Armenia Clarifies Position on CSTO Cooperation ‘Freeze’

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.

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What’s Happening

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has offered a level of clarification for remarks he made in an interview with France24 on February 22nd, in which he announced that Armenia had frozen their cooperation with the Russian led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). What exactly this meant, and the potential consequences, were unknown at the time, including to Russia who stated that Armenia had not, through any official means, made any efforts to freeze cooperation with the alliance.

“The Collective Security Treaty has not fulfilled its objectives as far as Armenia is concerned, particularly in 2021 and 2022. And we could not let that happen without taking notice. We have now in practical terms frozen our participation in this treaty. As for what comes next, we shall have to see” -PM Pashinyan

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pictured during his February 22nd interview with France24 (Photo from primeminister.am).

However earlier today, PM Pashinyan offered some clarification on his statement. He clarified that the freezing of cooperation meant that Armenia does not, at this moment, have a permanent representative in the CSTO and does not participate in high level meetings. Notably, he added that Armenia has de facto suspended relations with the CSTO, and may make efforts to officially suspend relations.

Separate from the PM, was Armenian MP Sargis Khandanyan’s own words that stated the freeze was, in essence, no different from how they had been operating beforehand. He said that Armenia hadn’t participated in CSTO activities for over a year, and that the freeze was more of a “political assessment” rather than explicit legal policy.

“We have repeatedly voiced our positions regarding CSTO activity or inaction. It is a concrete record of the situation. Time will show whether or not further processes will follow” -MP Khandanyan

Russian Condemnation

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative, Maria Zakharova, has released a statement condemning the Armenian cooperation freeze, in particular the parts of Pashinyan’s statements that attributed the freeze to failures of the CSTO. Notably, she was also critical of the EU observer mission, which serves to observe the Armenia/Azerbaijan border and report on ceasefire violations as well as other issues which occur on the border.

The EU observer mission was deployed in October of 2022, a few weeks after the attacks Azerbaijan launched upon Armenia from September 12th-14th. The mission has only deployed on the Armenian side, as Azerbaijan has refused them access. The observer mission has been condemned by both Azerbaijan and Russia. It was one of the largest signs of highly increased western interest in Armenia, which has historically been within Russia’s sphere of influence.

A photo of a vehicle convoy of the EU observer mission in Armenia (Photo from Josep Borrell/Twitter).

Zakharova’s statement may be read below:

“We categorically do not accept the reproaches of the Armenian authorities regarding the alleged failure of the CSTO to fulfill its mandate and obligations towards Yerevan during the well-known events that took place in 2020 and 2021.

Also, I want to remind that in September 2022, at the request of the Armenian side, an assessment mission of the organization’s secretariat and joint staff was promptly formed, which was sent to the border regions of the country. Based on the results, the CSTO Collective Security Council prepared a decision on deploying a [CSTO] monitoring mission in Armenia.
It is not our fault, nor the other members of the CSTO that this balanced decision, which planned to provide the [Armenian] republic with technico-military assistance and a number of other measures, was rejected by the Armenian authorities under a baseless pretext.
Moreover, in return, Yerevan demonstratively chose to invite fake monitors from the EU. The known facts speak for themselves and leave no doubt about the zero effectiveness of the work of those [EU] representatives. We proceed from the fact that the Republic of Armenia continues to remain a full member of the CSTO, with all the rights and obligations arising from this status.
At the same time, we note with regret that the dynamics of Yerevan’s participation in the organization’s events has decreased, and this clearly does not correspond to the interests of the friendly Armenian people and the tasks of ensuring the country’s security.
We hope that Yerevan will come to understand that existing concerns should be discussed and resolved through calm, confidential dialogue, rather than endlessly, chaotically throwing them into the public space. If we talk about the style of the [aforesaid] statement [by Pashinyan] and the logic of its construction, then, to be honest, I don’t quite understand [it]. Just recently the representatives of Armenia said that the CSTO has left Armenia. If the CSTO, according to Yerevan, has left Armenia, how can Armenia ‘freeze’ its participation in it?”

The diplomatic differences caused by the freeze is just the latest in a series of issues between Russia and Armenia over Armenia’s perceived failure of Russia to assist it in it’s conflicts with Azerbaijan.

2021 and 2022
The two incidents which Pashinyan mentioned that occurred in 2021 and 2022 were a series of attacks carried out by Azerbaijan on Armenia, which saw them seize large amounts of Armenian internationally recognized territory of the Armenian mainland.
The 2021 border breach, which took place on May 12th, marked a major escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who had been at war with each other just a few months prior. On the 12th of May several hundred Azeri troops took positions well within Armenian territory, largely without violent incident. The advance was eventually halted by Armenian troops, but not before Azerbaijan had occupied several kilometres worth of Armenian territory. This event marked the first major incident of Azerbaijan occupying internationally recognized land of mainland Armenia since the end of the 2020 44-Day war (also known as the second Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh war).
From the 12th to the 14th of September, 2022, Azerbaijan launched an extensive assault upon border positions of the Armenian mainland. Despite the clashes only lasting a few days, several hundred soldiers were killed across both sides. As the clashes went on, Azerbaijan again seized significant amounts of Armenian territory, advancing several more kilometres.

The 2022 clashes spawned a political crisis within Armenia. When the clashes ended on September 14th, PM Pashinyan signalled he was prepared to sign a document which would recognize Artsakh, which was at the time independent, as Azeri territory. After significant protests erupted nationwide Pashinyan walked back on the claim, but has since again signalled Armenia’s intent to recognize Artsakh as Azerbaijan’s territory, as it had been already internationally.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured together in 2018 (Photo from kremlin.ru).

In both the 2021 border breach and the 2022 border clashes, PM Pashinyan called upon the CSTO and Russia individually, requesting assistance in the face of both the Azeri occupation of territory, as well as Azeri military advances. Both times the CSTO refused Armenia’s request, leaving Armenia to, in essence, fend for themselves. While both harmed the relationships between Armenia and Russia/the CSTO, the 2022 clashes in particular did significant damage. Not only did the CSTO fail to come to Armenia’s defence in any meaningful manner, they equally so failed to even issue an official condemnation of Azerbaijan’s attacks upon Armenia.