Hello, and welcome to the Armenian News Network, Groong, Week in Review. This show is being recorded on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.This week we’re going to talk about the following major topics:
● President Armen Sarkissian resigns
● Russia-NATO Standoff over Ukraine
● Vahan Kerobyan, Minister of Comedy
To talk about these issues, we have with us:
Dr. Pietro Shakarian, who is a Lecturer in History at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan. His research focuses on the history of Soviet Armenia and the Caucasus.
President Armen Sarkissian announced his resignation on Sunday, January 23rd. Prior to his resignation, the president was on a visit to Arabic countries in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, working on establishing opportunities in energy as well as investments and financing for such projects in Armenia. From the UAE, the president’s office announced that he was taking a short vacation to undergo a medical examination. In his resignation letter, he complained that the constitution doesn’t give him enough influence.
On Monday, January 24, Hetq, an investigative journalism outfit published a scandalous story alleging that Armen Sarkissian was a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis, a small Caribbean island country known as an “offshore banking” haven. According to Hetq, Sarkissian wrote back to the investigation team before his resignation, claiming that he tried to relinquish his citizenship in that country but the person handing his paperwork had passed away unbeknownst to him. This report from Hetq is damning, if true, but we’ve also heard conflicting reasons presented in the media.
So here are a few of the top theories:
Do these theories make sense? And especially why now?
The Armenian opposition, who in general have not been fans of Sarkissian, expressed their criticisms. Let’s read a few of the reactions:
● Armen Ashotyan from the Republican Party of Armenia criticized Sarkissian for choosing to “fly” at this moment, when there are storm clouds hanging over Armenia’s head. He additionally claimed that this will pave the way for Pashinyan to completely consolidate power in the country, including pushing through constitutional changes that the government has expressed a desire to institute.
● Arthur Vanetsyan from the I Have Honor alliance said the resignation has come much too late. Vanetsyan went on to say that Sarkissian has always actively cooperated with Nikol Pashinyan, mainly fulfilling all the whims of the latter.”
● Aram Vardevanyan from the Armenia Alliance said over the past 4 years, the president, who complained about his lack of powers, frequently refused to exercise those powers, effectively pushing forth the agenda of the government.
So what are the next steps in the process?
● There will be a new parliamentary vote for president to take place no earlier than 25 and no later than 35 days after January 30, when the counting starts.
● From January 30, there will be a 5 day window during which new nominees for president can be put forth by any group of deputies comprising ¼ of the total deputies of the national assembly. This means that the opposition can also nominate a candidate.
● According to Article 125 of the constitution, the president must be elected with ¾ of the total votes. If that doesn’t happen then a second round during which the winner must have ⅗ of the total votes. If that fails, then the elections go to a third round during which the winner must receive a majority of the votes. So it seems that the opposition can at least force the elections to go to a second round if they so choose.
Who are likely contenders for the position? Some names have been tossed, including: Edmon Marukyan, Aram Zaveni Sargsyan, and Artak Zeynalyan (Former Minister of Justice), and Arman Tatoyan, the outgoing, highly regarded and popular Ombudsman of Armenia.
Pietro, a couple of weeks ago on our podcast you called on Biden to talk to Russia, and find a resolution to the difference, which have since only become more aggravated between Russia and the West, These differences are primarily manifesting themselves as the Ukraine crisis right now, but of course they’re much wider ranging.
So the first round of US-Russia, or US-NATO talks … “failed”, shall we say it? Both sides gave standard press releases that they wish to avoid war, and continue talks, etc. but let’s go beyond the buzzwords, can you help us unpack what the Russia-West issue is right now?
What are the specific demands by Russia? What are the specific demands by NATO?
● Blinken and Lavrov met in Geneva on Friday
○ Any tangible outcomes from that meeting?
● Biden’s foot-in-mouth moment
○ Earlier in the week, January 20 to be precise, Biden held a press conference. He threatened a “severe and coordinated” response to a Russian attack, but at the same time made a distinction between a “minor incursion” and a full-blown attack.
● Meanwhile, bellicose and anxiety-inducing language is all abound:
○ US staff reductions in Kyiv embassy
■ Expands warning to already Level 4 security warning
■ Considering sending thousands of troops to “Eastern Europe”
■ Blinken warns of “massive consequences”
○ UK accused Russia of trying to install a puppet government in Ukraine. The evidence for this is of course “secret”.
○ Putin has repeatedly said that Russia is NOT planning on attacking Ukraine and accused western powers of coordinated disinformation. At the same time, Russia has not ruled out provocations from Ukraine that may lead to conflict and has repeated that it will not tolerate Ukraine as a member of NATO.
○ Just yesterday, Russia held consultations with Cuba around “strategic partnership”, evoking memories of the Cuban missile crisis.
○ Meanwhile, Zelensky, apparently emboldened by the show of Western support, has ratcheted up his own rhetoric as well. In an address to Ukraine’s national security community, he said: “I am convinced that the time has come to move to offensive actions to defend our national interests. “
● Not all of Europe seems to be united on supporting Ukraine:
○ German top naval officer, Kay-Achim Schoenbach, general was sacked for saying they should respect Putin.
○ US/UK arms shipments appear to be bypassing Germany and the country is reported to have a new policy of “peace”, under which it won’t sell arms to Ukraine and will prohibit other NATO members from exporting arms to Ukraine through its territory.
○ Sweden seems to be joining Germany according to some early reports.
Is this really just posturing? How likely is war? And, if this is simply a high-stakes game of poker between the West and Russia, what is the goal? Is it time to think about “What If”? What if there’s a wider, localized, but still major confrontation between Russia and Ukraine?
Will Armenia be safe at a time when Russia’s full attention will be on its major problem of the day in Ukraine?
● What happens to the Armenia-Georgia border?
● Armenia-Iran border?
● Turkey / Azerbaijan?
● What about Armenia’s membership in CSTO?
In economic news, Armenia’s economic growth was finalized at 4.2%, much lower than government promises.
● In 2021, Vahan Kerobyan had promised double-digit growth and promised to resign if he didn’t achieve this goal. When confronted with his past promises, he said “I was kidding”.
● By the way, Vardan Aramyan (who appeared on our podcast recently) predicted that real growth would be around 5%, and similarly Hrant Mikaelian had predicted 4.5%.
● Nikol Pashinyan exclaimed in parliament that he was the one who forbid Kerobyan from resigning (“forbid” is an interesting word, are they slaves?)
How do we know if the government is kidding or serious in the future?
Last week we noted that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had said that he had passed new Armenian proposals about border demarcation to Azerbaijan. This past week both Armenian FM Mirzoyan and NSC chair Armen Grigoryan clarified the proposals. They said that Armenia has proposed both sides should simultaneously pull back their armed forces, and deploy border troops along what is generally regarded as the Soviet border between the republics.
Azerbaijan rejected the proposal and called it “pre-conditions” which are unacceptable and demanded an immediate and unconditional start to the process of demarcating the border. Whenever Azerbaijan has indicated disagreement with the state of the negotiations with Armenia, it has resorted to violence along the border, and this has cost Armenian lives. We want to make sure that Armenia remains in a high state of alert and readiness for such rogue behavior.
That was our Week in Review show, and we hope it helped you catch up with some of the issues in and around Armenia from this past week. As always, we invite your feedback and your suggestions. You can find us on most social media and podcast platforms, or our website Groong.org.
Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel on YouTube, Like our pages and follow us on social media. On behalf of everyone in this episode, we wish you a good week, thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.
Pietro Shakarian, Armenia, Ukraine, Russia, Armen Sarkisian, Vahan Kerobyan, Nikol Pashinyan, NATO, USA, Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, Volodymyr Zelensky, Party of War, Donbas, Azerbaijan, Georgia, South Caucasus, Turkey, Borders, Peace Negotiations,