A crisis was expected in Armenia after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, and it did not take long to arise. It started as an arm-twisting exercise between the civilian and military authorities of Armenia but evolved to further consolidate Russia’s influence in the country.
Hopes were high when Nikol Pashinyan won the 2018 elections with about 70 percent of the votes. People expected miracles from such a strong government, but they would ultimately be disappointed with the defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. The discontent had to explode at some point, and Prime Minister Pashinyan provided a perfect opportunity for it to do so.
When former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan raised the issue of why Russian-manufactured Iskander missiles were not used at the beginning of the war, Pashinyan commented that the missiles “did not explode or exploded 10 percent.” While it is not easy to check the veracity of this statement, it may be assumed that any information must have been provided to Pashinyan by military experts. Pashinyan’s comment triggered a chain of events that led to the present turmoil in the country’s domestic policy.
As the subject matter was the efficiency of Russian-manufactured defense equipment, Russian members of parliament and military experts joined the choir to challenge Pashinyan’s statement. Either upon their provocation or by his own initiative, Lt. Gen. Tiran Khachatryan, the first deputy chief of general staff of the Armenian armed forces, reacted with a chuckle, implying that the prime minister’s comment was unrealistic. Upon this offending gesture, Pashinyan dismissed the general from his post.
While the tension was rising in Yerevan, Pashinyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin had several telephone conversations. Russia expected a concrete explanation on the question of the performance of the Russian manufactured missiles.
Last Monday, Pashinyan’s press secretary said that “an analysis of available facts and data has led the Armenian prime minister to conclude that he did not receive correct reports about this matter.” She added that Pashinyan and Putin discussed the issue in a telephone call on Feb. 25.
Pashinyan reconfirmed that he was misled by the military and expressed his indirect apology to Putin, which the latter accepted with a statement from Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov: “It is very important that the truth about this issue has been restored.”
The reaction of Armenia’s opposition parties has not yet subsided. The high rating of 70 percent that Pashinyan received in 2018 might now have been diminished, but he still remains defiant. It is difficult to foretell how the row between the military and civilian authorities in Armenia will unfold.
As for Russia-Armenia relations, it may be assumed that each move that involves Russia in Armenia’s domestic affairs is likely to further tighten the former’s grip on the country. Now, it is a matter of how tight this grip will get or how much ammunition is left in Pashinyan’s hand to resist Moscow’s pressure.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and a founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar