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Color of Armenian velvet: Moscow’s “benevolence” and Pashinyan’s “lessons”

“British ears” behind “Armenian velvet”

The welcome given by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the leader of the Armenian Velvet Revolution Nikol Pashinyan in Sochi and the constructive atmosphere of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) summit have puzzled some people.

“What is the reason for such benevolence towards the ‘velvet revolution’ in Armenia,” wonder authors of BBC Russian Service Sergey Goryashko and Pyotr Kozlov. Perhaps, they expected that the old-timers of the EAEU would cow Pashinyan or would avoid him like a leper. But instead, they welcomed the new Armenian prime minister as befits a partner, with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko being a kind of a father.

We see nothing strange in this. Pashinyan visited Russia as a legitimate premier, elected by a legitimate parliament. Legitimacy was the key requirement of Putin and the key reason for Lukashenko’s admiration.

But BBC suggests another story by a source allegedly close to the Russian president’s administration. That anonym told BBC that the Kremlin’s neutrality comes from the lessons it has learned from the events in Ukraine. That is BBC compares the Armenian “velvet revolution” with the Ukrainian “Maidan.”

But the fact is that unlike the United States and the EU, the Kremlin was neutral during the Maidan as long as it complied with Ukraine’s constitution and the country’s international obligations. What happened in Armenia has nothing in common with the Maidan.

The businesslike atmosphere of the EAEU Summit and Pashinyan’s compliments for the Kremlin’s neutrality make illogical BBC’s headline: “Who in the Kremlin missed the revolution?” in Armenia. The answer is “nobody” as the Kremlin looks quite satisfied. At least, nobody has been fired there.

What matters here is that by insisting on punishing the Russian diplomats who missed the Armenian revolution, BBC is discrediting that revolution. You can “miss” a blow or a treason but this is not what the Armenian revolution was about: Pashinyan has made it clear that the events in Armenia had no foreign political implications.

Then why do the BBC authors say that it was Russia – and not, say, the UK – who has missed the Armenian revolution? And why do they use the term “miss” in the first place?

Perhaps, they in London are receiving more detailed information from their citizen Armen Sargsyan, the new president of Armenia.

Or perhaps the UK had a hand in the revolution and this is why it did not miss it. Then why did Pashinyan say that there were not external factors?

The price of the Kremlin’s benevolence

Irrespective of the answer to the above rhetorical question, it is obvious that Pashinyan would be happy if the next Armenian-Russian meeting was even more benevolent. The only side that will try to prevent this, besides the BBC authors, is Azerbaijan. Former Azerbaijani foreign minister Tofiq Zulfuqarov is sure that the internal political situation in Armenia will push it towards confrontation. “The attempt to diversify Armenia’s foreign policy will result in a situation when the West will get no more dividends from the geopolitical situation in the region and when Armenia may lose Russia as an ally,” Zulfuqarov says.

Considering such moods in Baku, Pashinyan should analyze the lessons of not only Ukraine but also Georgia.

The reckless actions of the Ukrainian elite have led their country to war, economic crisis and radical moods. The seeds of enmity were sown by “orange revolutionary” Viktor Yushchenko: even though Russia was benevolent towards him, it was he who gave rise to chauvinism and nationalism in Ukraine.

The Poroshenko regime has made thing even worse.

In this light, Pashinyan’s major task is to restrain demagogy, political populism and national euphoria. And this will require him a high level of responsibility.

The level of Russia’s benevolence will depend on Pashinyan’s further steps. The new Armenian Government enjoys popularity but it is temporary, based on a situational internal parliamentary consensus. In order to get full power in Armenia, Pashinyan will sooner or later have to win parliamentary elections. And this is his major mid-term task.

He will not take any drastic steps in the foreign policy as this may be dangerous for his country. Here Pashinyan should keep in mind the experience of “rose revolutionary” Mikheil Saakashvili. By the way, the Kremlin was so benevolent towards Saakashvili when he just came into power that it even helped him to get rid of the Abashidze clan in Adjara. But instead, Saakashvili decided to attack South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And that put an end to Russia’s benevolence.

Even Petro Poroshenko enjoyed Russia’s benevolence at the initial stage. The very recognition of him as legitimate president of Ukraine was an act of benevolence on the Kremlin’s part as his legitimacy is not as obvious as that of Pashinyan. Russia is a benevolent country but up to a certain time.

Unlike Poroshenko, who is no longer trusted by the Kremlin and Saakashvili and Yushchenko who ended up with just 5% popularity in their countries, Pashinyan has all chances to remain popular in Armenia and to retain Russia’s benevolence. All he needs for this is not to give empty promises or to keep the promises he has given. Pashinyan is not Moldovan President Igor Dodon, who wants to do something but has no powers to do it. If Pashinyan wants to deepen and improve Armenian-Russian relations, he should do something towards this end, otherwise, one day the Kremlin may stop taking him seriously.

In this light, the membership of Pashinyan’s Cabinet does not inspire optimism. Unlike Pashinyan, who disavowed his earlier criticism of the EEU, some of his new ministers have gone much deeper into the anti-Russian jungle.

One example is Armen Grigoryan, a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, who has been appointed as Secretary of the National Security Council of Armenia. Grigoryan is young and energetic, but the statements he made during the revolution were quite alarming. On Apr 18, he said that the first policeman who would join the protesters would get $10,000, while the others would get $2,000 apiece. “This money will be given by a compatriot from abroad,” Grigoryan added. Now he is Secretary of the National Security Council, but everybody will remember him as the one who tempted policemen into breaking their oath and going into politics contrary to the constitution.

In their time, the “predecessors” of the young Armenian revolutionaries in Georgia and Ukraine made very similar statements. Where are those people now? And what good have they done to their nations? But in Armenia the price of such mistakes will be much higher than in Georgia or Ukraine.

Will they cut to the quick?

As far as the Ukrainian lessons are concerned, you should know that the leaders of both maidans began their terms with breaking cultural, scientific, political and economic ties with Russia and going west. They cut it to the quick. They even marred the future of their strategic asset, the gas transmission system, by starting a war against its only supplier, Russia. This is nothing but a national suicide committed for certain people’s personal benefits.

The Georgian lesson was Saakashvili’s reckless attack on South Ossetia. Aimed not so much at bringing back the South Ossetians into Georgia as at building a wall between Russia and Georgia, that attack has cost Georgia its influence in the region. The next step is to turn the country into an area of war.

The “infrastructural tie” between Armenia and Russia is people. Almost one million of Armenians have gone to Russia in search of job over the last years and send billions of US dollars to their families every year.

What is Pashinyan going to do besides organizing mid-term parliamentary elections? While visiting Sochi, Pashinyan promised to bring emigrant Armenians back home and to attract money from the Diaspora. But in order to be able to carry out this program, he will need to create new jobs in Armenia. Many of the Armenians working abroad would love to go back home, but is Pashinyan ready to receiver them? Besides, this will deprive Armenia’s budget of billions of US dollars. How will Pashinyan compensate for this loss?

As regards the Diaspora’s money, we should keep in mind that the greater part of it comes from Russia. The global Armenian Diaspora may have a huge investment potential, but it is decentralized from the United States and Canada to India and Australia and undermined in the Middle East. The EEU makes the Russian Armenians the most active investors in Armenia. Their potential “rivals” are Armenians living in Georgia, Iran and Ukraine but they are not active enough for certain reasons. The western Armenians are not going farther than buying restaurants and hotels in Tsaghkadzor, building holiday hotels in Sevan or opening a cheese factory and selling the cheese to buyers in the selfsame EAEU. So, transfers from Russia remain the only source of cash for the Armenian economy and population. And this source must be preserved contrary to calls by some people from Pashinyan’s team to limit the capacities of the “Armenian-Russian oligarchy,” who is allegedly aiming to turn Armenia into Russia’s joint stock company. Such delusions may spoil Armenia’s image and lead to serious losses.

On the other hand, Pashinyan’s government should remember that hundreds of thousands of Armenians working in Russia and other countries have no right to vote at Armenian embassies abroad: the former Armenian regime approved a law allowing an Armenian to vote only in Armenia. So, perhaps, instead of calling those Armenians back home – where they will join the ranks of their local jobless compatriots – Pashinyan should better give them back their right to vote.

P.S. We are eager to believe that the “velvet revolution” in Armenia will not turn into one more anti-Russian “color revolution.” For this not to happen, Pashinyan should avoid the military and geopolitical mistakes committed by Saakashvili and Yushchenko, respectively. But as military and geopolitical risks are looming large in Armenia, such mistakes are becoming inevitable. “Maidan” in Armenia will be registered the moment Pashinyan’s promises run counter to his deeds and as soon as his country starts sustaining losses. Heavy inexcusable losses amid political show and growing crime – this is the key features of an externally inspired revolution – Maidan.

Vigen Akopyan, specially for EADaily

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