Armenian political circles and the news media in Yerevan put on their magnifying glasses to observe the Nikol Pashinyan-Vladimir Putin meeting on September 8 and draw conclusions from it. Of course, for a country of Armenia’s size, such a meeting is crucial. But viewed from the Russian perspective, it could mean a miniscule political agenda item tucked in among others.
The Putin-Pashinyan meeting took place within a political whirlwind in and around the Kremlin. Mr. Putin met President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan on September 1, in Sochi. He also met with the presidents of Turkey and Iran to seal Syria’s fate, flew to Vladivostok to meet Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to sign trade and industrial cooperation bills, while hosting a delegation from Vietnam in Moscow and ordering and supervising the largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War, in cooperation with China and Mongolia.
Quite an intense week of political activity for President Putin, and yet, he devoted two and a half hours of his time to meet with Armenia’s Prime Minister Pashinyan.
This was the third meeting between the two leaders and the one most anticipated. The first meeting took place on May 14 in Sochi almost a week after Pashinyan had taken office, within the framework of the Eurasian Union gathering. The second happened on the occasion of the World Cup in Moscow in June.
The reason the third meeting was so anticipated was that relations had been souring between the two countries and problems were emerging to give rise to political speculations in both capitals.
Armenia was putting its house in order, and along the way had to sacrifice some sacred cows. Russia had not interfered in Armenia’s internal affairs when the Velvet Revolution was growing. Although that hands-off approach was much appreciated in Yerevan, they knew full well that the reason for that policy of restraint came mostly from the past negative experiences in Ukraine and Georgia rather than any other consideration.