“Russia is our ally and Armenia cannot have a better ally,” Vanetsian told Vladimir Solovyov, an outspoken Russian TV host close to the Kremlin, in an interview live streamed on the latter’s YouTube channel. “We must have the right, straightforward relationship with Russia.”
“Russia is not an ordinary country, Russia is a superpower,” he said. “I think that after coming to power we will need to consider having closer cooperation, deeper integration processes with the Russian Federation. Relations between Armenia and Russia must be upgraded to a lever where nobody would be able to change it.”
Vanetsian is a former director of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS) who tops the list of the Pativ Unem bloc’s candidates in the early elections slated for June. The bloc consists of his Fatherland party and former President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). It is seen as one of Prime Nikol Pashinian’s main challengers.
Vanetsian, Sarkisian and their associates accuse Pashinian of seriously undermining Russian-Armenian relations during his three-year rule. The prime minister has also faced similar accusations from other opposition leaders, notably former President Robert Kocharian.
Kocharian, who leads another opposition alliance, has repeatedly made a case for much closer ties with Russia after Armenia’s defeat in last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Pashinian has also vowed to deepen Russian-Armenian ties. He stated in April that Russian military presence in Armenia is vital for the country’s national security and should become even stronger soon.
Vanetsian also effectively endorsed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea strongly condemned by the West. He said it was backed by the vast majority of the Ukrainian region’s population.
“I believe that everyone must respect the Crimean people’s right to self-determination and I’m sure that Crimea is Russian,” he declared.
Vanetsian, 42, was appointed as head of Armenia’s most powerful security agency immediately the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Sarkisian and brought Pashinian to power. He quickly became an influential member of Pashinian’s entourage but eventually fell out with the prime minister and resigned in September 2019.