A senior pro-government parliamentarian on Monday shrugged off former National Security Service (NSS) Director Artur Vanetsian’s claim that activities financed by U.S. billionaire George Soros in Armenia pose a security risk.
Vanetsian, who is increasingly at loggerheads with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, made the claim last week in a video interview with “168 Zham” newspaper that was also aired by an Armenian TV channel.
Asked whether he believes the work of the Armenian branch of Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF) “carries dangers for Armenia,” he replied: “The short answer is yes.” He did not elaborate.
Lilit Makunts, the parliamentary leader of Pashinian’s My Step alliance, said that she is bewildered by Vanetsian’s remark and believes that it should not be taken seriously.
“Mr. Vanetsian was NSS director for quite some time and if he had information about dangers to our national security [emanating from OSF] I am sure that Mr.Vanetsian would have taken all necessary steps to neutralize them,” Makunts told a news conference. “If this was not done by him, then I’m sure that there were no such dangers.”
Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party, described Vanetsian’s statement as “political.” At the same time Marukian called it a “crime report” that must be investigated by relevant authorities.
Pashinian appointed Vanetsian as head of the country’s most powerful security agency immediately after coming to power in the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018. Vanetsian quickly became one of the most influential members of the prime minister’s entourage, overseeing a number of high-profile corruption investigations launched by the new Armenian authorities.
Vanetsian was unexpectedly sacked as NSS director in September for still unclear reasons. He criticized Pashinian’s “impulsive” leadership style, triggering a bitter war of words with the premier.
In the televised interview, the former NSS chief doubled down on his verbal attacks, accusing the authorities of misleading the public. He also pointedly declined to say whether he believes Armenia’s national security is now in danger.
Nationalist and other groups opposed to Pashinian’s government increasingly attack OSF in their public statements. They allege that the government is furthering Soros’s secret political agenda in Armenia which they say threatens national security and traditional Armenian values.
Some of them have gone as far as to claim that Soros was behind last year’s dramatic regime change in the country. They have argued that Armenian civic activists funded by OSF actively participated in the “Velvet Revolution.”
Pashinian has repeatedly brushed aside such claims. Visiting Los Angeles in September, he revealed that Soros expressed a desire to meet with him on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland early this year. He said he turned down the “request” because of his busy schedule.
OSF’s office in Yerevan has also denounced “false allegations” about its activities. In a March 2019 statement, OSF-Armenia said the Soros foundation will continue to support “civil society organizations and all Armenians working to advance sustainable, systemic reforms.”