Popov: Armenian ‘street revolution’ is not a Maidan

Nikol Pashinyan seen as likely new PM in May 8 parliamentary voting

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The street revolution in Yerevan can go differently from a Soros scenario: the somersaults of power and opposition.

From the very beginning the April events in Yerevan and in Armenia as a whole differed from the events in Ukraine (“orange revolution” and “euromidan”) or in Georgia (“the Rose Revolution”). That’s why it seemed to me hasty to apply the term from Ukrainian political language, the Maidan (a word of Turkic origin denoting a plaza, in the political context, a street revolution) that has entered into broad political usage.

In my previous article, I wrote, with reference to my contacts in Armenia, that the preservation of the “pro-Russian” ex-President Serge Sargsyan in power met with indignation in society. And the point here is not the pro-Russianness of Sargsyan, but the corruption and total poverty in Armenia, which are strongly associated with his 10-year rule.

Russia has been and remains the main political and economic partner of Armenia. For example, Moscow supplies energy to Armenia at prices much lower than in other countries. That is, with less profit. “Gazprom” in 2018 will keep gas prices for Armenia at $150 dollars per 1 thousand cubic meters. For comparison: on the reverse, Ukraine now buys gas at a price of about $ 280 dollars per 1 thousand cubic meters. We can cite similar data for other types of energy resources. But at the same time in Armenia they complain about high tariffs for utilities. As the Armenian experts, that the author of these lines has worked with in international conferences, told me, price “scissors” are explained by the aspirations of local operators to superprofits. The difference between domestic and procurement prices for gas for Armenia is a factor of two: In 2014 Armenia received Russian gas for $ 189 per 1,000 cubic meters, but it sold to the domestic consumer at a price of $ 391 per 1 thousand cubic meters. Armenia is a country with a very poor population and the price of gas is very high. The mass discontent in the Armenian society with the extremely high prices for gas is quite understandable.

But where does this discontent go? Once again I will refer to the opinions of my familiar experts from Armenia: the authorities blamed Russia for high gas prices. (Belarusian President Lukashenko also carries out the same propaganda policy, only more roughly and rectilinearly). Thus, the shortfall in profits of the Russian “Gazprom” flows into the pockets of Armenian oligarchs and is transformed into the growth of anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia.

A simplified and profoundly flawed policy has emerged in Russia that determines the country’s behavior towards its allies in the post-Soviet space. If a country’s leader declares his pro-Russianness, he must be supported at all costs. As a result, Russian support for corrupt and unpopular regimes, both overthrown and now existing. It would seem that Moscow acts on the same principle as the Americans: “he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” But this is only an external identity.

The US, when necessary, demonstrates enviable flexibility and easily goes to replace a turncoat or failing regime. Let us recall a classic example of this kind: the “Rose Revolution,” organized by the American “son of a bitch” Saakashvili to overthrow the “son of a bitch” Shevardnadze, who had brought so much benefit to the US as USSR Foreign Minister. In Moscow, they persistently supported Kuchma and Yanukovych, as they now support Lukashenko. Why is a corrupt head of state, who defames the pro-Russian vector of his country’s policies, better than a street revolutionary?

But it seems that in Armenia the method in the workings of the Russian Foreign Ministry have substantially changed: not to support the unpopular regime, which is failing in its socio-economic results, but to try to reach agreement with the new government on conditions favorable to Russia. That is why Russian official media are very reserved in covering what is happening in Armenia. And in the statements of the highest officials of the Russian state, there is far from that condemning certainty that sounded when assessing the “euromaidan” or street revolution in Minsk.

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So, already on April 23, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin commented on the resignation of Armenian Prime Minister Serge Sargsyan as “The Sovereign Affair of that State.” Even more interesting is the statement made by the press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov. “We are wishing for our Armenian friends to resolve the political situation that has developed as soon as possible. We also hope that in any case, the allied, kindly, and constructive bilateral Russian-Armenian relations will remain a constant both for the foreign policy of our country and for the foreign policy of Yerevan.” In other words: if the new government of Armenia remains committed to the pro-Russian course, Russia, in turn, will perceive it as “Armenian friends” with all the ensuing consequences.

These appeals (presumably there were not only speeches intended for the general public, but also behind-the-scenes negotiations), apparently did not remain unheeded at the headquarters of the street opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan. Familiar with the Armenian political scene, political scientists from Russia (including ethnic Armenians) drew attention to the change in Pashinyan’s foreign policy rhetoric. A year ago, he advocated the withdrawal from the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization, including Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan – a kind of anti-NATO in the post-Soviet space) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EurAsEC or EEMA).

But the other day, speaking from the rostrum of the Armenian parliament, Pashinyan stated the following: “We do not and will not raise the question of Armenia’s withdrawal from the EAPC, did not and will not set the task of withdrawing Armenia from the CSTO. However, we say: we do not believe that everything is perfect there. There are numerous problems that need to be discussed in a constructive atmosphere.”

He stressed that Russia was and remains a strategic ally for Armenia. But he drew attention to the existing problems in the relations between the two countries and within the CSTO. With the latter you can not argue. For example, Belarus, a member of the CSTO, in defiance of the organization’s charter, refuses to send its troops to the aid of an ally (it means the eventual war of Armenia and Azerbaijan for Nagorno-Karabakh). The President of Belarus, Lukashenko, handed the pro-Armenian blogger Lapshin (who is Russian and has Israeli citizenship) over to the Azerbaijani authorities, and maintains more allied relations with Baku (from which he receives economic preferences) than with his official ally Yerevan.
Of course, in the interests of political struggle the candidate for the post of prime minister (that is, the head of state) can say a lot. And so, too, can an incumbent head of state: take, for example Kuchma, Lukashenko, Sargsyan, who hide behind friendship with Russia and conduct policies, foreign or domestic, either one, far from novorossian.
I will quote the well-known Russian political scientist Armen Grigoryan: “Troubles in the region of Armenia are unlikely to happen, because politically the people preserve a certain unity. The opposition and the ruling power are similar in the main – they are committed to the development of partnership with Russia.” I am also a cautious optimist in this matter.

On May 2, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia announced that it was ready to support a single opposition candidate on the ballot – and, as it seems, three opposition factions of the parliament are ready to nominate Nikol Pashinyan (there is no official support from the “Dashnaktsutyun” faction yet). Therefore, it is highly prtobable that Pashinyan will be elected the new head of government (and head of state) on May 8. The change of power in Yerevan will open the possibility of raking up the Augean stables in bilateral (Russia-Armenia) and collective (CSTO) relations. And it will show that Russia is ready for trusting cooperation with any government supported in the society and aimed at allied relations with Moscow. The Russian side has demonstrated the flexibility that we so often lack. Now let’s see how convincing Pashinyan will be in the head of state role in raking up the rubble.

Eduard Popov

is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation. 


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