Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Armenian News... A Topalian... Political crisis...

Agence France Presse
April 27, 2018 Friday 2:34 PM GMT
Two weeks of turmoil in Armenia: a timeline

The former Soviet republic of Armenia has been rocked by a grave political crisis for the past two weeks.

Here is a timeline of events since former President Serzh Sarkisian decided to become prime minister of this small Causascus state.

- Sarkisian seeks PM post -

On April 11, 2018 Sarkisian's ruling Republican Party announces his nomination for the premiership, after his second and last term as president ends.

Controversial constitutional amendments have turned Armenia into a parliamentary republic with a strong prime minister.

The new president Armen Sarkisian, who is no relation to his predecessor, has a largely ceremonial role.

- Demonstrations -

From April 13 several thousands of people go into the streets of Yerevan to protest Sarkisian's power grab. They also protest poverty and corruption.

On April 16, several dozen people are injured in clashes with the police as they try to approach parliament and block the streets in a protest led by opposition MP Nikol Pashinyan.

- Sarkisian elected prime minister -

On April 17 Armenia's parliament elects Sarkisian, 63, prime minister despite continuing protests. Some 40,000 people gather in Yerevan's Republic Square chanting "Armenia without Serzh!" Protests continue in the following days.

On April 20 police carry out more than 200 arrests.

- President meets protesters -

On April 21 the president goes to Republic Square where tens of thousands of protesters are gathered. He talks for some 10 minutes with Pashinyan, who earlier that day had rejected a call from the prime minister for a "political dialogue". Pashinyan then says he will meet Sarkisian the next day to discuss his "resignation".

- Opposition leader arrested -

On April 22 the meeting between Pashinyan and Sarkisian is cut short after the prime minister storms out denouncing the opposition's "blackmail".

"A party that scored eight percent in (parliamentary) elections can't speak on behalf of the people," Sarkisian says.

The crisis deepens with the detention the same day of Pashinyan and two other opposition deputies "as they were committing socially dangerous acts", the prosecutor general's office says.

Hundreds of protesters are also detained.

- Prime minister resigns -

On April 23 Pashinyan is freed.

Sarkisian resigns on the 11th day of protests, saying "I was wrong".

Armenians cheer, dancing, hugging each other and setting off fireworks.

"You have won, the proud citizens of Armenia!" Pashinyan writes on Facebook.

The parties represented in parliament have one week to put forward their candidates for prime minister. Sarkisian's Republican Party has 65 out of 105 seats.

- Pashinyan "ready to lead"-

On April 24 Armenians mark, as every year, the 1915-1917 genocide. Pashinyan says he is "ready to lead the country" and calls for early legislative elections.

- Russia as mediator -

On April 26 an extraordinary sitting of parliament is called for May 1 to elect a new prime minister.

Russia starts to mediate, President Vladimir Putin holding telephone talks with interim Armenian prime minister Karen Karapetyan.

The Kremlin says "it was stressed that the resolution of the crisis" should take place "in the framework of the constitution" on the basis of the results of April 2017 legislative elections.

Armenian acting Vice Premier Armen Gevorkyan visits Moscow on the same day.

Pashinyan, supported by the opposition bloc Yelk, says he is the only possible PM.

- Leader refuses talks with opposition -

On April 27 acting head of government Karapetyan refuses to negotiate with Pashinyan, saying "negotiations where one side dictates the agenda and the other cannot do so, cannot be considered negotiations"

New demonstrations are planned for April 29.

‘We Live in a New Armenia,’ Says President Sarkissian
Featured Story Latest News 

President Armen Sarkissian on Thursday issued a statement about the rapidly developing situation in Armenia, calling it a “new page in Armenia’s history” and declaring that “we live in a new Armenia.”

The statement released by the presidential press service following a day of consultations with political forces and civic leader and the public, praised the participation of the youth in the movement that has ushered in the changes in the country.

Below is the translated text of the statement.

The stormy developments in our country over the past few days are unprecedented. The manner in which a political movement grew into a popular movement in an organized and civilized way is a matter of pride to all Armenians.

We now have a new page in Armenia’s history. We live in new Armenia… An Armenia where all citizens and Armenians worldwide should use their energy for the development of the country… In an Armenia, which will stand out for its democracy, governance, civil society, culture, science and economic development… in an Armenia, where every Armenian will see his or her future and that of the coming generations… In an Armenia that will be loved by every Armenian… In an Armenia of your and my dreams.

Denying this reality would be short-sighted.

Just like Serzh Sarkisian opened a gateway to a New Armenia with a sober assessment, the political forces, especially those represented in the National Assembly, must pave that way, guided by the Constitution.

We all are obliged to properly accomplish the historic mission that we have got and make that step at a fatal moment for our nation. Political forces enjoying the trust of the majority of people should jointly lead the country along this path.

I am convinced that the national consciousness accumulated throughout millennia will not allow this historic moment to be missed.

I’ proud to have seen today’s Armenia and I’m glad to live in tomorrow’s strong, united, fair and flourishing Armenia.

I an interview with RFE/RL on Thursday Sarkissian did not take sides in the political standoff between the Republican Party of Armenia and opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, but said the country is on the path to develop a “real democracy.”

“The outcome of this debate…will be resolved at the parliament with the election of the new prime minster, later the new government. And maybe parliament will also vote to have new elections in the near future,” a hopeful Sarkissian told RFE/RL.

“Armenia today is not like the country we had even a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “What is happening in Armenia…after several years of demonstrations, is [that] now we are going toward a democratic process.”

“If we manage this properly, all the problems which were raised during the demonstrations will be resolved according to the constitution and inside the parliament,” he added. “Then we all can be proud that we are on the real path to making Armenia a real democratic state.”

News.am, Armenia
April 28 2018
Armenia acting PM: Nikol Pashinyan wants to create political monopoly 

We do not elect a good, moral person with high reputation, but we choose the idea and I do not rule out that those fellow citizens who are dissatisfied with today’s policy, maybe all of them want him to be the PM, but maybe not, Acting Prime Minister of Armenia Karen Karapetyan said in an interview to “Shant” TV.

According to him, Nikol Pashinyan dictates his agenda during the talks.

"We are speaking about democracy, pluralism, ability to listen to one another, tolerance, Constitution and a parliamentary country, but this is like a monopoly, monopoly of the political field," he said.

According to him, we have to develop the political culture that one should listen to another.

"Now our citizens gathered in one place say that this person is our Prime Minister, others gathered somewhere else say the Prime Minister is that one. How will we chose who the PM is? For that there is a platform where the PM must present his program. I think Mr. Pashinyan has his program of what kind of country he wants to build, what targets he will outline in terms of security, foreign relations, economic growth, social, justice and so on.

Maybe they are dissatisfied with today’s management, but if you give them an opportunity to choose between this or that person, his program and team, maybe it’s not Mr. Pashinyan.

For that reason we say that the Constitution has regulated all that. Come to the National Assembly with your program, and if you have enough supporters you can become the Prime Minister. But I do not think we had wished to create a society where one could monopolize, saying I am the only Prime Minister, there is no other candidate, I dictate the agenda during the negotiations, you have no right to bring your agenda," Karapetyan noted.

[BBC World News classed the as a significant development]
April 28 2018
Ruling party in Armenia withdraws from PM race after protests
Hasmik Mkrtchyan
Armenia’s ruling party said on Saturday it would not put forward any candidate for prime minister to avoid stoking tensions after more than two weeks of street protests against the South Caucasus nation’s ruling elite.
Parliament is due to pick a prime minister on May 1 after the protests, fueled by anger over the ruling party’s behavior and official corruption, led on Monday to the resignation of Serzh Sarksyan as premier. Sarksyan had previously been president for a decade.
Eduard Sharmazanov, a spokesman for the ruling Republican Party, said on Saturday it would not put forward any candidate to become prime minister, but would vote as a bloc and unanimously after considering other candidates.
“By not putting forward a candidate, we will avoid confrontation and an increase in security risks ... we are not putting anyone forward in the state’s interest,” he told reporters.
Protest leader Nikol Pashinyan, who describes himself as “the people’s choice”, has said the only acceptable scenario for him and his supporters is for parliament to elect him as prime minister next week.
He then wants to snap parliamentary polls which would take place under a new election law.
Although the demonstrations have been peaceful, the upheaval has threatened to destabilize Armenia, an ally of Russia, in a volatile region riven by Armenia’s decades-long, low-level conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan.

The Republican Party holds a majority of seats in parliament, while Pashinyan does not currently have enough support in parliament to be elected prime minister. 

The next parliamentary elections are not due until 2022. But if parliament twice fails to elect a new prime minister with majority support, early elections must be held. 
The RIA news agency cited allies of Pashinyan as saying they would keep protesting and that the ruling party’s move was not enough because it did not back his candidacy. 

Earlier on Saturday, Pashinyan called for more demonstrations. 
“All protest actions, actions of civil disobedience, should be renewed with new force. The victory of the people must be recognized,” Pashinyan told a rally in the town of Ijevan. 
“There can be no violence.” 

Pashinyan called on supporters to organize big demonstrations in Yerevan, the capital, on May 1. 
Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow; 

Writing by Polina Devitt/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

RFE/RL Report
Armenian Protest Leader Offers Talks With Government
April 26, 2018
Karlen Aslanian
Ruzanna Stepanian

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian on Thursday offered to negotiate with acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, while insisting that the ruling Republican 
Party of Armenia (HHK) must let him become interim premier.

Pashinian ruled out any “compromise with the corrupt and anti-democratic government system” as he addressed thousands of supporters in Yerevan.

“There can be no deals behind the people’s back,” he said. “Either I will be elected prime minister through the people and with the support of the people, 
or no prime minister of Armenia will be elected at all.”

“We expect all factions in the National Assembly to unconditionally recognize the victory of the people,” he said.

Pashinian went on to declare that he is ready to meet Karapetian to discuss these demands on Friday. But he said the meeting can only be held in the presence of the press.

“We won’t be negotiating with the HHK behind the closed doors,” he told the crowd repeatedly chanting “Nikol, prime minister!”

The two men had already been scheduled to meet on Tuesday morning, the day after massive street demonstrations led by Pashinian forced Prime Minister 
Serzh Sarkisian to resign. Those talks were cancelled after Karapetian rejected preconditions set by Pashinian.

The HHK on Wednesday expressed readiness to discuss “any issue” with Pashinian “without preconditions.” The party’s chief spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, reaffirmed this on Thursday.

“We do not reject the agenda put forward by Pashinian or other figures,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But we also expect the same constructive approach from our partners.”

Sharmazanov declined to specify concessions which the HHK is ready to make to the Pashinian-led opposition. Nor would he say whether it could install him as interim premier and hold snap parliamentary elections.

Sharmazanov also denied Pashinian’s earlier claims that Karapetian has no mandate to negotiate on behalf of the HHK. “Karen Karapetian has the full support of our team,” he said.

The HHK, which has until now been headed by Serzh Sarkisian, controls 58 of the 105 seats in Armenia’s parliament. The National Assembly is scheduled to meet 
and elect the next prime minister on May 1.

So far only the opposition Yelk alliance, of which Pashinian is a leading member, has explicitly backed his demands. Yelk holds 9 parliament seats.

The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of businessman Gagik Tsarukian is represented in the parliament by 31 deputies. The BHK voiced support for Pashinian’s popular movement on Wednesday. Tsarukian and Pashinian met later in the day.

A senior BHK representative, Nair Zohrabian, declined to say on Thursday whether the BHK lawmakers will vote for Pashinian on May 1, saying that negotiations with the protest leader are “going on.” “I can only say that 
Tsarukian’s bloc will take the people’s voice into account when making a decision,” she said.

Pashinian also announced that he will hold a rally in Gyumri on Friday evening and take his campaign to Vanadzor the following day. The demonstrations in 
Yerevan, will resume on Sunday, he said.

Earlier in the day, Pashinian urged supporters to stop blocking streets in the capital. He argued that the daily blockades are increasingly abused by unruly car drivers, resulting in traffic chaos.

RFE/RL Report
Pashinian Insists On ‘Transfer Of Power’
April 24, 2018
 Emil Danielyan

Opposition leader Nikol Pashinian threatened on Tuesday to resume his street protests “on an even larger scale” if the ruling Republican Party of Armenia 
(HHK) refuses to hand over power to his popular movement.

Pashinian again demanded that the HHK-led majority in the Armenian parliament appoint "a candidate of the people” as interim prime minister before calling 
fresh general elections. He vowed to complete his declared “velvet revolution” one day after forcing the HHK’s chairman, Serzh Sarkisian, to resign as prime 

“If we managed to achieve Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation, we are confident that we can also make the Republican Party obey the will of the people. If not, we will continue our actions on an even larger scale,” he told a news conference held for foreign media.

Pashinian said this will be “the only theme” of his planned talks with acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. He said Karapetian, who is the HHK’s first 
deputy chairman, must not retain his post even if he quits the ruling party.

“I am speaking on behalf of the Armenian people,” claimed the 42-year-old organizer of 11-day massive demonstrations which resulted in Sarkisian’s 

Karapetian said, meanwhile, that he and Pashinian “will try to find solutions” at a meeting with the Yerevan-based ambassadors of foreign states held earlier 
in the day. “The agenda is open and … each side can come up with its proposals,” he said.

“At any rate, I want to again stress that all solutions must be civilized and logical and conform to the constitution and other laws. I can assure you that I will do my best to ensure the unity and solidarity of our people and expect the same from our partners,” added the former business executive who headed the Armenian government until being replaced by Sarkisian on April 17.

Senior HHK figures have so far commented evasively on Pashinian’s demands for a “peaceful and full transfer of power” to the opposition movement dominated by 
his Civil Contract party. Representatives of other Armenian factions have also sounded cautious, calling for a multi-party “dialogue.”

Pashinian on Tuesday did not deny his desire to serve as prime minister at least until fresh elections which he said must be held “as soon as possible.” He said the interim premier must be chosen by his supporters rallying in 
Yerevan’s central Republic Square.

Karapetian lived in Russian and held senior executive positions in local subsidiaries of the Gazprom energy giant for five years preceding his appointment as prime minister in September 2016. The 54-year-old technocrat is thought to have enjoyed the backing of the Russian government.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev phoned Karapetian late on Monday to discuss the political turmoil in Armenia, Russia’s main regional ally. Medvedev was reported to stress the importance of “keeping the situation in the legal constitutional field.”

Speaking in English and Russian, Pashinian insisted that he is not worried about possible Russian support for Karapetian’s continued tenure. “Russia is friendly country … and we have good relations between Russia and Armenia, and I’m sure that Russia will respect decisions of the Armenian people,” he said.

The former journalist said in that regard that he will not reconsider Armenia’s close ties with Russia or make other “sharp geopolitical moves.” He specifically made clear that he will not seek the withdrawal of Russian troops stationed in Russia or pull his country out of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) if he comes to power.

As recently as last fall, the Yelk alliance comprising Pashinian’s Civil Contract and two other opposition parties put a motion in the parliament demanding Armenia’s exit from the EEU. Pashinian declared at the time that the EEU membership has dealt “very serious blows” to his country’s sovereignty. Yerevan must sign instead an Association Agreement with the European Union, he said.

Pashinian did note on Tuesday the existence of “problems” in Russian-Armenian relations. But he stressed: “We intend to solve, rather than criticize, these 
problems through negotiations and I am confident that we will succeed.”

Agence France Presse
April 25, 2018 Wednesday 12:49 PM GMT
'Most are poor': Armenians struggle with low wages and huge corruption

"For ten years, Sarkisian promised us a good life," said 41-year-old Anait Galstyan, while tending to her market stall in the Armenian capital Yerevan, mulling over the reasons why people took to the streets to force veteran leader Serzh Sarkisian to resign.

"But he did nothing with his promises," she adds, reflecting the ex-Soviet country's widespread disillusionment with their former leader.

Anger towards Sarkisian, who was controversially made prime minister after serving 10 years as president, fuelled the mass street proteststhat ultimately saw him step down.

Demonstrators were outraged by a political transition that they compared to the manoeuvres of Russia's leader Vladimir Putin, who also switched between the roles of prime minister and president.

But frustration over the country's sluggish economy, entrenched poverty and deep corruption also played a part in the downfall of its most powerful politician.

"I work 10 to 12 hours a day in order to earn 5,000 dram ($10)... Ilive with my wife, she's a pensioner and doesn't work. We barely make ends meet," said Hamlet Asatryan, a 68-year-old vendor at a newspaper kiosk.

"When my mother died, we sold the last valuable thing in our home, my wife's bracelet, in order to get money for the funeral."

Poverty levels in Armenia have risen by 2 percent since 2008 -- when Sarkisian first came to power -- and have reached about 30 percent, according to the World Bank. Unemployment was at around 18 percent in 2017.

"There is no middle class. Most people are poor... wages are pitiful" said Ruzanna Simonyan, a 29-year-old psychologist walking with her child in the central Republic Square.

"Unfortunately, there was no possibility of changing the government in elections. So people were forced to take to the streets," she adds.

Simonyan, like many Armenians, believes the widespread poverty is a result of the economy being largely controlled by a handful of powerful oligarchs. Many also associate Sarkisian's rule with massive corruption, especially in the police and judiciary.

- 'The corruption is mind-boggling' -

"There is corruption everywhere, at every level in this country. If I want to fill up the tank in my car, I need to pay a bribe at the petrol station," said a 60-year-old taxi driver who only gave his first name, Gurgen.

"The corruption is mind-boggling. Nothing can be done without a bribe. Corruption is everywhere. In schools, in universities and -- most of all -- in the police and courts," said Julietta Karapetyan, a 58-year-old unemployed woman.

She says she has faith in opposition MP Nikol Pashinyan, who led the protests, but is worried he could strike a deal with Sarkisian's powerful Republican Party and prevent real change from taking place.

"We need a leader like Saakashvili to wipe out corruption," she said, referring to neighbouring Georgia's controversial ex-president Mikheil
Saakashvili, who cracked down on once rampant bribery in the Black Sea country but has been accused by opponents of authoritarianism.

"He is the only one in the post-Soviet space who has been able to so," she added.

The opposition is pushing for a peaceful transfer of power and has called for snap elections, but the political situation remains influ x.

Despite the uncertainties, the anti-government protests seem to have
inspired some of the Armenian diaspora to return.

Zhanna Dzhavaryan, a 72-year-old retired economist who left Yerevan for Moscow as a child, was visiting Armenia during the demonstrations.

"I've lived in Russia all my life. Now I'm thinking of moving back to Armenia. We saw that, unlike in Russia, Armenians decide the future for themselves," she said.

TASS, Russia
April 27 2018
Armenia’s representatives spoke about resolving crisis within constitutional framework - Kremlin

The communication of Armenian representatives who visited Moscow focused on the need for a speedy resolution of the crisis in that country within the constitutional framework, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

ST. PETERSBURG, April 27. /TASS/. The communication of Armenian representatives who visited Moscow focused on the need for a speedy resolution of the crisis in that country within the constitutional framework, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"Negotiations were conducted by the government agencies. There was also a telephone conversation [between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenia’s Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan]. This communication focused mainly on the need to resolve the crisis situation, which emerged in Armenia, at an early date, naturally, within the constitutional framework so that a consensus is reached between all the parties concerned," the Kremlin spokesman said. "In light of that, we are waiting and closely following the elections of the prime minister, which will take place in [Armenia’s] parliament on May 1," he added.

"I have no information, there is nothing more I can tell you," Peskov said when asked which of the Russian high-ranking officials visited Armenia on April 25, as reported by Armenian media outlets.

The Kremlin press service reported on Thursday that during a telephone call Putin and Karapetyan pointed to the importance of the prime minister’s election by the country’s parliament scheduled to be held on May 1. The parties stressed that the crisis in Armeniashould be resolved within the legal framework, in accordance with the current Constitution and on the basis of the results of the legitimate parliamentary elections held in April 2017.

On Wednesday, Putin held a phone conversation with Armenian President Armen Sarkissian. The two presidents stressed that to overcome the internal crisis as soon as possible it is important for all political forces in that country to show restraint and responsibility as well as willingness to solve the existing problems through constructive dialogue within the constitutional framework, the Kremlin press service said.

On Monday, Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan elected by the parliament on April 17 resigned amid mass protests that broke out across the country on April 13. The opposition demands that "people’s candidate" Nikol Pashinyan be elected as the head of government. The ruling Republican Party agreed to hold early parliamentary elections, but said the opposition’s demand was unconstitutional. Armenia’s new prime minister will be elected on May 1.

The American Interest
April 26 2018
Armenia’s Crisis of Legitimacy
Svante E. Cornell

Sargsyan’s resignation may not suffice to address the long-brewing anger against Armenia’s establishment—nor resolve the country’s main geopolitical conundrum.
The resignation of Armenia’s long-time leader Serzh Sargsyan shows that the Armenian political stablishment suffers from a crisis of legitimacy. While Armenia’s political environment is likely to get more lively, there is no indication that any political force is ready to tackle the country’s main conundrum: the tight interlinkage between Armenia’s reliance on Russia and its conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Serzh Sargsyan had served as Armenia’s President for a decade, and being term-limited, sought to engineer a transition to a parliamentary form of government in which he aimed to maintain power as Prime Minister. This appears to have been too much for many Armenians, who took to the streets to demand his resignation. Public opposition appeared to be strongly entrenched: Signs of splits in the army surfaced in the past week, with soldiers fraternizing with protesters and army units making it clear they would not obey orders to be deployed in the capital.

Public protests are no novelty in Armenia. The country did maintain a strong sense of political unity in the first years of independence, a time when it fought a war against neighboring Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly Armenian-populated enclave in Azerbaijan. Thanks to Russian support and Azerbaijani disorganization, Armenia managed to gain military control not only over Nagorno-Karabakh but over seven adjoining Azerbaijani districts. But as soon as that victory was assured, Armenia’s own internal disputes came to the fore. In 1996, the opposition challenged the legality of the re-election of Armenia’s first President, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, with street protests. While it failed to prevent his swearing in for a second term, this episode prepared the ground for a palace coup in early 1998, not coincidentally after the President had indicated his willingness to make concessions to Azerbaijan in the all-important Karabakh conflict. Sensing that his public legitimacy was weak following his disputed election, a triumvirate of his closest advisors unseated him, all of whom were intimately connected to Nagorno-Karabakh. Robert Kocharyan, who would succeed Ter-Petrosyan as President, had been the president of the unrecognized territory; Vazgen Sargsyan was the leader of Armenia’s union of war veterans; and Serzh Sargsyan (unrelated to Vazgen) had been the leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh military forces. For the 20 years that have passed since the 1998 presidential election, a native of the separatist territory has held the office of Armenia’s President.

Since Kocharyan’s term ended in 2008, public protests have become the norm following Armenian elections. Sargsyan’s election to succeed Kocharyan that year was marred by opposition claims of fraud, and led to violence on the streets of Yerevan that claimed the lives of ten demonstrators. In other words, the resentment in parts of Armenian society against Sargsyan that is currently on display did not emerge suddenly: It has been brewing for a decade. During that time, Sargsyan sought to balance the fractious and outspoken nature of Armenia’s polity with an effort to build up a semi-authoritarian form of government with the reins of both political and economic power firmly in the hands of his Republican Party of Armenia.

But Sargsyan also led Armenia deeper down the path it chose in the early 1990s, when it sacrificed much of its independence and sovereignty for the sake of territorial conquest. Moscow had been playing both sides of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict to gain maximum control over both, a policy that continues to this day. It promised assistance to whichever country would accept allegiance to what we now call Russia’s sphere of influence. In the end, the two countries made opposite choices: Azerbaijan decided that the country’s independence was more important than the unclear prospect of securing Russian help in getting back Karabakh. Armenia, by contrast, felt that maintaining control over Karabakh trumped all other matters.
In the years that followed the 1994 ceasefire, Armenia’s leaders made a series of choices that appeared gradual at the time, but taken together, came to limit the country’s room for maneuver. It joined Russian security structures, welcomed the expansion of Russian military facilities on its soil, handed control of its international borders to Russia, and transferred ownership of strategic industries to Moscow to pay off its debts, including its nuclear power plant and energy distribution networks. But Armenia simultaneously sought to maintain as intensive relations with the West as it could. This policy of “complementarity” worked until 2013, when Armenia, like Ukraine, was scheduled to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. Much as in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin objected to the signing—and following a tense meeting in Moscow that September, President Sargsyan announced Armenia would not sign the EU deal, and instead join Moscow’s Eurasian Economic Union. Yerevan has since signed a much watered-down version of the agreement with Europe, but the episode showed that when push came to shove, the country’s independence was subject to question.

For Moscow, Armenia has been both a reliable ally and a source of trouble. On the one hand, Russia’s influence on Armenia is paramount, and Yerevan rarely challenges Moscow’s policy priorities. On the other, Moscow has often felt that Armenia’s government does not control its population and civil society effectively enough. Indeed, over the past several years, Russian authorities have pushed Sargsyan to deal more “effectively” with the opposition. Mindful of his public legitimacy and aware of the dangers of going too far, Sargsyan did not heed that advice.

It is telling that all forces in Armenia now emphasize that the dispute is purely domestic, and has nothing to do with the country’s foreign policy. Indeed, Armenia defies the Western imagination, in which post-Soviet states fit neatly into two categories.Armenia defies the Western imagination, in which post-Soviet states fit neatly into two categories. On one side, we imagine countries with authoritarian governments that cling to Moscow for their security; on the other we see nations yearning for democracy that are also oriented toward America and Europe. Thus, ever since Russia’s actions in Crimea, Western politicians have repeated their intention to shore up Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova and defend these democracies against Russian pressure—and ignored the countries, from Armenia or Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, who do not fit neatly into these categories.

But this confusion of normative matters and geopolitical orientation is artificial, and certainly was of no help in guiding Western policy toward the two protagonists of the South Caucasus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. For these two countries, geopolitical orientation has nothing to do with their domestic system of government, and everything to do with the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore, Armenia’s opposition leaders have gone out of their way to stress that they do not aim to change Armenia’s foreign policy orientation.

The problem is that Moscow may see things differently. Russian officials have seen all popular challenges to government authority in the post-Soviet space as a threat to its own regime interests. President Putin understood long ago that if countries like Georgia and Ukraine succeeded in building accountable, democratic forms of government, Russian citizens would demand the same. On a deeper level, Moscow’s claims to a “sphere of influence” demands weak, authoritarian governments that respond to the wishes of the Kremlin and not to their own populations.

Some observers have expressed surprise at Moscow’s apparently unperturbed reaction to the loss of a trustworthy ally in Sargsyan. But in fact, it is likely that Moscow learnt from the experience of its protégé Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine, and urged Sargsyan to step down to avoid a challenge to the Armenian system of government as it stands. This would explain the speed, uncharacteristic for the region, with which Sargsyan stepped aside.

But the Armenian opposition, led in the streets by the firebrand Nikol Pashinyan, is not satisfied: They appear intent on pressing for more systemic change to the way Armenia’s political and economic system is run. If so, it may not matter that they pledge allegiance to Armenia’s Russian orientation: They would be seeking to undo a regime type that is a requirement for Russia’s sphere of influence, and which Moscow may very well intervene to preserve.

For the past decade or more, the West has stood by silently while Armenia has sunk deeper into the Russian sphere of influence. Neither America nor Europe has endeavored to find a way to offer Armenia an exit ramp from its dependence on Russia. The Obama Administration did make a brief attempt at this, but it made the mistake of seeking to “unlock” Armenia through its relations with Turkey. That ignored the fact that the main factor determining Armenia’s foreign and domestic policy is not its relationship with Turkey but the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. This is not an easy nut to crack, but until the West invests seriously in resolving this conflict, Armenia will remain the prisoner of choices it made in the past 25 years—and peace and stability will continue to elude the South Caucusus,

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the American Foreign Policy Council’s Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and a co-founder of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm. He is the author, with S. Frederick Starr, of The Long Game on the Silk Road: U.S. and EU Strategy for Central Asia and the Caucasus (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

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