Are Armenia, India, And Serbia “Balancing” Against Russia Or “Betraying” It?

All three countries are diversifying their long-standing relations with Russia, but their preexisting institutional memberships are the determining factor in whether this is just geopolitical “balancing” or an outright “betrayal”.

International politics is in the midst of multiple paradigmatic changes as the emerging Multipolar World Order progressively replaces the existing unipolar-led one, and this has seen both the development of “non-traditional” partnerships and the weakening of historical ones. There are several examples that could be referenced in proof of this, but the most powerful have to do with Armenia, India, and Serbia’s changing relations with Russia. All three long-standing Russian partners are diversifying their ties with Moscow to varying degrees and for different reasons, though the end result of their more Western-friendly newfound partnerships hasn’t been lost on the Kremlin.

Indian grenadiers march during the Victory Day parade at Red Square in Moscow, May 2015
Indian grenadiers march during the Victory Day parade at Red Square in Moscow, May 2015

Wayward Partners…

Armenia is insistent on signing an “Association Agreement” with the EU and partaking in large-scale multilateral NATO drills in Georgia and Romania, which led the author to write his recent analysis titled “Armenia Abandoning Russia: Consequences For The Caucasus”.

Similarly, India entered into an unprecedented military-strategic partnership with the US over the past year through its clinching of the LEMOA deal and attendant official designation as the Pentagon’s “Major Defense Partner”, two events which were easily foreseen by the author and predicted in his May 2016 article provocatively posing the question “Is India Now A US Ally?”, which was in its turn followed up by a “2017 Forecast For South Asia” in January of this year enumerating the over one dozen analyses confirming India’s pro-Western pivot. Earlier this week, US President Trump even asked India to “help us more with Afghanistan”, showing that the once-proud “multipolar-independent” state has now turned into the US’ regional “Lead From Behind” lackey.

As for Serbia, its long-serving strongman Aleksandar Vucic will stop at nothing to bring his country into the EU, and last year he also signed a very controversial “Individual Partnership Action Plan” (IPAP) with NATO, as well as recently agreeing to the first-ever joint NATO drills on Serbian territory this October.

…Or Jilted Lovers?

In defense of each of the aforementioned state’s pro-Western moves, their leadership might be responding to what they view as “unfriendly” moves by Russia, or those which are disadvantageous to their own national interests.

Armenia understandably doesn’t like that Russia has strengthened its ties with Turkey, a complex and multifaceted process that the author predicted and subsequently followed up on in a series of articles listed under his “2017 Forecast For The Mideast” about the Great Power Tripartite between Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Yerevan also can’t stand that Moscow is its rival Baku’s top arms supplier, but instead of understanding the neutral strategy behind such a maneuver as explained by the author in his September 2016 piece about how “Army Expo 2016 Showcases Russia’s Success At Military Diplomacy”, they see this as only being against them and can’t countenance any other explanation. Therefore, some of their leadership is flirting with the radical idea of replacing Russia’s traditional role with the West instead.

India is very similar to Armenia in many ways as regards Russia’s rapid rapprochement with Pakistan, which has seen the former Cold War-era foes tighten their diplomatic coordination over Afghanistan, partake in their first-of-a-kind joint military drills and commit to more robust military cooperation, and even expand their energy relations through a nascent North-South gas pipeline and other prospective projects. Just like Russia’s ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan concern Armenia, so too does Russia’s relationship with Pakistan bother India, though neither Yerevan nor New Delhi can “see the forest through the trees” and understand the nuances of Moscow’s “military diplomacy” and multipolar balancing act. Importantly, it should be noted that Russia’s partnership with Pakistan didn’t accelerate until after it was clear that India decided to become an American ally.

About Serbia, there’s a common feeling in the country that Russia could always, both in the recent past and presently, have “done more” to help them out of “Slavic Solidarity” and “Orthodox Brotherhood”, so one can surely sympathize with the misgivings that some Serbs have had towards Russian foreign policy when all that they receive from it is arms and energy. These are nevertheless substantial yields, but they lack the real-sector economic results and soft power sway that the West is providing, which to a growing number of Serbs is irresistibly attractive. It’s true that Russia has entered into a somewhat unexpected rapprochement process with Croatia over the past year, though this occurred after Belgrade’s pro-Western tilt, not before, and is actually unrelated to it in any case.

So Are They “Balancing” Against Russia Or “Betraying” It?

On the surface, there appears to be little difference between the overarching pro-Western shifts that Armenia, India, and Serbia have undertaken, nor the reasons behind them in doing so as a supposed reaction to their dissatisfaction with Russian foreign policy, but the reality is that what Armenia and India are doing is infinitely more destabilizing for Russian interests and those of the multipolar world in general than anything that Serbia could ever do. The reason for this is simple – Armenia and India are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), respectively, and therefore have certain tacit institutional obligations to their fellow members, including Russia, whereas Serbia isn’t a member of any of these four groups and doesn’t share the same unstated responsibilities.

Russia and its EAU and CSTO partners never expected that Armenia would endanger their collective interests by frenziedly trying to reach a deal with the EU and ostentatiously showing off its new ties with NATO, nor did Russia and the other BRICS and SCO countries ever seriously think that India would become the US’ military-strategic bridgehead in the Southern Eurasian Rimland. The fact that Armenia and India have undertaken such dramatic policy reorientations in the past year demonstrates that their leaders are applying an extreme “zero-sum” Neo-Realist approach in caring only about their own subjectively perceived self-interests at the expense of their multilateral institutional partners, thereby making them highly disruptive forces in their said organizations and justifying the heightened threat perception that Russia and others see in them nowadays in response to their antics.

This goes far and beyond “balancing” because both states are unreservedly flouting their institutional obligations and deliberately making moves which interfere with the cohesiveness of their said organizations and massively undermining their security.

Serbia, however, is doing none of that, because unlike Armenia and India, it doesn’t have any legal obligations to Russia and its organizational partners due to its lack of membership in any of the aforesaid four institutions. Serbia’s prospective de-jure membership in the EU and shadow de-facto one in NATO would obviously harm Russia’s grand strategic interests if they ever came to pass, but they wouldn’t be a “betrayal” of Moscow because there’s nothing tangible for Belgrade to betray. Rather, any moves by Serbia in this direction would technically be “balancing” because they wouldn’t harm the internal institutional interests of Russia and its organizational partners, whereas similar actions by Armenia and India – due to these two states’ shared memberships in two separate but interlinked multipolar platforms – constitute geopolitical “betrayals” since they intentionally sow discord and confusion within these blocs.

Serbian military participating in 2015 Victory Parade in Moscow
Serbian military participating in 2015 Victory Parade in Moscow

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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  1. Pingback: Are Armenia, India, and Serbia “Balancing” Against Russia or “Betraying” It? |  SHOAH

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  3. Michael

    Another article from Andrew Korybko (he did it again…) lacking necessary subtlety for treating those realpolitik questions, full of mistakes and (deliberate?) omissions. I suppose this is part of the “hybrid warfare ” the author claim to be specialized in, I dont see any other satisfying explanation given the short sighted views expressed here :

    – Gross error : India isn’t part at all of CSTO nor EEU, while Serbia IS an observer state of CSTO.
    – Armenia participation to NATO drills in Georgia (one medical unit of 30…) was made with full consent of Russia. Armenia also have peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan and Kosovo under NATO command since years, nothing new.
    – Armenia and Russia have a joint military Air defense command. Former Chief of generals staff of Armenia, Khatchadurov, is now the head of CSTO.
    – Russia has 2 military bases in Armenia granted for perpetuity guarding Armenian / Turkish boarder, allowing Armenians to concentrate their forces on Azerbaijan. Additionally, Russia is the only armament provider to Armenia, at a very discounted price, sometimes for free. Those military supplies (such as Iskander M Armenia got for 0…) and the boarder agreement are of strategic importance to maintain the military balance in favor of Armenia.
    – There is no “shift toward West”, Armenian cooperation with NATO (symbolical) and EU (AA limited to political and social component) is part of a 10 years old diplomatic doctrine called “complementarity politic” is a way to lower the external and internal political pressure on the government and in any case is not considered as a threat by Russia, otherwise it would simply not have happened : Armenia is Russia’s only foothold in the Caucasus.
    – The assumption that “some of the leadership flirting with the radical idea of replacing Russia traditional role by West instead” could have been true, assuming that a political party who make 1.5% at the past election and whose leaders are leaving in the US can be considered as “leadership”. Instead, the whole spectrum of Armenian political field is very pro Russian (which doesn’t mean anti EU) and new Prime Minister is an ex-Gazprom executive.

    In short, Russia strategical importance for Armenia is not replaceable (and the contrary is also true) and certainly not by the distant West. This fact well known by both Armenian leadership and Armenian citizens doesn’t prevent them to obtain the maximum possible advantages from their EU counterparts while benefiting of economic and strategic security granted by EEU and CSTO.

  4. In this article, Andrew Korybko, references articles penned himself, many of which were responded to negatively by concerned readers. He should not have ignored his reader responses. His series of articles all have the same theme, supposed traditional friends of Russia are abandoning Moscow and we all need to sit in the corner and shiver in abject horror.

    Any international “political analyst” knows there is no such concept as friends in international relations, just parochial interests and smiling faces.

    It is clear what conclusions can be reached when Russia sells Azerbaijan billions of dollars of military equipment, targeting its supposed strategic ally, Armenia. Sometimes Moscow refers to such sales as “business transactions”. Other times they are called “balancing the playing field”. The latter claim is interesting considering the Azerbaijani military budget is 20x that of Armenia!

    Last year when Azerbaijan attacked the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and territory in Armenia proper with these weapons, no members of the Russian-inspired Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) came to Armenia’s defense. Some CSTO members actually supported the Azerbaijani offensive against their “CSTO ally”, Armenia. (Azerbaijan is not a member of the CSTO.) Even signed agreements in this ream appear to have diminished meaning.

    Russia tilts towards Pakistan, India reacts, and Andrew Korybko is shocked? It’s not Serbia’s fault that the EU may have a better deal for them. The thread common to Armenia, India, and Serbia is that they all protect their interests. It’s not about Russia!

    Andrew Korybko selectively deletes major facts and subsequently states conclusions he expects his readership to swallow.

    Yerevan, Armenia

  5. jerry tutunjian

    Bush Jr.’s unsophisticated “you’re with us or against us” is not the way nations engage with each other these days. Practically every nation now practices multi-vector policies. Russia, Armenia, India, Serbia, etc. are all believers of multi-vector strategies. Arab nations, which don’t even recognize the legitimacy of Israel, are allies of Israel’s godfather United States. The US is friendly with Turkey and Greece although those two states are hostile to each other. Germany is another patron of Israel while it maintains friendly relations with the Arab states. Germany is also friendly with Iran although the latter is a pariah as far as the US is concerned. Russia has been the savior of Syria in the recent “Civil War”–a war where one can see the long arm of Ankara. One can state that without Turkey’s support, the Syrian “freedom fighters” wouldn’t have made first base. And yet Russia and Turkey are becoming increasingly friendly.

    The author has been on his boring hobby-horse for some time despite the facts. He assumes that his wishes are fait accompli. As the English saying goes…”If wishes were horses, we could all be riding horses.”

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  7. The Serbs don’t have to look too far in the past to figure out how much they can trust and rely on Russia. During the 1990-is Russia actively partnered with NATO against Serbian people in Yugoslavia. After the war Russians came to Serbia strictly to buy cheap and to fill the pockets of their olgharcs. They showed no love or brotherhood at all. Then, as it transpired, beyond all their expectations, Russians for once actually needed Serbs not vice-versa. So, to the Russian everlasting shame, “little brothers” had been finally rediscovered when they alone among all other European nations refused to go along with anti-Russian sanctions. This much about the “betraying” from the headline.

  8. @linda
    Living far away from Balkans, you should not be so categorical on Russian role and perception in Serbia. You are apparently totally ignorant about most of nuances of the Balkan’s policy of Russia, e.g. the late Amb.Churkin’s diplomatic war against NATO in 1992-1995 on Bosnian issue (we discarded the Vance-Owen plan, you can google) and Mayor Evkurov’s march on Pristina in June 1999, which secured Russian participaion in the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, thus projecting Serbian interests in their cradle.
    If you want to know more about the topic you dared to comment, we recommend you to watch this fragment of translatation of a basketball match in Belgrade between Crvena Zvezda and Kiev’s Budyvelnik, played in March 2014: If you do not understand what does it mean – read some good books before commenting here.

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  10. Pingback: Russia’s New Thinking Towards Armenia and Azerbaijan: An “Obstructionist” vs. an “Integrationalist” – Counter Information

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  13. Kaushik Sarker

    The writer is nothing but a third grade propagandist. All of his articles are biased. Wherever he finds a chance, he spreads conspiracy theory especially Indophobia.

  14. It continues to be a mystery to me how Andrew Korybko continues to have his numb skull effusions aired/published. The guy’s bias is blatant, so is his ESL command of English. In addition, he knows only one song and happens to be an expert on the 190 states which comprise the UN. By the way, the premise of the article is inane, pointless, and of no value other than to give him an opportunity to hit Armenia. I am sure he would be happier with Armenia if it was 1840 and the slow-witted Tsar Nicholas I considered Armenia a province of Russia.

  15. Pingback: The Yerevan Protests Could possibly Stop Armenia’s Unconvincing “Balancing” Act in between Russia and the West – Viralmount

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