Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. I’m Asbed Bedrossian and along with Hovik Manucharyan, This Week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● Armenia-Russia relations and the “New Cold War”? (a phrase used by Mikhail Gorbachev to describe renewed US-Russia tensions in 2014)
● Iran-Russia and Iran-Armenia relations
● Election Politics and the Latest MPG polls
● Serge Sargsyan’s Interview
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Marine Manucharyan (no relation), president of the Civic Forum NGO. Her areas of focus include Artsakh, the Armenian Armed Forces, National Security and Foreign Policy.
Dr. Pietro Shakarian, a Cleveland-based historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, with a focus on Soviet Armenia and the Caucasus during the era of Nikita Khrushchev’s Thaw.
There have been instances of bizarre public statements and behavior by Pashinyan that cast doubt on his relationship with Moscow. We all remember the story of the Iskanders, the prisoners who didn’t arrive (and blame seemed to be put on Moscow), etc…
According to leaked audio from Pashinyan’s private meeting with Armenian lawyers in Moscow, he said that peace until September 2020 existed because it served Russia’s interests. Seeming to insinuate then that the 2020 war started also because it was in the interests of Moscow.
Recently Pashinyan said that relations with Russia were, are, and will be good with Russia. But is everything rosy in his relationship with Moscow?
Are Pashinyan’s relations with Moscow indicative of overall Armenian-Russian relations? Is he well-versed in the game of geopolitics?
We discussed Biden’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide last week. In the aftermath, there are differing interpretations on the significance of that step. Some see it purely in the terms of US settling scores with Turkey. Others, such as several pro-Western political forces in Armenia see it as a sign of Washington’s intentions to be re-engage with the region. For instance, certain fringe opposition The Amrnenian National Pole.
The news of the recognition was followed up by a bizarre interview that US Ambassador Lynne Tracy gave to Azatutyun, where she refused to use the word Genocide throughout the entire interview.
What impressions have we taken away?
According to Emil Sanamyan, who is on our podcast regularly, the US is on a path of withdrawal from the region. Thoughts?
This past week the Eurasian Union (or EAEU) representatives gathered for a summit meeting in Kazan, on April 29. We learned that Azerbaijan did not participate in this summit, as had been hinted in the press for some weeks that they might be there as observers. This was reported as a first potential step to eventual membership in the organization. Analysts indicated that Azerbaijan’s participation hinged on Armenia’s approval and Armenian officials a week prior to the event indicated that they were considering whether to allow Baku’s participation, and it appears that Armenia effectively vetoed this.
It’s natural to assume that Moscow would want Azerbaijan to join the EAEU, but does Baku want, or even need membership in the EAEU?
Why did Baku not participate in the EAEU meeting in Kazan on April 29? What changes if Azerbaijan were to be admitted to the Eurasian Economic Union? What’s in it for Baku, Moscow, and also for Armenia, either on the up or downside?
Earlier this week, news from Iran shook the geopolitical world, putting into doubt that everything is rosy between Iran and Moscow. Javad Zarif (Iran’s Foreign Minister) in a leaked audio interview lamented the fact that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (specifically General Ghasem Soleimani who was assassinated by the US in January of 2020), working with Russia, actively interfered in Iran’s foreign relations, specifically impeding Iran’s efforts to reach a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.
The interview was not supposed to be published until after the Iranian elections in June but was “leaked” ahead of time to the Iranian press in the west.
Was the leak intentional? If so, what were the motivations of the leakers and what is the significance of this development in the context of regional geopolitics? Who might have leaked the interview, why, and is this indicative of Russia and Iran diverging from strategic partnership?
Is Russia guided by managing a competitor from entering the market to provide gas to Europe through a potential “North-South” corridor through Armenia?
Iran recently signed a huge deal with China, where the latter has committed to invest over $400 billion in Iran over the next 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil. The deal also includes military cooperation, which is a departure from previous Chinese involvement in the Middle East (which was limited mostly to economics).
What is the geopolitical significance of China’s entry into the region?
Previously Armenia and Iran had announced intentions to build a North-South corridor that would allow Iranian goods and trade to reach Europe through Armenia. However, it seems that the project didn’t receive priority.
Why was this project delayed in the past? Can Armenia rekindle this project and leverage this North-South corridor as a counterweight to the planned Azerbaijan-Turkey corridor that is being touted by Aliyev and Erdogan and is now enshrined in the Nov. 9 capitulation statement? Is Russia interested in the North-South corridor?
On Monday April 25, Nikol Pashinyan resigned. On Monday, May 3 - that’s tomorrow for us as we record this podcast, - the Armenian parliament is scheduled to hold the first vote to elect a new Prime Minister. Per Pashinyan there is agreement between the three parliamentary parties, - My Step, Prosperous Armenia, and Bright Armenia, - to not nominate a candidate twice, leading to the dissolution of the current parliament and snap parliamentary elections.
However, in his resignation announcement, Pashinyan said that he intends to remain as acting, or caretaker Prime Minister during the interim period leading to the elections. The Opposition has criticized this, arguing that Pashinyan has no legal basis to remain the functioning PM.
Many in the opposition are still cautious on whether elections will take place. Why? What surprises could there be as we head into elections?
The latest MPG/Gallup poll, conducted in the last days of April, had some interesting findings. Specifically, it seems that between March - April 2021, Pashinyan’s (or more precisely My Step’s) rating dropped by 4.5 points from 31.7% to 27.2%.
Here are some of the details:
If elections were held the following Sunday, which political group would you support:
● My Step: 31.7% -> 27.2%
● Kocharyan: 5.9% -> 8.1%
The remaining parties, including Prosperous Armenia, Bright Armenia, Republican Party, and the ARF all had less than 5% previously and their ratings dropped even further this month.
● Prosperous Armenia: 4.4% -> 3.7%
● Bright Armenia: 2.7% -> 1.8%
● RPA: 2.4% -> 1.1%
● ARF: 2.1% -> 1.8%
There were also differences based on regions. In Yerevan, My Step enjoys only 22.5% popularity, which is a stark contrast to the villages where their support is 34.9%. Likewise, Kocharyan enjoys a popularity of 11.5% in Yerevan and only 4.7% in villages.
My Step (27.2%):
● Villages: 34.9%
● Regional cities: 25.8%
● Yerevan: 22.5%
● Villages: 4.7%
● Regional cities: 7.1%
● Yerevan: 11.5%
Lastly, it appears that more people have indicated that they plan to participate with nearly 62% saying that they’ll participate (either “definitely yes” or “likely yes”). This compares with 52% form last month.
Do you plan to participate in the elections?
● Yes: 41.2% -> 48.3%
● Likely Yes: 10.7% -> 14.4%
● Likely No: 15.0% -> 20.2%
● No: 15.9% -> 13.5%
● Diff. to respond: 17.2% -> 3.7%
Margins of error:
● March (± 3.5%)
● April (± 3%)
This drop in ratings for Pashinyan happened despite the fact that he effectively had an unofficial head-start on the campaigning as we’ve seen him visiting different regions. Meanwhile Kocharyan’s rating is growing, and he hasn’t even announced the makeup of his coalition.
Do we see this trend continuing? Anything surprises so far for you?
Despite being within the margin of error, we saw a slight decline in Bright Armenia and Prosperous Armenia ratings.
Does this indicate that the elections will be two-sided?
The other major news this week was that the Republican Party of Armenia announced that they’ll participate in the elections in a coalition with the Hayrenik party (headed by former NSS director Arthur Vanetsyan). Based on the polls, these parties together currently have less than 3% of the vote.
Who are the satellite parties for Nikol?
Հանուն Հանրապետության Կուսակցության (Arman Babajanyan)
Has large media resources
Հանրապետություն Կուսակցության (Aram Zaveni Sargsyan)
None of these parties may garner the necessary threshold (at least based on current polls) but can they take votes from the opposition
Who are the forces that will support Kocharyan and what is their strategy?
Media reports on possible list of candidates which include people like
Reborn Armenia (Syunik party)
They announced they will participate but didn't confirm alliance with Kocharyan
Earlier this week, Armenia’s third president, Serzh Sargsyan gave a 90-minute interview to filmmaker Mher Mkrtchyan. During this interview, he provided more detail around the events leading up to the 2018 change of power.
Some major points he mentioned:
● Regarding the change of power in 2018, he said he didn't lose to Pashinyan, but to much more powerful forces “both in the North and in the West”.
● Another interesting question was "Why wasn't Karen Karapetyan nominated from the get-go to replace you?
○ Sargsyan said that they agreed that the best strategy would be for him to stay on as the primary negotiator on Artsakh, while the : Artsakh as PM and he remains in his position essentially running the economy; Karapetyan agreed.
That concludes our program for This Week in Review episode. We hope it has helped your understanding of some of the issues from the previous week. We look forward to your feedback, and your suggestions for issues to cover in greater depth. Contact us on our website, at groong.org, or on our Facebook Page “ANN - Groong”, or in our Facebook Group “Groong - Armenian News Network”.
Special thanks to Laura Osborn for providing the music for our podcast. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels, Like our pages and follow us on social media. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Armenia, Foreign Policy, Russia, Moscow, Kremlin, Nagorno Karabakh, Artsakh, USA, Turkey, Ukraine, Donbas, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Caucasus, NATO, CSTO, EU, EAEU, New Cold War, geopolitics
Additional: Nikol Pashinyan, Robert Kocharyan, Arman Babajanyan, Armen (Zaveni) Sargsyan, Ishkhan Saghatelyan, Arpine Hovhannisyan, Vladimir Putin, Sergey Lavrov, Sergey Shoygu, Joe Biden, Antony Blinken, Michael McFaul, Ben Hodges, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ilham Aliyev, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hassan Rouhani, Qasem Soleimani