Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has launched fresh scathing attacks on Artur Vanetsian, prompting angry rebuttals from the former head of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS).
Vanetsian was one of the most influential members of Pashinian’s entourage until being unexpectedly relieved of his duties in September last year. He criticized Pashinian’s “impulsive” leadership style following his dismissal, triggering a bitter war of words with the premier.
The public feud between the two men was reignited in January by Pashinian’s “Haykakan Zhamanak” newspaper. In an extensive article, it charged that Vanetsian is behind a smear campaign against the prime minister’s family waged by anti-government media.
The former NSS chief strongly denied the allegations before filing a defamation suit against the paper in February.
Earlier this week, Pashinian’s spokeswoman, Mane Gevorgian, accused Vanetsian of cutting shady business deals with Mikael Minasian, a once influential son-in-law of former President Serzh Sarkisian. Gevorgian said that “according to the government’s information” he abused his NSS position to buy Minasian’s minority stake in Armenia’s largest mining company.
Vanetsian strongly denied the claim on Wednesday. “There is a lie, a great lie and a Pashinian lie,” he said in a statement.
He insisted that Pashinian knew beforehand that Minasian’s stake in the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine will be sold to individuals unrelated to Vanetsian in 2018.
Pashinian’s brother-in-law, Hrachya Hakobian, added to the latest attacks on Vanetsian by suggesting that the latter may have worked for a foreign intelligence service.
“Will it turn out one day that Vanetsian was sacked as NSS director because of having been recruited by foreign intelligence services?” Hakobian wrote on Facebook on Wednesday night. He wondered if Vanetsian has not been prosecuted for espionage because the Armenian government does not want to “spoil relations with the recruiting country.”
Hakobian clarified on Thursday that he has no evidence of such espionage and simply “raised questions.” “I don’t have such information but suspect that maybe his resignation occurred in those circumstances,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
“We see no need to comment on yet another unserious and irresponsible statement,” said Kristine Melkonian, a spokeswoman for Vanetsian. “Our lawyers will deal with that.”
Hakobian, who is also a parliament deputy representing Pashinian’s My Step bloc, already alleged in January that Vanetsian was sacked because he was plotting a coup. The NSS said at the time it is not aware of any coup attempts and will not look into Hakobian’s claims.
Vanetsian officially announced his entry into politics in February, saying that he is setting up an opposition party for this purpose. He said the party will strive to disprove government claims that Armenia’s former leaders are the main political rivals of the current authorities.