Armenia’s Velvet Resolution: Some Reflections on Developments of the Week (April 23-27)

By Eduard Abrahamyan, Fellow

On Monday, April 23, 2018, while most leaders of the mass protest movement were in detention, Prime Minister Serge Sargsyan resigned under an increasing pressure of almost two hundred thousand protesters across Armenia, a move that inspired enthusiasm and celebration for the overwhelming majority in Armenian citizens. He kept that position for less than a week.

The first deputy PM Karen Karapetyan, a former Gazprom executive and Yerevan mayor, stepped in as the acting PM. Sargsyan’s resignation left him—at least implicitly—with the responsibility to negotiate power transition with Pashinyan. He agreed to discuss the conditions of the transition with Nikol Pashinyan—the young and energetic MP and leader of the mass protest movement that brought Sargsyan down—on Wednesday, April 25.[1]

By that time, the pressure may have been off the ruling regime, with Pashinyan letting the steam off somewhat after the Monday victory. Amid mass euphoria and congratulations, he thanked the protesters and urged them to take a pause to commemorate Genocide Remembrance Day. There were no protests on Tuesday.

However, Karapetyan wasted no time and was more strategic in his actions aimed at consolidating his camp. He met the chiefs of police, National Security, and armed forces as well as oligarchs and criminal elements to get them to pledge allegiances to him.

Furthermore, following Pashinyan’s rejection of the possibility of Karapetyan’s nomination as PM (during the press conference with international media), Kerapetyan refused to meet with him, citing additional demands unilaterally put forth by Pashinyan. Instead, Karapetyan called upon Pashinyan to tempter his demands and accept early parliamentary elections to be organized by the ruling regime (controlled by the Republican party).[2]

Karapetyan appears to be taking his orders from Moscow and is supported by a Russian-Armenian billionaire Samvel Karapetyan (the two are not related), who was named on the US Department of the Treasury’s “Kremlin list.” In addition, he has the support of Russian-Armenian philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan and his team of pro-Russian technocrats, who have business interests in Armenia and may harbor political aspirations of their own.

For a moment, the outcome of the process started to look like a coup d’état with a twist: forcing the regime’s head out while trying to keep the rest of the corrupt system intact. Despite the loss of their leader and some visible evidence of anxiety and fear among top Republicans, the party promptly consolidated around Karen Karapetyan. This, however, does not look good for Armenia. Most observers agree that his continuous presence in power would mean no hope for a real change.

On the outside, while the US and Europe were trying to figure out what was really happening in Armenia, Russian official media came out with a (surprise) coordinated position: various Russian officials (e.g., Kasachev, Zakharova, Peskov, Zatulin, Lebedev, etc.) expressed rather balanced views, along the lines of “it’s Armenia’s internal affairs”, “People use their right to protest”, calling upon people of Armenia to “avoid any radicalization.”

This (unexpected initial) posture of Moscow was underpinned by views expressed by Russian experts (e.g., Markedonov, Karaganov, etc.), who suggested that the consequences of Velvet Revolution in Armenia “meet Russia’s long-term interests.” However, this has changed dramatically on Thursday, April 26, when media coverage became vehemently anti-opposition (see below).

Seeking not to annoy Moscow, during the press-conference Pashinyan reassured that his victory does not necessary imply reduced Russian influence in Armenia. This strategy may have succeeded, at least temporarily. On Wednesday, with the resumption of mass protests[3] (this time against Karapetyan and the ruling elite), the two pillars of Russia’s influence in Armenia—oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia (with 40 sits in parliament) and Arthur Bagdasaryan’s Orinats Yerkir parties—endorsed mass protests and called their supporters to join the rallies.[4]

In addition, the ruling coalition partner, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF; loyal to Kocharyan and Russia) left the coalition under massive pressure from its grassroots on Thursday.

Therefore, it should not be ruled out that some representatives of Prosperous Armenia may vote for Pashinyan during the May 1 session of the Parliament and be given an opportunity to take part in the provisional government to be formed by him. If so, this may de facto alter one of the main narratives of the opposition movement, which is fight against the oligarchic control of the economy. However, Pashinyan has stated repeatedly that no political horse-trading will be done during the power transition.

In the meantime, the situation has changed dramatically on Thursday, April 26. Karapetyan’s phone call with (Russia’s President Vladimir) Putin and subsequent official statements may have signaled a change in Moscow’s position, indicating uneasiness with ongoing stalemate and pushing for a solution “given the reality in the parliament.” This took place on the backdrop of a visit to Moscow by a senior delegation from the regime. In addition, official Russian media outlets and Russia’s soft power network in Armenia ratcheted up their criticism of Pashinyan and his team. This has been interpreted by some as Russia’s implicit attempt to throw its weight behind Karapetyan.

Be that as it may, one thing is clear: Russia needs to play a more nuanced role in Armenia to avoid a second Ukraine. With Pashinyan’s likely take-over in the coming weeks, it is clear that steps toward independence for Armenia from Russia will be taken. However, at least initially this is unlikely to affect Russia’s core military-political interests (i.e., the military base, Armenia’s membership in Eurasian Union, and CSTO) in Armenia.

In the medium term, however, Pashinyan’s Armenia-centric position (as opposed to pro-Russian or pro-Western) is likely to remain the main pillar of his policy, and rightfully so, as this is what his support base demands in no uncertain terms.

[1] Sides agreed not to hold negotiations on Tuesday, April 24, the Genocide Remembrance Day.

[2] Everyone who has monitored Armenia’s elections since 1996 know that they are notoriously fraudulent and do not represent the choice of the electorate.

[3] The resumption was due to a unilateral cancelation of negotiations by Karapetyan.

[4] Tsarukyan and Baghdasaryan are known to follow the line of (former president) Kocharyan’s, who is openly pro-Russian.

This entry was posted in Eduard Abrahamyan, POLITICS, SOCIETY and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Armenia’s Velvet Resolution: Some Reflections on Developments of the Week (April 23-27)

  1. Pingback: Revolución de terciopelo en Armenia: algunas reflexiones sobre el desarrollo de la semana (23-27 de abril) – Armenia en español

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