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Russia Is Betraying Former Allies. Joe Biden Must Take Advantage

Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden each have failed to stand by American allies, allowing first Russia and then China to pluck them out of the Western camp. It is time to return the favor.

Su-30. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Su-30. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russia is betraying former Allies: Time for the US to Seize Advantage: In 2018, India purchased Russia’s S-400 Triumf air defense system for $5.4 billion, a contract Russia promised to fulfill in five deliveries. India also relies on Russia for spare parts and other support for its Sukhoi Su-30MKI and MiG-29 fighter jets, which are the mainstays of the Indian Air Force. Yet, last month, the Indian Air Force acknowledged to India’s parliament that Russia had informed it that it would be unable to fulfill its contracts because of Russia’s military needs in Ukraine.

The U.S.-India renaissance is over two decades old and transcends both Democratic and Republic administrations. Still, essential obstacles remain. The Pentagon remains uncomfortable with India’s Russian contracts because they impact interoperability as the United States and India grow more strategically aligned and because Washington remains concerned about technology leakage, though India compartmentalizes such systems strictly and has never made any platform available to the rivals of its origin country.

At the same time, India’s military continues to suffer specific deficits that Russia cannot address, especially concerning gas turbines and jet engines. Should the United States provide India with substitutions for Russian platforms, it might not only help fill an immediate strategic need for a country on the frontline with China, but also enable a generational partnership.

The same is also true with Armenia. Since its independence in 1991 until now, the tiny country has been under persistent threat from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Both countries have blockaded their tiny neighbor. Even prior to the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, Azerbaijani snipers launched hundreds of attacks across the international border. President Ilham Aliyev, who rules Azerbaijan with an iron fist and as a family enterprise, has repeatedly threatened to conquer Armenia in its entirety.

Because of this threat, Armenia has generally welcomed a Russian troop presence in Gyumri, a town about 75 miles north of capital. Russian forces provided a tripwire to deter external aggression, much like U.S. forces in Poland or Romania. While culturally Armenians orient to the West, a sense of necessity and national survival shaped Yerevan’s ties to Moscow.

Whether or not Russia (or, for that matter, the United States) was aware in advance of Azerbaijan’s September 2020 attack on Nagorno-Karabakh remains a subject for speculation across the South Caucasus. What was certain was that Russian President Vladimir Putin enhanced Russia’s strategic position by imposing a ceasefire that inserted Russian peacekeeping into the region. 

Those Russian peacekeepers now fail at their jobs. As Russia diverts men and munitions to Ukraine, Azerbaijan has increased both the quantity and quality of its challenges to the peacekeepers. For five months, it has blockaded a corridor meant to be a lifeline to the self-declared ethnic Armenian republic in Nagorno-Karabakh, putting more than 115,000 ethnic Armenians at risk of starvation. On April 23, 2023, an increasingly exacerbated Armenian Foreign Ministry called on Russia to fulfill its responsibility under the trilateral statement that ended the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war to keep the Lachin corridor open.

While some in Washington argue that Armenia and the ethnic Armenian “Artsakh Republic” in Nagorno-Karabakh are Russian satrapies, such an accusation is simplistic and inaccurate. Even if it were true, however, there is a difference between strategy and twitter polemics. If Russian peacekeeping fails, why not send in Western peacekeepers?

The Kremlin could complain little about unilateralism, given the unilateralism of their own mission. As Minsk Group co-chairs, both the United States and France have as much legitimacy as Russia did. Azerbaijan would not fire on American forces. 

A better alternative might be Sweden, a country from which the Minsk Group was considering soliciting peacekeepers prior to the Azerbaijani invasion. Indeed, a Swedish deployment to protect Armenians against Turkish and Azerbaijani efforts at Genocide version 2.0 could be the ultimate retort to Turkey’s veto of Sweden’s NATO membership. Certainly, it would be better than Sweden’s cringe-worthy efforts to appease Turkey by deporting asylum-seekers to rape and torture if not death in a Turkish prison.

Most important, however, is such a mission would show Armenia that they have alternatives to Russia’s security umbrella. Just as President Richard Nixon flipped Egypt from the Soviet camp to the Western one during the Cold War, so too is Armenia ripe for flipping, if only the White House and State Department were more strategically minded.

Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden each have failed to stand by American allies, allowing first Russia and then China to pluck them out of the Western camp. It is time to return the favor. As Russia betrays its former allies, it is time for the United States to make its move and stand more firmly behind both the world’s largest democracy and, since Armenia’s 2018 revolution, one of its newest.

It is time to show the world beyond India and Armenia that an alliance with the United States means something, as Russia shows its partners that it cannot be trusted.

Author Biography and Expertise 

Dr. Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East. A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre- and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism, to deployed US Navy and Marine units.

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).