MOSCOW—Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has announced that his nation’s military had attempted a coup on Thursday, the latest development in a country still recovering from last year’s lost war with Azerbaijan.
Now, politicians and political analysts are speaking of Russia’s hand in the attempted coup, pointing to President Vladimir Putin’s strained relationship with Pashinyan. On Tuesday, Pushinyan had insulted Moscow by complaining about Russian missiles, an indirect criticism of the Kremlin’s strategy of waiting to intervene until Armenia was weakened in the conflict, despite its official status as a military ally.
“They didn’t explode, or maybe 10 percent of them exploded,” Pashinyan said of the missiles Tuesday. The military generals—already angry over Pashinyan’s firing of military generals in an effort to modernize the force—objected, setting off the conflict.
According to political analyst Artur Paronyan, Russia’s General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov had made a call to his Armenian counterpart, General Onik Gasparyan, earlier in the day. “Moscow clearly signaled to General Gasparyan to get rid of our prime minister,” Paronyan told The Daily Beast.
Led by Gasparyan, dozens of generals signed a statement calling for Pashinyan’s removal over his alleged inability “to make adequate decisions in this crisis.” It marked the first direct intervention by the military in Armenia’s domestic politics since 2008, when 10 demonstrators were killed after the military clamped down on a protest in Yerevan’s Freedom Square.
Armenia has healed from that tragedy, and has since changed course. Over the past decade, the country has developed a vibrant civil society, confronting some of its most acute social issues. But the threat of a war with Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has been in the air for decades. Generations grew up preparing for the next war, and in September, the fighting began. It went on for six weeks, and Armenia was turned upside down.
After the war, thousands of bitter protesters crowded Yerevan’s center, blaming the government for the defeat and demanding Pashinyan’s resignation. A Russian-brokered ceasefire saved Armenia from defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, but it also left Armenia desperately dependent on Russia for security.
The opposition called for Pashinyan’s ouster, and was joined by the army on Wednesday. Many men in crowds of protesters wore military uniforms and said they would not leave Freedom Square until Pashinyan was gone. On Thursday, Gasparyan published his statement formally calling for the prime minister’s resignation and criticizing him for “discrediting” the military.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Pashinyan’s key rival, former Minister of Defense Vazgen Manukyan, claimed he had powerful support from the Armenian military. “We blame Pashinyan for the total diplomatic failure in peace negotiations with Baku and for our defeat in the war against Azerbaijan’s aggression.” He added that he was “in touch with all the commanders,” and that he knows that “some operations [led by Pashinyan] were more than dubious.”
“Everything that my army managed to win from 1992 to 1993, he lost. We plan to put Pashinyan on trial and investigate why we have lost territories and 5,000 lives,” he said. Manukyan also stressed his support for peaceful demonstrations only, as a civil war would devastate an already vulnerable Armenia.
Many of Manukyan’s supporters are openly championing Russian support for the coup. “The war showed us that neither the United States nor France were here to save us. Moscow negotiated peace for us. Even now, Russian peacekeepers are on guard in the conflict zone,” a pro-Manukyan analyst, Stepan Danielyan, told The Daily Beast.
Armenian leaders have had a hard time earning the trust of a disillusioned public. The public demanded justice for years after the massacre in Freedom Square, blaming the president at the time, Robert Kocharyan, for ordering the shootings. A velvet revolution swept Nikol Pashinyan, once a political prisoner, to power in 2018. The same year, a court ordered former President Kocharyan arrested on charges related to the shooting incident.
“Putin considers Pashinyan a traitor and an enemy who failed in his promises many times,” Sergei Markov, a Kremlin analyst, told The Daily Beast.
Markov explained how the conflict between Putin and Pashinyan goes beyond the missile insults. According to media reports, Putin had unsuccessfully lobbied for the release of his friend, former president Kocharyan, after his 2019 arrest.
“Putin called Kocharyan on his birthday a few months ago to demonstrate what he thought of that arrest,” says Markov. “Now the Kremlin would like to see [Pashinyan] drink the entire glass of shame so everybody would see what happens to an American puppet.”
Correction: Former Armenian Minister of Defense Vazgen Manukyan told The Daily Beast that he had powerful support from the Armenian military in his conflict with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, a key political rival. A previous version of this report inaccurately stated that Manukyan said he had support from Russia’s military, due to a reporting error.