The USA, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) They could help them, especially Armenia, to come out of the Russian grip as with Azerbaijan.
May Day in Moscow used to be a triumphant event. German chancellors, British prime ministers, and even the occasional American president would grace the stage in Red Square to see hundreds of Russian tanks roll past. The annual event served as an important reminder that the Second World War may not have been won at all without Moscow. In previous years, the likes of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stood shoulder to shoulder with Vladimir Putin in solidarity.
This year, the contrast couldn’t be more stark. Instead of hundreds of tanks, a solitary, ancient vehicle rolled past – a symbol of Russia’s shrinkage as a military and global power. Even starker was the now minuscule coterie of foreign leaders in attendance. The question is: what should the EU, Britain, and their allies do about those who are still willing to appear alongside him?
Some who stood beside him are thought to be tantamount to political prisoners: leaders of the stans – with deep, economic, and geopolitical connections to the Kremlin. Others, such as Armenia, which holds deep cultural bonds with Russia and also the current chairmanship of the CSTO – Russia’s NATO copycat military alliance – perhaps felt obligated to be there. Certainly, they would not have found it easy to decline their invitation.
One argument is that the West should be extending the hand of friendship to these ‘satraps’ of Moscow, to coax these reluctant friends away from Putin. Others take a more sanguine view: if you are still flocking to Moscow and prepared to partake in the Kremlin family photo after a year of brutal war then you are lost to the West. After all, why should the West treat Armenia any differently from Belarus? Both Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan and Belarusian dictator Lukashenko were among the paltry number of leaders in attendance this year. Having chosen the side, these countries should suffer the same, brutal, economic sanctions applied to Russia.
It is worth noticing who was not there: the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev was conspicuously absent. Like both Armenia and the “Stans,” Azerbaijan is a former Soviet state and would surely have been under similar pressure to attend. Yet they declined to do so. This does suggest those present are sympathisers with Moscow’s position after all.
Indeed, countries that are members of Russia’s copycat version of the EU – a five-country single market and customs union called the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) – along with other erstwhile allies are acting as sieves through which materiel and technology for the Kremlin’s war effort are passing. Thanks to them, the Kremlin has been able to swiftly and neatly bypass nearly every sanction and barrier placed in its way. Now it seems that the EU is proposing secondary sanctions to them in order to deal with it.
The EU and Britain with a crucial, central role in world finance, have an outsized ability to shape the message delivered to these countries. Just as the financial screw has been turned on Moscow in the last 12 months so too should the EU capital and the Square Mile clampdown on the use by Moscow of its satellite states to avoid sanctions to both pay for and acquire the resources they need to keep their illegal war going.
And just because a country is currently Moscow’s friend does not mean we should consider that they will always be such. Indeed, Britain’s extensive investments in Azerbaijan’s energy industry in the decade immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union was crucial in enabling Azerbaijan to free itself from Moscow’s grasp.
Europe and her allies must look to offer Moscow’s remaining satraps their own way out.
In the case of the most obvious, Armenia. That must include support for a peace deal with the neighbour and long-term adversary Azerbaijan. Armenia is isolated economically – and has no land border with her partner Russia. This makes her only plausible route out and away from Moscow an economic partnership with her richer and more powerful neighbour.
The leading role in the peace negotiations is in the hands of the EU (President of Azerbaijan and Prime Minister of Armenia will meet this weekend here in Brussels) supported by the United States. Without reinventing the wheel Britain could also compliment these negotiations by offering the same advisory services once provided to Azerbaijan and Georgia to reform their economies now to Armenia. At the same time, the EU and Britain could help implement the most stringent penalties and sanctions busting to make it clear that while friendship is on offer at the same time, embargo-breaking will elicit the opposite response.
Next year’s victory parade in Moscow is unlikely to be a happy one, and who would bet against 2024’s being even smaller still. Fortunately, Europe has a chance to help make it so. Let’s offer the hand of friendship, yes, but also the threat of consequences for those who choose to attend next year.