Raisina Dialogue: Making a Case for India-Armenia Strategic Partnership

The Quint
Feb 27 2024

"Relations between India and Armenia are so close and deep, that we can be considered strategic partners," announced Narek Mkrtchyan, minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Armenia. The minister was in Delhi to attend the Raisina Dialogue – the flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics organised by the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).

How this tiny country has come to occupy an important strategic space for India could be gauged by the fact that one of the first panels of this year's dialogue was devoted to India-Armenia ties.

Why should Armenia be important for India?

For one, Armenia, situated in the south Caucuses range, occupies a geopolitically strategic location, bordering Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan.

Gaining a foothold in the region is of long-term benefit for India. Bilateral relations would primarily be hinged on two key pillars – defence and connectivity.

Armenia-India Defence Ties

Emerging after a decades-long conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan in which it lost the contested but ethnic-Armenian populated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia is facing numerous security challenges.

The Ukraine crisis has exacerbated these concerns as Armenia's traditional defence ally Russia has been unable to fulfill some of its obligations under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) – a Moscow-led military bloc, of which Armenia is a member (recent reports say that Armenia has suspended its membership of the CSTO).

Since at least 2020, Armenia has turned to India for its defence procurements. These include:

Four Swathi Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) developed by India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the indigenously manufactured Pinaka rocket launcher also developed by the DRDO.

Armenia, in a sense, has become the launchpad for India's defence exports. In fact, according to Mkrtchyan, India now accounts for 90 percent of all of Armenia's arms purchases amounting to USD 245 million.

Such export of military hardware is meant to give a boost to India's country’s defence industry and indigenous production, in keeping with the government’s 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' and 'Make in India' policies. The government has set an export target of USD 5 billion dollars of defence goods for 2025.

Defence cooperation between the two countries also envisages setting up joint manufacturing bases in Armenia, synergised by the fact that it has a large pool of specialists. At one time, it was known as the "Silicon Valley of the CIS". It can become a hub for defence exports to countries in the region and the Balkans.

Strengthening Armenian defences would also be a bulwark against the increasingly expanding military alliance of Azerbaijan-Turkey-Pakistan, all three inimical to India and the Indian position on Jammu and Kashmir.

In this regard, it behoves us to remember that Armenia has always supported India's position on Jammu and Kashmir.

Armenia's other strategic salience for India is connectivity. In earlier columns, I have dwelt on the importance of alternative routes to the Suez Canal to Europe via the Eurasian landmass. This has been further exacerbated by the Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

India has not escaped these attacks either. According to the UNCTAD, as of 26 January, the volume of trade going through the Suez Canal had fallen by 42 percent over the previous two months.

Such a trade and transport route could only pass through Armenia which has joined the Chabahar Port project and is part of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) – which connects India to the Russian Federation through Iran, Azerbaijan, and the Caspian Sea.

With Russia under increasing Western sanctions and neighbouring countries like Poland and Finland closing the border with it, the alternative for India would be to access the Black Sea ports via the INSTC connected to Armenia's North-South Transport Corridor which would run further through the territory of Georgia to access the ports of Batumi and Poti, (another geo-strategic, significant port of Anaklia is under construction).

The Armenian government has launched an ambitious project to leverage Armenia's geopolitical location tournaments into a "Crossroads of Peace".

Large tracts of the North-South Corridor running through Armenia need to be constructed and a minister pitched for Indian companies to participate in the international tenders the country would soon float.

Connectivity through Armenia to Europe would further allow India to overcome the tyranny of geography thrust on it with the 1947 partition.

There are a plethora of other avenues of cooperation with Armenia – trade, setting up manufacturing bases for Indian companies, migration corridor. Currently, Armenia hosts about 50,000 Indian workers; education, space research, science and technology, and tourism.

All this is capped by centuries-old historically cordial relations between Indians and Armenians – two of the world's most ancient people – evidence of which is scattered all across India at least. India enjoys a position in the mind-scape of the country that few other nations do. This gives India an advantage there.

Another advantage is India’s close relations with Russia, which precludes any discomfort with Indian presence there.

Given the speed with which Indo-Armenian relations have taken off after a long inertia with several high profile visits and meetings including those at the level of foreign ministers, defence ministers, and national security advisors of both countries, along with the immense potential that waits to be tapped, it would only be logical for bilateral ties to be institutionalised into a strategic partnership.

It would be immensely conducive to the balance of force in the South Caucuses and to peace in the region and beyond.

(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and political analyst. She tweets @aditijan. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)


Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS