Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian has launched another blistering attack on the European Union, saying that it provoked Russia to pressurize Armenia into joining a Russian-led customs union with a far-reaching Association Agreement offered to Yerevan.
Ter-Petrosian again sought to rationalize the Russian pressure and deplored Western support for President Serzh Sarkisian as he addressed senior members of this Armenian National Congress (HAK) party over the weekend.
“The West has reaped what it sowed in Armenia and it should not hold others responsible,” he said. “If it now complains about Russia’s pressure on Eastern Partnership countries, it has primarily itself to blame for failing to take that factor into account right from the beginning.
“Furthermore, there is even reason to assert that in a sense, the EU provoked recent developments with its reckless policy. Before the idea of European association was initiated, Russia did not demand that Ukraine and Armenia join the Customs Union, but when it saw that there are overt attempts to bring those countries out of its zone of influence it adopted a tough stance.”
Ter-Petrosian similarly brushed aside domestic and Western complaints about Moscow’s heavy-handed tactics in his earlier statements on Sarkisian’s unexpected decision to join the Russian-led bloc. “I would have been surprised if Russia had not exerted pressure,” he said in September 16 comments to the ilur.am online publication. “Do not forget that Russia is a superpower and it is only natural that it is guided by superpowers’ rules of the game.”
Ter-Petrosian’s stance reflects, in large measure, his frustration with what he sees as strong Western support lent to Sarkisian during his nearly six-year rule. The HAK leader, who had served as independent Armenia’s first president, on Saturday again accused Western powers of turning a blind eye to “numerous crimes” committed by the current Armenian leadership. He singled out their failure to explicitly condemn the use of deadly force against his opposition movement in the wake of the disputed February 2008 presidential election.
Ter-Petrosian claimed that the resulting “profound disappointment of the Armenian people with the West and its double standards” is one of the reasons why Armenia, unlike Ukraine, has not seen massive anti-government protests following the collapse of the planned integration pact with the EU. He described the traditionally strong pro-Russian sentiment among Armenians as another key factor.
The ex-president, who will turn 69 on January 9, at the same time derided his “pro-Western” opposition rivals and civic figures that had supported Sarkisian’s ill-fated European integration drive for failing to stage big rallies in support of the Association Agreement. He referred to them as “marginal elements.”
Many of those elements ardently supported Ter-Petrosian during the 2008 presidential race but grew disillusioned with him in the following years. Some of them were quick to rebut his latest attacks through the media and online social networks. They pointed to his continuing reluctance to hold Russia responsible for Armenia’s ills and speak out against Armenian membership of the Customs Union.
“Did the West turn a blind eye to vote rigging in the February 2008 presidential elections and the March 1 killings? Yes it did,” Aram Abrahamian, the editor of the “Aravot” daily, wrote on its website on Monday. “But didn’t Russia also turn a blind eye? Could people have been declared presidents [of Armenia] after the rigged presidential elections of 1996, 1998, 2003, 2008 and 2013 without Russia’s backing?”
Other, more bitter Ter-Petrosian critics in pro-European opposition and civic circles accuse the HAK leader of seeking the Kremlin’s support for another bid to return to power.
Ter-Petrosian may have given them more ammunition to make such claims when he declared on Saturday that his opposition party is fighting against Sarkisian, rather than “the fait accompli” in Armenia’s relations with Russia. “I am confident that the time to hold the government accountable will come soon,” he concluded without elaborating.