Not quite a revolution in Armenia

Armenia’s rather surprising transition to democracy, which began last week with the resignation of prime minister (and former president) Serzh Sargsyan, has been a bit of a bumpy ride.

Parliament voted on Tuesday for a new prime minister. Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan was the only candidate; Sargsyan’s party, the Republicans, which won a majority in slightly suspect elections last year, declined to nominate anyone, supposedly “in a bid to ease tensions.”

But its MPs still refused to vote for Pashinyan, and without them he could not win the necessary majority. He did, however, have 45 votes in the 105-seat house, which means he had the support not only of his own Yelk (“Way Out”) alliance but of the larger Prosperous Armenia, which observers had previously regarded as just a rival faction of the same ruling clique as the Republicans.

Pashinyan’s reaction to the defeat was to call for renewed street protests yesterday, which seem to have been very successful. Last night the Republican Party changed its mind and announced that when parliament met again next week, it would support Pashinyan. He then suspended the protests, saying “the issue has practically been solved.”

More could happen before next Tuesday, but the Republican Party doesn’t have a lot of options. If a prime minister can’t be chosen, there would have to be fresh elections, which is what Pashinyan and the opposition want anyway. And to put up another Republican Party candidate would be an invitation to insurrection.

Commentators, not surprisingly, have an eye out for Russia’s reaction. Armenia has traditionally been Russia’s main ally in the region, and the Sargsyan government had snubbed the European Union in 2013 to sign up with Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Customs Union.

Pashinyan seems to have been at pains to stress that his movement is not anti-Russian: he certainly doesn’t want to give Putin any excuse for meddling. But with the lack of a common border, Russian intervention would be a messy business. And although a Yelk government would almost certainly be more pro-European, the truth is that friendship with Russia is largely a bipartisan commitment in Armenia.

The three transcaucasian republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia sit uncomfortably between Europe and Asia. Superficially they resemble the Baltic states: conquered by the Russian empire, taking advantage of the Russian revolution to re-establish their independence before being forcibly reabsorbed by the Soviet Union. But since independence in 1991, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have prospered while transcaucasia has struggled.

Now it seems it might be finding its feet. Georgia, after going through several cycles of authoritarianism and revolt, has established a functioning democracy, and Armenia has the prospect of doing the same. Azerbaijan is still an autocracy (notwithstanding Craig Kelly’s view), but a new government in Armenia at least opens the possibility of progress on the long-running territorial dispute.

And speaking of Russian intervention, don’t miss Jon Chait’s piece yesterday suggesting that America’s sale of anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian government – a surprisingly anti-Russian move – was in fact a bribe to prevent Ukrainian co-operation with the anti-Trump investigations in the US. As Chait puts it:

It is far more likely that somebody in the administration proposed a quid pro quo, and Ukraine quite rationally decided it would rather have weapons to defend itself against the next Russian aggression than participate in an investigation that the president of the United States regards as a mortal threat.


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