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Caucasus Report
Protests in Yerevan Have the Kremlin Spooked

Street protests in Armenia have continued for a fifth straight day in response to an electricity price hike of 16.7 percent announced on June 17 by the government in this poor landlocked nation of 3 million. The protests show no sign of easing off. The Guardian:

The protests in Yerevan, which began on Friday, escalated significantly after police fired water cannons to disperse seated demonstrators on Tuesday morning. By Wednesday evening thousands of people had gathered on Marshal Baghramyan Avenue near the presidential palace, chanting slogans and blocking traffic.

In the early hours of Wednesday, ruling party politicians and others formed a human shield between police and protesters, although negotiations over a potential meeting with the president, Serzh Sargsyan, fell through for the second night.

Why is this significant? The parent company of Electric Networks of Armenia, the firm that has a monopolistic grip on electricity distribution on the country and that his been insisting on the price hike, is Inter RAO, a large Russian energy company whose chairman is none other Igor Sechin, one of Vladimir Putin’s closest pals.

As the indispensable Leonid Bershidsky has pointed out, even if the protests hadn’t been warmly greeted by Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov (who happens to be an ethnic Armenian), Moscow was more than ready to see the West’s fingerprints all over them:

“I’m sure there are plenty of militants from Ukraine and there is an outside coordination center run by the same political operators who ran the Maidan in Kiev,” Russian political scientist Sergei Markov wrote on Facebook. “There can be no doubt that this is no spontaneous outpouring of popular protest in Yerevan. It’s all a matter of technology and the organizers’ main goal is to incite bloodshed.”

According to Markov, the Yerevan disturbances are the response of a sinister Western cabal to Armenia’s 2013 decision to opt out of a trade and association agreement with the European Union and instead join Putin’s Eurasian Union.

In addition, the Guardian notes that Igor Morozov, a member of the foreign affairs committee in the Duma, accused the American embassy of actively participating in fomenting the unrest in Yerevan.

Bershidsky thinks that the Armenian protests don’t yet stand much of a chance of turning into a Ukraine-style revolution (read his whole piece here for more context) and he may well be right. But then again, the world has not been short of surprises this year, and with it never being clear just how much Kremlin bluster is propaganda and how much is serious, it’s safest not to write anything completely off.

In any case, we here at TAI will certainly be following events on Twitter using the #ElectricYerevan tag.

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