Nikol Pashinyan, left, with Vladimir Putin at a May meeting

Armenian PM Downplays Problems In Russian Relations

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL and Tass) — Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has downplayed problems in Yerevan’s relations with Moscow, describing them as a “work process in its natural course.”

Answering questions from citizens in a live Facebook broadcast late on September 2, Pashinyan also announced his upcoming visit to Moscow, during which he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He gave no indications of the date of the planned meeting but said it will take place soon.

“This will be our third meeting, and…we will discuss numerous issues that are on the agenda of our relations and will find solutions to numerous problems,” Pashinyan said.

“I don’t mean to insist that all possible problems will be solved, but I can surely say that our natural cooperation continues,” he added.

Some analysts suggest that Russia was irked by several moves by the new Armenian government that included the prosecution of former President Robert Kocharyan and several other senior former officials on charges related to the deadly postelection crackdown on opposition protesters in 2008.

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Among those charged with “overthrowing the constitutional order” is Yuri Khachaturov, a former deputy defense minister who currently chairs the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization.

In July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced the prosecutions, arguing that they ran counter to the new Armenian leadership’s earlier pledges not to “persecute its predecessors for political motives.”

In August, Pashinyan, who played a key role in the 2008 protests as an opposition figure, said Moscow should “adapt” to the new political realities of Armenia.

Speculation about souring Armenian-Russian relations increased last week when the Kremlin’s official website said Russian President Putin called Kocharyan on August 31 to congratulate him on his 64th birthday.

The Kremlin reported no other details of the phone call that came two weeks after Kocharyan pledged to return to active politics and challenge the current Armenian government.

In another development, the Russian Interfax news agency reported on August 31 that Moscow had refused to extradite to Yerevan a former Armenian defense minister, Mikael Harutiunyan, who is thought to live in Russia, on the grounds that he is also a Russian citizen.

However, a spokesman for Armenian prosecutors denied the report, saying that they were unaware of Harutiunyan’s whereabouts.

Harutiunyan is wanted in Armenia on charges stemming from his alleged role in the 2008 post-election crackdown.

In a separate development on September 3, Armenia’s parliament speaker, Ara Babloyan, expressed hope that Armenia will receive contracts from the Syrian government for reconstruction projects.

Babloyan made the remarks during a meeting with Syria’s ambassador to Armenia, Mohammed Haj Ibrahim.

Backed by Russia and Iran, forces loyal to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are preparing an offensive in Idlib Province, the last stronghold of fighters opposed to Assad.

That has put Russia and Iranian firms in a position where they are expected to get contracts from the Syrian government for reconstruction projects in the war-torn country.

The United States and its allies say reconstruction assistance should be tied to a process that includes UN-supervised elections and a political transition in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, addressing students and lecturers at Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Monday, also expressed his worries. “We are concerned that the situation in Armenia is still boiling, in particular, events that took place ten years ago are being investigated and arrests are taking place,” Lavrov said. “We believe that it is Armenia’s domestic affair and would like these domestic affairs to remain based on the country’s laws and constitution so that they can be resolved as soon as possible and Armenia can focus on creative tasks,” the Russian top diplomat added.

According to Lavrov, it is in Russia’s interest that the situation in countries with which it has allied relations and those of strategic partnership remains stable “and domestic processes remain based on the constitution so that there are conditions for economic development and social welfare improvements.” “This is what we have been trying to ensure, particularly through our integration association — the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) — and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO),” he said.

“We have been keeping an eye on the events that took place after the constitutional provision, which transferred all major powers from the president to the prime minister elected by the country’s parliament, had come into effect,” Lavrov went on to say. “We took no actions and made no statements that by any stretch of the imagination could be taken as interference in domestic affairs… I cannot say that other players acted in the same way,” Lavrov noted.

 

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