While Armenians are carried away with euphoria following the peaceful December 9 elections, which placed the victory of the Velvet Revolution on legislative tracks, it seems a potential crisis is brewing in Armenian-Russian relations.
When Armenia’s second president, Robert Kocharyan, was first incarcerated in July then released by court order, he had received a congratulatory message from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The Russian president had demonstrably signaled that Kocharyan’s well-being mattered to him. It looks like the signal was not missed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan camp, which chose the same venue to send a message to Russia that Kocharyan’s case was a domestic issue and that Armenia, as a sovereign country, would not bargain away its independent judiciary with any power. Thus, Kocharyan was put in jail once again, two days before the parliamentary elections took place this month.
Some people interpreted the action as a measure to induce fear before the elections, while others connected it to souring Armenian-Russian relations. Yet others thought Kocharyan deserved what he got as the culprit who ordered the shooting deaths of protestors on March 1, 2008, following the presidential election which brought Serzh Sargsyan to power.
Pashinyan and his team are not naïve; they knew what they were doing and they had already calculated the repercussions. The evidence of their awareness was the leaks of phone conversations between the security authorities and Pashinyan about another case which represents a different dimension affecting Armenian-Russian relations, that of Yuri Khachaturov.
Khachaturov was the secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and his term extended through 2022. He was charged on November 2 with “overthrowing Armenia’s constitutional order” during the same March 1, 2008 response to protestors.
The officials have expressed their apprehension that sacking Khachaturov may ruffle some feathers in Moscow but they are being ordered to carry through the operation. And indeed, the reaction was harsh; Armenia was blamed for hurting the prestige of CSTO. But that was also a self-inflicted wound because the secretary of CSTO has a vantage point of observing and reviewing all the military operations in that alliance.