Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has rejected allegations by one of the most influential figures in Russia’s state-run media that he has been undermining Russian-Armenian relations and supporting Western-funded groups hostile to Moscow.
Margarita Simonyan, the ethnic Armenian chief editor of the television network RT and several other Kremlin-funded media outlets, accused Pashinian last week of turning Armenia into a “bridgehead of anti-Russian forces in the Caucasus.”
In a social media post, Simonyan pointed to Yerevan’s failure to formally recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and controversial coup charges brought against former Armenian President Robert Kocharian. She charged that Pashinian “spat in the face of your Russian friends” by having “Russia’s perennial ally” jailed two years ago.
Simonyan also claimed that Pashinian has “inundated” Armenia with non-governmental organizations that are “training young people how to overthrow the government in Russia.”
Pashinian rejected the accusations in an interview with RBC, a private Russian TV channel, aired on Tuesday.
The prime minister argued, in particular, that most Armenian NGOs funded by Western governments or private donors were set up when he Armenia was governed by Kocharian or his successor Serzh Sarkisian. “If [Kocharian and Sarkisian] were so pro-Russian why did they not shut down those organizations?” he asked.
Turning to the high-profile case against Kocharian, Pashinian said: “They should realize in Russia that Russia’s [main] ally in Armenia is not Pashinian, Petrosian, Poghosian, Kocharian or Sarkisian. Russia’s ally and partner is the Armenian people. This is a very importance nuance.”
Russia and Armenia, Pashinian went on, have long maintained close political, economic and military ties because of their “common strategic interests,” rather than certain individuals. He said that contrary to some gloomy Russian forecasts he has not changed his country’s geopolitical orientation since coming to power in the “Velvet Revolution” of April-May 2018.
Kocharian, who ruled the South Caucasus state from 1998-2008, was first arrested in July 2018 on coup charges strongly denied by him. The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the criminal case as politically motivated at the time.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly signaled support for Kocharian since then. During an October 2019 visit to Yerevan, Putin made a point of meeting with the ex-president’s wife Bella.
Armenia’s Court of Appeals released Kocharian from custody on bail late last month. Prosecutors appealed against the ruling.
Speaking to the Russian broadcaster, Pashinian also praised Russia’s “absolutely constructive” role in international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In that context, he implicitly urged Moscow to counter what he described as Turkey’s efforts to fan Armenian-Azerbaijani tensions and eventually “take control of the Caucasus.”
“If that becomes a reality, I think it is first and foremost clear to the Russians what geopolitical consequences that would have,” he said.
“Russia cannot stay away from these events [in the conflict zone] because at stake are vital interests of not only Armenia but also the Russian Federation,” added the Armenian leader.