Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has dismissed suggestions that his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev behaved disrespectfully towards him at a Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) meeting held in Yerevan on Tuesday.
A short video of the meeting of the prime ministers of the EEU member states caused a stir in Armenia immediately after being circulated on the Internet on Wednesday. It shows Pashinian chairing and speaking at the session in Russian.
“If there are no questions, my friends, can we already switch to?” he said and paused.
“Switch to where?” Medvedev cut in.
“Switch to the procedure of signing our documents,” replied Pashinian. “So shall we switch now?”
Medvedev nodded and grinned, as did Russian officials sitting next to him.
The Russian prime minister’s behavior was widely construed by many Armenian social media users as a mockery of Pashinian and his less than perfect command of the Russian language. Pashinian’s critics seized upon the video to deride him, while his supporters and political allies hit out at Medvedev.
The critics included Alen Simonian, a deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament and leading member of the ruling My Step alliance. Without mentioning Medvedev by name, Simonian condemned his “untactful joke” and said Pashinian responded to it properly.
“You have the guts when you see and smile at your guest’s mistake because you are confident about your power and yourself,” Simonian said in a Facebook post.
However, Pashinian downplayed the incident and blamed his domestic detractors for the “storm on social media.” He insisted that Medvedev did not mock him and simply hoped that participants of the EEU meeting will “switch to a coffee room.”
“Because we all were terribly tired and wanted coffee,” he wrote on Facebook late on Wednesday. “The session lasted two and a half hours longer than planned.”
Ruben Rubinian, the pro-government chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on foreign relations, likewise insisted on Thursday that the Armenian and Russian premiers had an “ordinary” conversation.
Asked whether he thinks anti-Russian statements made in response to the video could harm Russian-Armenian relations, Rubinian said: “In a way maybe, but I also don’t overestimate the impact of Facebook storms.”
Reacting to the uproar, Pashinian also pointed to his informal “contacts” with Medvedev which preceded the EEU gathering. The two men met in Pashinian’s private residence and reportedly visited a music club in Yerevan on Monday.
At those informal talks, Pashinian reassured Medvedev that Armenia remains committed to its continued membership in the EEU and broader alliance with Russia. “I’m sure that contrary to pessimists we will succeed in raising our relations to a new level,” he said.
Pashinian had criticized Armenia’s accession to the EEU and even called for its withdrawal from the Russian-led trade bloc before he came to power in last spring’s “velvet revolution.”
In a Russian newspaper interview published last week, the 43-year-old former journalist admitted that he is still distrusted by “some Russian circles.” He said they are wrong to suspect that the Armenian revolution was orchestrated by Western powers.