Steel Not Velvet: Will Elections Affect Armenia’s Russian Policy?

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Depending on the results of the Second Karabakh War, a major political crisis was experienced in Armenia in November 2020, and therefore, early elections were decided. Because with the “Tripartite Agreement” signed by the Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, the conflicts were stopped. The occupied regions of Kelbajar, Agdam, Shusha and Lachin were liberated. The protests that started after the signing of this agreement and demanded Pashinyan’s resignation continued for months.

The Parliamentary Elections held in Armenia on 20 June 2021 resulted in Pashinyan’s favor despite all these oppositional protests, which dragged the country’s domestic policy into a dead end. In fact, the election results are not so surprising. However, the fact that Pashinyan persistently maintained his position against months-long calls to resign from many segments of society, including the high-ranking officials of the Armenian Army, as well as the opposition, can be interpreted as an indication that he will not leave power easily. The elections have already confirmed this.

Additionally, the political fatigue in the society was also reflected in the voter rate. In the election, in which 25 political parties and blocs competed, the most serious opposition candidate was Robert Kocharyan, the candidate of the Armenian Alliance. Despite the intense protests, the coup debates and the candidacy of powerful names, only 1.2 million people voted in the race, in which approximately 2.5 million people voted. This rate, which corresponds to 49.9% of the country’s population, shows how low the participation is. This shows that the society is tired of political crises.

Pashinyan won the elections with 53.9% of the votes. Pashinyan explained this success not only to his supporters; he is also indebted to the voters who turned to him as an alternative to Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan. In other words, it can be said that the young voters of Armenia prefer Pashinyan over the old oligarch elites.

Considering the role of Russia in the next foreign policy of Pashinyan, who will form the new government of the Armenian Parliament, it can be said that the relations between the two countries will not undergo a radical change depending on the election results. As it is known, Kocharyan is known as a pro-Russian politician. For this reason, he interacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin by establishing frequent personal contacts. For this reason, it was foreseen that if Kocharyan won, more friendly relations between the two countries would develop. However, it cannot be said that Pashinyan will implement a policy that will completely confront Russia.

Although the role of decision makers is an important factor in the foreign policies of countries, the global and regional conjuncture is also binding. In this context, rather than Pashinyan’s influence on Russian-Armenian relations; some factors also decisive such as Karabakh Issue and the presence of the Russian Peacekeeping Force, which is in control of the border security in the region. Although Pashinyan states that he came to power with a stronger revolution as a pro-Western leader with the rhetoric “This time is not velvet, but steel”, it is not thought that he will completely change his approach to Russia in foreign policy.

Looking at Moscow’s approach, the statement made by the Spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zakharova, draws attention.  Zakharova made the statement that “Russia expects the election results in Armenia to contribute to the development of the country, to the strengthening of relations with Moscow, and to the establishment of stability and security in the South Caucasus.” In addition, Zaharova emphasized the full implementation of the Tripartite Agreement signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan-Armenia-Russia on 9 November 2020 and 11 January 2021.

Both Zaharova’s statement, Moscow’s congratulations to the Armenian people for the election results, and the Kremlin’s definition of a “great victory” for the success of Pashinyan’s party show that strategic cooperation will continue in Russia-Armenia relations. Zaharova’s emphasis on the “Tripartite Agreement” can be interpreted as an early warning made by Moscow to Pashinyan.

In case of violation of the Tripartite Agreement, which brought the Karabakh Issue to the point of resolution, it would be inevitable to restart the war. While Moscow once again declared its sensitivity on this issue to the newly established Armenian Government led by Pashinyan; It also determines the course of relations on the Moscow-Yerevan line. This warning can be considered as a sign that Yerevan cannot act alone in the region, in addition to its strategic cooperation with Moscow. The last statement from Moscow regarding the future of relations came from Vladimir Dzhabarov, Chairman of the International Relations Committee of the Council of the Russian Federation and Dzhabarov. He said that Moscow-Yerevan relations will continue regardless of the final election results.

As a result, it is important for the socio-economic development of the country that Armenian decision-makers take steps to carry out more effective foreign policy in terms of regional security and stability. At this point, the main actor, which will continue to be important in Yerevan’s foreign policy, is Moscow. Therefore, sharp changes in relations should not be expected.