New Armenian PM Pashinian promises Putin close ties will endure

New Armenian PM Pashinian promises Putin close ties will endure
Nikol Pashinian (left) and Vladimir Putin both committed to maintaining strategic ties between their countries during a meeting in Sochi.
By bne IntelliNews May 15, 2018

Armenia’s new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, who came to power last week after a peaceful revolution, has promised Russian President Vladimir Putin he will maintain close ties with traditional ally Russia. His pledge came during his first trip abroad as PM, namely a visit to Russian Black Sea resort Sochi. During his meeting with Putin, Pashinian asked for more military aid, Reuters reported on May 14.

The choice of Russia for Pashinian's first foreign trip highlights the importance Moscow plays in the South Caucasus region. Armenia is locked in a decades-long conflict with its neighbour Azerbaijan over breakaway enclave Nagorno-Karabakh and Moscow, which has military bases in Armenia, has acted as a guarantor of security. Russia sells arms to both countries and maintains a military presence in Armenia near Turkey—an ally of Azerbaijan but this week open enough to Pashinian to inform him that Ankara might be prepared to establish diplomatic ties with Yerevan.

Pashinian was clear throughout the three-week revolution in the small impoverished nation of Armenia across April and May that he intended to maintain good relations with Russia, also a major source of business and investment, and dismissed out of hand speculation that Moscow sought to manipulate the outcome of the popular uprising that ousted the incumbent regime of the previous prime minister Serzh Sargsyan, who resigned on April 23. Prior to being appointed PM he came under some fire for having, while still only an MP, been opposed to Armenia’s membership of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), but he responded that if he was made prime minister he would look at the issue from a different perspective.

Pashinian told Putin he wanted the two countries to remain firm allies, for Armenia to buy more Russian weapons and for Moscow and Yerevan to forge closer political and trade ties. Russia actually plays only a limited role in Armenia as Armenians are much more concerned by their domestic woes than any wider geopolitical thinking.

“We have things to discuss, but there are also things that do not need any discussion,” said Pashinian. “That is the strategic relationship of allies between Armenia and Russia. ... I can assure you that in Armenia there is a consensus and nobody has ever doubted the importance of the strategic nature of Armenian-Russian relations.”

Contacts with the Kremlin
Pashinian has admitted that he was in contact with the Kremlin during the uprising and according to some reports the Sargsyan government also approached Moscow hoping for support in its showdown with the hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered in Yerevan’s central square.

“...We really appreciate the balanced position which Russia adopted during our domestic crisis,” said Pashinian. “I think it was a very constructive position.”

Putin told Pashinian Russia regarded Armenia as one of its closest allies in the region and wanted closer ties too.

“I want to wish you success in your post as head of the government,” said Putin. “I hope our relations will develop as steadily as they have until now.”

The revolution in Armenia was much driven by concerns in the country of 2.9mn about flourishing corruption and cronyism. Pashinian has promised there will be no oligarchs in his cabinet and no monopolies permitted within the economy. Armenians hope a new era of economic openness might attract investment from among the worldwide Armenian diaspora thought to number somewhere between seven million and 10 million people. As things stand, the country’s economic plight is seen as likely to cause many Armenians to leave for abroad in coming decades, perhaps cutting the population by around a third in the next 30 years.

According to World Bank Open Data, in 2016 GDP per capita income in Armenia reached $8,800 while it was $10,000 in Georgia and $17,200 in Azerbaijan.  At 11.6% of GDP, remittances from Armenians working abroad are key to keeping many households afloat.