] See Cline, Ray S. World Power Assessment: A Calculus of Strategic Drift, 1975. Westview Press, 1975. and Cline, Ray S. The power of nations in the 1990s: a strategic assessment. University Press of America, 1993.

[4] Responses from Brookings and Georgetown promised, but still pending as of June 16.

[5] International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2015, http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2015/02/weodata/weorept.aspx?pr.x=59&pr.y=17&sy=1999&ey=2015&scsm=1&ssd=1&sort=country&ds=.&br=1&c=922&s=NGDP_R%2CNGDP%2CNGDPD%2CPPPGDP%2CPPPPC%2CPPPSH&grp=0&a=.

[6] World DataBank, Health Nutrition and Population Statistics: Population estimates and projections, http://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=Health%20Nutrition%20and%20Population%20Statistics:%20Population%20estimates%20and%20projections#

[7] Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J., 2012. Why nations fail: the origins of power, prosperity, and poverty. Crown Business.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Allison, Graham, Robert D. Blackwill, and Ali Wyne. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, February 2013.

[12] See  (1) “Migration Presents Challenges and Opportunities for Armenia, New Report Says,” UNDP,  Yerevan,  Armenia, May 12, 2010, available at http://europeandcis.undp.org/news/show/87DF8BDD-F203-1EE9-B9C5C954A9A8E0D8; (2) Migration and skills in Armenia. Results of the 2011/12 migration survey on the relationship between skills, migration and development.http://www.crrc.am/hosting/file/_static_content/projects/Migration_and_skills_2011/Migration_and_skills_Armenia.pdf; and (3) State Migration service of Armenia. Dynamics of border crossings. http://www.smsmta.am/?menu_id=18

[13] 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. http://www.heritage.org/index/visualize?cnts=armenia&type=9

[14] Allison, Graham, Robert D. Blackwill, and Ali Wyne. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, February 2013.

[15] For detailed recommendations on how Armenia should transform the relationship with China into a special partnership see Simon Saradzhyan, “Armenia and China—Case for a Special Partnership,” Noravank, April 4, 2012, available at  http://noravank.am/eng/articles/detail.php?ELEMENT_ID=6385.

A Realist Argument: Stopping Karabakh War Is in US Interests, and Here’s What the US Can Do

The war over Nagorno-Karabakh has reached a tipping point. Azerbaijan claims to have taken the strategic city of Sushi; if it also severs the land link between my homeland and Armenia proper, the prospects will be grim for Karabakh’s Armenians, who have populated these mountainous lands for millennia. In the best-case but less likely scenario, Karabakh’s trapped population would be deported in the biggest ethnic cleansing of the 21st century in Europe; in the worst-case and more likely scenario, they will be subjected to genocide.  

There is still time, however, to prevent these tragic scenarios from materializing. Doing so in cooperation with the other two co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia and France), both of which should be interested in discontinuing the hostilities, would advance some of America’s key national interests, as defined by the Commission on U.S. National Interests led by some of America’s most prominent realist thinkers.

First, a successful U.S.-Russian-French (EU) initiative to stop the war would help move U.S. relations with Russia toward normalization and make Russia somewhat less inclined to team up with China against the U.S. on a variety of issues. This would help to advance the vital U.S. interest in “establish[ing] productive relations … with nations that could become strategic adversaries, China and Russia,” in my view.

Second, such a trilateral initiative’s success in returning the warring sides to negotiations on a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict would advance the very important U.S. interests described thus: “prevent genocide”; “promote the acceptance of international rules of law and mechanisms for resolving or managing disputes peacefully”; and “prevent, manage and, if possible at reasonable cost, end major conflicts in important geographic regions.”

Third, if the U.S. government fails to act to stop the war, it would not only miss opportunities to advance these interests but would undermine another very important U.S. interest: “suppress terrorism (especially state-sponsored terrorism).” According to accounts in Western media, Turkey has sent thousands of Syrian militants to fight on Baku’s side. These include members of jihadist groups, such as the Islamic State (IS), Ahrar al-Sham, which has worked with IS, and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which has been affiliated with al-Qaeda. Tolerating the fact that these numerous jihadists are gaining or enhancing their combat experience, while also earning a thousand dollars or more per month, amounts to the direct opposite of “suppressing terrorism.” Moreover, if the U.S. were to further tolerate Turkey’s unprecedented military support for Azerbaijan in this war and this support leads to Azerbaijan’s victory, then that would make leaders in Ankara conclude that yet again (after Syria and Libya) their military adventurism—uncoordinated with NATO—pays off. Such a development, which would run counter to the Trump administration’s repeated wishes for the Karabakh war to be stopped immediately, would undermine the U.S. vital interest of “ensur[ing] U.S. allies’ active cooperation with the U.S. in shaping an international system in which we can thrive.” U.S. is also obviously interested in stability in Afghanistan if only to prevent revival of terrorist bases there and Armenia is helping to defend that interest by keeping a brigade in the US-led NATO force in that country.

Venturing beyond the realm of realists’ cost-benefit analysis of America’s foreign policy, one could conclude that a successful U.S. initiative to stop the aggression against Karabakh Armenians would not only advance and/or defend the aforementioned U.S. interests but would be commensurate with some of America’s core values. Such an initiative would demonstrate America’s commitment to standing up not only for life and liberty but for other unalienable rights that are enshrined in its Declaration of Independence. The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, which Karabakh Armenians established on their ancestral lands as the Soviet Union fell apart, may remain unrecognized. But that has not stopped its inhabitants from embracing democracy and freedom. In contrast to Azerbaijan, ruled by the Aliyev clan for more than a quarter century, Karabakh Armenians are not ruled by a dynasty of any kind. Rather, they exercise their electoral rights to choose their leaders in regular democratic elections, prompting the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group to state that they “recognize the role of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh in deciding its future.” I am confident that a U.S. effort to help protect these rights would be appreciated not only by Armenians in both Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Armenia but by hundreds of thousands of Armenian-American voters in the U.S.

There’s a variety of measures the U.S. can and should take in the longer term to encourage the negotiation of a lasting peace, but a number of urgent steps should be taken to compel the aggressors to conclude that the costs of continuing war will exceed the benefits for them.

First, the U.S., acting jointly with the EU, can issue credible threats that if Azerbaijan does not agree to a verifiable ceasefire and observe it, then the U.S. and EU will impose personal sanctions on government leaders and their families, freezing their assets in the West, cancelling their visas and permits and denying visas in the future. (Members of Azerbaijan’s ruling elite are especially fond of parking their wealth in the West and sending their children to study at Western universities.) If this doesn’t impress leaders in Baku, then the U.S. and its allies can initiate proceedings to subject Azerbaijan’s exports to prohibitive U.S. and EU tariffs (including exports of oil to Europe), freeze Azerbaijan’s assets in Western banks and exclude Azerbaijan from SWIFT.

Some combination of the aforementioned measures, which Russia can complement with its own punitive measures, can also be threatened with regard to Turkey if it continues its unprecedented direct military support for Azerbaijan.

“He who has lost his Homeland, has lost everything,” says an old Caucasian proverb. There is a real chance that Karabakh Armenians will lose not only their homes but their lives en masse. Thus, more than two millennia of continuous inhabitation of Karabakh by Armenians will be violently ended. As demonstrated above, preventing such a horrendous outcome is in U.S. interests and the U.S. should act on these interests now before it is too late.

my thoughts on why it is in russia’s interest to stop war over karabakh published in journal

I argue in this piece for the web site of Russia’s premier journal on foreign policy, Russia in Global Affairs, that it is in Russia’s vital interest to stop the war over Karabakh: https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/articles/stop-war-armenia-azerbaijan/ Моя статья на сайте журнала “Россия в глобальной политике” o том, почему прекращение вооруженных действий между Арменией и Азербайджаном отвечает (жизненно важным) интересам России https://globalaffairs.ru/articles/ostanovit-vojnu-karabakh/

Why Stopping the War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan Is in Russia’s (Vital Interest)

As the saying goes, one of the typical follies – that practitioners of foreign policy commit – is to tell another country’s diplomats that it is in their country’s national interest to do something that these practitioners want them to do. Well, I am not a diplomat, and the list of Russia’s vital interests, which you may find below, has been distilled from Russian leaders’ actions, words and documents over the course of years. Therefore, I think it is permissible for me to both present that (dated)[1] list as well as present my views on what impact the ongoing war in the South Caucasus can have on those. Please see below, noting that this is an evolving effort, which I hope to refine and update.

Russia’s vital national interests.Potential longer-term impact of continuing war between Armenia, on one side, and Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s direct military support, on the other
1. Prevent, deter and reduce threats of secession from Russia; insurgency within Russia or in areas, adjacent to Russia; and armed conflicts waged against Russia, its allies or, in vicinity of Russian frontiers;Impact: high. The war is evolving among the countries, one of which borders Russia.That hundreds of jihadists are fighting on the side of a country, which borders Russia’s volatile North Caucasus (recall spatial proximity as a factor that can contribute to diffusion of political violence), where jihadist insurgency – that featured foreign fighters – became a national security threat in the late 1990s where jihadist groups continue to operate to date which thousands of fighters and other individuals had left for the Levante to join ISIS and other jihadist groups and to which they can return if they sense an opportunity to revive the local insurgency.If continued, the war can threaten the ultimate survival of Russia’s CSTO ally, Armenia in the longer term.
2. Prevent emergence of hostile individual or collective regional hegemonies or failed states on Russian borders, ensure Russia is surrounded by friendly states among which Russia can play a lead role and cooperation with which it can thrive;Impact: high. If war continues and Armenia wins, then Azerbaijan can be expected to be far less friendly to Russia.If war continues and Azerbaijan wins in the absence of Russia’s action, Armenia cannot be counted on to remain as allied to Russia as it is today.If Azerbaijan prevails, with Turkey’s direct support, such an outcome would undermine Russia’s efforts to play lead role in the post-Soviet Eurasia. Such an outcome would also lead to considerable strengthening of Turkey’s positions in the South Caucasus at the expense of Russia. It would also make strategists in Ankara to more actively consider  opportunities for Turkey to recover some of the hegemonic positions that the Ottoman empire once enjoyed in both South and North Caucasus while also advancing its efforts to lean Turkic-speaking nations of Central Asia.Looking beyond post-Soviet Eurasia, one idea of Russia can ensure a global role for itself as the world order is changing, which RF policy-shapers have  been recently advancing, is that it can lead or co-lead countries, which don’t want to align with either US or China. That proposition’s now being severely tested that war.
3. Establish and maintain productive relations, upon which Russian national interests hinge to a significant extent, with core European Union members, the United States and China;Impact: medium. If Russia, jointly with US and EU (as Minsk group co-chairs) manage to coerce sides (including Turkey) to discontinue hostilities, using their formidable leverage (threats of exclusion from SWIFT, sanctions on ruling elites, ban on remittances, trade restrictions of the kind Moscow slapped on Ankara after shooting of the Russian warplane), then this success can contribute to repairing Russia’s relations with US and EU.  By this modest advancement towards normalization of relations with West, Russia would also be able to move to more balanced relations with China (a basket, in which Russia has had to keep more eggs than it’d like to).  
4. Ensure the viability and stability of major markets for major flows of Russian exports and imports;Impact: modest If Russia’s actions antagonize Turkey, with which Russia has been developing trade actively (will add numbers later) and which helps Russia to diversify energy exports roots, then Turkey will impose economic costs on Russia. These costs would be tangible, but manageable.
5. Ensure steady development and diversification of the Russian economy and its integration into global markets;No major impact.
6. Prevent neighboring nations from acquiring nuclear arms and their long-range delivery systems on Russian borders; secure nuclear weapons and materials;No major impact.
7. Prevent large-scale or sustained terrorist attacks on Russia;Impact: high If the aforementioned hundreds of jihadists that are fighting on Baku’s sides – do not withdraw upon the end of the war back to Syria, but seek a new opportunity for waging jihad, in Russia’s North Caucasus like some of  the jihadists of the Soviet-Afghan war did, moving to Caucasus, Bosnia, etc.
8. Ensure Russian allies’ survival and their active cooperation with Russia.Impact: high: Not only the war can threaten survival of Armenia as a viable state in the long-term, and even if it does not, Armenian leadership will be hard pressed by part of the Armenian public on why Armenia is participating in Russian-led alliances, if Armenia loses the war in the absence of Russia’s tangible assistance.If Armenia loses the war in the absence of Russia’s tangible assistance, Russia’s other allies will be taking notice.In fact, I think the war is already impacting Moscow’s reputation of a reliable military ally, which it has burnished in Syria, seriously damaged in the eyes of these allies, who would conclude that even participating all in all of Russian-led integration projects in post-Soviet Eurasia, including CSTO, like Armenia does, does not prevent Moscow from being “equidistant” to you and your adversary even if the latter has initiated hostilities against you and, unlike you, is not Russia’s military ally.

[1] As distilled from Russian strategic documents, statements by Russian leaders and other sources by November 2015 for a presentation at Harvard that is available  https://www.belfercenter.org/publication/russias-actions-syria-underlying-interests-and-policy-objectives. I might have updated that list since then, and I am now looking to see if there is such an update, so that I can update this post.

Blogging about policies of Russia, and its relations with major powers and neighbors strictly in personal capacity.