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India and Armenia have had diplomatic relations since 1992. Both countries share a common interest in promoting peace, security and economic cooperation. India has been supportive of Armenia’s position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and is successful in establishing a security partner in the landlocked Caucasus region.

Reverberations from the Ukraine war are shaking up power relations in the Caucasus region, opening the way for India to play a greater role and highlight its potential to be a dependable security partner for countries beyond South Asia. Before 2020, Russia anchored a security equilibrium in the Caucasus under which Armenia occupied large swaths of Azerbaijan and backed the breakaway ethnically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

But with Russia’s attention increasingly distracted and Moscow also seeking the favour of Azeri ally Turkey, Azerbaijan mounted a series of offensives that saw it eventually re-establish control over all its lost territory by last September. 

Armenia has felt betrayed by the failure of its supposedly ironclad partnership with Russia to protect its position. As one of five founding members, in addition to Russia, of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Armenia had reason to expect the alliance’s mutual defence pledge might translate into a robust response to the Azeri assaults, especially as Yerevan also plays host to a Russian military base. 

In disgust with the CSTO’s inaction, Armenia officially froze participation in the group in February. Other members of the bloc include Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Belarus as well as Kazakhstan, to which the CSTO dispatched troops in 2022 to quash unrest.

Amid tightening diplomatic ties, India has increasingly stepped into the breach with Armenia and is now filling around 90% of its orders for defence equipment.

As a fellow longtime importer of Russian arms, India is well-placed to provide compatible supplies and upgrades to Armenia. New Delhi is striving more and more to not only become self-sufficient in its defence capabilities but also to play a significant role in global defence value chains.

India is thus consciously looking to expand its defence and security partnerships with various nations while keeping its strategic interests in mind.

For India, the Caucasus region holds significance in part because Azerbaijan is closely aligned with Pakistan, including over the question of the status of Kashmir, the Himalayan state now fractured between India and Pakistan. Armenia, by contrast, has publicly endorsed India’s position on Kashmir and supports India’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

Armenia is a natural ally for India given historical connections that date back two millennia to 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 over 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. While plans for the corridor have mostly centred on Azerbaijan, a viable alternative would connect Mumbai with Russia via highways through Georgia and Armenia instead.

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

Armenia is interested in securing many more products from India, including military drones and midrange surface-to-air missiles. Over the last two years, Armenia’s top military commander and defence minister have visited India, building on meetings held between the two countries’ prime ministers and foreign ministers.

The strength and intensity of the bilateral relationship are also evident from focused exchanges and newly established institutional mechanisms. Recently, the Raisina Dialogue, an annual geopolitical conference organized by the Indian government and think tank Observer Research Foundation, has played host to 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, might limit how far Indo-Armenian engagement goes. At any rate, India is quite unlikely to take Russia’s place in directly providing security to Armenia.

But New Delhi is looking at different strategic alternatives amid the present disrupted global order. In particular, 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 defence exports are meeting with growing acceptance aboard. Last month, the Ministry of Defence said that defence exports reached a record 210.8 billion rupees ($2.5 billion) in the fiscal year that ended in March, up by a third from the previous year. Among the highlights have been deals to supply BrahMos cruise missiles to the Philippines.

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

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

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By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd)

Ambassador is currently the Chairman at Confederation of Education Excellence. An Indian diplomat for over three decades. Worked as Trade Commissioner in New York and Deputy Head of Mission in Sweden, Russia, and Nigeria. He has also served as India’s Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta.