Hollow Promises: Why Old Pro-Russia Policies Are True Colors Of Armenia’s ‘Velvet Revolution’

Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

Jacob Kamaras Editor for the Jewish News Service
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After interviewing new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, The Washington Post’s columnist David Ignatius joined the chorus of commentators hailing Armenia’s so-called “velvet revolution,” using what have now become common superlatives such as “miracle” and “good news from a faraway land.” Ignatius’s column proceeded to spread to other daily newspapers nationwide.

Sadly, deep cracks have developed in Ignatius’ and other’s stories and descriptions. Has Yerevan truly “deposed a corrupt, authoritarian government and installed a team of eager young reformers to govern a tiny nation,” as Ignatius describes in fairytale-style fashion? Has Armenia actually broken the mold of post-Soviet states, as his fellow pundits claim?

Hardly. Pashinyan’s promises and gestures towards reform—campaigning against corruption, vowing to break up Russian-held monopolies that dominate Armenia’s economy, ousting the police chief and national security adviser—are merely window dressing. For an accurate picture of Armenia’s future trajectory, look no further than Pashinyan’s first two trips as prime minister in May: to Armenian-occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, a region illegally held under force of arms by Armenia and to Russia.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have waged a decades-long conflict over the internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which U.N. Security Council Resolutions 853, 874, and 884, as well as U.N. General Assembly Resolutions 19/13 and 57/298, describe as part of Azerbaijan.

Before he rose to power, Pashinyan, the protest leader-turned-premier, declared that “the Karabakh question must be resolved through dialogue.” Later, he expressed he is “ready to continue peaceful talks” with Azerbaijan. Yet his peace-oriented words are hollow, and his actions reveal his true intentions.

The newly minted prime minister provoked Azerbaijan by illegally visiting Nagorno-Karabakh to “celebrate” the anniversary of the Armenian occupation of Shusha, a city where Azerbaijanis once constituted an overwhelming majority. He continues to call for “self-determination” for a Nagorno-Karabakh region that the U.S. State Department does not recognize as an independent country, and to insist that Nagorno-Karabakh’s unsanctioned leadership is represented in peace negotiations.

Azerbaijan could never consider affirming its own territory, Nagorno-Karabakh, as a separate and sovereign state. Pashinyan’s demand has torpedoed any prospects for peace talks.

At the same time, Pashinyan tells The Washington Post’s Ignatius that his protest movement had “no geopolitical agenda.” Well, at least no new agenda. The “revolution” in Yerevan has seen its leader perpetuate the aggressively pro-Russian policies of his predecessor, the former warlord Serge Sargsyan, who presided over the potentially irreversible economic decline of Armenia and its continuous subjugation by the Kremlin.

Mirroring his doublespeak on Nagorno-Karabakh, the prime minister version of Pashinyan has walked back his statements as protest leader when it comes to Russia.

In April, he seemed to produce a refreshing moment of Armenian political candor when he acknowledged that friendly Armenia-Russia ties do not mean the relationship has no problems, and that “Russia’s arms sales [to Armenia] have contributed to the deepening of the [Nagorno-Karabakh] conflict.”

But in May, he predictably made Russia his first foreign visit as prime minister, telling President Vladimir Putin the Armenian-Russian strategic relationship is a topic that does “not need any discussion.” He visited Moscow again in June.

Pashinyan told Putin during their second meeting:

Of course, Armenia and Russia enjoy a special relationship. I am confident that relations will continue to be special, and will become even more special. It is important for me that we have the opportunity…to meet frequently and discuss the entire agenda of our relations. We are all aware that the agenda of our relations is fairly extensive, and there are lots of economic, political, and regional issues.

Pashinyan’s rhetoric on the Kremlin mirrors the talk of former president Sargsyan, who said Armenia would “coordinate its foreign policy with Russia.”

How about Yerevan’s longtime defense dependence on Moscow, including the presence of two Russian military bases in Armenia as well as Russia’s weapons and security forces scattered throughout the country?

The picture of Pashinyan at the wheel of a Russian Su-30SM fighter jet is, quite literally, worth a thousand words. That image was followed by the confirmation that Russia intends to supply Armenia with Su-30SM jets. In the early days of Pashinyan’s leadership, it was also revealed that Armenia’s military would deploy the Russian-built Tor air defense system within several months.

Armenia’s heavy reliance on Russia has been accompanied by a continued downward spiral for the nation’s economy.

The Armenian GDP plummeted more than 14 percent during the first year of Sargsyan’s presidency in 2009, and the domestic economy has not bounced back. Pashinyan has offered no substantive plans for addressing Armenia’s hyper-dependence on agriculture, skyrocketing inflation, and brain drain. He has failed to articulate that toning down lockstep ties with Russia could be a key to solving Armenia’s greatest problems.

There is one point in Ignatius’s analysis, then, for which the columnist deserves some credit. He writes, “Time is not on the revolutionaries’ side. The squeeze on Armenia, from its neighbors and domestic power brokers, could undo the gains of the bottom-up protest movement.”

Indeed, the protesters’ dreams of progress for Armenia are in peril. That is because Pashinyan has swiftly betrayed everything his movement stood for. Instead of a new era of hope, Armenians are now governed by essentially a carbon copy of Sargsyan, the leader the “revolution” had toppled.

Jacob Kamaras, a noted voice on the geopolitics of Eurasia and the Middle East, is a contributor at the Haym Salomon Center.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.