In an apparent appeal to Russia, opposition leader Nikol Pashinian again said on Friday that he will not pull Armenia out of Russian-led defense and trade blocs if he succeeds in coming to power.
Pashinian denounced what he called false claims about the anti-Russian character of his protest movement as he addressed thousands of people demonstrating in Gyumri, the country’s second largest city home to a Russian military base.
“I don’t even want to say that we are not enemies of Russia because it’s obvious that we are not,” he said. “But even more so, we are not enemies of our country who would put our country on imprudent and adventurist paths.”
“We have never said and are not saying that Armenia must leave the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO,” he said. “We guarantee that Armenia must remain a member of the CSTO. Not because we love it or don’t but because that stems from Armenia’s national interests.”
“We affirm that Armenia will continue to honor all of its international obligations,” Pashinian went on. That includes its accession treaty with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) signed in October 2014, he said.
Pashinian was one of seven members of Armenia’s parliament who voted against the ratification of the treaty in December 2014. And as recently as last fall, the Yelk alliance comprising his Civil Contract and two other opposition parties demanded Armenia’s exit from the Russian-led union.
Pashinian said in October 2017 that EEU membership has dealt “very serious blows” to his country’s sovereignty. Yerevan must sign instead an Association Agreement with the European Union, he said.
The 42-year-old leader has repeatedly denied any “geopolitical” motives or objectives of the nationwide anti-government protests launched by him earlier this month. Earlier on Friday, he insisted that Russia is not supporting Armenia’s acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian in the standoff.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday phoned Karapetian and called for a settlement of the Armenian crisis that would be based on “the results of the legitimate parliamentary elections held in April 2017.” The elections were won by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Putin’s comments were therefore construed by some observers as a show of support for Karapetian.
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, on Friday urged “all interested parties” to end the crisis by “consensus.” “In this regard, we are now waiting for and monitoring the election of the [new Armenian] prime minister which will take place in the parliament on May 1,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
Meanwhile, a high-level delegation of both houses of Russia’s parliament was visiting Yerevan amid the lingering political tensions there. The delegation reportedly included Leonid Kalashnikov, chairman of a State Duma committee on “Eurasian integration,” and his first deputy, Konstantin Zatulin.
“We are familiarizing ourselves with the situation,” Zatulin told the Interfax news agency. He said the Russian lawmakers have already met with the Armenian parliament speaker, Ara Babloyan, and would also like to hold talks with Pashinian.
The RIA Novosti news agency quoted a spokesman for Pashinian as saying that the protest leader is “ready for such a meeting.”