YEREVAN — The Armenian chief of a Russian-led security bloc has been released on bail after being charged in connection with the violent crackdown that erupted following the country’s 2008 presidential election.
Defense lawyer Mirhan Pogosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that Colonel General Yuri Khachaturov was freed on July 28 by a Yerevan court after posting 5 million drams in bail ($10,400).
Khachaturov denied any wrongdoing in comments to reporters upon his arrival at the court in Yerevan.
The arrest of Khachaturov was the latest in a series of arrests of prominent officials that have occurred since Nikol Pashinian, a longtime anticorruption campaigner, became prime minister in May.
Pashinian was propelled into government on the backs of mass street protests by Armenians — many of them young — who were fed up with the country’s persistent corruption and poverty.
The country’s main investigative unit — the Special Investigative Service — announced that Khachaturov was under investigation on July 26 for alleged involvement in an "overthrow of the constitutional order."
The 66-year-old Khachaturov is the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a regional grouping that includes Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, as well as Armenia.
Critics have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using the organization to bolster Moscow’s influence in former Soviet republics and to counter the European Union and NATO.
The Russian Foreign Ministry was quoted by state-run TASS news agency as saying that Yerevan has been told it "should officially initiate the recall of its citizen from the office of CSTO secretary-general" if it has decided to do so.
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balaian said late on July 28 that Yerevan was in the process of asking fellow CSTO members to strip him of the post.
Balaian added that Armenia is committed to the strengthening and development of the CSTO and plans to remain actively involved in its efforts. The reports did not immediately say if officials in Yerevan were planning to nominate an Armenian citizen as a replacement.
Also on July 26, the Special Investigative Service leveled similar charges against former President Robert Kocharian.
Both are linked to the violent dispersal of opposition protests staged in the wake of a disputed presidential election in early 2008.
Khachaturov was Armenia’s deputy defense minister at the time.
Eight protesters and two police officers were killed in the crackdown, which came about a month before Kocharian completed his second and final presidential term. Kocharian, who called the charges politically motivated, was taken into custody late on July 27.
Source: Radio Free Europe