Opinion: Armenia needs to decide - reforms or alliance with Russia
Recent events in Yerevan may become a turning point for Armenian-Russian relations, specifically the arrest of the former president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan and the detention and later release of Yuri Khachaturov, who is the current secretary general of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation).
It would be difficult to imagine that the Kremlin is fond of the new Armenian leadership.
The reason isn’t that the national protests headed by Nikol Pashinyan did away with the continuity scheme for power in Armenia, but because the scheme is looked at by the Russian political elite as a way of ensuring Vladimir Putin’s eternal rule.
The reason also can’t be found in the fact that the changes in Armenia have seriously affected Russian big business in the country.
The problem is that Armenian reformers have attacked the most ‘holy’ thing there is on the post-Soviet scene: the ‘natural’ right of the authorities to steal from the people, their right to treat the country like their own property and to remain unpunished, despite all this.
This is not a new situation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the desire to acquire the wealth of entire, newly-independent nations was a motive if not for individual leaders then for their political clans.
This structure took hold everywhere within the first decade of the post-Soviet era. Politics became the equivalent of money, and in many cases, crime as well. Russia in this instance is different only because of its size.
The Kremlin system of ‘us and them’ accurately recognises enemies.
The only one that the Kremlin cannot forgive and will not forgive is Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia from 2004 to 2012. We’re not talking about the war in South Ossetia, which Moscow benefited greatly from, as it gained an excuse to enter Georgia. The reason is for his radical fight against corruption and crime both at home and abroad.
The new Armenian prime minister is seen almost weekly in either Moscow or St Petersburg, but he would not appear to be in the inner circle.
Moscow is cleverly not paying attention (so far, at least) to the method of his ascent to power. But turning Armenia into a normally-functioning, in-corrupt state with a competitive economy and with a replaceable leadership is not very convenient for the Kremlin’s plans.
Mocsow, perhaps, is so interested in maintaining its political and military presence in the South Caucasus that it is ready to make sacrifices. But the Kremlin cannot allow for a tear in the only system that it considers acceptable for itself.
Connections with Russia (and not only military and political ones, but also economic) are very important for Armenia. In Yerevan, this seems to be understood. But one should not hope that an honest politician will find a place at the ‘round table’ to which he has so far been admitted.
The alarm signalling the appearance of an outsider is, as of now, sounding, but not very loudly, though it has always reacted to those it was meant for.
Moscow hopes that Nikol Pashinyan will put aside his issues with his enemies, and will move along the path that is normal for leaders from this part of the world.
But if this is not a part of the plans of the new Armenian leadership, then it should have a long hard think about the future.
It would be wise to focus on two tasks.
The first would involve economic reforms that would be pushed through as quickly as possible. These have yet to start, and probably won’t do so until the next elections.
The second task would be to move away from the model of ethnic statehood, when the leaders of the country rely on the diaspora, and abroad meet almost exclusively with compatriots who have achieved success in business, science or culture.
Will the new government of Armenia be able to achieve this? One would like to believe so, but it’s not wise to forget that if it does work out, then the Armenians will be unable to remain inside the inner circle and will quickly become outsiders for the Russian political elite.