Russia’s ambassador to Armenia was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Yerevan last week after meeting with the indicted former President Robert Kocharian, a senior Armenian lawmaker revealed on Monday.
Ambassador Sergey Kopyrkin and Kocharian met on Thursday nearly one month after the latter was controversially released from prison pending the outcome of his trial. The ex-president was charged with overthrowing the constitutional order in 2008 shortly after last year’s Armenian “velvet revolution.” He denies the accusations as politically motivated.
The Russian Embassy in Yerevan said Kopyrkin spoke to Kocharian “within the framework of his regular meetings with representatives of social-political and business circles” of Armenia.
Parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan dismissed this explanation on Sunday when he spoke at a congress of the ruling Civil Contract party. Mirzoyan said he does “not welcome” the meeting because Kocharian is facing coup charges and cannot be considered a politician in these circumstances.
The pro-government chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on foreign relations, Ruben Rubinian, similarly described Kopyrkin’s conversation with Kocharian as “bewildering.” Rubinian’s deputy, Hovannes Igitian, went farther, denouncing it as “ludicrous.”
“Look, newspapers write that Kocharian is backed by Russia’s [ruling] elite,” Igitian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Kocharian’s entourage is spreading such claims. In this context, the ambassador’s meeting was ludicrous to say the least.”
A pro-Western opposition parliamentarian, Arman Babajanian, also deplored Kopyrkin’s meeting with Kocharian at a session of the parliament committee attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Grigor Hovannisian. The latter insisted that the Russian envoy did not break the diplomatic protocol.
“The ambassador did not do anything wrong within the bounds of the diplomatic protocol and norms,” said Hovannisian. “That [meeting] cannot be deemed condemnable or be the subject of a special examination by our ministry.”
Rubinian announced later in the day that he has discussed the matter with Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanian. “The minister informed me that in fact the Russian ambassador was invited on Friday to the Foreign Ministry where a conversation took place with the ambassador in the context of not interfering in Armenia’s internal affairs,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Deputy Minister Hovannisian did not speak about this at the committee meeting because at that point he did not have a permission to publicize the information,” added the lawmaker.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced the prosecution of Kocharian as well as other former Armenian officials shortly after the ex-president was first arrested in July 2018.
Kocharian was set free in early August two weeks before Russian President Putin telephoned him to congratulate him on his 64th birthday anniversary. A spokesman for Putin said at the time that the two men “have been maintaining warm relations that are not influenced by any events taking place in Armenia.” Kocharian, who ruled Armenia from 1998-2008, described the phone call as a show of “serious support” for him.
The ex-president was again arrested in December. Three weeks later, he received New Year greetings from Putin.
Kocharian, his former chief of staff Armen Gevorgian and two retired generals went on trial last month. The judge presiding over the trial, Davit Grigorian, ordered Kocharian released from jail five days later. The decision was strongly condemned by Pashinian’s political allies and supporters.