The unprecedented pace of the expansion of the US and NATO in the post- Soviet space is so worrying to the Russian political elite that it is obstructing their ability to objectively evaluate the real meaning of what is happening. Naturally, in Russia people are inclined to see things solely "from their own bell tower." In reality, however, the vector of this expansion is not so much "towards the north," as "to the south." Put more simply, the Americans now are not after Russia. They have more important and more urgent tasks.
The fundamental goal of Washington and the West as a whole is to establish firm and long- term control over the energy resources of Central and Upper Asia. This explains the appearance of their bases along the notorious "arc of instability," from Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan to Georgia. Thus they are setting up a ring around Iraq and Iran– countries that are obstructing these plans. But if punitive action against Baghdad can be considered a decisive action, then things with Iran are not quite so simple. President Carter once even organized a raid by his paratroopers on Tehran, and his special forces were effortlessly taken captive by the guards of the Islamic Revolution. Generally speaking, it is not so easy to cope with a country with a territory three times that of France, a population of seventy million, and a sufficiently entrenched political and economic system. What is more, in distinction from Iraq, Tehran has no powerful neighbors who are interested in destabilizing the country and changing the existing regime.
Therefore, not only Central Asia, but also the Transcaucasus should become a zone of complete Western influence. For the resolution of the task, Georgia alone is not sufficient. Very soon Americans and Turks will appear in Azerbaijan, and in quantities much greater than in Georgia, as Washington has already signed an agreement with Baku on the modernization of the local armed forces. It is also important that Azerbaijan and Iran have a number of mutual grievances, and in particular the issues of the northern Iranian territories, which are populated by Turkic peoples, and the division of the Caspian.
But the transformation of Azerbaijan into a secure staging area for the realization of the military-political goals of the US is impossible as long as there exist the Karabakh conflict and the mutually advantageous cooperation between Iran and Armenia.
Recall that the relations between Yerevan and Tehran represent an enviable example of good-neighborliness between a Christian and an Islamic state. This, incidentally, is confirmation of the thesis of the absence of a confessional basis to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. Nevertheless, the pragmatic friendship between the two neighboring countries has always annoyed Washington. Until recently, however, Yerevan was able to explain that the danger of Islamic fundamentalism does not threaten Armenia by definition, and the contacts with Iran serve to strengthen regional stability.
Today the quickening withdrawal of Russia from the region and the efforts of the American and Turkish factors have become a catalyst for a future Armenian-Iranian drawing together. In the beginning of March, during the visit of the Iranian Minister of Defense, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, to Yerevan, the two countries signed a memorandum on cooperation in the sphere of defense and security, which proposes a wide range of interaction, including the creation of joint enterprises. This is promising, if one considers that in the Soviet period 92 percent of Armenian industry was in the defense sector.
Washington reacted very promptly and brusquely. Literally a week after the visit of Shamkhani to Yerevan the US State Department "discovered" a new "international channel" of drug trafficking: Iran–Nagorno-Karabakh-Armenia-Russia–Europe. The press secretary for the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dzyunik Agadzhanyan, observed that the conclusions of the American foreign policy agency were constructed exclusively on information from the Azerbaijani side, and fully contradict the evaluations of a number of authoritative international organizations. This indicates Baku’s striving to "make the Karabakh question the object of discussion in all conceivable instances." But the important thing here is not the striving of Baku, but rather the plans of Washington. It is curious that in one of the Moscow newspapers an article appeared in which the Karabakh movement is called "sadly notorious" (that same paper had earlier called it a democratic and national-liberation movement) for its alleged links with the illegal arms trade, the mafia, and terrorism.
Taken together, all of this is an element in the unfolding ideological preparation for future punitive action. It would seem that they realize this in Yerevan. In any case, the Armenian Minister of Defense, Serzh Sarkisyan (the second most politically significant person in the Republic), will visit Washington. Most likely he will again try to convince his American colleagues that the shift in Armenian-Iranian cooperation to the area of defense was dictated strictly by the demands of national security and does not present a threat for the US. But it is very doubtful that now these traditional arguments will satisfy the Americans. In its external appearance, Karabakh diverges too clearly from the paradigm of their conceptions of the future alignment of forces in the region. Therefore for the Armenian side, apparently, there will be a difficult and meager choice between the bad and the very bad variants of the future development of events.
Armen Khanbabyan writes for Nezavisimaya Gazeta. (Trans. by Timothy K. Blauvelt)