West or Russia?
The South Caucasus’ choice
Armenia attempting to get away from Russia
Until recently, Armenia was considered pro-Russian. Armenia has no contiguous borders with Russia, its strategic ally. There is an influential Armenian community in many Western countries, including France and the United States, but Armenia has always remained as loyal as possible to the Kremlin on the most serious issues.

Official Yerevan is involved in all integration processes initiated by Moscow, such as the EAEU economic union and CSTO military bloc.
Armenia was considered pro-Russian
The situation did not change even after the “Velvet Revolution” of 2018, but the war did.

The tense post-war situation in the country forced the Armenian authorities to start working with Western partners ⁠— Washington and Brussels.
It was these two states that expressed a clear position and demands after the escalation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in September 2022. Washington and Brussels unequivocally stated that it was Azerbaijan that had violated the ceasefire and invaded the territory of Armenia.

It is noteworthy that immediately after the "September War" on the border of Armenia, there was a visit to Yerevan by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
The West, but not Russia, condemned the actions of Azerbaijan
Meanwhile Moscow limited itself to formal statements about the need to resolve the escalation by peaceful means and without a clear assessment of the situation. In Armenia, both in government and among the public, people began to ask why the West took a clear stance and not their ally.

Prior to this, Yerevan had been careful not to ask this question; now it was ready to do so, and even take concrete steps.
Armenia Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, during Prague talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev mediated by European partners, reached a decision to send a civilian EU mission to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, though only on the Armenian side.

The mission’s goal was to build confidence and promote the work of the border commission through their reports.
CSTO ignored Yerevan's requests, and Moscow was unhappy with the arrival of the European mission
Armenia also asked for a mission to both the OSCE and Russia and the CSTO military bloc operating under its leadership. Requests remained unanswered ⁠— but Moscow did express dissatisfaction about the European mission. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called it "another attempt by the EU to intervene in any way in the resolution of relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia and to hinder Russia's mediation efforts."

There is a clear understanding in Yerevan that CSTO members will not make the decision to provide assistance to Armenia, despite its claim that its sovereign territory was violated. Armenian and many Western experts say the bloc's members are too close to Baku and Ankara to take any steps against Azerbaijan's interests.
Relations between Yerevan and Moscow have finally deteriorated over events in Nagorno-Karabakh. In December 2022 a group of Azerbaijani citizens blocked the only highway that connects the unrecognized NKR with Armenia, demanding access to mines in the area and that all vehicles and cargo passing on the road be inspected over fears of alleged weapons trafficking and illegal mining.


Lachin corridor blockade and Moscow's unwillingness to interfere
Russian peacekeepers are not taking any serious action to unblock the road, although according to a November 9, 2020 statement signed by Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Lachin corridor should function unhindered.

Yerevan maintains that Moscow either cannot or does not want to be the guarantor of this function.
According to Yerevan, Russia often takes an openly pro-Azerbaijani stance.

Some experts believe that Moscow is losing its position in the region due to the war in Ukraine and cannot afford to irritate Baku and Ankara. Others think the Kremlin itself is interested in using pressure to force the Armenian government to make concessions on several issues.
Why is Russia not supporting its strategic ally?
Azerbaijan says it wants an extraterritorial road through the south of Armenia, referred to as the "Zangezur corridor".

If Yerevan makes concessions and agrees to provide this corridor, the Russian FSB will control it. According to some experts, this will allow Moscow to strengthen its influence in the region and have leverage over both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
But in spite of everything, it is unlikely that Armenia will be able to break away from Russia completely in the near future. The country is still heavily dependent on Russia economically, for example.

Russia accounts for about 30% of Armenian exports and 70% of its foreign investment.

Russia's standing has been undermined, but it’s unlikely that Armenia will be able to move away from it
But in spite of everything, it is unlikely that Armenia will be able to break away from Russia completely in the near future. The country is still heavily dependent on Russia economically, for example.

Russia accounts for about 30% of Armenian exports and 70% of its foreign investment.
Azerbaijan in anticipation of Russia weakening
Since the first years of its independence in 1993, Azerbaijan pursued a foreign policy that combines the interests of Russia and the West. The country's leadership call this attitude to foreign policy "balanced."

The country's leadership call this attitude to foreign policy "balanced."
Azerbaijan continues to balance
It is no coincidence that the country has allied agreements with both Turkey and Russia. However, Western standards are being introduced in the very structures of the state, including the army, while Azerbaijan’s closest ally is Turkey, a member of NATO.

Even the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, which has no political weight in society, has refrained from making statements in support of any side in Russia's ongoing war against Ukraine.

While writing this piece, we did not manage to obtain a meeting with representatives of this party, who theoretically might believe in supporting Russia.
There is not a single political force supporting Russia in the war in Ukraine
Since February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, several protests in support of Kyiv have been held in front of the Ukrainian embassy in Baku. The authorities in Azerbaijan do not encourage mass gatherings of citizens, but did not interfere with these protests in any way.

Officially, Azerbaijan has repeatedly declared its support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Humanitarian aid is sent there periodically, and the Azerbaijani gas company SOCAR, which owns a network of filling stations in Ukraine, provides Ukrainian emergency services of free fuel.
But at the same time, the authorities do not allow protests to be held in front of the Russian embassy. Those who have tried have been dispersed by the police, but no one has been arrested.

Most in Azerbaijani society understand that, whatever the anti-Russian sentiment in the country, it is almost impossible to openly oppose the Kremlin. There is detectable in the statements of politicians a secret yearning for the weakening of Russia, and the ability then to come out as anti-Russian.
Is Azerbaijan waiting for the downfall of Russia?
Attitudes against Russia in Azerbaijan became stronger after the end of the second Karabakh war. According to the tripartite statement dated November 10, 2020, Russia sent its peacekeeping contingent to the part of Karabakh inhabited by ethnic Armenians.

Thus, the Kremlin did not allow Azerbaijan to restore its sovereignty over its entire internationally recognized territory.
Azerbaijani political scientist Azer Gasimly said: "For a good future for our children, Azerbaijan should integrate with the West"
Over time, anti-Russian rhetoric began to seep into official propaganda. Rovshan Mammadov, chairman of AzTV state television, stated on his show that Azerbaijan does not intend to extend the peacekeepers’ mandate in Karabakh beyond 2025.

He was likely expressing Baku’s true position. Moreover, the Russian troops in Karabakh still do not have a mandate. More than two years have passed since they were placed on the territory of Azerbaijan, but the parliament still has not ratified the tripartite statement of November 10, 2020, which stopped the second Karabakh war.
Do not renew the mandate of Russian peacekeepers
In fact, it can be said that in Azerbaijan there are practically no groups in society that support Russian influence over Azerbaijan.

At the same time, one can hardly say that the Azerbaijani authorities fully support the Western model of development. Despite very close relations with Turkey, a NATO member, and developing economic relations with the European Union, there is clearly no vector of movement towards European values in Azerbaijan.
But there is no movement towards Western values either
Most of society and the political opposition are calling on the authorities to democratize and Europeanize relations with other nations, but the established autocracy does not "succumb" (as they say) to these calls.

According to international human rights organizations, there are currently about one hundred political prisoners in the country, freedom of speech and the right of citizens to assemble are routinely violated, and independent media and journalists are persecuted.
Georgia ⁠— the same choice thirty years ago

The war in Ukraine exposed Tbilisi's uncertainty in foreign policy. After thirty years of independence, Georgia is again at the same historical crossroads ⁠— Russia or the West.

Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine the authorities pursued a compliant policy towards Moscow. They tried to respect Russian strategic interests, to get closer economically, to moderate the harsh rhetoric of former president Saakashvili and adopt a more constructive tone.
Georgia was considered the most pro-Western in the post-Soviet realm
Thus in a few years Georgia actually turned into a country forgotten on the international stage and preoccupied mainly with domestic politics. Its territorial conflicts, which were once the main stumbling block in relations between the West and Russia, have gradually and almost completely disappeared from the Western agenda.

Instead, after years of economic embargo, the Russian Federation became Georgia's second largest trading partner, and Georgian food and wine returned to the Russian market.


After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Georgia declared that it had chosen "neutral tactics", abandoning solidarity with strategic partners. Georgia did not join Western sanctions against Russia and accepted hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens who wanted to avoid these sanctions and mobilization, among other motives. The Georgian government ignored the demands of the opposition and civil sector by deciding not to introduce a visa policy for Russian citizens.

Also, Transparency International Georgia warns that the country's increased economic dependence on Russia compared to previous years seriously increases the risk that Georgia may be used to circumvent sanctions.

"Neutrality" during the war in Ukraine

What is the extent of Georgia's economic dependence on Russia?
In 2022, 112,733 Russian citizens entered Georgia and currently still live in the country, which is 3.05% of the population of Georgia..
The share of Russian imports increased from 10.2% to 13.1% - the highest figure in the last sixteen years. In January-September 2022, imports from Russia increased by 73%.
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Fuel imports from Russia increased the most - by 350%. This is at a time when other countries are refusing Russian energy sources and looking for an alternative.
Georgia's dependence on Russian wheat and flour is very high - 96% of total imports of wheat and wheat flour in January-September 2022.
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Dependence on deliveries of Georgian wine to the Russian Federation has grown. In January-September 2022, wine exports to Russia in the amount of $109 million accounted for 63% of Georgia's total wine exports.
Russian electricity accounts for only 3% of Georgia's domestic consumption. Gas imports from Russia decreased by 32%, and its share in Georgia's domestic consumption went up to 7%.
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The share of remittances from Russia increased from 17.5% in 2021 to 40% after the start of mass migration of Russians. Until March 2022, $24 million was transferred from Russia to Georgia per month, and afterward, $154 million on average.
In March-September 2022, about 9,500 Russian companies were registered in Georgia, ten times more than in the whole of 2021. Ninety-seven percent of registrations are individual entrepreneurs.
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The accommodating position of the government has been noted by the Kremlin, but it has also sparked large protests within the country. On June 20, 2022, about 120,000 people gathered in Freedom Square in Tbilisi to demonstrate support for Georgia's path to joining the European Union.


Postponed status in the EU and protests
Вecause of Russian aggression against Ukraine, the EU decided to accelerate the process of integrating Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. But although for many years Georgia was ahead of the other two, only Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status for EU membership, while Georgia was given only a “membership perspective”, which is one step lower than candidate status. Georgia will receive the final decision on its status in January 2023. In the meantime, Brussels has demanded that Tbilisi fulfill a list of twelve conditions, including "deoligarchization."

Many experts and pro-European residents of the country perceived the EU decision as a missed opportunity and a reaction to Georgia's alleged “retreat from democracy”. Problems are especially noticeable in the judiciary, whose independence is believed to have been undermined. There is also political persecution of opponents, and attacks on critical media and freedom of speech in general.

It is unlikely that the Georgian government will fulfill all the reforms recommended by the EU, as this would weaken the power of billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is widely blamed for Georgia's “turn” towards Russia. Ivanishvili founded the Georgian Dream party, but currently holds no position. It is widely believed, however, that it is he who has ruled the country for the past ten years through a vast influence network.

Many local and international experts believe that the government he controls is ready to limit the influence of the collective West in the country.
Ivanishvili behind Georgia's turn towards Russia?
To this end a deliberate anti-Western campaign is already underway orchestrated by the ruling party. For several months now its representatives and satellites have been attacking the US and EU ambassadors, directly accusing them of trying to draw Georgia into a war with Russia and open a second front. Following these criticisms, former US ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly told Foreign Policy, "[r]easonable people will conclude that Georgia is turning its back on the West."

ДопоAn additional problem is that the Georgian opposition has become so weak in the unequal ten-year struggle with Georgian Dream, and is so mired in its own existential and financial problems, that it is unable to resist these changes in the country.



Experts believe that based on this, Georgia may fall short of its strategic landmark.

If the country does not secure candidacy for EU membership - and it most likely will if the government does not carry out reforms ⁠- relations with the West will continue to deteriorate. Georgia will become even more vulnerable, and its government will be more inclined to deepen ties with Russia.
Georgia likely to deepen ties with Russia
The Georgian authorities are already preparing society for this scenario through statements and allusions.

The leadership of Georgian Dream has repeatedly stated that the EU never actually intended to grant Georgia the status of candidate country, and that no matter what the Georgian authorities do, this status will still not be granted.




Another symbolic detail ⁠— in 2022 the birthday of the king of Georgia, Irakli II, was celebrated. It is perhaps no coincidence that this important figure in the history of Georgia was revivified just now, for it was he who signed the Treaty of Georgievsk in 1783, the first document on friendship with Russia.

“These festivities look like a message to the Georgian people that it would be wise to return to the Russian camp. The significance is so obvious that it doesn't even need to be explained,” philosopher Tata Tsopurashvili believes.

Attention to the king who brought Georgia to the Russian Empire
Which way forward? Opinions from residents of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia
Arguments for the West

IN ARMENIA

The European Union and the USA are reliable partners. These powers fulfill their agreements. They should not be expected to betray us.

Russia has weakened itself with the war on Ukraine, it will not be able to compete with other countries. The United States is becoming the main player in the region. And Russia will seek its interests at the expense of other states, including Armenia.


The US and the EU are giving a lot of money to Armenia and aiding successful reforms in various areas.

Russia is an authoritarian regime. The West is democratic. Armenia is closer to democratic values.

IN AZERBAIJAN

The country has good relations with some of the world's power centers either directly or through its ally, Turkey.

Turkey, which has the second largest NATO army, is currently the main ally of Azerbaijan.

The shareholders of the main pipelines delivering Azerbaijani oil and gas to world markets are exclusively Western.

With the aggravation of relations between Russia and the West, Azerbaijan may deepen economic ties with the West. A multiple increase in gas exports to Europe is planned.

The Azerbaijani army has switched to the NATO format and a pro-Western path for the development of the army has been declared. Azerbaijan is buying the latest weapons, mainly from Turkey, Israel and France.

Azerbaijan has switched to the Bologna system of education and Western standards are gradually being introduced. Higher education in the West has become commonplace for the country's youth. Even the state pays for the continuation of studies in Europe.

In settling the conflict with Armenia, Baku prefers to work with Western mediators, currently with the European Union and the United States.

IN GEORGIA

Integration with the European Union will reduce the likelihood of potential military aggression from Russia.

The EU market will be open to Georgian goods, they will improve their quality and be closer to European standards. Farmers will have a guarantee of earnings and motivation to grow crops.

European investment will increase, monopolies will be limited, and the real fight against corruption will begin.

The quality of life is much higher in the West. Everyone is trying to go for treatment or study in the EU or the USA. The people there are well paid. Then they have a decent old age - people are healthy, have high pensions, travel and live a full life.

Human rights will be protected in the same way as in Europe. The law will protect all minorities. And the courts will be free and impartial.

Democratic elections and democratic change of government will become the norm.

When we are in the European Union, we will become more interesting and attractive for Abkhazians and Ossetians. Everyone will look for new forms of conflict resolution.

The cities will have good buses, a well-functioning subway, so people will stop driving their own cars, and traffic jams and emissions will decrease.

Tourists will come not only from the post-Soviet area or Asia, but also from EU countries and bring their culture.
Arguments in favor of Russia

IN ARMENIA

Russia is the main force in the region, and without Moscow it is impossible to make big, important decisions here.

Armenia has been building its foreign policy for thirty years within the Russian framework, and you can’t just up and leave these structures.

Armenia's neighbor is Turkey and in the absence of Russia, an existential threat will always come from that quarter.

Russia is Armenia's main economic partner. More than 25% of the export of Armenian goods goes there. Russia is the main investor in the Armenian economy, which also depends on remittances from Russia.


IN AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijan is a member of the CIS, and in February 2022 it signed an alliance agreement with Russia and has friendly relations with other countries of the Russian bloc, although it is not a member.

Economic relations with Russia are still strong ⁠— the main food imports come from there and from other CIS countries.

There are millions of Azeris in Russia. There are many families where at least one member lives and works in Russia and sends part of their earnings to Azerbaijan. In the regions of the country, there is a strong dependence on transfers from Russia.

Despite transition to the NATO rails of development, Azerbaijan still buys weapons from Russia as well. Almost the entire military aviation of Azerbaijan consists of Russian-made fighters and helicopters.

Russian schools are popular, there’s a lot of children studying there. There are several branches of Russian universities operating in the country, while Azerbaijani universities provide instruction in Russian.

Azerbaijan takes into account the presence of the Russian peacekeeping contingent on its territory in Karabakh and for this reason does not refuse Moscow's intermediary services.

IN GEORGIA

Russia is our neighbor and nothing can change that. The country must take into account its interests, otherwise it will end up in a situation worse than Ukraine. If Georgia is together with Russia, there will definitely be no war, because all conflicts on our territory are controlled by Russia itself.

Russia is a monotheistic country. In terms of mentality and traditions, Georgians are closer to Russians than to any European country. For example, these two countries have the same attitude towards same-sex marriage.

The key to settling the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia lies in Moscow. If we approach it diplomatically, the Kremlin will one day return these territories to Georgia.

Nowhere else will Georgian wine and Georgian products be sold the way they are in Russia. Georgia is a brand in Russia.

Sevgi Ismailbeyli, Baku
Authors
Sopho Khutsishvili,
Nino Narimanishvili, Tbilisi
Artur Khachatryan,
Arman Karajyan, Yerevan
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