By Emil Danielyan
Russia on Monday reaffirmed its unwavering support for President Robert Kocharian through its envoy in Yerevan who met the embattled Armenian leader to congratulate him on his victory in last week’s presidential election.
Ambassador Anatoly Dryukov is the first foreign diplomat to visit Kocharian since the March 5 second round of voting. Moscow was quick to recognize the official outcome of the election strongly criticized by Western observers, with President Vladimir Putin describing Kocharian’s reelection as “convincing and impressive.” The two leaders had a phone conversation on Friday that followed Putin’s separate, written message of congratulation to his Armenian counterpart.
In a further international boost to official Yerevan, French President Jacques Chirac followed suit late Monday, congratulating Kocharian “on behalf of the French people and myself.”
The move sharply contrasted with Western criticism of serious irregularities reported by a monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe. The United States has expressed its “deep disappointment” with the Armenian authorities’ handling of the poll, effectively challenging its legitimacy. A similar statement has been issued by the Council of Europe’s two most high-ranking officials.
France’s reaction to the 1998 Armenian presidential election, also marred by fraud allegations, was similarly different from that of most other Western countries and organizations. The then French ambassador to Armenia described Kocharian as a “properly elected president.”
Putin’s endorsement of Kocharian’s victory seems to have angered defeated candidate Stepan Demirchian and his opposition allies. Although they have so far stopped short of openly denouncing the Kremlin, they have repeatedly and conspicuously thanked Western powers for what they believe is an “honest and objective assessment” of the elections.
In a significant development, thousands of opposition supporters whistled and booed as they marched past the Russian embassy in Yerevan last week during a street protest against alleged electoral fraud. By contrast, the crowd applauded enthusiastically outside the nearby French and Italian missions.
The Western criticism of the authorities in Yerevan was a major theme of speeches at the last opposition rally on Sunday. Several opposition leaders portrayed it as the opinion of “the entire civilized world.”
According to the Armenian president’s press office, Kocharian and Ambassador Dryukov discussed prospects for further deepening of Russian-Armenian relations, putting the emphasis on the “expansion of bilateral economic cooperation.” No details were reported.
The two governments are expected to sign soon an agreement giving the Russians control over the financial management of Armenia’s Metsamor nuclear power station in payment for its $40 million debts to Russian nuclear companies. According to Armenian press reports, they might also be granted ownership of several Armenian hydro-electric power plants as part of the deal.
Moscow already owns Armenia’s largest thermal power plant in Hrazdan.