Is the Yerevan Protest Risky for Russia?
As the tense standoff between protesters and police in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, continues, Moscow is keeping a cautious eye on events. Armenia is Russia’s only sure ally in the South Caucasus, and, the Kremlin, no doubt with Ukraine on its mind, wants to be sure of its friend.
“Armenia is our closest partner… Of course, we closely follow the developments and hope the situation will be settled in the near future in strict accordance with the law,” Public Radio of Armenia quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying.
Russian media continues to look at the “Maidan-ability” of the demonstrations; in other words, if the protests against a 16-percent hike in electricity prices can become a real threat to Armenia’s government and its close alliance with Moscow.
Although some anti-Moscow (and anti-Putin) notes were sounded at the Electric Yerevan protest, protesters do not appear to be calling for grand shifts in Armenia’s geo-strategy.
The demonstrators, who used metal garbage bins last night to barricade themselves against any repeat police attempt to remove them from the city’s central Baghramian Avenue, mainly blame their own government for the power-fee hike.
But as Armenia’s power plug is largely in Russia’s hands, Moscow is not insulated against becoming the target of Armenian ire.
While the US company ContourGlobal purchased a major hydropower complex this month against reported objections from Moscow, the bulk of Armenia’s energy remains solidly in Russian control.
The national power-distribution grid itself is owned by Russia’s electricity export monopoly, Inter RAO UES. Most of Armenia’s thermal power stations run on Russian natural gas.
To top it off, Gazprom Armenia, owned by Russia’s major economic muscle, Gazprom, this month took over the Armenian section of an Iranian gas pipeline that was the sole source of non-Russian natural gas imports to Armenia.
Inter RAO, though, has tried to distance itself from the fight over power prices. “Events in Armenia have gone down the political path, and this company does business in Armenia, no politics,” the company has announced, ArmInfo reported on June 24.
But Inter RAO could have other elements working against it, too.
The Armenian government sold the prospect of membership in the Moscow-led Eurasian Union to Armenians as an economically prudent move, but it has yet to pay off.
Less money for daily necessities, like utilities, is not likely to increase receptiveness to explanations for the power-price hike, no matter who runs the distribution-company.