Armenia: never-ending political instability

Mikhail Belyaev, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Armenia: never-ending political instability

After eccentric ex-journalist Nikol Pashinyan came to power in Yerevan, becoming the leader of the Armenian revolution by a twist of fate, the situation in the smallest and poorest republic of the South Caucasus remains unpredictable. A number of external and internal factors indicate that, despite a predicted confident victory of Pashinyan’s 'My Step' bloc in the upcoming parliamentary elections, the internal political situation in the country will remain turbulent in the foreseeable future.

With regard to aspects of Pashinyan’s foreign policy in the first seven months of his rule, we should note the emerging negative trends in relations with the country's allies in the CSTO - Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. Under Pashinyan, the relations with Astana, and especially with Minsk, were sharply aggravated by the CSTO Secretary General issue. Armenia, probably in the very near future, will finally lose this post due to the imprudent policy of the Armenian revolutionary leader, who placed his internal political interests above the image of the Russian military bloc. Moreover, the overt challenge of young and inexperienced in international affairs Pashinyan to the heavyweights of the post-Soviet politics - Lukashenko and Nazarbayev - risks reducing the level of interaction in the CSTO and EEU. This is evidenced by Pashinyan’s de facto refusal to attend the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council on November 27 in Minsk. The acting Armenian Prime Minister's supporters, who are still in a revolutionary euphoric state, consider this to be a "strong diplomatic move," but in fact, by doing this, Yerevan brings further discredit on itself in the eyes of its still allies.

In relations with Russia, Pashinyan and his appointees are much more cautious, since they realize the critical degree of the country's dependence on military and economic support from Moscow. But even in relations with the Kremlin, the new Armenian authorities take "liberties," strange for the Russian side. For example, shortly after Pashinyan came to power, he sharply said that Russia should adapt to the new realities in Armenia. The Armenian President's advisor Tevan Poghosyan already admits that Armenia may decide to withdraw from the CSTO, if it corresponds to the interests of the country. It is noteworthy that Pogosyan made this statement against the background of the crisis in the organization provoked by Armenia. At the same time, Nikol Pashinyan declared an amnesty for Sasna Tsrer terrorists, who oppose the Russian "colonial policy". Zhirayr Sefilyan, the most furious opponent of the Russian presence in Armenia, was granted a citizenship by the acting Prime Minister.

Moreover, Pashinyan created the conditions for Sasna Tsrer, who killed police officers and breaking an ATM on the territory of the seized police station, to form a full-fledged party and take part in early elections. The group's leader Lebanese-born Armenian Jirair Sefilyan, in turn, threatens to sweep away the existing separatist authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, as a result of which the unrecognized entity's leader Bako Sahakyan rushed to Moscow. Sasna Tsrer, which recently swore allegiance to the "people's PM," have started to contradict him. While Pashinyan declares unconditional support for the ruling Nagorno-Karabakh regime, Sefilyan demands his early resignation. If Pashinyan expects that a practically "hand-raised" parliament, elected on December 9, will complete the full term, then Sefilyan insists on holding new elections in two years. Time will tel whether this is a pre-agreed game between them or the first signs of the coming conflict. It is only clear that the presence of terrorists on the country's political scene does not contribute to stabilizing the domestic political situation.

Finally, one must acknowledge the negative tendencies caused by Pashinyan’s maniacal desire to crack down on his political opponents. First of all, ex-president Robert Kocharyan, who possesses significant political and economic resources, which Nikol Pashinyan sees as the main danger to his power in the medium term. On November 27, the Criminal Court of Appeal will consider the complaint related to the cancellation of remand in custody as a preventive measure for the second president of Armenia on the basis of his immunity. Moscow also does not like Pashinyan's attempts to put Kocharyan in jail by all means, about which he directly instructed high-ranking security officials, and even put pressure on the judiciary (despite his own revolutionary slogans). After Kocharyan was arrested for the first time this summer, the Russian Foreign Minister openly criticized the practice of political vendetta in Armenia, which went against Pashinyan’s earlier promises. After Kocharyan was released, the Kremlin press service told about Vladimir Putin’s call to Robert Kocharian on the occasion of his birthday. The hint was more than clear, but Yerevan was clearly unwilling to understand it.

Pashinyan's position on the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement also does not look very constructive. His demand to involve the Nagorno-Karabakh separatists as an equivalent party to the negotiations is categorically unacceptable to Baku and destroys the established and approved negotiation format within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. The period of calm on the Karabakh front line, which has been observed in recent months, cannot be long-term in the absence of real progress in the peace talks. Pashinyan’s sharp refusal to exchange all the war prisoners also undermines hopes for creating an atmosphere of trust between the parties, which emerged after an agreement

Finally, the geopolitical situation surrounding Armenia does not bode well for it. Political scientist Andrei Areshev recalls that the port of Kavkaz-bound service will be stopped on January 1. "It turns out that all four Armenian borders, if not blocked, then transport service is hampered there. We understand why it happened with the Iranian one. And with the Georgian border too. We all know about the Karabakh settlement and pressure in connection with Bolton’s visit and other events. If we try to solve problems from time to time, a situation may arise when it is impossible to solve them," the expert believes.

Armenian citizens' current exaggerated optimistic hope for positive changes is a dangerous phenomenon for Nikol Pashinyan and his team, since nothing beats the rating harder than unjustified expectations. The Pashinyan team is still not able to provide systemic answers to the challenges confronting the country. Hopes that the West and the diaspora will start allocating enormous funds to the new, supposedly "democratic" Armenia under the leadership of Nikol Pashinyan, fall short. The investment attractiveness of blockaded Armenia for the West will remain low, while the Armenian diaspora this year, to Pashinyan's surprise, collected a record low amount of donations - more than $11 million. That is, Armenia managed to raise more funds from the diaspora under the corrupt RPA government, than under "democrat" Pashinyan's rule. Under the prevailing circumstances, it is vital for Yerevan to seek ways to solve its pressing economic problems and take real steps to get out of the blockade. Otherwise, Armenia may enter a state of permanent domestic political instability, which would be a disaster for the country.