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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Russia Takes Sides in Armenia

Kommersant reports that although Russia would be outraged if the U.S. took official positions on the outcome of elections in Russia (indeed, it is currently leveling just such accusations at the U.S.), Russia has no problem doing so in Aremenia, just as it has done in Ukraine and Georgia:

Campaigning for elections to the national assembly officially started yesterday in Armenia. The elections will be on May 12. They are considered a practice run for next year's presidential race. Armenian authorities have begun early with a hard push for the ruling Republican Party, headed by Prime Minister Serge Sarkasyan. Russian officials have also thrown their weight behind the party.
There are 1314 candidates from 24 parties and blocs competing for 131 seats in the Armenian parliament. The surge of enthusiasm is due to the fact that Armenian President Robert Kocharyan's term ends next year, and everyone in the parliament will then have a shot at the presidency.

The Republican Party is headed by former defense minister and current prime minister of Armenia Serge Sarkasyan. He took over as prime minister after the death of Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan from a heart attack on March 25 and quickly drew attention to himself as a potential successor to Kocharyan. Sarkasyan has received the personal endorsement of the president and members of his administration.

Of the 14 parties competing for seat in the parliament, only six are expected to succeed – the Republican Party, Prosperous Armenia, Dashnaktsutyun Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the Country of Legality, National Unity and the People's Party, predicted presidential adviser Garnik Isagulyan. Prosperous Armenia is led by Gagik Tsarukyan, the richest person in Armenia and chairman of the national Olympic Committee. Analysts consider it a creation of the authorities as a backup incase of a setback to the Republican Party.

So far, there are no setbacks on the horizon for the Republican Party. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Armenia last week and expressed the Russian government's support for Sarkasyan. Russia traditionally plays an important role in the internal affairs of Armenia. Several other Russian officials have voiced support for Sarkasyan since then, including Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and head of the Audit Chamber Sergey Stepashin.

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