The New "New Ostpolitik" (II)

BERLIN/YEREVAN (Own report) - In its new efforts in its power struggle with Russia to gain leverage in the South Caucasus, Berlin is striving to enhance relations, not only with Georgia and Azerbaijan, but also to strengthen its ties with Armenia. Germany would like to strengthen cooperation with Yerevan, Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed during her recent brief visit to the country. Armenia is one of the poorest countries in Europe and the poorest in the South Caucasus. Buffeted by two decades of radical neo-liberal remedies, the war with Azerbaijan as well as the ongoing conflict with NATO member Turkey, Armenia retreated under Russia’s protective umbrella and, in 2015, joined the Moscow-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Last spring, however, a new government came to power in Yerevan following a coup that was fueled by the ongoing corruption. As a strong critic of several Moscow led alliances, the new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is seen as a ray of hope for German political strategists.

"Velvet Revolution"

The demonstrations that finally brought Pashinyan into power began in late March 2018 under the leadership of the liberal YELK Alliance (Yelk in Armenian means the "way out") with protests against the conservative government of Serzh Sargsyan. In April, Sargsyan resigned from the presidency, while seeking to continue his reign as Prime Minister. The "Free Democrats and the Armenian National Congress (HAK) - both promoting economic liberalism - joined the YELK Alliance.[1] The "Free Democrats" also endorse Armenia’s exit from the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which the country had established together with Russia and a few other post-soviet nations.[2] Western media, such as the US propaganda "Radio Free Europe" station, are supporting the protests against Sargsyan by broadcasting them live around the clock.[3] The demonstrations were successful. The YELK Alliance’s leader Nikol Pashinyan was elected the new Prime Minister in early May. In June 2018, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) declared that his government "has followed with great sympathy the changes that took place in the spring in Armenia."[4]

Critics of the Russian Alliance System

The new Prime Minister Pashinyan is known as a strong critic of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The EAEU is an economic alliance comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. The CSTO is a military bloc formed by the EAEU members plus Tajikistan. Both alliances are considered Moscow dominated. In September 2017, when Pashinyan was in the opposition, he criticized the CSTO for not having supported Armenia in the conflict with Azerbaijan.[5] Also in September, his parliamentary group presented a proposal for Armenia to leave the EAEU.[6] This was in line with the YELK Alliance’s election program declaring that Armenia’s membership in the EAEU was an error. Armenia should seek a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU instead.[7] Armenia exiting the EAEU would definitely be in the interests of the German government.

Amateurs "Feeling European"

Accordingly, Maas assured his Armenian counterpart, Johrab Mnatsakanyan, in the course of his first official visit to Berlin in June 2018, that Germany wants to support Armenia in its "already initiated reform process" - because "in many ways, the Armenians think and feel European." Germany is the country’s second largest development aid donor, after the USA.[8] When the new Prime Minister Pashinyan made his first official visit to Brussels in July, some of his statements drew skeptical reactions. The new prime minister appears to have unrealistic expectations about what aid the EU would provide, it was said at the time; his government acts like amateurs.[9] Pashinyan also met German Chancellor Merkel (CDU) for the first time during his visit to Brussels.

Ambiguous Signals

Since taking office, Pashinyan has become much more cautious in questions of Armenia's relations to Russia. Before his first meeting with the Russian president, a close advisor to Vladimir Putin was skeptical regarding Pashinyan's statements concerning the EAEU and the CSTO. However, following their first meeting, Pashinyan and Putin declared their willingness to expand the long-standing cooperation between their two countries.[10] Armenia's withdrawal from the Moscow-led alliances appears not to be on the agenda. Shortly after coming to office, the new Armenian Prime Minister welcomed a new free-trade agreement between the EAEU and Iran.[11] Closer relations between Iran and a Russian-led alliance is certainly not in the interests of the German government.

The Reign of the Oligarchs

Germany's efforts to gain more leverage in Armenia began awhile back. For decades, the country has been under the rule of oligarchs. The reign of economically influential "clans" began back during the first presidency of Levon Ter-Petrossian (from 1991 - 1998). During this period, the government replaced nearly all leading economic posts and propagated the objective of developing a "free market economy."[12] In the course of Ter-Petrossian's presidency, oligarchs gained increasing influence, which culminated in a cold putsch, wherein President Ter-Petrossian was forced to resign by a group of oligarch-obliging politicians, such as Serzh Sargsyan.[13] For a long time, Nikol Pashinyan was considered to be Ter-Petrossian's right-hand man. In the electoral period from 2008 - 2013 he had been a parliamentarian of the HAK party, led by Ter-Petrossian. The HAK, on the other hand, is a member of the liberal "Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe" parties (ALDE), of which Germany's liberal democratic FDP is also a member. Pashinyan only split off from the HAK, forming his own party, in 2015.

Copper and Molybdenum

German companies first entered Armenia's natural resource sector during the era of former President Ter-Petrossian. Already in the mid-1990s, the Cronimet Group, with headquarters in Karlsruhe, began its copper and molybdanum mining activities in Armenia.[14] In the wake of several waves of privatizations during the 1990s and the first decade of 2000, the Armenian government also sold the Zangezur Copper and Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC) into private hands. 60 percent of the shares were bought by Cronimet. ZCMC is one of the largest copper and Molybdanum mines in Armenia and, with its approximately 3,000 employees, is one of the country’s largest private employers and its largest taxpayer. The raw materials mined in Armenia, are then exported to Germany and marketed by Karsruhe.[15]

Military Cooperation

Although German arms manufacturers are not allowed to supply weapons to Armenia, because of an OSCE embargo, German soldiers have been closely cooperating with the Armenian armed forces for fifteen years. Troops from this Caucasus republic are being trained by the Bundeswehr and are participating, as auxillary troops, in NATO-led foreign operations. For example, since the middle of the first decade of this millenium, the Bundeswehr has dispatched soldiers, as advisors, to Armenia and invited Armenian military personnel for advanced training and maneuvers to Germany.[16] In early 2010, the Armenian military even sent units to fight in Afghanistan. The soldiers from this Caucasus republic were flown to Germany and from there brought to the Hindu Kush, where they were in operation under German command.[17] Armenian soldiers are also participating in the ISAF follow-up mission - "Resolute Support," as well as in NATO’s Kosovo operation as and the intervention in Mali.[18]


Please read also The new "New Ostpolitik" (I).


[1] Karlen Aslanian: Huge Crowds Keep Up Pressure On Armenian PM. 22.04.2018.

[2] 'Armenia must withdraw from EaEU:' "Free Democrats" campaign kicks off from Arabkir. 10.03.2017. Free Democrats: Armenia should leave EAEU and buy gas from Iran. 10.03.2017.

[3] Olya Azatyan/Nino Lejava: Armeniens Samtene Revolution. 25.04.2018.

[4] "Beeindruckend, wie verantwortungsvoll Politik mit den Hoffnungen der Bürger umgegangen ist". 29.06.2018.

[5] Seda Ghukasyan: Joint Russian-Armenian Military Force Won't Intervene if Artsakh Attacked, Says Armenian Deputy Defense Minister. 04.10.2017.

[6] Joshua Kucera: Armenia Debates Leaving the Eurasian Union. 13.09.2017.

[7] Armenia elections: YELQ program taps army reform, EU association. 06.03.2017.

[8] "Beeindruckend, wie verantwortungsvoll Politik mit den Hoffnungen der Bürger umgegangen ist". 29.06.2018.

[9] Grigor Atanesian/Bradley Jardine/Joshua Kucera: After 100 days, what's new in the "new Armenia"? 17.08.2018.

[10] Joshua Kucera: Pashinyan and Putin hold first meeting, pledge to build closer ties. 14.05.2018.

[11] Bradley Jardine: Armenia hopes to benefit from new Iran-Eurasian Union free trade deal. 18.05.2018.

[12] Ian Bremmer/Cory Welt: A break with the past? State and economy in post-communist Armenia, in: Helsinki Monitor, Jg. 8 (1997), Nr. 1, S. 38–47.

[13] Richard Giragosian: The Armenian Imperative: Confronting and Containing Oligarchs, in: Mehran Kamrava (Hg.): The Great Game in West Asia: Iran, Turkey and the South Caucasus, London 2017, S. 205–228 (hier: S. 217).

[14] Günter Pilarsky: Wirtschaft am Rohstofftropf: Der Kampf um die wichtigsten mineralischen Ressourcen, Wiesbaden 2014, S. 110.

[15] Ebenda, S. 111.

[16] Unterstützung für armenische Streitkräfte, 04.12.2008; Armenische Soldaten trainieren in Germersheim. 17.03.2015.

[17] Armenien verstärkt ISAF-Truppe um 40 Mann. 09.01.2010.

[18] Armenian peacekeeping forces might expand int'l involvement. 23.05.2017.