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By Emil Danielyan

Close associates of Levon Ter-Petrosian questioned on Friday former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s claims that the former Armenian president will not run in the presidential election scheduled for next February.

Yeltsin made the statement in Yerevan on Thursday after being asked by journalists to reveal details of his private meeting with Ter-Petrosian held on Tuesday. “He said at his own initiative that he is not going to engage in politics, that he is not going to put forward his candidacy for the Armenian presidency,” Yeltsin declared at the end of a six-day visit to Armenia.

But some members of the Armenian ex-president’s inner circle cast doubt on the credibility of the information. “I believe that they could not have had such a conversation,” Vahagn Khachatrian, a former senior government official, told RFE/RL. “If Ter-Petrosian had indeed had a message about his political future, he would not have let it be known through Yeltsin.”

Another longtime Ter-Petrosian associate, former National Security Minister David Shahnazarian, was quoted by newspapers as insisting that independent Armenia’s first president will contest the February ballot. “I remain confident that Ter-Petrosian will take part in the elections,” Shahnazarian said.

However, other figures close to Ter-Petrosian were more cautious in commenting on Yeltsin’s remarks. “I do not know how credible that statement was,” said Levon Zurabian, the former presidential press secretary. The ex-president’s current official spokesman, Avetis Avagian, declined a comment.

It was not clear whether Ter-Petrosian has informed any of his confidantes about details of his meeting with Yeltsin, the first in five years. Khachatrian claimed that the two former leaders and their wives talked only about “family matters.” “In any case, what Yeltsin did was ethically wrong. He left Ter-Petrosian in a very awkward situation,” he said.

Khachatrian also repeated allegations that President Robert Kocharian “did everything” to keep the visiting Russian ex-president from meeting his former Armenian counterpart, with whom he had forged close ties between Russia and Armenia in the early 1990s. Kocharian, whose reelection bid was on Thursday endorsed by Yeltsin, has denied those allegations through a spokesman.

It was the Ter-Petrosian associates who fueled speculation several months ago about their revered leader’s possible return to the political arena. Interviewed by RFE/RL this summer, some of them said that he is unlikely to run for president without cobbling together a broad-based opposition coalition. Ter-Petrosian, in the meantime, has continued to avoid any contacts with the public and media.

Very few major political parties other than the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) have so far indicated their readiness to rally around him. Many of the parties opposed to Kocharian remain very critical of the former Armenian leadership and its eight-year track record.

They on Friday downplayed the significance of Yeltsin’s endorsement of Kocharian, which some commentators believe reflects the position of official Moscow. The leader of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), Stepan Demirchian, called it “just an opinion expressed by a private person,” while Hanrapetutyun’s Albert Bazeyan argued that Yeltsin’s stance was “natural.”

“He was, after all, invited to Armenia by the authorities and is absolutely uninformed about Armenian politics,” Bazeyan said.
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