"Soft power" of Russia in Armenia
David Stepanyan, Yerevan, exclusively to VK
The presence of Russophobic sentiment in Armenia is already not a secret. The secret for the majority of Armenian society, including its Russophobic part, is the real causes of these trends in the country, which is considered an age-old partner and friend of the Russian people. It should be recognized that there is still some discontent with individual elements of Russian policy in Armenia and in the South Caucasus, as well as with the policies of any other country. However, in the case of Russia, these elements are artificially inflated and heated by the forces of pro-Western orientation. These forces are mainly funded by USAid and similar institutions, government organizations and political forces. However, it is believed that the presence of anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia is being heated at the official level...
Another catalyst of increasing Russophobia in Armenia was the statement by the governor of Krasnodar Territory Alexander Tkachev on establishing a "Cossack police" in the region. Tkachev substantiated the emergence of such a new structure in such a way: Stavropol isn't coping with the role of a filter "sifting Caucasians from Kubans." Some overseas-funded Armenian information resources of appropriate orientation immediately came to the paradoxical conclusion that the Cossack police would actually be engaged in the forcible deportation of the Caucasian peoples and, first of all, for some reason, the Armenians from Krasnodar Territory. In reality, only a mad man could imagine that the Cossack police would clean out Armenians from Krasnodar Territory and primarily from Sochi, where the number of Armenians amounts to about half the population. There is no need to be a genius to understand that the implementation of xenophobic attitudes in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Russia would do harm to its federal structure. However, somebody in Armenia does not want to understand it by continuing to disturb the minds of citizens, mostly living on transfers, which certainly do not come from overseas.
The reason for the talk "about the imminent loss of Armenia's independence," was the idea of Vladimir Putin of the creation of the Eurasian Union. The idea led to intense discourse in post-Soviet space - some felt nostalgia and hope, others felt fear. In general, it seems that any idea of integration with Russia will be welcomed in Armenia, traditionally and rightly considered to be a pro-Russian country. However, there are people who see the Eurasian Union and even its forerunner, the Customs Union, as a direct threat to the independence of Armenia. For some reason they do not see such a threat in the opening of the border, initiated by the U. S., with those who committed the genocide of the Armenians. Thus the main reproach against Russia remains its alleged lack of interest in a just settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
However, these criticisms of Moscow sound not only in Yerevan but also in Baku. And if the Armenians accuse Moscow of selling weapons to Azerbaijan, the peak of which was the sale of an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system in 2010, Baku is unhappy that Russia not only supplies weaponry to Armenia but makes a discount. These pro-Western Armenians somehow do not see this, as well as they do not want to see Russian efforts to reach a compromise in the Karabakh conflict. Moscow has a military base in Gyumri and supplies Armenia, as a CSTO member, weapons at domestic prices. The majority of Armenians are sincerely and deeply grateful for this. However, there are people complaining that Yerevan bears all the expenses for the maintenance of the Russian 102nd military base, according to the intergovernmental agreement for a period of 49 years. The same people, oblivious to the fact that the stay of the Russian base in Armenia fits the interests of Armenia, because it protects its external borders, and Russia is spending huge amounts of money on it, demand the withdrawal of the base as a "threat to the sovereignty of Armenia."
Today some politicians in Yerevan, having forgotten our history, including the latest, and their own conscience, do not want to remember the indisputable fact that it was the terrible cries of Moscow that stopped an imminent Turkish invasion of Armenia. And there is no doubt that the Kremlin today is interested in preserving the independence of Armenia, while the U.S. and the West, in the best case, can locate "peacekeepers" on the front line in Karabakh, which is certainly more likely to look in the direction of the south, that is, to Iran, than to engage in the preservation of peace in the South Caucasus. Not only Russia, but also any other state, and the U.S. in the first place, determining its priorities in a given region, is guided by its own national interests, and only after that - the interests of "brotherly states". And this is quite normal and accepted by people who have at least a remote idea about politics. However, given that a large part of the population has no idea of this, opponents of Russian influence in Armenia managed to exploit even a military parade dedicated to the Independence Day of the Republic, which took place a year ago in Yerevan. The passage of Russian troops from Gyumri under a Russian flag caused rejection on the part of pro-American youth. Russian participation in the parade of the Armenian army was seen not as a political move to a certain direction, but as another manifestation of the "imperial ambitions" of Russia. Moreover, the protest meeting against the participation of Russian troops in the parade was dismissed by police only the next day.
The economy is also widely discussed. Recently, there were a lot of discussions in the media on the question of negotiations between Russia and Armenia on the increase in the price of natural gas supplied by Russia. According to replicated pro-Western media reports, from October 1, 2012, Russia plans to raise the price of gas from 180 to 280 dollars per thousand cubic meters. And from January 1, 2013, Russia will set the price of gas at about 380 dollars. Despite the lack of official statements related to the increase of the price of Russian gas for Armenia both from Yerevan and from Moscow, the very prospect of higher prices for the Armenian economy, which is not in the best position, also boosts the injection of anti-Russian sentiment in the country. It should not be forgotten that, even in case of a price of 380 dollars, the population of the country today with the price of about 180 dollars gets the gas at a price of 132 drams, that is, taking into account maintenance fees, it is up to 400-420 dollars per thousand cubic meters. In these conditions, pro-Western Armenians should have accused not Russia but their own government or "Armrosgazprom" for such pricing.
One of the first factors which the anti-Russian forces in Armenia adopted was a project of the "debt-for-enterprises", realized during Robert Kocharyan's presidency, when in exchange for repayment of the Armenian foreign debt of 100 million dollars Russia received several businesses and the Hrazdan thermal power plant, which produced almost half of the country's electricity. The fact of the transaction did not shock anyone, because the above-mentioned companies were idle. However, Armenia hoped that the companies which the Russians got would make money, but most of them remained idle. After that some forces asked the following question: why, for example, did Moscow write off a hundred times more debt of $10 billion to Syria, but it did not write off the Armenian debt?
Many do not like the excessive influence of Moscow on local domestic life. However, geopolitics and economics just do not leave other options in Armenia, which, however, does not prevent the largely pro-Western opposition with no dividend on the proximity to Moscow from always looking around in search of other strategic partners. This could be considered a problem of the Armenian opposition. However, the problem is mostly still a Russian one, because Moscow has traditionally worked with the current government of the important countries, not maintaining contact with the opposition, as the West does.
As a result, this breach is used by geopolitical rivals of Russia, driving a wedge between Yerevan and Moscow. From the point of view of the history of Armenian-Russian relations, Armenia may be an important strategic area for Russia only when the authorities are weak, because with a strong government Armenia will seek more independence, and this is not beneficial for Russia. However, the same can be said about the West. There is a version according to which President Putin is trying to increase the importance of Armenia, exchanging Serzh Sargsyan for Robert Kocharyan, who is not sufficiently popular in Armenia. Against this background, the preferred and non-alternative candidate for the U.S. is Serzh Sargsyan who has reportedly already started a "renovation" of Armenia. In this version, the anti-Russian wave rises in Armenia with the participation of official structures. Thus, by simulating the growth of anti-Russian sentiment, the ruling force tends to gain time and not to give the pro-Western opposition a chance in the domestic political struggle.
In general, there has always been anti-Russian sentiment within the statistical error in Armenia. But if in the first years of independence they were local in nature, not appearing in the media, and in general people were quite pro-Russian, nowadays the situation is different. The rejection of Russian policy in the Caucasus did not emerge suddenly; it proceeded step by step, at least in the last 10 years. However, people who are trying to drive a wedge in Armenian-Russian relations do not represent the whole Armenian people. Even recent Gallup polls show that three-quarters of the population of Armenia still view Russia positively. Unfortunately, there is no merit on the part of the Russian embassy in this case, since its public diplomacy activities, if they exist, are extremely subtle. However, the recent upheavals and increased funding of "Rossotrudnichestvo" demonstrate that Moscow is also seriously thinking about the effect and potential use of "soft power", at least in the countries of the CIS. For Armenia, not interested in becoming a second Georgia, this is very handy.