June 26, 2015

The Mystery of Armenia

AFP/Scanpix
Police officers remove barricades erected by demonstrators protesting against electricity price hikes in central Yerevan on July 6, 2015.
Police officers remove barricades erected by demonstrators protesting against electricity price hikes in central Yerevan on July 6, 2015.

The European Union and the West in general may be facing a new potential crisis area, if protests in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, will not stop and shall acquire a political character.

At the moment, it seems that we are only talking about protests concerning the 20% increase in the price of electricity. But in Armenia, the price of electricity will become a political issue, if we take into consideration that the Armenian economy is heavily dependent on Russia, whose support to Armenia makes up 21% of the country’s GDP according to the journal Foreign Policy. After Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union in January, its economy is even more closely connected to Russian economy.

The Armenian electric supply is controlled by the Electric Networks of Armenia, which is a subsidiary of a company in Russia. No wonder the question of Russia is on the table at once, even though the protests are seemingly only economic.

Today, the main question appears to be if the protests are limited to the economic aspect or are the West and Russia going to witness another coloured revolution. It seems that the Western media is favouring modest interpretations. For example, the BBC Russian Service and Foreign Policy have quoted people who assure that it is only a fight against the increase in the electricity price and another Maidan is not going to take place in Armenia. On the other hand, the protesters assure that they will not give in.

Yet, Russian politicians and media are already hysterical and characterize the protests in Armenia as an arranged attempt of the EU and USA to pull Armenia out of the Russian sphere of influence and organize a new Maidan.

The Kremlin-minded political scientist Sergei Markov wrote on Facebook that an attack on Yerevan was expected and that there are probably a lot of Ukrainian fighters among the demonstrators. “The organizers’ main goal is to incite bloodshed,” he was convinced.

The Kremlin-controlled television channel RT also tended to blame Armenians of being on the side of Ukraine and West in general. The TV channel showed the flags of the EU being flown by the protestors and was convinced that the protests in Armenia are similar to the ones in Ukraine. It should be kept in mind that the protests in Ukraine in late 2013 were purely connected to the European Union, when the president at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign an association agreement with the EU. The protests in Ukraine developed so far that Yanukovych escaped the country, Russia occupied and annexed the Crimea and started supporting military activity in Eastern Ukraine. The Russian information war also started, which meant disseminating direct lies and forgeries about Ukraine. So we should not wonder if RT and some other Russian media channels exaggerate about Armenia being allegedly influenced by the EU and USA.

The EU must handle many critical questions at the same time, which means that creating a crisis in Armenia would be insanity on the part of Brussels. If we think about the refugees, Greece, the British EU referendum and the continuing crisis in Ukraine, why would Brussels unleash a crisis in Armenia? To get even more refugees?

But both the European Union as well as the USA have to be ready for protests in Armenia becoming political and Armenians asking for aid from the West. Armenia is also an Eastern partnership country of the EU and, therefore, it would seem unjust to leave Armenia alone. All developments are possible. For example, in 2013, protests in Istanbul against construction in Gezi Park turned into demonstrations for democratic rights across the country. But at the moment we can say that the further course of the protests is up to the Armenians themselves and it is more likely for Russia to interfere than the West.
The text was aired on the European news of Retro FM on 26 June 2015.

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