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Armenia

Armenia

Relations with the Russian Federation

Armenia has enjoyed close ties with Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Historically, it has viewed Russia as an ally since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Today, Russia and Armenia are close military allies and economic partners. They both share the goal of strengthening the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).[1]

On September 3, 2013, then president of Armenian Serzh Sargsyan made a stunning announcement: his country would not enter into an Association Agreement with the EU.[2]  Instead, he declared, it would join the EEU. This U-turn came as a shock to nearly all involved, because Armenia had spent the previous four years pursuing (not always in the most efficient manner) a series of reforms required for an EU Association Agreement. Vladimir Putin and Sargsyan signed 12 agreements for enhancing cooperation between Russia and Armenia.[3] In 2015, Armenia became a full member of the EEU.[4]

Armenia also hosts an important Russian military base and relies on Russia as a mediator in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[5] The country’s new prime minister, an opposition leader who came to power this year after long-time president Sargsyan stepped down amid mass protests, recently met with Putin and vowed to “give a new impetus” to relations with Russia.[6]

Political acknowledgment of the threat

Armenia’s national security strategy dates back to 2007. Sargsyan publicly acknowledged before he was forced to step down that it is due for an update.[7] The outdated document mentions information as a security priority in vague terms and offers no specifics on why it is a priority or what information security in Armenia looks like: “the provisions of the National Security Strategy are exercised on the basis of the development of guidelines and action plans in the areas of … the safety of communications and information… .”[8] Meanwhile, the country does not acknowledge the threat of Russian influence. Rather, it welcomes Russia’s involvement in domestic and regional issues, values its alliance with Russia, and, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center on religious belief and national belonging in Central and Eastern Europe, public opinion in Armenia is strongly in line with the Kremlin’s geopolitical agenda.[9]

Armenia is surrounded by countries with which it has had difficult historical relations. It has also been the target of recent state-sponsored cyberattacks targeting important state and non-state institutions.[10] Thus, Armenia has strong incentives to improve its cyber- and information security. Still, the country’s leadership is more likely to focus on activity coming from suspected terrorist organizations or from Azerbaijan and Turkey in the information sphere.[11] Although there is strong evidence of Russian disinformation’s influence in the country, authorities have not recognized it as a threat.[12]

In 2016, the OSCE office in Yerevan held a conference examine at developments in the cybersecurity sector. Roughly 60 representatives from the Armenian government attended the event and engaged in talks with cybersecurity experts from the international community.[13]

 

In the 2017 Global Security Index published this year by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Armenia ranked 111th out of 165 countries in terms of its commitment to cybersecurity.[14]

Governmental countermeasures

In 2009, the Armenian government passed its “Information Security Concept” which was very similar to Russia’s “Information Security Doctrine” passed in 2000. The document contains no clear assignments of duties and responsibilities in the field of information security and has not been updated. The State Security Service has taken the lead role in cybersecurity. In the fall of 2017, Armenia’s National Security Council adopted the “Information Security and Information Policy Concept” which envisions a comprehensive national strategy in this field. While a step in the right direction, this policy concept is seriously overdue.[15]

Armenia has been engaged in information warfare with its neighbor Azerbaijan since they were both members of the Soviet Union. Today, that information conflict continues to play out in the media and on social media, and is largely focused on propaganda surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides have made efforts to control the flow of information on social media between the two countries.[16]

In regard to Russian influence, the government has not taken concrete steps to defend itself from its “ally.” Russian-style disinformation has been widely used in Armenia in recent years and there are many reasons to believe that it has been effective in influencing public opinion on major topics. For example, in 2017, a long-overdue law criminalizing domestic violence in Armenia was set to be approved. However, the law came under fire from pro-Russia political forces who claimed that it violated the rights of families and was a western-backed attempt to influence Armenian politics. Many suspect Russia of trying to influence the fate of this bill. In the end, the law was passed with considerable changes to its wording, including omitting the phrase “domestic violence” and inserting the basic principle of protecting and maintaining the “traditional Armenian family.”[17]

In 2013, the Armenian Ministry of Education approved the Media Literacy Handbook and a training program for public schools, developed by a local NGO.[18] This initiative remains active in the country with the Ministry of Education and Science signing a memorandum of cooperation in 2017 to disseminate media literacy in public and higher education institutions.[19]

Publicly known intelligence activities

Armenian intelligence services turn a blind eye to the Russian threat. They do pay attention to disinformation and foreign influence, but tend to focus on terrorist cells and hostile activities by Azerbaijan or Turkey. Armenia’s National Security Service, which serves as the country’s intelligence agency, plays the lead role in cyber and information defense. In 2017, it adopted the “Information Security and Information Policy Concept,” which aims to develop a national strategy in this area.[20] Russian citizens have been implicated in cybercrimes within Armenian territory, which were uncovered by Armenian intelligence, but this is not viewed as a threat from the Russian government.[21]

NGO activities

Armenian civil society has grown in recent years.[22] However, it is also targeted by Russian disinformation campaigns and blamed for instability in the country. For example, Russian sources circulated a fake US Agency for International Development (USAID) memo calling for civic groups to destabilize the government. Propaganda tends to describe civil society as the “fifth column” bent on destabilizing the government.[23] This kind of influence has been highly effective in changing public opinion in the country, a phenomenon that is only helped by the lack of government engagement with the Russia problem and with local NGOs in general.[24] The most proactive responses to Russian information warfare in Armenia have come from civil society itself.

The Yerevan Press Club, a non-profit professional association of journalists, took part in research on Russian media outlets in the country. The club’s chairman concluded that “Armenia is definitely under the Russian propaganda influence.”[25] The study revealed trends in the reporting of Russian media outlets that promote a pro-Russian global outlook in both regional and international arenas. Topics of influence range from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Russia’s role in resolving it, to perceptions of homosexuality, to villainizing the EU in order to steer Armenian public opinion towards a decidedly pro-Russian, anti-European mentality.[26]

The fact-checking website SUT.am was founded by the Union of Informed Citizens NGO (UIC). Its mission is to track and expose disinformation and corruption in Armenia.[27]

UIC’s mission is to minimize the impact of misinformation on shaping public opinion and decisionmaking.[28] The union hosts events such as trainings for Armenian media outlets on proper foreign policy coverage, as well as the Autumn School on Fact-Checking Journalism where guest lecturers from colleagues and partner organizations conducted presentations and provided training. In addition, this year UIC launched a two-year watchdog journalist project, with the help of the UN Democracy Fund, which aims to strengthen the investigative and fact-checking journalism base in Armenia. The project will include training sessions involving specialists from Armenia and the West. Eight program participants are to receive project funding for investigative journalism projects.[29]

The Analytical Center on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC) is a think-tank and advocacy organization that works to combat disinformation and propaganda as well as promote human rights and support civil society in Armenia and its greater region.[30] The chairman of the ACGRC, Stepan Grigoryan, was one of dozens of names to sign an open letter from representatives of European civil society to the EU’s Federica Mogherini who has served as High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy since 2014. The letter was a straightforward request to take the Russian disinformation threat seriously.[31] Grigoryan and the ACGRC have been consistent contributors to disinformation analysis and staunch partners in advocating to counteract it. The ACGRC, along with its partners, organizes Fact-Checking Schools for Armenian journalists. In addition, since 2017, the ACGRC has prepared annual monitoring reports on disinformation and fake news in Armenian and Russian (as several Russian television channels are rebroadcasted freely in Armenia) media.[32]    


[1]National Security Strategy of the Republic of Armenia. Yerevan. January 26th, 2007. pp. 17 

https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/155589/Armenia%20National%20Security%20Strategy%202007_eng.pdf 
[2]“Armenia To Join Russian-Led Customs Union.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. September 3rd, 2013. https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-customs-union/25094560.html 
[3]“Россия и Армения подписали 12 документов в ходе визита Владимира Рутина в Ереван.” “Russia and Armenia signed 12 documents during Vladimir Putin’s visit to Yerevan.” Regnum. December 3rd, 2014. https://regnum.ru/news/polit/1740003.html 
[4]“Armenia Joins Russia-Led Eurasia Economic Union.” The Moscow Times. January 2nd, 2015. https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/armenia-joins-russia-led-eurasian-economic-union-42666 
[5]National Security Strategy. January 26th, 2017. pp. 17 https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/155589/Armenia%20National%20Security%20Strategy%202007_eng.pdf 
[6]“Armenia’s new PM meets with Russia’s Putin for the 1st time.” The Washington Post. May 14th, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/armenias-new-pm-meets-with-russias-putin-for-the-1st-time/2018/05/14/0b8085aa-576c-11e8-9889-07bcc1327f4b_story.html?utm_term=.fbe4f3168ed2 
[7]“Armenia’s national security strategy needs revision, president says” Arka News Agency. January 30th, 2018. http://arka.am/en/news/politics/armenia_s_national_security_strategy_needs_revision_president_says/ 
[8]National Security Strategy. January 26th, 2017. pp. 22 https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/155589/Armenia%20National%20Security%20Strategy%202007_eng.pdf 
[9]Vardanyan, Gegham. “Armenia in Russia’s Zone of Influence.” Chai Khana. https://www.chai-khana.org/en/armenia-in-russias-zone-of-influence 
[10]“Armenia is at the center of cyber attacks from Turkey and Azerbaijan” Arka Telecom. January 22nd, 2018. http://telecom.arka.am/en/news/internet/armenia_is_at_the_center_of_cyber_attacks_from_turkey_and_azerbaijan/ 
[11]Martirosyan, Samvel. “Armenia, Azerbaijan and the War on Information.” EVN Report. March 27th, 2017. https://www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/armenia-azerbaijan-and-the-war-on-information 
[12]Vardanyan. “Armenia in Russia’s Zone of Influence.” https://www.chai-khana.org/en/armenia-in-russias-zone-of-influence 
[13]“Cyber security regulatory framework in Armenia focus of OSCE-supported international conference.” OSCE. March 24th, 2016. https://www.osce.org/yerevan/229746 
[14]Global Security Index (GCI) 2017. ITU. 2017. https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-d/opb/str/D-STR-GCI.01-2017-PDF-E.pdf 
[15]Nerzetyan, Albert. “Information Security or Cybersecurity? Armenia at a Juncture Again.”EVN report. March 11th, 2018. http://www.evnreport.com/economy/information-security-or-cybersecurity-armenia-at-a-juncture-again 
[16]Martirosyan. “Armenia, Azerbaijan and the War on Information.”March 27th, 2017. https://www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/armenia-azerbaijan-and-the-war-on-information 
[17]Janbazian, Rupen. “Armenia Adopts Law against Domestic Violence at Last.” The Armenian Weekly. December 8th, 2017. https://armenianweekly.com/2017/12/08/armenia-adopts-law-domestic-violence-last/ 
[18]“Media Literacy Course Will Reach Public Schools across Armenia.” Internews. September 8th, 2013. https://www.internews.org/updates/media-literacy-course-will-reach-public-schools-across-armenia 
[19]“A memorandum of cooperation to disseminate media literacy signed” Media Initiatives Center. April 29th, 2017. http://mediainitiatives.am/en/news/a-memorandum-of-cooperation-to-disseminate-media-literacy-signed-en/ 
[20]Nerzetyan. “Information Security or Cybersecurity? Armenia at a Juncture Again.” March 11th, 2018. http://www.evnreport.com/economy/information-security-or-cybersecurity-armenia-at-a-juncture-again 
[21]Armenia’s national security service uncovers transnational crime syndicate.” Armenpress. March 20th, 2017. https://armenpress.am/eng/news/883187/armenia%E2%80%99s-national-security-service-uncovers-transnational-crime-syndicate.html 
[22]Minasyants, Armenak. “Civil Society in Armenia: Challenges and Opportunities” The Armenian Weekly. December 24th, 2014. https://armenianweekly.com/2014/12/24/civil-society-armenia-challenges-opportunities/ 
[23]Vardanyan. “Armenia in Russia’s Zone of Influence.” https://www.chai-khana.org/en/armenia-in-russias-zone-of-influence 
[24]Minasyants. “Civil Society in Armenia: Challenges and Opportunities.” December 24th, 2014. https://armenianweekly.com/2014/12/24/civil-society-armenia-challenges-opportunities/ 
[25]Vardanyan. “Armenia in Russia’s Zone of Influence.” https://www.chai-khana.org/en/armenia-in-russias-zone-of-influence 
[26]“Propaganda: Deepening the Gap in Mutual Understanding. Monitoring of the Media of EaP Countries and Russia” Yerevan Press Club. 2016. pp. 17

ypc.am/wp content/uploads/2017/03/2016_Monitoring_Propaganda_Report_ENG.pdf 
[27]SUT.am - About Us. Accessed 15/05/2018. https://sut.am/en/%D5%B4%D5%A5%D6%80%D5%B4%D5%A1%D5%BD%D5%AB%D5%B6 
[28]Union of Informed Citizens – Armenia – About Us. Accessed 15/05/2018. http://uicarmenia.org/en/about-us/our-organization 
[29]Union of Informed Citizens – Armenia – Events. Accessed 15/05/2018. http://uicarmenia.org/en/category/events 
[30] ACGRC About page. Accessed 6/6/18 http://www.acgrc.am/about.html  
[31] Open Letter of European Security Experts to Federica Mogherini: Please start taking the Russian disinformation threat seriously! European Values. Accessed 6/6/18. http://www.europeanvalues.net/mogherini/ 
[32] “Report on Findings of Mass Mesia Monitoring in Armenia” ACGRC. May 30th, 2018. http://eesri.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2018-06_Armenia-Media-Monitoring-ACGRC_PB-ENG.pdf 

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