The Western-leaning former secretary of Armenia’s Security Council, Armen Grigorian, has been appointed first deputy foreign minister in a move that ruling party representatives see as a first step toward his being named foreign minister, a position that is currently vacant.
Grigorian’s appointment on July 14 may signal a change of direction in Armenia’s Russia-oriented foreign policy that could cause concern in Moscow.
Armenia has had no foreign minister since May 31 when Ara Ayvazian left the post because of policy disagreements with acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian.
Pashinian then won a landslide election victory last month that put an end to a political crisis, which erupted after ethnic Armenian forces lost a six-week war against Azerbaijan last year and ceded territory in and around the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The conflict, which claimed the lives of some 6,000 people, ended in a truce brokered by Russia, Armenia’s main ally.
Pashinian’s chief of staff Arayik Harutiunian introduced Grigorian to the staff of the Foreign Ministry on July 14, expressing confidence that Grigorian will fulfill the tasks assigned to him by the government.
Grigorian, 38, a member of Pashinian’s Civic Contract party, has no prior diplomatic experience. He worked with the anti-graft group Transparency International before becoming one of the key figures of Armenia’s 2018 Velvet Revolution.
He told Foreign Ministry staff after being introduced that he was convinced “we will jointly implement all the tasks outlined in the electoral program of the Civil Contract party that will also be reflected in the government’s program.”
Grigorian has accused Ayvazian of torpedoing the government’s work on the repatriation of Armenian prisoners of war from Azerbaijan by lying when he said that Yerevan had no minefield maps that it could pass on to the Azerbaijani side.
Acting Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian said the political appointment is needed to establish a certain connection between the diplomatic corps and the political leadership “in order to remove the differences that have existed to some extent.”
Grigorian was one of the few officials who criticized the decision of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) not to support member Armenia in its current border standoff with Azerbaijan, advising that the CSTO’s secretary-general to show restraint in his public remarks.
Political analyst Armen Baghdasarian told RFE/RL that, if Grigorian is appointed foreign minister, there will be drastic changes as Armenia will start pursuing a pro-Western foreign policy.
“Considering his track record, his numerous statements, I think it will be very difficult for him to pursue a pro-Russian foreign policy. In the event of a sharp change in Armenia’s foreign policy, Russia will try to react as harshly as possible,” Baghdasarian said.
Baghdasarian believes that career diplomats would not agree to cardinal changes in Armenia’s foreign policy, so Pashinian looked for a candidate for the top post outside the Foreign Ministry.
“It is searching for and finding allies that is the main task of diplomacy. But Armenia’s dependence on Russia today in all respects, and primarily in the security sphere, is so great that I think it would not be a reasonable decision to appoint someone whom Russia absolutely does not trust,” he said.