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Russia has nothing to fear from EU in South Caucasus, Armenia insists

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A seismic shift in Armenia’s foreign policy that has seen it forge closer relations with the European Union is not a threat to Moscow, the country’s ambassador in Brussels insisted amid increasingly tense relations with the Kremlin.

“Armenia’s geography means it historically and practically has so many connections with Russia that only phantasmagoric people think Armenia would take the suicidal step of trying to undermine Russian interests in the region,” Tigran Balayan, the country’s envoy to the EU, told POLITICO in an interview.

“The Armenia-EU relationship is based on Armenian national interests. Currently, our national interest demands that we have exemplary relations with the EU and all its member states,” he said.

“That doesn’t exclude bilateral good relations with Russia, and that’s something we want to explain to our Russian colleagues,” he added.

Earlier this month, at a meeting between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the EU unveiled a €270 million package designed to help bolster the economic independence and resilience of the former Soviet republic. Russia currently has an effective monopoly over Armenia’s energy networks, railways and imports of key goods like grain.

While Russia has also maintained control over Armenia’s borders for the past three decades, relations have soured in recent years, with the Kremlin refusing to back the country in its long-running conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan. Moscow deployed more than a thousand peacekeepers to the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh following a war in 2020, but its troops refused to intervene last September when Azerbaijani forces launched an offensive and sparked the mass exodus of its 100,000 Armenian residents.

Days prior to the attack, Pashinyan told POLITICO that the country could no longer rely on Russia for security and praised Western nations for helping bring about democratic reforms.

Armenia has now suspended its membership of the Moscow-led CSTO military alliance, invited U.S. troops to stage joint drills in the country, and depends on an EU civilian monitoring mission to deter clashes along its tense border with Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, it has stepped up efforts to avoid falling foul of Western sanctions on Russia, working to prevent the export of sensitive goods that could be used by Moscow’s forces occupying Ukraine.

But, according to Balayan, who heads Armenia’s EU delegation, that shouldn’t be seen as a “pivot to the West” at the expense of Russia.

“When we are talking about these issues with Russian diplomats, and I tell them what we are doing, I’ve never received any counterargument as to why we shouldn’t — how European and American investments into Armenia’s economy could harm Russian interests,” he said.

Last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took aim at Armenia’s growing ties with Europe and the U.S., accusing the government of “deliberately leading things to the collapse of relations with the Russian Federation.”

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