Weeks of crisis in Armenia have ended with the Armenian parliament’s election of opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan Prime Minister.
He was the only candidate after it became clear that the ruling Republican party’s attempts to install its own candidate in place of its retired leader Serzh Sargsyan – whose attempt to appoint himself Prime Minister triggered the crisis – was unacceptable to large sections of the Armenian public.
Almost the first steps Pashinyan has taken as Armenia’s new leader is pledge to continue Armenia’s military alliance with Russia – which he says (correctly) is essential for Armenia’s security – and say that Armenia will remain a member of the Russian led Eurasian Union.
Pashinyan has also said that he intends to attend the forthcoming Eurasian Union summit meeting, where he intends to meet Russian President Putin for the first time.
Pashinyan has expressed opposition in the past to Armenia’s membership of the Eurasian Union. That will undoubtedly lead some to suspect that his recent pledges to continue Armenia’s alliance with Russia and to keep Armenia inside the Eurasian Union are cynical manoeuvres intended to buy him time whilst he builds up his power base so that he can chip away at the links to Russia later.
I take a different view. I think it more likely that Pashinyan’s earlier criticisms were simply intended to distinguish him from Sargsyan and the Republicans, and now that he has achieved his purpose of becoming Armenia’s Prime Minister they will be quietly forgotten.
Even if that is wrong, the very fact that Pashinyan has felt obliged to make these pledges as soon as it became clear that he would become Prime Minister speaks for itself.
The simple fact is that Pashinyan would almost certainly not have become Armenia’s Prime Minister if he had not made these pledges. Quite simply there is no critical mass in Armenia of opponents of the nation’s alliance with Russia sufficient to propel to power a politician who pledges to end that alliance. Far too many Armenians realise that given Armenia’s difficult geopolitical environment the alliance with Russia is – as Pashinyan says – essential for Armenia’s security to make it possible for an Armenian politician who wishes to end that alliance to gain power.
That immediately limits what Pashinyan can do, even if he secretly does wish to break with Russia, which as it happens I strongly doubt.