Armenian Officials in Talks With Russia Amid Opposition Push

(Bloomberg) -- The Armenian government sent emissaries to Russia for talks on the political crisis that’s convulsing their country as the leader of anti-government protests pressed demands to take power.

Nikol Pashinyan, who’s led the demonstrations that forced the abrupt resignation this week of longtime ruler Serzh Sargsyan, was rallying support among fellow legislators ahead of a parliamentary vote on a new prime minister set for May 1. The ruling party controls a majority of seats in the legislature.

Armenian Officials in Talks With Russia Amid Opposition Push

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in a phone call Thursday with Karen Karapetyan, Armenia’s acting prime minister and a top official of the ruling party, calling for a resolution “exclusively in the legal field, within the framework of the constitution.”

Armenia’s foreign minister also met his Russian counterpart in Moscow, while Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgyan flew to the Russian capital for consultations, as well.

Russia, which has deep political and economic ties, as well as a military base in Armenia, has been watching the protests closely. Putin Wednesday spoke with his Armenian counterpart Armen Sarkissian by phone, calling for “restraint.”

In the call with Karapetyan, Putin underlined the need to respect the results of the April 2017 parliamentary elections, according to the Kremlin. In that vote, Pashinyan’s three-party coalition got 7.8 percent of the vote, while the ruling party won a majority.

Pashinyan, who’s called his peaceful movement a “velvet revolution” to oust the country’s long-time rulers, told supporters at a rally Wednesday that he’d also met with Russian representatives and “received assurances that Russia does not interfere in Armenia’s domestic affairs.”

Blockade Threat

He warned that protesters will blockade the parliament building if Sarsgyan’s ruling Republican party tries to elect their own candidate. Thousands of opposition supporters remained in the streets Thursday.

The U.S. and the European Union also weighed in, as their ambassadors held meetings Karapetyan to urge a peaceful resolution of the crisis in the tiny Caucasus republic of 3 million people. Karapetyan has called on all sides in Armenia to agree to early parliamentary elections. Late Wednesday, the ruling party said Sargsyan is stepping down as chairman and that it’s ready to hold talks with the opposition “without preconditions.”

Pashinyan demanded the “unconditional capitulation” of the Republicans at an opposition rally late Wednesday. He said the parliament should appoint “the people’s candidate” as interim prime minister until elections can take place, without referring specifically to himself.

“This isn’t a movement against Russia, or against the United States or the European Union or Iran or Georgia,” Pashinyan said in an interview with Russia’s RBC newspaper published Thursday. “This is a movement against corruption, a movement against ineffective rule and it’s a purely domestic Armenian movement.”

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