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Nikol Pashinyan’s victory should reduce tensions with Azerbaijan

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Russia has largely stayed on the sidelines as Turkey and Azerbaijan have observed if Armenia turns a page after decades of regional isolation.

It’s not often that political leaders can make a political comeback after losing a war and facing a military coup. But that is precisely what incumbent Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did, comfortably winning the country’s legislative elections held on June 20 with 54% of the vote.

Pashinyan, a seemingly pro-Western politician, was a leader whose political future was at stake just a few months ago. He faced a humiliating defeat in the occupied Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, a region that Armenia had occupied for more than 30 years.

The conflict alone has claimed more than 4,000 Armenian soldiers, thousands of casualties and more than 100,000 displaced people.

Months of mass protests after the war and a failed military coup at the end of February this year seemed to mark a turning point for the beleaguered leader.

Fast forward, however, Pashinyan appears to have made a comfortable comeback by winning 71 seats in parliament, giving him a two-thirds majority in the 107-seat assembly.

What does Russia think of this?

Russia, a major source of influence in the country, has remained largely silent.

Pashinyan’s main rival was the country’s former prime minister Robert Kocharyan and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is resolutely pro-Russian.

Kocharyan might have been a more natural choice over Pashinyan, a former journalist turned activist who led street protests that ultimately propelled him to power and eventually surrounded himself with other like-minded liberals.

But Russia, although not a natural companion to Pachinian, as evidenced by its estrangement during the Karabakh War, forged a working, if not warm, relationship with the outgoing ruler.

When Pashinyan came to power following the so-called Velvet Revolution in 2018, Russian annoyance that the country fell under Western influence play a role in Moscow by staying away during its conflict with Azerbaijan.

The 2020 war and the resulting Russian-led ceasefire with Turkish backing underscored Pashinyan and Yerevan’s political class that Russia remains an important guarantor for the landlocked country.

After the war, Russia reinforced its presence in Armenian politics by deploying 2,000 soldiers who would ensure respect for the ceasefire.

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin who also has close ties to Putin, cryptically suggested the loss of Pashinyan in the Karabakh war not only “deceived the Armenians” but also showed that even with the support of the United States, Pashinyan “cannot stand up” and protect the country, and that Armenia’s only natural ally, Russia, could step in where the United States has failed.

Pashinyan has apparently learned his lesson. In May, the Armenian prime minister called for additional Russian military support as part of a new rising tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In an effort to consolidate his pro-Russian credentials, Pashinyan even sent a small contingent Armenian soldiers in Syria in 2019.

Pashinyan’s victory also gives Russia an important victory. A democratically elected leader who is ready to stay in Russia’s sphere of influence and not provoke another geopolitical conflict with the West like Ukraine and Belarus have.

Resumption of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan recedes

Pashinyan’s main pro-Russian contender in the election, Kocharyan, has suggested throughout his campaign that he might get a better deal for Armenia after the incumbent president’s surrender.

The specter of a new war in the Caucasus that could damage Russia’s relations with the new US administration and its other regional ally Turkey and Azerbaijan may not have been very appealing to Moscow.

A Russian insider joked during the latest conflict: “Why should Russia support Armenian military adventures abroad, Azeri lands?”

For Moscow, the orientation of Armenia’s foreign policy is the most important benchmark.

As the elections approach, Sergei Markedonov, senior analyst at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said that “all key figures in Armenian politics are all in favor of establishing cooperation with the Russia ”.

“Pashinyan’s former opposition, as well as his revolutionary spirit, are the prime minister’s weak points. But, having come to power, he did nothing to break or correct Armenian traditionalism in foreign policy,” added Markedonov.

Ankara and Baku closely observed the elections in Armenia. Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met his Azerbaijani counterpart President Ilham Aliyev on a visit to the liberated areas of Karabakh.

Erdogan announced that a regional platform with six countries including Turkey, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia would be established to increase integration in the region.

He said: “We are ready to make all kinds of sacrifices. Mr. Putin too. With the measures to be taken in this regard, the region will become a zone of peace.”

“We hope that Armenia will seize this outstretched hand in solidarity and seize the opportunity to shape a common future together,” while adding that Ankara is ready to support Baku if tensions escalate after the elections.

Pashinyan’s victory at the polls gives the leader a chance to consolidate the ceasefire agreement he signed, albeit after leading his country to war. This indicates that the Armenian people are not looking for a new conflict and may even want their economically besieged country to open up to countries in the region. Armenia and Pashinyan are at a historic crossroads.

Source: TRT World

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