Robert Kocharian, Armenia’s former president facing criminal charges criticized by Russia, has described a recent phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin as a show of “serious support” for him.
In an extensive newspaper interview published on Wednesday, Kocharian praised Putin and claimed to have developed a warm rapport with the latter during his 1998-2008 rule.
“Our contacts have continued ever since the end of my presidency,” he told the Russian daily “Kommersant.” “I did not publicize or try to somehow capitalize on them.”
“I have huge respect for him and feel that his attitude towards me is similar,” he said. “We respect each other and all the work which we had jointly done in Russian-Armenian relations.”
Putin telephoned Kocharian to congratulate him on his 64th birthday anniversary on August 31. The phone call came just over a month after Kocharian was arrested on charges of illegally using the armed forces against opposition protesters in Yerevan in February-March 2008.
An Armenian appeals court freed him from custody on August 13. The ex-president denies the charges as politically motivated.
In late July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced the prosecutions of Kocharian, as well as two retired Armenian generals facing the same charges. Lavrov said they run counter to the new Armenian leadership’s earlier pledges not to “persecute its predecessors for political motives.”
“That phone call [from Putin] is serious support, but I have never showcased these relations,” said Kocharian.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian downplayed the significance of the call before visiting Moscow and meeting Putin on September 8. Pashinian declared after those talks that Russian-Armenian relations are “brilliant.” He went on to brand Kocharian as well as another former president, Serzh Sarkisian, as “political corpses.”
Kocharian scoffed at that characterization, saying that in fact Pashinian is scared of his political comeback which he announced immediately after his release from jail. “I suppose that he is very worried about the results achieved during my presidential tenure,” he said. “And a considerable part of the society realizes that I am capable of doing that once again.”
Comparing Pashinian to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Kocharian again gave a grim assessment of the current Armenian government’s track record. “It is chaotic, knows nothing about the economy and lacks a clear plan of actions,” he said.
The ex-president specifically accused Pashinian’s cabinet of scaring away local and foreign investors. “Nobody knows what is on the minds of the new government members,” he claimed. “This means uncertainty and money runs away from uncertainty. Just the opposite was the case during my time [in office.]”
Pashinian, his loyalists and other critics say that Kocharian systematically stifled dissent, tolerated government corruption, sponsored economic monopolies, and rigged elections when he ran the country from 1998-2008.
Announcing his comeback on August 16, Kocharian denied that corruption was widespread at the time. He argued that the Armenian economy grew fivefold and living standards improved considerably in the ten-year period. He also dismissed long-standing claims that he made a huge personal fortune while in office, challenging the current authorities to prove his alleged enrichment.