YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Ivan Volynkin, the Russian ambassador to Armenia, on Friday stood by his controversial calls for the Armenian authorities to crack down on local Western-funded civic groups critical of Russia.
“First of all, my statement was not well received not in Armenia but in some circles, so to speak,” he told journalists. “Secondly, I am not calling on anybody to leave Armenia. I’m just saying that one must be as honest as possible on all issues.”
“I will never retract my comments,” added Volynkin.
The envoy was reacting to an outcry sparked by his interview with a Russian-Armenian newspaper published this week. He suggested that the authorities in Yerevan take restrictive measures for “neutralizing those NGOs in Armenia that want to drive a wedge into Russian-Armenian relations.” He cited in that context a controversial Russian law that requires groups receiving U.S. and European grants to register as “foreign agents.”
The Armenian government appeared to have ruled out any such curbs on Wednesday, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying that no Armenian NGO is “able to drive a wedge between Armenia and Russia.”
Volynkin’s remarks were strongly condemned by Armenia’s leading groups involved in civil rights advocacy. They also denounced the Russian diplomat for declaring last month that Moscow “will thwart any aggressive interference in the internal affairs of friendly states carried out under the pretext of spreading ideas alien to our minds and hearts.”
Levon Barseghian, the chairman of the Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists’ Club, demanded on Friday that the Armenian government bring Volynkin to task. “Official Yerevan should just imagine what would happen if Armenia’s ambassador to Russia said such things,” he said.
Volynkin’s controversial statements were also criticized by Naira Zohrabian, a senior member of the Prosperous Armenia Party, the second largest parliamentary force. “I believe that in Armenia there are no NGOs operating beyond the law,” she said. “Maybe there are such organizations in Russia. I don’t know.”
“Generally speaking, I think that every ambassador, regardless of which country they represent, must act within the bounds of diplomatic ethics,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).