Washington has been shaken to its core by allegations of Russia’s hacking and interference. Frequently, Americans hear more accusations about the extent to which Russia attempted and, in some cases, succeeded in influencing the nation. More is likely to be unveiled, including complicity of homegrown activists, as independent counsel and congressional investigations more forward.
Allegations abound that President Trump’s foreign policy is influenced by close relations and behind-the-scenes contacts among him and his staff with Russian leadership. The most recent “Russian revelation” came in the form of accusations of back-channel communications between presidential adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner and the Russians — back channels are a classic and vital facet of statecraft.
The point is that of Russian infiltration.
If Russia is proved to be involved in a campaign of political interference against American interests and there is every indication they will, then it is vital to expose homegrown “activists,” who promote Russian interests in Washington.
Armenia, a client state of Russia in the post-Soviet space, enjoys a well-established ethnic lobby in the United States. Damaged by its support for socialist Bernie Sanders, instead of seeking to repair a significantly degraded infrastructure, it seeks now to engage in regional geopolitics. Once a two-issue lobby — genocide and Nagorno-Karabakh — the Armenian-American lobby now serves as a clandestine influence peddler of Russia.
A fairly simple calculus, Armenia cannot survive without copious Russian largesse; thus, the Armenian-American lobby does Russia’s bidding in return for continued support. It possesses not only access, but a devoutness of well-placed members of Congress. The websites and “informational” emails of Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Jackie Speier, all of California, and others substantiate. The questionable attention of certain members of Congress with Armenia is not new — a member’s constituency notwithstanding — does that member have a responsibility to the U.S. first?
In a period when tensions between the Western allies and Russia are reaching a boiling point, Armenia’s surrogates are attempting to dictate American foreign policy in the South Caucasus. A result of a clash of national interests in such global crisis zones as Syria and Crimea, according to Mr. Trump, U.S.-Russia relations have reached an “all-time low.”
The chattering class in Washington seems to ignore the client-state status of the Republic of Armenia and its role as a promoter of Russian geopolitical and geostrategic objectives in the Near East. Armenia’s open-source military and diplomatic doctrines emphasize strategic partnership with Russia as its main priority.
In the context of Russia’s increasingly threatening and volatile behavior in Europe and the Middle East, Russia’s strategic allies can hardly be regarded as friendly to the U.S. No longer can we ignore Russian irredentist policies that would see much of the former Soviet Union back in Moscow’s hands; this, in addition to the global influence Moscow would see with Armenia is a linchpin.
Alexsei Arbatov, former deputy chairman of the Russia State Duma’s Defense Committee, described Russian-Armenian relations as a “classic military-political alliance.” He wrote, “Armenia will not survive without Russia, while, without Armenia, Russia will lose all its important positions in the Caucasus. even though Armenia is a small country, it is our forepost in the South Caucasus. I would say that Armenia is more important to us than Israel is to the Americans.”
Using Armenia as a geopolitical and geostrategic outpost, Russia projects its military might to American regional allies, Turkey, a NATO member, U.S. ally Azerbaijan and beyond. Alexander Khramchikhin, director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow, sheds light on the Kremlin’s views of Armenia’s role in a regional conflict: “Russian military bases deployed in Gyumri and Yerevan guarantee Armenia’s security in case of war, not only against Azerbaijan, but also Turkey. If we attack Turkey, it will be war against NATO. However, we will never attack Turkey, it is clear. And if Turkey attacks Armenia and we have to save Armenia, it will be Russia’s and Armenia’s war against Turkey. NATO will not get involved in this conflict.”
In a surprising analysis titled “Trump, Iran, Karabakh and Armenian lobby,” published in Mediamax.am, well-known Armenian strategist Areg Galstyan conceded that Azerbaijan is America’s trusted ally and a promoter of U.S. and Western policies in the region: “Washington already has some experience of using Azerbaijan as an intelligence bridgehead. Probably, in case an appropriate political decision is made, Americans will plan to strengthen their presence in that country.”
Also, in a political climate where Washington must meet challenges posed by a resurgent Russia and bellicose Iran over the crisis in Syria, it seems the Armenian lobby is ready to challenge any U.S. policy move to alter the Obama’s administration’s “Iran deal.”
Mr. Galstyan further stated of his activist colleagues, “Undoubtedly, leaders of the Democratic Party will mobilize all resources to prevent cancellation of the signed agreement and new package of sanctions against Tehran. Meantime, that confrontation on the Iranian issue in Congress serves the interests of Armenia and the ‘Nagorno Karabakh Republic,’ since the uncertainty of American policy in the Iranian direction detracts from the prospect of rapprochement between Washington and Baku.”
However indirectly, the Armenian-American lobby is, in fact, lobbying Congress and the administration on behalf of Russia and attempting to influence American foreign policy for Russia’s benefit.
The White House and Congress must see Armenia and its surrogates in Washington through lenses unclouded by campaign funding and even constituencies. Military and foreign aid to Armenia and checking off Armenia in the friend category is dangerous to American national interests.
The only answer is a shift in policy, one that takes a hard line on Russia, as in the postwar period and concurrently seeks a free and independent Armenia, living within its own borders and one not at war with its neighbors.
• Alexander Murinson, a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center and Bar Ilan University, is the author of “Turkey’s Entente with Israel and Azerbaijan: State Identity and Security in the Middle East and Caucasus” (Routledge, 2009).