Amid lingering speculation about his political ambitions, Artur Vanetsian, the former National Security Service (NSS) director increasingly at loggerheads with Armenia’s leadership, has set up a “development fund” which he says will support pro-democracy initiatives.
The fund called Hayrenik (Fatherland) was registered by the Armenian Justice Ministry late last month. According to its statues, it will aim to “support programs contributing to the strengthening of democracy” in the country.
Vanetsian promised to comment on the fund’s activities next month when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone on Wednesday.
Hayrenik’s board of trustees comprises Vanetsian and two senior academics from Yerevan State University.
One of them, political scientist Artur Atanesian, dismissed as “fairy tales” suggestions that the creation of the non-governmental organizations is part of preparations for Vanetsian’s political activities. But he also said: “Talking about that will happen in the future and so on is a thankless exercise.”
Atanesian also cited opinion polls which showed that Vanetsian had high approval ratings when he ran the NSS.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian appointed Vanetsian as head of Armenia’s most powerful security agency immediately after coming to power in the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018. The NSS officer quickly became one of the most influential members of Pashinian’s entourage, overseeing a number of high-profile corruption investigations launched by the new Armenian authorities.
Vanetsian was unexpectedly sacked in September this year for still unclear reasons. He criticized Pashinian’s “impulsive” leadership style immediately after his dismissal, triggering a bitter war of words with the premier. He also resigned on November 21 as chairman of the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) under apparent pressure from pro-government members of the FFA’s executive body.
According to the state NGO registry, Vanetsian’s fund has no money at its disposal yet. Atanesian said Hayrenik will organize fundraisers to finance its activities. It will refuse possible donations from some “foreign organizations,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Asked whether they include U.S. billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF), Atanesian said: “In 2002 I received a Soros fund grant for organizing courses and am very grateful for that. Of course, it was provided not by the Armenian branch of the Soros fund but by the Budapest-based Central European University. I personally will never spread hate speech addressed to any fund or person.”
In a TV interview aired last month, Vanetsian charged that activities financed by the OSF in Armenia pose a national security risk. The OSF office in Yerevan denounced the claim.
As he marked his 40th birthday anniversary on Sunday, Vanetsian received an unusually warm congratulatory message from Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechnya region close to the Kremlin. The message posted on Instagram was construed by some observers as a show of Russian support for Armenia’s former security chief.
Kadyrov referred to Vanetsian as “our brother” and posted his photograph with the latter which was apparently taken during exercises held by security services of several ex-Soviet states in Chechnya earlier this year. “I am convinced that Artur Vanetsian is a big friend of the Russian people and a supporter of strengthening relations between Russia and Armenia,” he wrote.
Vanetsian thanked the Chechen strongman for the congratulation on his own Instagram page.