Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian returned from Moscow on Friday, refusing to disclose important details of what he called a “private and confidential” visit that involved “several good meetings.”
Hovannisian, who was accompanied by his wife and elder son, said he was invited to Moscow by unnamed Russian circles that wanted to “hear the opinion of the majority of Armenia’s people.”
“We met with relevant circles. I am grateful for those meetings,” he told journalists upon his arrival at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport. He did not deny that Russian state officials were among his interlocutors.
“I can only say one thing. I didn’t meet with Russia’s president,” added the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun party, who was President Serzh Sarkisian’s main challenger in the February 18 presidential election.
Asked whether he discussed his post-election demonstrations, Hovannisian replied ambiguously, “My visit to Moscow corresponded to the post-election period but was not connected with it.”
The trip came as a surprise given Hovannisian’s vocal criticism of the nature of Armenia’s close ties with Russia. He repeatedly said during the presidential election campaign that that relationship should be put on an equal footing. Critics now say that he too is not averse to seeking Russian support for his campaign against the Armenian government.
Hovannisian dismissed such claims. “I didn’t go to any foreign capital before the elections or before April 9. I went there after the infamous false inauguration [of Serzh Sarkisian] took place on April 9. It confirmed the fact that these authorities are not legitimate,” he said.
The U.S.-born politician made not mention of his meetings in Moscow when he again rallied supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square later in the day. He addressed instead criticism of his erratic behavior during Tuesday’s anti-government protests that ended in brief clashes with riot police.
Hovannisian admitted committing “mistakes” during those protests but said he is heartened by the fact that they did not result in bloodshed. He went on to condemn unnamed “false opposition leaders who wanted to lead people to bloodshed.” “We will achieve a victory without a single drop of blood,” he said, adding, “This regime will resign. False oppositions will also resign because the citizens of Armenia have won.”
Hovannisian did not specify, however, how he will go about toppling the Sarkisian administration. He implied only that he will be increasingly concentrating on the May 5 municipal election sin Yerevan.
The Barev Yerevan (Hello Yerevan) opposition bloc formed by Hovannisian last month will be one of the main election contenders.