A power struggle has broken out in Armenia after the military called for Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to step down in the latest challenge to his leadership since he signed a ceasefire that paused fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The controversial armistice agreement, brokered by Moscow and signed in December last year, gave Azerbaijan control over swathes of territory in the region that Armenians had de facto controlled since the 1990s. The military humiliation has seriously undermined Pashinyan’s authority in Yerevan and sparked a wave of protests.
As part of a joint statement issued on Thursday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces, as well as commanders of a number of large military brigades, said that the embattled PM should resign. “The ineffective management of the current authorities and the most serious mistakes in foreign policy led the country to the brink of death,” military chiefs wrote.
The move comes after Armenian President Armen Sarkissian dismissed the first deputy chief of the General Staff, Tiran Khachatryan, from his post at Pashinyan’s request. The politician had faced criticism from the general over his recent claims that Russian-made Iskander missile systems had failed during the war with Azerbaijan, or exploded in only 10 percent of cases.
“This is impossible,” Khachatryan argued. “Sorry, but this isn’t serious.”
Russia has also slammed the claims about the rocket system, which Pashinyan suggested was a “weapon of the 1980s.” Viktor Zavarzin, the deputy chairman of a committee on defense and security in parliament in Moscow, hit back, arguing that “the Iskander is a highly precise weapon, which has repeatedly been proved during military exercises.” Pashinyan’s insinuations, he argued, are “a complete lie.”
Interfax reported on Thursday morning that opposition activists had begun blocking traffic on a number of central avenues in the capital, as well as preventing metro trains from departing stations.
Pashinyan, who took office on a pro-Western agenda in 2018, asked his supporters to take to the streets of Yerevan. He himself came to power after months of mass protests demanding the resignation of his predecessor, Serzh Sargsyan. The rallies saw MPs lighting flares on the floor of the parliamentary chamber and demonstrators blocking traffic in the capital.
Speaking later on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Russian officials were “observing with concern the development of the situation in Armenia.” Describing it as an internal matter for a “very important and close ally in the Caucasus,” he “urged everyone to stay calm.” As for Pashinyan’s criticisms of the Iskander missile system, he said, “we leave it without comment. Russian equipment has repeatedly demonstrated its effectiveness in a variety of situations.”
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