Decision 2013: Western investment v Russian commandos as likely post-election dilemma for Armenia

Decision 2013: Western investment v Russian commandos as likely post-election dilemma for Armenia

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The third interim report of the OSCE/ODIHR on the presidential election in Armenia cast some doubts about the fairness of the vote that is being disputed by the officially defeated opposition candidate. The report published on Saturday noted “implausibly high” voter turnout at many precincts where incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, the now certified winner of the election, carried the poll. In fact, the leading Western vote-monitoring group hints that Sargsyan won in the mentioned areas due to ballot-stuffing, vote list manipulations and other administrative violations.

Hovannisian, who has held public protests since February 20, applied to the Constitutional Court on Monday, demanding that the highest judicial instance in Armenia annul the election result. Members of the Republican Party of Armenia, however, insist that Hovannisian and his team have no conclusive evidence to support their claims that the election has been rigged. Hovannisian and his Heritage Party, however, are likely to submit not only evidence of fraud proper, but also reference to the latest OSCE/ODIHR report to insist that Sargsyan’s victory was achieved at the cost of mass violations.

At the same time, Hovannisian and his supporters have not concealed that they have little hope in justice to be administered at the Constitutional Court, but rather were giving its members “the last chance” to exercise constitutional law and “to clean themselves before the people.”

In the meantime, the opposition leader seems to be getting prepared for local elections, which, for example, are due to be held in Yerevan as early as May 5. Hovannisian has long insisted that the ruling party is reproducing itself not least due to the majority that it has in municipal and other local bodies and that this majority should be broken.

Apparently, this was also one of the subjects discussed at a meeting between Hovannisian and leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) Gagik Tsarukyan over the weekend. PAP did not participate in the presidential election, but PAP may become a ‘critical mass’ to sway the outcome of local elections as well as possible early parliamentary elections (which are also being sought by Hovannisian).

It is remarkable that soon after the latest report of OSCE/ODIHR Sargsyan was congratulated by United States President Barack Obama, who, in fact, announced that American investments could be on their way to Armenia. “We remain strongly committed to Armenia’s development and look to your leadership to promote continued improvements in democracy and the economic reforms that will present opportunities to both the people of Armenia and the Americans looking to invest in a valued partner with significant potential,” Obama said in his message, congratulating Sargsyan on his winning a second term in office.

Before that, however, on March 1, Commander of the Russian Airborne Troops Vladimir Shamanov made a statement saying that on February 27 Russian Minister of Defense, Army General Sergey Shoigu instructed them to make considerations for the use of Airborne Troops as a rapid reaction force outside of Russia “in the event of an increased need for efficient implementation of tasks to prevent crises.” The matter also concerns the possibility of using such elite Russian troops in Armenia. In Yerevan, some opposition circles were quick to interpret it as a threat. Experts say that Russian commandoes could be deployed in Armenia even without Sargsyan’s “invitation”, which would drive him into the corner, too.

The Russian Regnum news agency rushed to ridicule such statements, including the remarks made by former opposition leader Arkady Vardanyan, who was once imprisoned and then effectively exiled from Armenia for allegedly inciting a revolt.

On March 12, Sargsyan is scheduled to visit Moscow, where he is likely to make a tough choice – either to reject or accept the offer to join the Customs Union (a Russia-led economic integration project for former Soviet countries) in exchange for settling problems connected with the price of natural gas. The opening of an airport near the Karabakh capital of Stepanakert (plans for which are being opposed by Azerbaijan) is also likely to be among the topics for discussion during Sargsyan’s Moscow trip. It is not ruled out that the airborne troops of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization will be deployed around the area of this airport.

Either way, the struggle of the West and Russia for influence in Armenia is already acquiring visible features and shape. It is yet difficult to say how far the current post-election protests are connected with this geopolitical struggle, but one thing is clear – a lot of people in Armenia are trying to benefit from the support of the international community in dismantling the monolithic oligarchic system in their country – a system that Russian troops appear to be ready to defend and Western investments intend to break up.