Russia braces for ‘Euromaidan’ in Armenia

Yerevan is seldom in the world headlines except when Turkey works itself into frenzy over a fresh move in an odd western capital to pass a parliamentary resolution naming the massacre of Armenians in the early part of the last century as “genocide”.

The current protests in Armenia can easily take an anti-Russian direction

The current protests in Armenia can easily take an anti-Russian direction

But that may be about to change. That is, if the 6-day-old mass protests in the Armenian capital, ostensibly against a hike in electricity prices with effect from August 1, snowball into another “Euromaidan” as in Ukraine last year.

Why Armenia? The short answer is that the country is a vital piece of real estate to hold for both the West and Russia. Consider the following.

Armenia is the only country other than Tajikistan where Russia has a big military base. A few months ago, Armenia under its current leadership of President Serz Sarkisian joined the Eurasian Economic Union, which the United States regards as a Russian project to integrate the former Soviet republics under its leadership.

If Armenia is brought into the western orbit, Russia gets practically shut out of South Caucasus, given the ambivalences in Moscow’s equations with Baku and the unfriendly policies of the pro-western government in Tbilisi.

Equally, Armenia shares a border with Iran and a pro-western government in Yerevan and the consequent shift in the balance of forces impacts regional politics.

Of course, if a regime change such as in Georgia in 2003 were to repeat in Armenia, it has security implications for Russia’s North Caucasus, which is a restive region threatened by extremist Islamist groups, some which enjoy external support.

The current protests can easily take an “anti-Russian” direction. The point is, Russia owns Armenia’s gas and electricity supply networks and the 40 percent increase in electricity prices is seen as part of excessive profiteering by Russian companies at the cost of the Armenian consumer.

A flashpoint arises if the latent popular frustrations against the corrupt government in Yerevan coalesce with the discontent over the steep hike in electricity prices and the disapproval of the government’s perceived kowtowing to Russian pressure. Suffice it to say, the rudiments of a classic “color revolution” seem to be available.

The influential Moscow politician, Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the Federation Council’s (Duma) International Relations Committee has warned that the crisis is following the script of “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine.

The well-known Russian pundit Sergei Markov wired to the Russian establishment has alleged that the protests in Yerevan are “being directed from an external headquarters” (read Washington). Of course, such allegations are difficult to prove in real time and the US media organs have been plainly dismissive, claiming that the “civil society” in Armenia is spearheading the mass protests and there is no “foreign hand” involved.

If the protests gather momentum, Moscow will be caught on the horns of a dilemma. With hindsight, Moscow has estimated that the deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich’s refusal to heed Russian advice to use force to quell the ‘Euromaidan’ protests in a critical period in February last year proved to be his undoing and resulted in his overthrow.

By the same logic, the pro-Russian leadership in Armenia is walking a fine line.

On a broader plane, Armenia becomes a test case of the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the collective psyche of the people in the former Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Are the ‘masses’ in these regions drawing inspiration from the regime change in Ukraine and are they ready for their own ‘Euromaidan’? That is the question.

For sure, a new combative tone has appeared of late in the US’ Central Asia policy, possibly predicated on a reading that the “masses” in the Stans are ripe for revolution.

The recent statement at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Robert Berschinski took a noticeably tough line regarding the “heavy-handed policies”, denial of religious freedom and political space, and prevalence of widespread corruption and “systematic abuse and ill-treatment of citizens” by the authoritarian regimes in Central Asia. It pointedly questioned the legitimacy of the recent re-election of the Presidents of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the two key states in Central Asia.

To be sure, the US’ democracy project in Central Asia seems to be gearing up for action after a decade-and-a-half of hibernation following the American intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 when the accent was on the war on terror and regional stability.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Categories: AT Top Writers, M.K. Bhadrakumar

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  • Diana

    Please, stop calling this maidan of any sort. We are protesting against price hikes, NOT Russia. Russia is and will always be our most crucial partner, we have 0 animosity towards it. Stop politicizing a civil movement!

  • Daniel Berg

    Dear Diana, I myself have seen and felt many weather conditions in my life and this is not a Rain I see in your country, this is a Water festival ,

  • Diana

    Dear Daniel. I’m inclinrd to agree, though if you want a real water festival, you should tune in for Vardevar. This was just a drizzle. 😉

    We are not against the West, have very strong ties with France, USA, etc. But under no circumstances would we be willing to give up partnership with Russia. Why? Firstly, because we have no choice: it’s a sad and depressing truth but our very national security depends on Russia for multitude of reasons. Secondly, because Russia and Armenia share the kind of history that simply cannot be ignored. Similar to Britain and USA or Britain and Canada (Australia, etc) perhaps, just longer. And thirdly, while I’ll be the first to admit feelings towards Russians are slightly cooler than they used to be just years ago (when we used to think of them as brothers, not just partners), they are still closer to us than any nation in the world, with the possible exception of Georgians.

  • Ivan G

    Is Russia going to attack Armenia next?

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Unlike Ukraine, Armenia is part of Russia’s CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) which is as significant an organization as China’s SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). It is because Belarus (along with Armenia) which is also a member of Russia’s CSTO that Russia was able to use the lands of Belarus for Russian troop deployment along part of Ukraine’s border.

  • Diana

    Why? Armenia is Russia’s partner and friend. Just because we protest against electricity price hikes (which would make our electricity prices highestate among all post-Soviet countries) doesn’t mean we protest against Russia. It’s not a political issue, just a civil one. If any politics is involved, it’s protest against our own greedy and corrupt politicians. However, regardless of which political party is at the hem, you can bet they (and the people) will be pro-Russian. It’s just the way things are. Sorry, no maidan for Armenia, despite the West’s best efforts.

  • Russki

    Would like to thank the author for explaining why these revolutions and “evromaidans” happen, and who is really behind them…well put as far as valuable piece of real estate, which west wants a piece of obviously. Strangely, just when russia manages to tighten the relationship up by means of new unions and integrations (which is a normal situation when a country is building and strengthening ties with its neighbors) all of the sudden people get so unhappy? same people that lived ok (at the least) with its neighboring russia for centuries all of the sudden dont like that anymore? maybe its because someone new is trying to join the party? its like..a random hrny man is messing up a marriage just because he wants a piece of that azz….shame shame

  • Daniel Berg

    You can chose between Russian attack and NATOs *human-terror-destruction-itarian* invasion, and what would you like to drink Sir?

  • fredd

    external forces (us sponsored) will under cover of the protest start a coup just like at maidan.

  • fredd

    who is Russia attacking??

  • spencer

    this seems like a good use of occam’s razor- the protesters say it’s ALL about economics. perhaps we should listen instead of superimposing outside beliefs over what is really happening.
    the armenians have been clear- this is an economic problem due to fewer remittances from russia, increases in energy costs and a government seen as corrupt and too connected to russia to stand up for its people.
    this one gets down to dollars and cents, not overarching political beliefs or goals

  • Rafasa Arandas

    If I may ask, why Russia and not the EU? Armenia is also very much a culturally European nation, is it not?

  • Diana

    While geographically Armenia is entirely in Asia nowadays (or, to be more precise, the Caucasus region of Eurasia), yes, historically and culturally it has always been considered part of Europe. We Co side ourselves part of Europe – hence membership in the European Council, participation in European tournaments, etc.

    This said, if it comes down to a choice between Russia and EU, or frankly Russia and the rest of the world, it will be Russia every time. And if any European/American politicians think otherwise, they are deluded. Why? Tons of reasons, I’ll just give a couple:

    1. Russia and Armenia share centuries of common history. We were not only part of the Soviet Union but also of the Russian Empire. And even before, Russia was viewed as our brother nation, the only one on whose support we could count on (and usually, that was very much true). In fact, it is hardly a matter of dispute that if it weren’t for Russia, the Eastern Armenians would have shared the faith of Western Armenians (if you don’t understand what I mean – 2015 is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide).

    2. Armenia is a Christian country surrounded by predominantly Muslim countries (3 of our 4 neighbours, and virtually all nearby countries, are Muslim). We are in de-facto state of war with Azerbaijan, Turkey has I, posed economic blockade on us. And although we actually have surprisingly close relationship with Iran (literally thousands of years of history between us, most of it amiable), we need a strong Christian ally, and Russia is pretty much the only one.

    3. We don’t have much of a choice. Armenia is a small country at war with a much larger and oil-rich neighbour. True, we won the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1990s but quite frankly the only reason Azerbaijan isn’t violating the ceasefire now (at least, on a global scale) is the presence of the Russian armed forces in Armenia. The moment Russia stops having our back, Azerbaijan will attack. It’s not paranoia, it’s a fact. We aren’t stupid or suicidal not to realize that.

    4. A lot of European countries are close friends, France in particularly. Similarly, we have close relations with USA, EU in general, etc (it’s quite a coup, actually – simultaneously maintaining friendly relationships with Russia, Ukraine, USA, EU, Iran, Syria, Lebanon…). But at the end of the day, those countries are neighbours and friends. Russia is family. The only other country we have as close (or closer) relations to is Georgia.

    5. The last reason is the most straightforward one: if push comes to shove, we know Russia will come to our aid (doesn’t matter if we’re talking military, financial, social or political assistance). EU will just give a lot of promises and make a lot of meaningless declarations. That’s how it has always been and we’ve learnt our lesson at the Paris conference after the end of WWI. Please, note I am talking about states, not people: no Armenian will ever forget the outpouring of support from French, British, German, and others who came to our aid during the devastating 1988 earthquake, or the aid sent during the war that followed immediately afterwards (our history was never all roses). People of those countries we trust. Their governments? Not one bit, especially not after seeing the devastation the Western governments brought upon the region.

    European and American agents should really spend there efforts elsewhere – no anti Russian maidan will ever happen here. Yes, there are issues between out countries. Yes, sometimes we resent how much we depend on them (any proud, sovereign nation would). And we may want to integrate into Europe. But if forced to choose? For all our pro-European attitude, there is no choice. It will always be Russia.

    And just so that you understand – I personally am not even particularly pro-Russian. Quite the opposite, actually. Most of my countrymen are much more pro-Russian, which should be quite telling.

  • Diana

    I do apologize for any typos in my previous message, I was typing on phone and autocorrect has made some interesting corrections.

  • Rafasa Arandas

    Is joining the European Union really so bad, though? Most of Eastern Europe, including many countries who were once part of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact, decided to join, and their economies are mostly stable and growing today.