‘That Is Not Mine’: How Sargsyan’s Resignation Can Affect Relations Between Armenia and Russia

23.04.2018

Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned on Monday after ten days of opposition protests. “The situation could be solved in various ways, but I will not resort to any of them. That is not mine. I leave the post of the head of this country,” Sargsyan was quoted as saying by his press office.

Mass protests in Yerevan have been on the rise over the past ten days, but their ground was prepared long ago.

Without going into the post-Soviet history of Armenia, I would like to identify some landmark points. These are, in particular, the events of 2008, when the presidential election resulted in Sargsyan’s coming to power to succeed the country’s second president, Robert Kocharyan. The opposition did not recognize the elections’ results back then, and there were good reasons for that. According to official data, ten people were killed and about 200 injured during the clashes in the early hours of March 1, 2008. This left a serious imprint on the entire subsequent rule of Serzh Sargsyan, who was at the helm of the nation for two consecutive terms. Although he won elections twice, each time his opponents challenged their results to some extent.

Unfortunately, for Armenia the problem of the authorities’ legitimacy is not new. In 2015, following the results of the constitutional referendum, Armenia became a parliamentary republic. A year before, in 2014, the incumbent president (Serzh Sargsyan again), who was the initiator of the constitutional amendments, made a public statement that he was not going to hold either the post of prime minister in the future power structure or the post of the chairman of the parliament, which became quite important in accordance with the new constitutional scheme for the redistribution of powers.

In March 2017, parliamentary elections took place in Armenia, and the Republican Party, whose formal leader was also Serzh Sargsyan won. But this happened solely due to the personality of the then prime minister (and current acting premier) Karen Karapetyan, who enjoys significant support in Armenian society.

Apparently, that success gave Serzh Sargsyan a reason to renege on his promise and run for the post of prime minister, which triggered mass protests. This was the main mistake of the Armenian authorities, which led to such serious political consequences.

Another mistake was the ignoring of mass protests, including the so-called “walking with the people” of Nikol Pashinyan, leader of the small opposition Elk (“Exit”) faction, who started the foot-and-cars marathons in the cities of Armenia, demanding the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan, who was elected prime minister by the parliament on April 17.

As Sargsyan’s party retains a majority in the parliament, the possibility of early parliamentary elections should not be ruled out: not only presidential, but also parliamentary elections in Armenia were challenged for their legitimacy. It is quite obvious, that the Republican Party is not in the best shape now and its opponents will use all possible arguments to discredit it, because some of its representatives gave good reasons for this.

However, the process of purification has already begun in part – it was initiated in 2017 by Karen Karapetyan. However, it did not reach its logical conclusion, and in Armenia, as in many other post-Soviet countries, the situation remains the same, when politicians (like MPs) are simultaneously big businessmen, as well as monopoly holders of import flows, making money to the detriment of the development of export-oriented industries that could create additional jobs and stimulate economic growth.

Talking about the international consequences of the events in Armenia, one should keep in mind that all of that is a purely internal agenda. There was not a single anti-Russian slogan, and no corresponding kind of mood. But, on the other hand, we are perfectly aware that the informal leader of these protests, Nikol Pashinyan and his Elk party Elk repeatedly raised the issue of Armenia's withdrawal from the EAEU and the search for “new allies” under which they obviously have in mind the NATO countries.

At the same time, given the geopolitical situation around Armenia, there is no serious alternative to military-political and military-technical cooperation with Russia. All major political parties and groups in Armenia, representing serious interests of various social strata, understand that any drastic changes may have very negative consequences.

While Armenia implements a “multi-vector” policy, priority is given to partnership with Russia, the CSTO and the EAEU. It is worth recalling the story of an attempt to sign the EU Association agreement in 2010, which was disrupted precisely because Brussels put a strict condition: either the EU or Russia. Of course, Armenia did not do this, but as soon as Brussels softened its demands, the relevant negotiations resumed and in November 2017 the Agreement on Comprehensive and Expanded Partnership was signed, which, compared to the association agreement, is extremely truncated in terms of specific application of European norms to the Armenian legislation. By the way, all of this was done by Serzh Sargsyan and his administration.

In general, Armenia will have to discuss seriously the future model of economic development, the future of the country and to fine-tune the new constitution, which recently entered into force, in order to avoid such movements, which may lead to the disruption of the state structures work. In the short term, it is important to follow the constitutional procedures, both the spirit and the letter of the law. According to the Constitution adopted in 2015, in case of resignation of the Prime Minister, the parliament elects a new prime minister from among the candidates presented by the main factions. We can already hear statements that the acting prime minister Karen Karapetyan will become premier. He enjoys quite a lot of support in society and is well known in Russia, including because of his longtime association with the Gazprom structures. Karapetyan could bring the situation back to the legal field, especially when in 2017, after a long period of stagnation, the Armenian economy began to show quite significant growth rates, and this growth is primarily related to the activities of the Karapetyan-led government.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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