Thursday, April 26, 2018

Armenian Maidan Only in First Stages with Many Questions Still Unanswered, Portnikov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – Many commentators writing about the events in Armenia have decided that they are a Maidan that has already succeeded or that it isn’t a Maidan at all, in both cases failing to understand that any Maidan is not a single of events but a series of them and that Armenia is only in the early stages, Vitaly Portnikov says.

            The Ukrainian analyst suggests the extreme cases of such misunderstanding are in Ukraine where many want to declare that the Armenian Maidan has already won  and in Moscow where at least those near the Kremlin continue to deny that the Armenian events are a Maidan at all (ru.espreso.tv/article/2018/04/26/vytalyy_portnykov_v_erevane_obychnyy_maydan).

                Both the one and the other have forgotten that the Maidan in Ukraine was not a single event but a chain of them and that the final outcome depended on how various forces responded, Portnikov says. Armenia is in fact in the midst of a Maidan, he says; but it is far from clear how it will end. That depends on how various forces evaluate the situation and then act.

            Consequently, observers should openly acknowledgethat there are a large number of questions for which no answer is yet clear and admit that they simply do not know whether the Armenian Maidan will succeed or will be crushed by the ancien regime or by its allies from abroad, in this case, Moscow.

            “Armenia is dependent on Russia more than Ukraine was,” Portnikov says. “Sargysan’s retirement in now way means the end of this dependence, especially because all the leadership of the country and the Republican Party, which is the Armenian United Russia remain in their positions.”

            No one knows “how Moscow will behave if its supporters begin to really lose power. And what is more we do not know the Armenian law enforcement agencies will behave.” Moscow has stressed how peaceful the Armenian events have been as a way of suggesting or convincing itself that they are different from the Ukrainian Maidan.

            “But the Maidan too was a peaceful protest until the application of force by the Berkut. It grew into a clash of forces only after attempts to disperse the protest.” Moreover, Portnikov says, “the Armenian protest of 2008 wasn’t peaceful, it was dispersed, people died, and its leader Nikol Pashinyan (the same) landed in prison.” On the other hand, the Ukrainian Maidan of 2004 was peaceful and quite similar to the events on Yerevan’s streets now.

            “What we are observing today is only the first phase of the Maidan,” a period when “the ruling group still doesn’t feel a genuine threat to its power and money” and when the protesters still assume that they can manage to drive this group out of office “with the help of peaceful protests” alone.

            Portnikov says that the Armenian authorities may be able to “’wait out’” the protesters. That is what Yanukovich did in the first stage of the Ukrainian Maidan.  “It is completely possible that the Armenian authorities will be able to disperse the protest by force – then the Russian leaders and their speakers won’t great the people on the streets.”

            And at the same time, he continues, “it is completely possible that the Armenian powers will have to leave and yield power to the opposition” and that in that event “the plans which its representatives are discussing in Moscow today will collapse.”

            If that happens in Armenia, then the same things will happen there that happened in Ukraine “after the Maidan.” There will be a war. “For Ukraine, the weak place was Crimea and the Donbass. Armenia’s weak place is Karabakh. An effort to solve the Karabakh problem by force will be undertaken literally the day after the collapse of the current Armenian powers.”

            In that event, Portnikov says, Moscow will simply “shrug its shoulders and call Armenia and Azerbaijan to begin talks.” The people in power understand this, even though the people in the streets do not want to. But in this case, “supporters of the incumbents are right: a revolution always leads to the disorganization of the state machine and an enemy always uses this.”

            “Supporters of the Ukrainian Maidan couldn’t imagine Russia’s reaction to their victory. Predictions that after the Olympics in Sochi, Putin ‘would take up’ Ukraine simply weren’t taken seriously,” the Ukrainian analyst says.  “Supporters of the protests in Yerevan don’t believe in a big new war.”

            “On the other hand,” Portnikov says, “there is always the question” for each participant: “’Is Paris worth a mass?’” Was the territorial integrity of Ukraine worth the cost of “dictatorship, a dead end situation, and life in a Russian colony?” Is maintaining Armenian control over Karabah and adjoining Azerbaijani districts worth something similar?

            “Ukraine before 2014 was a typical Russian colony, and Armenia today is simply a Russian colony, a colony whose residents are struggling for their freedom. They think they are struggling with their own powers. But in fact, they are struggling with Russian controllers of these powers. They are in fact fighting with Putin.”

            And a struggle of that kind, Portnikov says, “in case of its success will never be simply a street festival.”

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Seven Not Entirely Amusing Stories from Russia


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – One of the challenges of trying to cover what is happening in Russia is that it is a country where things that don’t happen often do – or at least are reported to have occurred – forcing one to try to establish whether they are true or the latest example of Russian “fake” news.

            Today brings an especially rich harvest of Russian stories that are too wonderful not to be true – and in fact they are. Here are the seven best:

·         United Russia Gives Blind Special Picture of Putin.  The ruling United Russia Party has come up with a tactile picture of Putin that it is supplying to the country’s organization of the blind so that even the sightless can know what their leader is like (facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10215012528641629&set=a.1157904022745.24923.1082074855&type=3&theater).

·         New Russian Vodka Brand has Same Name as Poison Used Against Skripal.  Russians can now drink a vodka which bears the same name as the nerve agent that Russian operatives used against the Skripals in the United Kingdom. With luck, those who consume it won’t suffer the same consequences (facebook.com/dimitar.bechev.1/posts/10160400232180392).

·         Those Fighting the Russian Opposition May Soon Outnumber It.  In a survey of the increasing plethora of organizations the Kremlin has set up to fight the opposition, US-based Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova concludes that “the number of those fighting the opposition in rusisa will soon exceed the number of opposition figures” (svoboda.org/a/29188787.html).

·         Officials Thrilled Share of Russians Now Forced to Economize has Fallen from 70 to 64 Percent.  Although two-thirds of all Russians say that the economic crisis has forced them to economize, Russian officials seem thrilled by a slight decline over the past year, to the horror of some commentators who say the government is ignoring the big picture (forum-msk.org/material/news/14581750.html).

·         Russian Embassy Gets It Wrong: Nizhny Novgorod isn’t Novgorod Veliky. The Russian embassy in Lisbon has put out a booklet about the upcoming World Cup competition in which they illustrate the page for Nizhny Novgorod with a picture of Novgorod Veliky, an entirely different city and one where there won’t be any football matches (versia.ru/v-broshyure-k-chm-2018-nizhnij-novogorod-pereputali-s-velikim-novgorodom).

·         At Fork in the Road, Russians Must Choose: To Marx or to Engels.  A wonderful survey of unusual place names in the Russian Federation offers the dilemma Russians on one road face: When they come to a crossing, they have to decide to go to Marx or to Engels, two municipalities that aren’t in the same direction (zen.yandex.ru/media/id/5a68d95f79885ef28b4cdaab/russkii-iumor-na-dorogah-ili-suscestvuet-li-ukazatel-v-muhosransk-5adc94c15f496711cd611f5c).

·         Russia ‘Catches up and Surpasses America’ -- by Organizing First Doll Bordello.  An enterprising Russian is opening the first bordello with dolls rather than prostitutes, something that not only allows him to stay within the law and claim that he is offering a public service to help save families and help men who have troubles with real women but also to suggest that in this area, Russia has definitely “surpassed” America and can take pride in that. He says that he plans to open a chain of these facilities across Russia (dw.com/ru/виктор-ерофеев-секс-куклы-во-время-чумы/a-43523643,  newsland.com/community/5206/content/rossiia-obognala-ameriku/6315496  and  ura.news/articles/1036274680).

Five Key Dimensions of the Armenian Revolution


Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 25 – The events in Armenia are proceeding at such a dizzying speed and involve ever more issues that it is easy lose sight of their complexity and uniqueness – and how important they are not only for that republic but for other countries in the former Soviet space and for relations between and among them.

            Five key insights from the last day or so include:

1.      The Armenian Revolution is Not Over. The resignation of president-become-prime minister Serzh Sargsyan did not end the revolution; it simply changed the nature of the conflict from one about a hated individual to one about a hated system of entrenched power. Thus, the new protests are not about individuals but about replacing the existing party system Sargsyan and his cohorts had used to run the country in an increasingly authoritarian way. This second stage of the revolution is likely to be more difficult but the opposition has shown it can bring  out the population against what is the real target of their anger (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5AE033A548D75, rbc.ru/newspaper/2018/04/25/5adf21a09a7947cd56f6dccd, and dw.com/ru/саргсян-ушел-что-будет-в-армении-дальше/a-43512745).


2.      Armenia an Unlikely Model for Other Post-Soviet States. Many opposition figures in Russia and other post-Soviet states have been encouraged by the Armenian protests and their success, but Russian analyst Andrey Illarionov reminds that Armenia is different from Russia and most of the others in 15 important ways making the adoption of the Armenian model extremely unlikely. Just as Armenia is not Ukraine and Ukraine is not Georgia, so too the other post-Soviet states aren’t Armenia (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5ADEF96B2271B).

3.      Armenia has Long Tradition of Mass Protests.  One of the most profound differences is that Armenia has a tradition of mass protests extending back into the 1980s and therefore what has occurred there in the last few weeks is less the invention of something new but the continuation and expansion of that tradition (afterempire.info/2018/04/25/armenia/).

4.      In this Revolution, the Armenian Young are Defeating a Gerontocracy.  Many observers have been struck by how young the crowds in Yerevan are in comparison to those around Sargsyan and his regime, a regime that consists largely of those who came to power after the killings in the Armenian parliament in 1999.  Revolutions are typically carried out by the young, but this influx of a new and rising generation is striking and gives hope that the revolution will continue rather than be deflected or defeated (chaskor.ru/article/armeniya_pobeda_molodezhi_nad_gerontokratiej_43432).
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5.      Armenian Revolution has Been Peaceful Because Armenians are an Armed Population at War. Sargsyan resigned when he saw that portions of the Armenian army had gone over to the protesters.  That is a typical sign of imminent regime collapse in all revolutions, but there is one detail that may explain why Sargsyan went so easily and why the Armenian revolution so far has been peaceful. And that is this: the Armenian people have been at war for 30 years, many have passed through the military, and many are armed.  On the one hand, that means the difference between the siloviki and the people are smaller in Armenia than they are in places like Russia. And on the other, it means that anyone – the regime, Moscow, or the opposition – who began acts of violence might see Armenia descend into the kind of chaos that its neighbors would surely exploit.  Thus, perhaps counter-intuitively, the military experience of the Armenian people and their possession of weapons may serve as a kind of disciplining factor keeping the situation from getting out of hand (snob.ru/selected/entry/136768).