The Diplomatic Elephant in the Room: Armenia's Russian Oligarch Consul General
It is said that politics makes strange bedfellows. Perhaps diplomacy does as well, even more profoundly. At first glance, Sergei Sarkisov seems intriguing in both respects.
He is Armenia's consul general in Los Angeles, a Russian citizen, and a notorious Russian oligarch — who owns numerous homes, including a $16 million mansion in Beverly Hills, and is fond of high-end auto racing.
Yet Sarkisov's story represents more than a peculiar episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Instead, he is a poster child for the Armenian-Russian alliance that co-opts members of Congress, their votes, and public pronouncements, and he should be of utmost concern to those tasked with the U.S.'s national security and foreign policy.
Funding an Occupation
It is strange that a Russian oligarch was selected as a senior Armenian diplomat, in the U.S. of all nations. Could it be related to Sarkisov's generosity in funding the outlaw regime in Nagorno-Karabakh — the Armenian-occupied region that several U.N. resolutions have recognized as a territory of neighbor nation Azerbaijan?
In November 2012, Sarkisov contributed $4 million to a telethon that collected $21.5 million for the Hayastan All Armenian Fund; the telethon funds were used for “construction” in Nagorno-Karabakh. Less than a year following, Sarkisov was appointed to his Armenian diplomatic post in Los Angeles.
Yet Sarkisov's staggering donation is not the only notable aspect of this telethon.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) appeared on the program. Pallone's name may be familiar, as more recently he joined Reps. David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) on a visit to occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, a blow to U.S. foreign policy and U.S. strategic interests in Eurasia. As ominous, those sitting members of Congress essentially declared that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity of Azerbaijan — a U.S. strategic partner — means nothing to them.
In keeping with these suspect actions, ones reminiscent of allied officials doing the bidding of the USSR during the Cold War, Valadao inserted a last-minute amendment into a bill to support continued funding of the HALO Trust's de-mining activity in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Of this clear anti-Azerbaijan, pro-Armenia/Russia move in Congress, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) lauded what she described as a “modest $1.5 million amendment,” though “modest” is in the eye of the beholder, especially when funding an occupation.
Two of these oddly pro-Armenian/Russian lawmakers, Valadao and Speier, represent congressional districts in California — the same state where Sarkisov heads a major Armenian diplomatic office.
Russia's Deep Influence
As circumstances move closer in the ongoing Russian investigations on Capitol Hill and by special counsel Robert Mueller, the Sarkisov-led consulate's website states that Armenia “is consistent in strengthening and deepening the special partnership and allied relationship with Russia.” The website does not mention the U.S. despite the fact that this is a major diplomatic mission of Armenia in the U.S.
Russia's influence over Armenia was also apparent during a May 2014 event held with the Los Angeles City Council to celebrate “Shushi Liberation Day” — which marks what Armenians hail as a significant military victory during the Nagorno-Karabakh War but what much of the rest of the world considers a painful reminder of murder, ethnic cleansing, and occupation.
Unsurprisingly, Sarkisov attended. In its reporting on the event, Lragir.am — an Armenian news organization — noted that no mention was made of Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, one of the key military players in the carnage. They speculated that Ter-Tadevosyan was ignored because he has repeatedly “spoken against the severe dependence of Armenia on Russia's intentions.”
Indeed, Armenia is arguably the least sovereign of the post-Soviet states. Armenia hosts various Russian military bases while its borders and airspace are controlled by the Russian military. In a shock to NATO, in April, Yuri Khachaturov, an Armenian Armed Forces general, was appointed to lead the Collective Security Treaty Organization — commonly known as “Putin's NATO.”
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, meanwhile, said in March that Armenia sees “great potential in becoming a transit route towards Iran and the Persian Gulf.” The “transit route” that Armenia is seeking to facilitate would benefit only Russia and Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. (Perhaps not coincidentally, “Yeva,” Armenia's foreign-language film submission to the 2018 Academy Awards, is a joint production with Iran. It seems that the disturbing Armenian-Iranian romance even extends to the arts.)
Armenia's subservience to the Kremlin was most recently apparent in mid-November when Armenia once again voted against Ukraine's territorial integrity at the U.N. — siding with Russia and rogue states such as Cuba and Iran in opposing a draft resolution on human rights in Russian-annexed Crimea. Armenia's vote was a slap in the face to the West, but it was nothing new. Armenia consistently votes with Russia against the Republic of Georgia's territorial integrity, in an apparent attempt to normalize its own odd contempt of the norms of international law.
Just how incestuous is the Armenian-Russian relationship? Recently, Azerbaijan took the unprecedented step of rejecting Moscow's candidate for Russia's ambassador to Azerbaijan, Gregory Zuev, because of his close ties to Armenian leadership. Given that a Russian oligarch like Sarkisov essentially masquerades as Armenia's consul general in Los Angeles, is it any surprise that a well-known Armenia sympathizer, Moscow's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, would nominate the pro-Armenian diplomat Zuev to represent Russia in Azerbaijan?
America Threatened With Isolation
Russia, Armenia's puppet master, is the chief rival of the U.S. in the race for global prestige, and American concern about Moscow's intentions should be higher than ever after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Nov. 1, while hosting Vladimir Putin in Tehran, that cooperation between their countries “can isolate America.” Putin affirmed that Russian-Iranian ties are “very productive.”
The U.S. should be highly concerned about threats of isolation, particularly when they come from a radical actor such as Iran that is supported by a world power like Russia. As part of the same picture, America cannot ignore the role of Russia's vassal state, Armenia, and more specifically, the fact that a Russian oligarch runs an Armenian consulate on U.S. soil.
Sergei Sarkisov is an elephant in the room, and at the very least, Americans should be asking the pertinent questions about the implications.
Jacob Kamaras, a Houston-based journalist, is the former editor-in-chief of the Jewish News Service