Russia’s interference in early parliamentary elections in Armenia did not help pro-Kremlin projects

It is no secret that Armenia does not have a wide choice of allies: the country has long been a kind of geopolitical hostage of Russia. Russian border guards defend the border with Turkey, the Russian base in Gyumri is the foundation of Russia’s military presence in the South Caucasus, and Russian peacekeepers maintain order in Nagorno-Karabakh. Energy is controlled by the Russian-owned Tashir Group; the gas distribution system is owned by Gazprom. It is difficult to speak about the full-fledged sovereignty in such a situation.

Given this context, any winner of the current early parliamentary elections would be forced to maintain allied relations with Russia. It would seem that this gave an opportunity to a great strategic partner not to interfere in the domestic political processes in Armenia at all and to calmly wait for the result. However, neutrality is not the habit of the incumbent Kremlin. Two “presidential” projects were launched against Nikol Pashinyan’s Civic Contract: the Armenia and the I Have the Honour party blocs headed by ex-presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan, respectively. Their rhetoric was not just pro-Russian but openly anti-Western, and it was these structures that garnered the support of “big brother.”

The pro-Russian opposition sponsors did not resort to any political spin subtleties. They simply took administrative measures to involve the staff of the Gazprom Armenia and the Electric Networks of Armenia of the Tashir group of companies in protest rallies and paid money for “correct” voting. “Any employee of Gazprom Armenia or any other company caught on this will be fired, not to mention criminal liability,” Pashinyan warned a week before the election, “I do not understand, does Gazprom Armenia work against the government and the people of Armenia? Do not even think about this. You will stand trial, I warn with all responsibility. You will be tried in groups and packs.” The emotional intensity of the prime minister’s statement is a clear indication of the scale of violations and the degree of his concern.

Another traditional manipulation was used with the help of the Armenian office of Gallup International. In early June, a local polling company, under a reputable international brand, said that the ratings of Pashinyan’s party and Kocharyan’s bloc were almost equal: 22.4% against 20.6%. Two weeks later, just before the election, it released results of the poll, according to which the Armenia opposition bloc was ahead of the Civil Contract ruling party: 28.7% against 25.2%. Another 10.8% allegedly supported the I Have the Honour party. It should be reminded that the official election results are very different from those of the poll: almost 54% voted for Pashinyan’s Civil Contract, 21% for Kocharyan’s Armenia bloc, and 5.2% for Sargsyan’s I Have the Honour bloc.

Propaganda did not subside on election day. Aram Gabrelyanov, head of Russia’s News Media and the Baltic Media Group and chairman of the Izvestia newspaper’s editorial board, wrote on his Telegram channel, “The data of exit polls by Russian structures have arrived … Armenia – 41. Civil Contract – 21. Prosperous Armenia – 10. I Have the Honour – 7.” One can only guess what “Russian structures” are, but their data also had little to do with reality.

It is amusing that another well-known Armenian diaspora member and a prominent figure in the Kremlin’s propaganda machine published her own and again completely different figures. Margarita Simonyan, head of RT TV channel, Rossiya Segodnya and Sputnik news agencies, wrote on Telegram channel: “Good courtesy is not to believe the opinion polls in Armenia, where today citizens have a choice between Kocharyan and Pashinyan. It is said that the polls are motivated by one or another party. And we don’t trust anyone anyway. That’s why we conducted our own poll by the Moscow social research department of RIA Novosti. The results are as follows: Kocharyan – 32%, Pashinyan – 24%. I’m afraid, a fight is inevitable.”

It is unclear why “Russian structures” did not agree on the figures for the spread of false stories, but the willingness to put up a fight in Armenia was obvious. It seems that only the really unexpected high result of Pashinyan’s party averted great troubles in the form of aggravation of internal political confrontation with the involvement of the Russian side.

Judging by the post-election statement of Kocharyan’s Armenia bloc, they were preparing to challenge the results which, according to the pro-Russian opposition, “come into sharp conflict with various manifestations of public life, which we witnessed over the past eight months, results of opinion polls, including international ones, and ultimately common sense.” These references to the results of the polls speak volumes that fake news about false sociological researches was part of one plan.

By the way, Robert Kocharyan himself was absolutely sure that the support from the “big brother” would secure the desired result. When he came to a polling station and journalists asked the politician if he believed in his victory, Kocharyan replied: “Do you have any doubts?”

Obviously, it was expected that Nikol Pashinyan, in the situation after the devastating defeat by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, would logically focus all negative vibes on himself as the leader directly responsible for what had happened. But the problem is that an alternative to the incumbent leader of the country was the day before yesterday’s leaders with a completely damaged reputation. It was against them that Armenia revolted in 2018, and their attempts to return to power, and even openly with the help of Russia, were perceived extremely negatively even by those who were disappointed in Pashinyan. In addition, both Kocharyan and Sargsyan campaigned under the slogans of revenge, and the majority of Armenians do not see any prospects for a military review of the results of the 44-day war now. In addition, many believe that Russia abandoned Armenia to its fate, not hindering Azerbaijan’s offensive with the help of Turkey. That is why, current Russia’s attempts to fuel revanchism, keeping its own peacekeepers in Karabakh, looked extremely obscene.

It would probably not be a great exaggeration to believe that Russia’s attempt to influence the results of the early parliamentary elections in Armenia, to some extent, even contributed to Pashinyan’s solid performance. The Velvet Revolution of 2018, which vaulted the current leader of Armenia to the top, is still considered by the Armenian people to be their great victory. And against the background of frustration with the heavy military defeat, it became important for many to recreate the then feeling of civic dignity: not to succumb to pressure either from yesterday’s corrupt officials or Russia. Armenians succeeded.

And Russia has once again demonstrated, on the one hand, that it considers it normal to interfere in the internal political processes of other countries, even more so those of allies. On the other hand, the quality of situation assessment, the abilities to predict the consequences and make accurate bets are very poor. This is not the first time that the most infamous figures of the local elite express the Kremlin’s interests. In particular, in Ukraine, this was the case with Viktor Yanukovych, Now the story repeats with Viktor Medvedchuk. The Kremlin is becoming predictable in its aggressive intentions and poor foreign policy. The Armenian case was yet another confirmation of this fact. Indeed, Armenia cannot escape from Russia’s grip. However, the awareness of the quality of the main “ally” will rise.

Leonid Shvets

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