The fallout from the war in Ukraine is shaking up power relations in the Caucasus region, paving the way for India to play a larger role and highlight its potential as a reliable security partner for countries beyond South Asia. Before 2020, Russia anchored a security balance in the Caucasus under which Armenia occupied large swathes of Azerbaijan and supported the ethnically Armenian separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But with Russia’s attention increasingly distracted and Moscow also seeking the favor of Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey, the latter mounted a series of offensives that allowed it to reestablish control over all of its lost territory by last September.

Armenia has felt betrayed by the failure of its supposedly strong alliance with Russia to protect its position. As one of the five founding members, in addition to Russia, of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Armenia had reason to hope that the alliance’s mutual defense commitment would translate into a robust response to Azeri attacks, especially since Yerevan also hosts a Russian military base.

In disgust at the CSTO’s inaction, Armenia officially froze its participation in the group in February. Other members of the bloc include Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Kazakhstan, to which the CSTO sent troops in 2022 to quell unrest.

Amid intensifying diplomatic ties, India has increasingly stepped into the void left with Armenia and is now filling around 90% of its defense equipment orders.

As a long-standing importer of Russian weapons, India is well positioned to provide compatible supplies and upgrades to Armenia. New Delhi is increasingly striving to not only be self-reliant in its defense capabilities but also to play a significant role in global defense value chains.

Thus, India is consciously seeking to expand its defense and security partnerships with various nations while keeping its strategic interests in mind.

For India, the Caucasus region is important in part because Azerbaijan is closely aligned with Pakistan, including on the issue of the status of Kashmir, the Himalayan state now fractured between India and Pakistan. Armenia, by contrast, has publicly backed India’s position on Kashmir and supports India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Armenia is a natural ally for India given historical ties dating back two millennia when Hindu colonies were established in the Caucasus. Over the centuries, trade connections have often been extensive.

The eastern port city of Kolkata boasts some of the oldest Armenian churches in the world. An Armenian business community has prospered in India for more than four centuries, and the first proposed constitution for Armenia was published in Chennai by a resident merchant in 1773.

Armenia is also a potential critical node in India’s quest to build connectivity with Central Asia and Europe through Iran, especially in the context of the International North-South Transport Corridor. Although plans for the corridor have focused primarily on Azerbaijan, a viable alternative would connect Mumbai to Russia via highways passing through Georgia and Armenia.

India’s defense shipments to Armenia have included Pinaka multiple rocket launchers, a $40 million contract for Swathi anti-artillery radar, anti-tank missiles and 155-millimeter artillery.

Armenia is interested in securing many more products from India, including military drones and medium-range surface-to-air missiles. In the last two years, Armenia’s top military commander and defense minister have visited India, based on meetings held between the prime ministers and foreign ministers of both countries.

The strength and intensity of the bilateral relationship is also evident from focused exchanges and newly established institutional mechanisms. Recently, the Raisina Dialogue, an annual geopolitical conference organized by the Indian government and the Observer Research Foundation think tank, has hosted high-level Armenian delegations, and the foundation is also planning a bilateral dialogue program.

India’s special strategic partnership with Russia, which External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has called the only “constant” in New Delhi’s foreign relations, could limit how far Indo-Armenian engagement goes. In any case, it is highly unlikely that India will take Russia’s place in providing direct security to Armenia.

But New Delhi is considering different strategic alternatives amid the present disrupted world order. Notably, India has offered itself as a first responder in the Indian Ocean region in terms of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as piracy and maritime threats.

Meanwhile, its increasingly sophisticated defense exports are finding growing acceptance abroad. Last month, the Defense Ministry said defense exports hit a record 210.8 billion rupees ($2.5 billion) in the fiscal year that ended in March, an increase of a third from a year earlier. Among the highlights were agreements to supply BrahMos cruise missiles to the Philippines.

In this context, Armenia can be a test case for India’s growing role in international security amid exceptional turmoil that has shaken the matrix of alliances in the South Caucasus region.

Note: this is an article republished from the media “Defence, Research and Studies” through a cooperation agreement between both parties for the dissemination of journalistic content. Original link.

He is currently President of the Confederation of Education Excellence. He has been an Indian diplomat for over three decades. He worked as Trade Commissioner in New York and Deputy Chief of Mission in Sweden, Russia and Nigeria. He has also been India’s ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta.


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