Friday

23rd Apr 2021

Armenia 'coup' shows waning of EU star in South Caucasus

  • Yerevan monument (Photo: young shanahan)

There was no violence in Thursday's (25 February) attempted "military coup" in Armenia, but it made EU influence in the South Caucasus look smaller than ever.

"The most important problem now is to keep power in the hands of the people, because I consider what's happening to be a military coup," Armenian prime minister Nikol Pashinyan told crowds of his supporters in the streets of Yerevan on Thursday evening, according to Reuters, after the military had called for his resignation earlier in the day.

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"The army cannot be involved in political processes, the army should obey the people," Pashinyan also said, using a hand-held megaphone, next to his wife and children.

Tensions peaked when a fighter jet flew over the protesters, in footage circulated by Russia's RIA news agency.

It prompted cheers and clapping at a rival, anti-Pashinyan demonstration around the corner, where people had built barricades out of trash cans, but there were no reports of military intervention or civilian clashes as of Friday morning.

Pashinyan also spoke with Russian president Vladimir Putin by phone, who urged "all parties to exercise restraint".

"We ... expect that it will be settled peacefully," Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Armenian foreign minister Ara Ayvazyan.

Azerbaijan, Armenia's enemy, voiced schadenfreude.

"Armenia has never been in such a pathetic situation ... it's their leaders who put them in this situation," Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev said.

But Turkey, Azerbaijan's ally, denounced the Armenian army's move.

EU and US spokesmen also appealed for calm.

"We call on all actors ... to avoid any rhetoric or actions that could lead to further escalation," an EU foreign service spokesperson said.

"We encourage all parties to ... de-escalate tensions," the US state department said.

Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan were meant to be getting closer to the EU under its so-called 'Eastern Partnership' programme, launched back in 2009.

But since then, Russia has massively extended its influence in the South Caucasus instead.

There was no sign of Russian involvement in Thursday's events.

And the military chiefs who called on Pashinyan to step down said: "The armed forces general staff statement from February 25 was not guided by anyone or made under anyone's pressure. It is a clear conviction and position of generals and officers, whose sole goal is to save the fatherland in this crucial moment".

But pro-Russian oligarchs are waiting in the wings in Yerevan to take over from Pashinyan, a symbol of democracy, who came to power in a peaceful revolution in 2018.

The government of a Russia-friendly oligarch, earlier this week, arrested the main opposition leader in Georgia, prompting a political crisis in the most pro-Western country in the region.

Russia is to expand its military base in Gyumri, Armenia, where it already has 3,000 troops.

And it recently sent 2,000 soldiers to Azerbaijan to keep the peace, after Azerbaijan conquered the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia last year.

Military defeat

The Nagorno-Karabakh defeat was the main reason for Pashinyan's confrontation with military chiefs, some of whom he recently sacked.

Pashinyan also criticised Russian-made 'Iskander' missile systems, which he said had "failed to explode, or exploded in only 10 percent of cases" when Armenia fired them in the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday: "Russian equipment has repeatedly displayed its efficiency in all kinds of locations in the world".

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