Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan (pictured) warned of an attempted military coup against him on Thursday (25 February) and called on his supporters to rally in the capital after the army demanded he and his government resign, writes Nvard Hovhannisyan.
The Kremlin, an ally of Armenia, said it was alarmed by events in the former Soviet republic, where Russia has a military base, and urged the sides to resolve the situation peacefully and within the framework of the constitution.
Pashinyan has faced calls to quit since November after what critics said was his disastrous handling of a six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave and surrounding areas.
Ethnic Armenian forces ceded swathes of territory to Azerbaijan in the fighting, and Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to the enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.
Pashinyan, 45, has repeatedly rejected calls to step down despite opposition protests. He says he takes responsibility for what happened but now needs to ensure his country’s security.
On Thursday, the army added its voice to those calling for him to resign.
“The ineffective management of the current government and the serious mistakes in foreign policy have put the country on the brink of collapse,” the army said in a statement.
It was unclear whether the army was willing to use force to back the statement, in which it called for Pashinyan to resign, or whether its call for him to step down was just verbal.
Pashinyan responded by calling on his followers to rally in the centre of the capital, Yerevan, to support him and took to Facebook to address the nation in a livestream.
“The most important problem now is to keep the power in the hands of the people, because I consider what is happening to be a military coup,” he said.
In the livestream, he said he had dismissed the head of the general staff of the armed forces, a move that still needs to be signed off by the president.
Pashinyan said a replacement would be announced later and that the crisis would be overcome constitutionally. Some of his opponents said they also planned to rally in the centre of Yerevan later on Thursday.
Arayik Harutyunyan, president of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, offered to act as a mediator between Pashinyan and the general staff.
“We have already shed enough blood. It’s time to overcome the crises and move on. I’m in Yerevan and I’m ready to become a mediator to overcome this political crisis,” he said.
EU and Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement enters into force
On 1 March, the European Union-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) entered into force. It has now been ratified by the Republic of Armenia, all EU member states and the European Parliament. This represents an important milestone for EU-Armenia relations.
This Agreement provides a framework for the EU and Armenia to work together in a wide range of areas: strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights; creating more jobs and business opportunities, improving legislation, public safety, a cleaner environment, as well as better education and opportunities for research. This bilateral agenda also contributes to overall aim of the EU to deepen and strengthen its relations with the countries of its Eastern neighbourhood through the Eastern Partnership framework.
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell said: “The entry into force of our Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement comes at a moment when Armenia faces significant challenges. It sends a strong signal that the EU and Armenia are committed to democratic principles and the rule of law, as well as to a wider reform agenda. Across political, economic, trade, and other sectoral areas, our Agreement aims to bring positive change to people's lives, to overcome challenges to Armenia's reforms agenda.”
Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi underlined that: “While these are trying times for Armenia, the European Union continues to stand by the Armenian people. The entry into force of the bilateral EU-Armenia agreement on 1 March will allow us to strengthen our work on the economy, connectivity, digitalisation and the green transformation as priority areas. These will have concrete benefits for the people and are key for socio-economic recovery and the longer-term resilience of the country. In the current turbulent days, maintaining calm and respect for democracy and constitutional order are key.”
The Agreement was signed in November 2017 and substantial parts of have been provisionally applied since 1 June 2018. Since then, the breadth and depth of the bilateral cooperation between Armenia and the European Union have advanced steadily. At the 3rd EU-Armenia Partnership Council held on 17 December 2020, the European Union and Armenia reiterated their full commitment to implementing the CEPA.
The Agreement plays an important role for the modernization of Armenia, in particular through legislative approximation to EU norms in many sectors. This includes reforms in the rule of law and respect of human rights, particularly an independent, efficient and accountable justice system, as well as reforms aimed at enhancing the responsiveness and effectiveness of public institutions and at favouring the conditions for sustainable and inclusive development.
From the entry into force of the Agreement on 1 March, cooperation will be strengthened in those areas which to date were not subject to the provisional application of the Agreement. The European Union stands ready and looks forward to working even more closely with Armenia on the full and effective implementation of the Agreement, in our mutual interest and to the benefit of our societies and citizens.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict flares despite ceasefire
Four soldiers from Azerbaijan have been killed in clashes in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Azerbaijan's defence ministry says.
The reports come only weeks after a six-week war over the territory which ended when Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a ceasefire.
Armenia meanwhile said six of its own troops were wounded in what it called an Azerbaijani military offensive.
Nagorno-Karabakh has long been a trigger for violence between the two.
The region is recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has been run by ethnic Armenians since 1994 after the two countries fought a war over the territory which left thousands dead.
A Russian-brokered truce failed to bring about lasting peace and the area, claimed by both sides, has been prone to intermittent clashes.
What does the peace deal say?
- Signed on 9 November, it locked in the territorial gains Azerbaijan made during the war, including the region's second-largest city Shusha
- Armenia promised to withdraw troops from three areas
- 2,000 Russian peacekeepers deployed to the region
- Azerbaijan also gained a overland route to Turkey, its ally, by gaining access to a road link to an Azeri conflict on the Iran-Turkey border called Nakhchivan
- The BBC's Orla Guerin said that, overall, the deal was regarded as a victory for Azerbaijan and a defeat for Armenia.
The latest conflict began at the end of September, killing around 5,000 soldiers on both sides.
At least 143 civilians died and thousands were displaced when their homes were damaged or soldiers entered their communities.
Both countries have accused the other of violating the terms of the November peace deal and the latest hostilities flout the ceasefire.
The agreement was described by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as "incredibly painful both for me and both for our people".
Is Armenia about to become part of Russia so it doesn’t get betrayed again?
There is now peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. Can either of the warring sides be considered a victor – most certainly not. But if we look at controlled territories before and after the conflict, there is clear a loser – Armenia. This is also confirmed by the dissatisfaction expressed by the Armenian people. However, objectively speaking the peace deal can be considered Armenia’s “success” story, writes Zintis Znotiņš.
No one, especially Armenia and Azerbaijan, believes that the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh has been resolved completely and forever. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has invited Russia to expand military co-operation. “We hope to expand not only security cooperation, but military-technical cooperation as well. Times were difficult before the war, and now the situation is even more severe,” Pashinyan told the press after meeting with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu in Yerevan.1
Pashinyan’ words made me think. Russia and Armenia are already cooperating on multiple platforms. We should remember that after the collapse of the USSR Armenia became the only post-Soviet country – Russia’s only ally in Transcaucasia. And for Armenia Russia is not merely a partner, because Armenia sees Russia as its strategic ally that has significantly helped Armenia on numerous economic and security matters.2
This co-operation has also been established officially on the highest level, i.e. in the form of the CSTO and CIS. More than 250 bilateral agreements have been signed between both countries, including the Treaty on Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance.3 This poses a logical question – how do you strengthen something that has already been established on the highest level?
Reading between the lines of Pashinyan’s statements, it’s clear that Armenia wants to prepare its revenge and requires additional support from Russia. One of the ways of strengthening military co-operation is to purchase armaments from one another. Russia has always been the largest provider of weapons for Armenia. Moreover, in 2020 Pashinyan criticized former president Serzh Sargsyan for spending $42 million on metal scraps, instead of weapons and equipment.4 This means that the Armenian people have already witnessed their “strategic ally” betray them regarding armaments deliveries and participation in different organizations.
If Armenia was already doing worse than Azerbaijan before the conflict, it would be unreasonable to assume that Armenia will now become richer are able to afford better armaments.
If we compare their armed forces, Azerbaijan has always had more weapons. What concerns the quality of these weapons, Azerbaijan is again a few steps ahead of Armenia. Additionally, Azerbaijan also has equipment produced by countries other than Russia.
Therefore, it’s unlikely that Armenia will be able to afford enough modern weapons in the next decade to stand against Azerbaijan, which will also likely continue modernizing its armed forces.
Equipment and weapons are important, but human resources are what really matters. Armenia has a population of roughly three million, while Azerbaijan is home to ten million people. If we look at how many of them are fit for military service, the numbers are 1.4 million for Armenia and 3.8 million for Azerbaijan. There are 45,000 soldiers in the Armenian Armed Forces and 131,000 in the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. What concerns the number of reservists, Armenia has 200,000 of them and Azerbaijan has 850,000.5
This means that even if something miraculous happens and Armenia acquires a sufficient amount of modern equipment, it still has fewer people. If only…
Let’s talk about the “if only”.
What does Pashinyan mean by saying: “We hope to expand not only security cooperation, but military-technical cooperation as well?” As we know, Armenia doesn’t have the money to purchase any armaments. Moreover, all the previous forms of cooperation and integration have been insufficient for Russia to really wish to solve Armenia’s problems.
The recent events prove that Armenia gains nothing from being a part of the CSTO or the CIS. From this point of view, Armenia’s only solution is tighter integration with Russia so that the armed forces of Armenia and Russia are a single entity. This would be possible only if Armenia were to become Russia’s subject, or if they decide to establish a union state.
In order to establish a union state, the position of Belarus must be taken into account. After the recent events, Lukashenko has most likely agreed with all of Putin’s demands. Armenia’s geographic location would benefit Moscow, and we know that if there’s another country between two parts of Russia, it’s only a matter of time until this country loses its independence. This, of course, doesn’t concern countries that join NATO.
It’s difficult to predict how Armenians would welcome such a turn of events. They would surely be happy to defeat Azerbaijan and regain Nagorno-Karabakh, but would they be happy if Armenia returned to the Kremlin’s gentle embrace? One thing is certain – if this happens, Georgia and Azerbaijan must strengthen their armed forces and consider joining NATO.
The views expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.
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