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Experts: New Armenian authorities have to go through long and difficult path of reforms

23:46 | 19.07.2018 | Analytic

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19 July 2018. PenzaNews. Armenia is a close ally of Moscow and hopes for further development of relations with both Russia and the Western countries, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Euronews July 12.

Experts: New Armenian authorities have to go through long and difficult path of reforms

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“We will stay a close ally of Russia and we hope to develop our relations with Russia - but with NATO and Western countries and European Unions and United States as well. So we aren’t going to make a U-turn in our foreign policy,” he said.

“Armenia is a partner country for NATO. We are participating in two NATO missions – one in Kosovo, another in Afghanistan. This gives us [the] opportunity to participate in providing the international security. But we are member of the Organization of Collective Security treaty and we see in general Armenia in this organisation and this security system,” Nikol Pashinyan added.

Commenting on the preservation of the country's foreign policy course, despite the earlier change of power, Tigran Balayan, Spokesman of the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Armenia, reminded that “the principles and priorities are formulated in the government program approved by the parliament.”

“Among the priorities is further strengthening of allied interaction and strategic partnership with the Russian Federation, increasing cooperation in multilateral formats, deepening involvement in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO),” he said, responding to the request by PenzaNews.

At the same time, a number of observers note that the leader of the Velvet revolution lacks the experience of political leadership, which, according to them, could adversely affect the further development of the situation in Armenia and enable the West to strengthen its influence in the region.

For example, American journalist and writer, the author of “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III” Stephen Lendman compared the change of power in Armenia to the events in Ukraine.

“Sargsyan’s forced April 23 resignation was similar to democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster on February 22, 2014 – a triumph for Washington in both cases, a defeat for Russia, losing allies in both countries. Pashinyan’s self-described ‘velvet revolution’ was all about Western-supported regime change,” the analyst told PenzaNews.

In his opinion, Nikol Pashinyan “will either serve US interests or be replaced by someone else who will.”

“Pashinyan is a small-time oligarch with ambitions to be a bigger one, profiting from Western-supported political leadership – like Trump with no experience qualifying him for what’s involved as head of state. I wrote an earlier article calling what happened in Armenia Maidan 2.0,” Stephen Lendman noted.

From his point of view, Washington is hostile to all sovereign independent governments, wanting them replaced with pro-Western vassal states.

“Especially this applies to Russia, China and Iran. Longstanding US strategy is all about marginalizing, weakening, containing and isolating Russia, including by surrounding its territory with US military bases. […]Shifting the country from membership in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union to the West, likely making it another NATO member, would be hostile to Russia’s security – giving Washington the ability to establish more hostile military bases near its border. None of the latest changes in Armenia bodes well for Russian security and world peace,” the American analyst said.

In turn, Paul Stronski, Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called the changes in Armenia positive.

“About every ten years, the Armenian population gets restless and we traditionally have seen a change of leadership in the country at around the ten year mark: in 1997, 2008, and 2018. All in all, I think leadership change is a healthy thing, as it brings new ideas into government. And, this happened peacefully. I wish Armenia would move from democracy of the street to democracy at the ballot box, which I think is a much more stable way of promoting change. But, perhaps Armenia will get there,” the analyst said.

The new government, however, has big challenges, he believes.

“The population is calling for systemic change, including reducing corruption, promoting political transparency, and jumpstarting the economy. The government is working hard at the transparency aspect, and it winning a lot of points from the population from that. However, tackling corruption and jumpstarting the economy are bigger challenges. The previous government didn’t have a good track record on this, which contributed to the anger and discontent felt in society towards it. The new government has no easy answers for these issues either, so the population could become disillusioned,” Paul Stronski explained.

Answering the question about Armenia's potential entry into the orbit of Western influence, the expert suggested that the importance of the country for the United States is overestimated.

“There is little threat to this. There is very little interest in Washington on Armenia. Europe may have slightly more interest, but Europe is focusing on its own internal problems: refugee crisis, Brexit, rise of populism; and Armenia is not a priority issue there. In addition, Pashiniyan has made it clear than Armenia will remain a strategic partner of Russia and that its security depends on Russia. Like former President Sargsian, he will try to balance that with outreach towards the West. Many people around him have ties to the West, but all Armenians know that Russia is their security guarantor. Pashiniyan recognizes that, which is why he has toned down his criticism of Russia and the Eurasian Union,” the expert said.

In his opinion, the new Prime Minister will have a hard time meeting public expectations.

“There could be some societal disappointment with him over the coming years. However, the anger in society about how the previous government ran the country is real, so that will buy Pashiniyan some time. He appointed qualified long-term civil servants to his cabinet in the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That suggests to me that the country’s foreign policy and security trajectory will not change much. Pashiniyan is a hardliner on the Karabakh issue and will need to prove himself as decisive on that issue. So, I do not see any breakthroughs in the Minsk Group format to resolve the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. But, I think Russia and the United States should keep working together on conflict management between the two countries,” Paul Stronski added.

Meanwhile, Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists noted that today the reforming of the political field is taking place in Armenia.

“The new leadership, on the one hand, aims to strengthen the dividends received as a result of the change of power, and raise its authority among the people. On the other hand, it badly needs economic resources [for implementing the announced reforms]. For a long time in the country there were serious corruption schemes for redirecting finances intended for the social or defense sphere to the needs of personal enrichment of the ruling regime. And today, representatives of the new government are trying to return money to the treasury. [...] In the near future one should expect even more revelations – representatives of the Armenian generals are involved in the case. It's not a secret that military spending was considered the main black hole of the state budget,” Ilgar Velizade explained.

In his opinion, the power in Armenia is now represented by pro-Western politicians “compelled to reckon with the country's exclusive dependence on Russia.”

“In this situation, the state's foreign policy will inevitably be characterized by an abundance of contradictory moves and statements, which will make it increasingly less stable and less predictable,” the expert stressed.

In turn, Andrei Areshev, leading expert on the South Caucasus for the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, paid attention that the changes in Armenia are far from over.

“It is difficult to predict the final alignment of political forces. [...] By now the new authorities have been busy strengthening their own domestic political positions, bringing numerous anti-corruption cases, inspections of various organizations for financial fraud, non-payment of taxes. First of all, the representatives of the Republican Party of Armenia got under the blow: the party was in power for more than 20 years and during this time has turned into a ‘business club’ of interests. On July 9, it became known about the resignation of the mayor of Yerevan Taron Margaryan. Bringing considerable financial flows of Armenia to the surface cannot but be welcomed, as well as the desire for openness and transparency of state structures and economic entities. However, we should wait for the trials and see how many of the cases initiated by law enforcement agencies will be examined in court, and how much money will be returned to the budget. The clannish-oligarchic system of power in the Caucasian country has been forming throughout its post-Soviet history, and changing the status quo is not an easy task,” the analyst said, adding that it is important for the government of the country to take effective steps aimed at strengthening state institutions.

At the same time, he reminded that various Western structures have a rich experience of manipulating post-Soviet elites using, among other things, financial, economic and ideological tools.

“The authorities of Armenia – and not only of this country – listen to the recommendations of various international organizations that have the habit of gently promoting the will of Western nations. Some associates of the Armenian Prime Minister have been working in Western NGOs, including the Soros Open Society Foundations [the organization's activity is considered undesirable on the territory of Russia],” Andrei Areshev explained.

In his opinion, the de facto team that came to power in Armenia is an “interjacent government,” whose composition can vary due to various circumstances.

“I hope for peaceful, democratic and constitutional character of all the forthcoming transformation of the Armenian political system, which cannot but lead to an improvement of the socioeconomic situation in the country, the improvement of the moral and psychological climate. Unfortunately, there were other examples in the recent history of Armenia,” the analyst said.

He stressed that each post-Soviet country is more or less implementing a multi-vector foreign policy course, focusing on different centers of power.

“Armenia is involved in the unsettled Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, being in blockade by Azerbaijan and Turkey; so its priority is strengthening of military and political ties with Russia and the maintenance of friendly and neutral relations with Iran and Georgia, which are its ‘gateway’ to the outside world. Recent events on the border with the Nakhichevan Autonomy of Azerbaijan, the permanent threat of renewed hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh dictates an active and at the same time balanced foreign policy combined with effective steps to strengthen national defense,” the political scientist concluded.

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