Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian has moved to gain full and direct control over a state agency that provides bodyguards to him and other current and former Armenian officials.
The State Protection Service (SPS), which also protects key state buildings, is currently part of Armenia’s National Security Service (NSS).
A bill drafted by Pashinian’s office would separate the SPS from the NSS and make it directly subordinate to the prime minister. An explanatory note attached to it says that this would help the SPS “rapidly react to the situation on a daily basis” and “take appropriate actions.”
The Armenian government will decide later this month whether to formally approve the bill and send it to the National Assembly.
Nina Karapetiants, a civil rights activist, said the proposed change of the SPS’s status suggests that Pashinian does not trust the NSS, whose directors have been frequently replaced during his nearly three-year rule.
“It is obvious that the prime minister is trying to place under his direct control those structures which he can trust,” Karapetiants told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “This means that he distrusts the NSS so much that he has trouble entrusting it with his life.”
Areg Kochinian, a political analyst, linked the bill with heightened political tensions in the country and, in particular, opposition attempts to topple Pashinian over his handling of last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“International practice shows that as a rule such agencies are not part of other bodies,” he said. “There is the Secret Service in the United States and the FSO in Russia. They are directly subordinate to the country’s leader. So this is normal in terms of international experience.”
Still, Kochinian questioned the wisdom of turning the SPS into a separate agency, saying that this would run counter to Pashinian’s past promises to streamline the state apparatus through major staff cuts. He said that the SPS would require more government funding if it is separated from the NSS.
Pashinian already plays a decisive role in the choice of the head of the SPS. The latter is nominated by the prime minister and appointed by the president of the republic.