Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian spoke of a “war declared against the Armenian state” following the release on Wednesday of secret recordings of his sensitive phone conversations with the head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS).
A 7-minute audio posted on YouTube purportedly features three phone calls made by the NSS director, Artur Vanetsian, to Pashinian from Switzerland in July. The two men discussed criminal charges brought against former President Robert Kocharian and Yuri Khachaturov, the then secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
Vanetsian can be heard saying that Khachaturov should not be arrested for now because that would cause “serious problems with the Russians.” “Representatives of [Russian foreign] intelligence and the FSB have come over. They say: ‘Don’t do it,’” he told Pashinian.
Vanetsian said Khachaturov’s arrest on charges stemming from the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan would be regarded by the Russians as a “big slap in the face of the CSTO’s authority.” “It’s like detaining the NATO secretary general,” he explained.
Pashinian seemed to agree, while wondering: “What if [Khachaturov] leaves [Armenia] and never comes back?”
“We won’t let him go. We’ll hold him,” replied Vanetsian.
The two men also seemed to discuss the fate of Kocharian just hours before a court in Yerevan allowed investigators to arrest the ex-president on charges of illegally using the armed forces against opposition protesters in 2008.
“The judge has called me,” said Vanetsian. “He’s a bit afraid of allowing the arrest. I told him: ‘Study the case thoroughly, then call me and tell me where you see weak points and I’ll tell you.The judge is now looking at it. He’ll call me and tell.”
Pashinian was quick to react to the leaked phone calls, confirming the authenticity of the audio but saying that it was doctored to leave out important messages conveyed by him to the NSS chief. In particular, he said, he told Vanetsian that the NSS is “obliged to protect judges.”
“In essence, this is a war declared against the Armenian state,” Pashinian said in a live Facebook transmission. “Those who provoked this war will suffer a crushing defeat.”
Pashinian blamed the wiretapping on the “corrupt system” that rule Armenia before he came to power in a wave of mass protests in May. He said Armenians must respond to it by overwhelmingly voting for his My Step alliance in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
Vanetsian’s phone calls with Sasun Khachatrian, the head of the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body investigating the 2008 violence, were also recorded and publicized by unknown individuals in September. In that audio, he can be heard telling Khachatrian that he ordered a judge to sanction Kocharian’s controversial arrest.
Kocharian, who was released from pre-trial custody in August, portrayed the audio as further proof that the criminal case against him is politically motivated. Other critics of the Armenian government similarly accused the NSS and the SIS of obstruction of justice and illegal pressure on judges.
Pashinian insisted on Wednesday that both Vanetsian and Khachatrian acted “within the bounds of their legal powers.”