Russia’s President Vladimir Putin joined U.S. and European officials on Monday in urging Armenia’s government and opposition to resolve their bloody post-election standoff through a “dialogue.”
Putin was reported to make the appeal in a phone call with Prime Minister and President-elect Serzh Sarkisian. Both the Kremlin and the Armenian government said he again congratulated Sarkisian on his victory in last month’s disputed president and invited him to visit Moscow soon.
“Vladimir Putin attached importance to the need to overcome the political situation in Armenia that arose during the post-election period by political methods, by means of a dialogue with the opposition,” Sarkisian’s press office said in a statement. In Putin’s view, the statement added, such dialogue is important not only for restoring political stability in Armenia but also “further strengthening” Russian-Armenian relations.
Putin’s reported remarks are quite noteworthy given the strong Russian support which Armenia’s current leadership has enjoyed throughout his eight-year presidency. While recognizing the outcome of the Armenian presidential vote, the Kremlin has stopped short of publicly endorsing the authorities’ post-election crackdown on the opposition led by Sarkisian’s main election challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Calls for a dialogue between the two mutually hostile camps have also been made by senior U.S. and European diplomats who visited Armenia following the March 1 violent clashes in Yerevan between security forces and thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters protesting against the official vote results. The diplomats, among them U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, also pressed the authorities in Yerevan to lift a state of emergency imposed by outgoing President Robert Kocharian.
“We recognize that at a certain point when violent events were developing, however they developed, there needed to be order restored,” said Joseph Pennington, the U.S. charge d’affaires in Yerevan who accompanied Bryza during his talks with Kocharian, Sarkisian and Ter-Petrosian late last week. “But we believe that now the state of emergency should be lifted, that press restrictions should be removed and that the sooner those things happen, the sooner Armenia can get back on the democratic path we want to see Armenia on.”
Kocharian made it clear last week that the state of emergency will remain in force at least until March 20. Statements by his and Sarkisian’s pres services implied that Bryza did not press for the lifting of emergency rule. Furthermore, Bryza was quoted as praising Sarkisian as a “special leader” who can count on U.S. support.
Pennington told RFE/RL that the comments were “taken out of context” and “do not reflect the entire message of Mr. Bryza’s visit.” The diplomat, who had a separate follow-up meeting with Ter-Petrosian on Saturday, also said both he and Bryza urged the opposition leader to embark on a “constructive political dialogue.” But he declined to reveal Ter-Petrosian’s response to those calls.
Ter-Petrosian, meanwhile, had a phone conversation on Monday with Peter Semneby, the European Union’s special representative to the South Caucasus who has also been mediating between the Armenian government and opposition. A statement by the ex-president’s office quoted him as telling Semneby that the government failed to take “any steps aimed at overcoming the political crisis and easing tensions in the country.” Ter-Petrosian claimed that police officers in some parts of the country have teamed up with “criminal elements” to harass and attack his active supporters.