Yesterday’s reaction of some important Russian officials to the events in Yerevan shows us how paranoid the establishment in Moscow has become. Just three days of protests motivated by purely economic reasons were enough to spark these hasty comments “coloring” the protests in Armenia.
Firstly, we should be aware that these messages are aimed mostly at the Russian society and serve largely for internal consumption. Such statements feed into the general paranoid atmosphere which permeates the Russian streets – a mix of Western conspiracies, foreign plots, exports of “color revolutions” surrounds the Russian Federation and all those friendly to it.
Secondly, the reaction signifies some intrinsic fears in the Kremlin of losing positions in yet another country they believe to be firmly in their sphere of influence. Moreover, Armenia is now actually a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and is strongly tied to the Russian orbit. The country also hosts a Russian military contingent which acts as a safeguard against a restart of the Nagorno Karabakh frozen conflict.
Exactly because of these reasons Russia cannot afford an obvious show of discontent. As the official Russian narrative explains, countries like Ukraine will incur economic damages and hardship as they choose to split away from the Russian economy. For years the Kremlin has been trying to create its Customs Union (which developed into the EEU) and drag onboard all of the post-Soviet space with promises of economic progress. The rising of an impoverished civil society in Yerevan exactly due to economic rather than political factors shows the weakness of these claims. The electricity sector in Armenia is owned by a Russian monopoly. The country’s economy is almost exclusively tied to that of Russia. Thus, the degradation of the economic situation in the small Caucasian country may show some hidden major flaws of the Russian economic model.
Therefore, it seems to be more convenient for Moscow to embrace the “color revolution” explanation. If the protests are sparked by foreign intervention, the defects of the Russian economic policies in Armenia, and as a whole, will be of course less obvious.
Thirdly, such comments also show that the Kremlin seems to be caught off guard. Even after the events in Georgia and Ukraine there seems to be a lack of understanding on the fact that civil societies do exist in the post-Soviet countries. The elite in Moscow has grown to be disconnected from the actual economic hardship that many of the average citizens in most post-Soviet countries experience on a daily basis. There seems to be an assurance that the end of the road comes after securing a country’s geo-economic orientation within the Kremlin’s supranational framework. Very often, no other reason but poverty and despair lead to social instability – a lesson that namely the Russians should know very well in view of their 20th century history.
In the end, there is little reason to draw parallels between the situation in Ukraine more than a year ago and Armenia today. The later is much more dependent on Russia in both economic and military terms and can afford very little maneuver. Russia, as paradoxically as it may sound, holds the key to Armenian security and to some extend sovereignty. This fact is understood not only at the level of political elites but also the Armenian society as a whole. If I would engage in future-telling, I would say that the only possible reason for escalation of the tensions may be discontent against corruption rather than any other macro-political considerations.
Photo: Demotix/PHOTOLURE News Agency/7924537.