Thursday, May 3, 2018

Putin Playing a Long Game in Armenia – and has Many Cards Left to Play

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 3 – Now that the Armenian Republican Party will vote for Nikol Pashinyan and make him prime minister on May 8 and that he has called for supporters to end their mass actions, many especially in the West are rushing to proclaim the Armenian political crisis over with the opposition leader the big winner and Vladimir Putin the big loser.

            But that rush to judgment almost certainly is a mistake even if it turns out that Pashinyan and Armenia do come out ahead. Putin and the forces in Armenia he prefers are playing a longer game. Yes, they want to keep things quiet ahead of the Russian presidential inauguration – the Republican Party announcement gives them that – but they have many cards left to play.

            And both Putin and the Republican Party in Armenia know that if they pressed too hard, using the military, Armenian or Russian, to maintain their positions, they would likely drive Armenia further in the direction of a Ukrainian-style Maidan that might very well trump Yerevan’s dependence on and ties with Moscow.

            Instead, in a move that suggests they have learned something from what occurred in Kyiv five years ago ( and, they have adopted a policy of temporary restraint that has won them points in the West and led at least some of their opponents in Armenia to let down their guard.

            Putin and those who favor his kind of authoritarian governance know very well that the Armenian events so far have not been a full-blown revolutionary Maidan and that their strategy must be to prevent them from growing into such an event. Allowing Pashinyan to become prime minister helps them to do that (

            The corrupt ancien regime in Yerevan is still very much in place, and Pashinyan will not be able to transform it immediately especially if the country goes immediately into a new cycle of elections as he has promised. Moreover, they can resist in ways that it will be far more difficult for him to mobilize public opinion and international support against.

And a change in the office of prime minister as important as it is symbolically as an indication of the power of the people rather than the old elites will do nothing to change Armenia’s geopolitical situation. Moscow has the levers to restart the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan at any time and thus checkmate any Armenian politician who opposes Russia.

Pashinyan deserves credit for orchestrating a real triumph, for showing that not everyone in the post-Soviet space will follow blindly along in the direction of Putinist corruption and authoritarianism.  But he will need continuing support from the people and the West as well as a fair degree of luck if he is to transform Armenian political life.

The prospects as one Russian commentator are far from rosy. Indeed, Olga Tukkhanina says, there are no obvious scenarios with an entirely happy scenario for Armenia (  But it is also true there aren’t any for Russia -- unless the Kremlin plays its long game more skillfully than it has elsewhere.

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