Toxic ties with Russia make Armenia lose historic prospects and fall into frustration.
On Thursday, 25 February, global news agencies spread the news about an attempted military coup in Armenia. The General Staff demanded the resignation of the government and Prime Minister Pashinyan. People having the same demands took to the streets of Yerevan. However, nothing happened. Moreover, Nikol Pashinyan called to the streets his supporters, whose number almost exceeds the opponents.
The situation is very unusual. It seemed that after the disgraceful defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, the political responsibility for the complete unpreparedness for large-scale hostilities should overthrow the government. There has been talk that Moscow is also interested in ousting Pashinyan, who headed the government in 2018 after mass protests. Those events were called the “Velvet Revolution.” Armenians were proud of their own democratic tradition, and the Kremlin is known to have great distrust of anti-systemic politicians. This time the relations between the military and the prime minister were aggravated after the prime minister’s statements about the poor technical qualities of Russian-made Iskander missiles. The statements allegedly offended Russia, and an order was given to remove the disloyal leader of Armenia through the help of the military leadership that has a more respectful attitude towards its “big brother.”
I must say that this version doesn’t hold up against criticism. And not only because Prime Minister Pashinyan has not gone anywhere, and his conflict with the military and the president, who sided with them, continues. On 2 March, President Armen Sarkissian for the second time refused to sign the prime minister’s motion to dismiss the Chief of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Onik Gasparyan. In response, Pashinyan announced at a rally of his supporters that he intended to hold a referendum in October and amend the Constitution, turning the parliamentary system into a semi-presidential one. According to him, this should be done to further exclude the formation of domestic political crises. That is, the head of government not only stays in power, but also goes on the offensive against his opponents.
Russia simply has no need to interfere in Armenian affairs. The country has been and remains in a geopolitical deadlock, despite any possible leadership reshuffles. All illusions about “Greater Armenia” were based on their attachment to the idea of ”Greater Russia.” Hopes for Russian military power and undisputed authority in the region led to the underestimation of Azerbaijan’s military-political potential, the alliance of the worst enemy with Turkey, and, as a result, a historic defeat. “Everyone in Armenia believes that Russia has all the means to prevent a new escalation in our region and restrain Azerbaijan from attacking Armenia and Karabakh… I cannot believe that our strategic partner, our centuries-old brother and friend will allow for war to happen,” Pashinyan said in an interview with the Echo of Moscow radio station in the summer of 2018.
However, in the autumn of 2020, Russia, which has been losing international traction since 2014, could not afford to spoil relations with Azerbaijan and especially Turkey, and Armenia’s interests were of secondary importance to it. True to form, even when Azerbaijan shot down a Russian military helicopter over Armenian territory on 9 November, killing its crew members, Moscow reacted with reserve verging on indifference. Armenia was left alone with much more powerful force. After the surrender of Nagorno-Karabakh, it is inappropriate to talk about “Greater Armenia;” it would be good to preserve the existing one. And there is no one to rely on except Russia. The Kremlin understands this perfectly well, so they do not interfere in the current political crisis: Yerevan has no escape from its “brother.”
Indeed, many Armenians believe that Russia has left their country to its fate, by refusing to intervene on the side of Armenia and offering mediation only when the outcome was determined. Representatives of the Sasna Tsrer military-political movement even hold the rallies in Yerevan these days demanding “to stop the Russian occupation of Armenia,” but they form an insignificant minority. For most, like Russia or not, there is no other ally; like Pashinyan or not, Vazgen Manukyan, the only opposition leader and defence minister during the first victorious Karabakh war of 1992-1994, will not be able to change anything. Nobody wants to fight again.
Armenia is in a state of total social frustration. The bright-eyed hopes for a velvet revolution failed, undermining faith in the efficiency of civic activism and democratic transformations. The country suffered a painful defeat and lost hope to revive the desired “Greater Armenia.” Revenge does not look real at all. Russia, even after a blatant demonstration of a detached and, as some believe, treacherous position, remains the only force Armenia can count on, although without the bygone trust. All these factors kill the zeal and massiveness of people’s demonstrations. Everyone is disappointed and depressed. Nobody sees a way out or can show it to others. The country is turning into a hopeless territory in an orbit close to Russia, differing only slightly from Abkhazia or South Ossetia.
The allied relations, which Armenia recently considered a gift from God, put an end to the prospects for its free development.