An absolute majority of the US Congress adopted a new package of sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. Studying the new bill to write an article for RBC, I thought about the consequences for Armenia.
Some may think that the current political misunderstanding between Washington and the Kremlin is not going to affect the regional configuration. I would agree with this statement two years ago, but today the situation is getting worse. We witness the deepening crisis in the US-Russian relations every day. It cannot but worry official Yerevan. Each bridge burnt between the two superpowers reduces the political maneuvering opportunities of Armenia that are vital for the Republic.
It is a rare case for the American history when 517 lawmakers from 530 unite around a bill, regardless of party or factional membership. Moreover, for the first time in 20 years, the largest oil lobbyists hired by Exxon Mobil and Chevron corporations could not influence the decision of Congress. In fact, legislative power performs the function of defending the global interests of America. Over the past eight years, the overwhelming majority of congressmen and senators have condemned the weakness of Democrat Obama, whose policy has questioned the world leadership of the United States. Many Republicans hoped that the new President would change the situation and force the world community to reconsider Washington's position.
However, political scandals inside the administration and Trump's desire to establish a dialogue with Russia, which threatened the survival of the unipolar world, forced the party elite to act independently. The desire of the Republicans to prove to the world that America has not gone anywhere and does not give up any positions (neither Syria nor Ukraine) together with the Democrats' desire to take revenge on Trump for defeating their candidate united the party elites into one mighty fist. Now the blows go to everyone who is trying to intervene in the process. Having adopted these sanctions, Congress sentenced its allies in Europe and its large taxpayers to economic losses.
To date, American oil companies can take part only in the projects where the Russian share is not more than 33%. It is also evident that the party elites are ready to "kill" the "Nord Stream 2" project to prevent Russia's strengthening in Europe. In other words, a clear message was sent: Europeans should buy energy from their allies, not opponents. In general, analysis of the hearings in various profile committees of Senate and House of Representatives shows that this sanction package is just the beginning. According to the new document, Congress prohibits the President to take any independent decisions on the cancellation or restriction of sanctions. Thus, the Capitol left the White House outside the game, since an absolute majority of votes will overcome any attempt to impose a pocket or absolute veto.
So, how can this situation threaten Armenia? Firstly, we must not forget that the USA and Russia are the permanent Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group on the settlement of the Karabakh-Azerbaijani conflict. It means that relative stability at the border is kept as long as Washington and Moscow are interested in the maintenance of the status quo. In the first "sanction years," the two states found common points on the Karabakh issue. However, today there is not only a deterioration in relations but also the regrouping of forces and interests. Azerbaijan accounts for more than 80% of the latest purchases of offensive weapons from Russia. It indicates the Russian political factor's increase after the long-lasting US-Azerbaijani stagnation that began under Obama's presidency.
Besides that, relations between Washington and Ankara are also in crisis. Americans do not hide their dislike for the regime of Erdogan, who is increasingly looking to Moscow in despair. Recently, Turkey and Russia have signed a contract on the purchase of S-400 air defense systems. Some US military expressed concern about this deal, as it was the first time that Moscow supplied these complexes to a member of NATO. Moreover, five years ago, Americans refused to transfer their anti-aircraft technology to Ankara because they did not want to strengthen its military and political positions in the region. The White House knows that strong Turkey is always unpredictable and aggressive (remember the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus in 1974).
Selling S-400 to the Turks, Moscow wants to buy political weight. However, it is unclear whose influence will be stronger: the Turkic tandem's Turkey-Azerbaijan-Kazakhstan (the latter is a member of the EAEU and the CSTO) on the Kremlin or vice versa. Moreover, the price that Moscow will have to pay for further deepening of the political dialogue with Ankara and Baku is also an unrevealed detail. Secondly, if the US blocks "Nord Stream 2" and continues to restrict Russia's energy, banking and military-technical spheres, Moscow will have to look for alternative ways of making money. Under such conditions, Russia will sell more weapons to the countries that are outside of US influence or are no longer focused on Washington. One of these states is Azerbaijan that will certainly take advantage of the deterioration of the US-Russian relations, obtaining political and military-technical dividends.
Thirdly, the crisis between America and Russia means deterioration of the economic situation in Armenia. It is pointless to comment on the development scenarios in this field since the economic well-being of Armenia directly depends on Moscow's position. In such conditions, the Armenian side should undertake a complex of political and diplomatic measures. Firstly, it is necessary to strengthen diplomatic and lobbying work in the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union. This work should include not only elements of political dialogue, but also cooperation with the leading media and think tanks that influence political decision-making. Unfortunately, the current Armenian diplomatic missions in these countries do not have sufficient professional competence and lobbying skills to cope with such a difficult task.
In this case, certain functions should be delegated to professional lobbyists who know all the subtleties of working with the public sector, the media, think tanks, governmental and non-governmental organizations. Secondly, it is critical to find new impulses for the development of the dialogue with Washington. The Armenian Congressional Caucus in the House of Representatives that includes Speaker Paul Ryan - the most influential Republican in Congress should fully focus on issues of lobbying for the strengthening of the US-Armenian interstate relations.
It is necessary to be careful, realizing that the involvement of the United States in regional processes allows maintaining a balance in the region as long as America has mechanisms to sober Baku and Ankara. Thirdly, Armenia needs to seek its place in the changing Middle East. The current configuration, in which Iran and Israel have to negotiate, creates great opportunities for Yerevan. Finally, it is important to pay attention to the formation of other centers of influence (China, India, Japan) that would be interested in regional processes.
Areg Galstyan - PhD, regular contributor to The National Interest, Forbes, The Hill and The American Thinker.
These views are his own.