Russia, Armenia Continue Wrangling Over Soldier Accused Of Mass Murder
Armenia's chief prosecutor has formally asked his Russian counterpart to hand over a Russian soldier accused of killing seven members of a family outside Russia's military base in Armenia. The request was made just after the two sides apparently had agreed to try the soldier in a Russian military court at the base.
The Russian soldier, Valery Permyakov, is accused of killing seven members of the Avetsiyan family just after deserting his guard post at the 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia's second city, on January 12. Shortly afterwards the Armenian authorities announced that Permyakov would be tried under the Russian justice system, in spite of the fact that the base agreement seems to suggest he should be tried under Armenian jurisdiction. That sparked unprecedented protests in Gyumri and Yerevan by Armenians unhappy about how the case was being handled.
More than three weeks later, the back-and-forth jockeying between Russia and Armenia over the case continues, indicating that it remains the subject of delicate negotiations, with serious implications for Armenia's government stability and Armenia-Russia relations.
"The situation in Armenia remains fluid. Mishandling of the Gyumri murders may lead to a political crisis in Yerevan and a major government shake-up. Russia’s military presence in Armenia has yet to be challenged by any major local political force," wrote analyst Emil Sanamyan in Jane's Defence Weekly. "However, unless leaders on both sides act swiftly to rebuild trust – in particular by holding an open trial and punishing officers responsible for the suspect’s desertion – the case will cast a chill on relations and could contribute to Armenia’s realignment away from Putin’s Russia."
One possible sign of Yerevan's displeasure with Moscow was Armenia's abstention from a vote in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on stripping Russia of its voting rights in the group. Russian commentator Gevorg Mirzayan noted pointedly that Azerbaijan and Turkey both supported Russia on that vote. Mirzayan concludes with a veiled threat: "That can bring about a predictable irritation in Moscow and the sympathies of the Russian leadership in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict can more and more lean towards Baku. Which, in contrast to Yerevan, doesn't claim a role of a fundamental vector of Russian foreign policy, but wants to get concrete support from Moscow on concrete regional issues."
Armenian commentator Naira Airumyan notes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has not yet announced where he'll be on April 24, the day that Armenia will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, while Turkey will hold a competing event commemorating the Battle of Gallipoli.
All this, of course, while the situation in the contested territory of Nagorno Karabakh grows more tense than it has been since a cease fire was signed 20 years ago. As Azerbaijan's military might grows, fueled by big oil and gas revenues, Armenia becomes more and more reliant on Russian assistance in the case war breaks out again.
Asked about Armenia's request to hand over Permyakov, the office of Russia's chief prosecutor declined to comment.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.