July 17, 2015

“ElektroMaydan” as a Mirror of the Kremlin's Stillborn Policy

1. The content, direction and peculiarities of actions of protests in Armenia in chronological order

2. Real reasons of public protests in Armenia

3. Assessment of possible consequences

After the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine and the beginning of Russia's armed aggression against our country in 2014, a new resonant event in the former Soviet Union territory were the mass actions of protest in Armenia this summer under a quite symbolic name “ElektroMaydan” (media in Armenia also referred to them as: “ElectricYerevan”, “EnergoMaydan”, “Tariff Maydan”, “Communal Maydan”, “Tariff Revolution”, “Revolution of Sockets”, and so on).

 

 

“The protests of the Armenian population were caused by a sharp increase in electricity tariffs”

It's been almost a month since we witnessed the protest action “No to plunder!” which began in Yerevan on June 19 this year. The reason for the protests of the Armenian population was the sharp increase in power tariffs for electricity, which from 1 August were expected to grow by 16-17 %, allegedly due to the increasing problems in the energy sector of the country and impossibility to solve them in a different way. The main demand of participants of the action to the authorities of the country is to cancel the new tariffs for electricity. The organizers announced the peace (sedentary) picket, but promised to come to the President's residence, if the government does not cancel the decision of the Commission on regulation of public services on the next rise in price of electricity for the population. The action was initiated by the social movement “No to plunder!”, which includes mainly young people, not related to political or social forces.

 

Reference:

Electricity tariffs in Armenia were increased by 15-17 % for the third time in two years. “Electric Networks of Armenia” (CEO — of the Russian Federation, Ye. Bibin) is a 100 % subsidiary of the Russian “Inter RAO UES” (Chairman of the Board of Directors of OAO “Inter RAO” I. Sechin, who is also — the President and Chairman of the Board of JSC “NK “Rosneft”, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of OAO “Inter RAO” D. Shugaev; Chairman of the Board of OAO “Inter RAO” B. Kovalchuk — all from Putin's closest circle).

Over the past 15 years, the cost of electricity in Armenia has grown by 400 %, and natural gas today is sold through “Gazprom”'s subsidiary company at the price by 40 % higher than even that in Ukraine.

According to experts of “Borysfen Intel”, to determine the real causes and predict further development of this action, as well as to evaluate possible consequences of the “ElektroMaydan” in Armenia, it is appropriate and necessary to review and analyze its content, direction and characteristics of the chronology.

  

1. The Content, Direction and Peculiarities of the Actions of Protest in Armenia in Chronological Order

In fact, “ElektroMaydan” in Yerevan began the in the evening of June 22, when several thousand (according to various sources, 3 to 5 thousand) citizens blocked Baghramyan Avenue, trying to get into the so-called “government quarter”, where the main state buildings, and in particular, the residence of the President Serzh Sargsyan, are situated. The Police leadership offered the protesters to apoint an initiative group for negotiations with the President (the Head of state was ready to receive a group of participants), but the protestants refused. After talks with the guardians of order, demonstrators began to build barricades of trash cans, including near the Presidential Palace. The organizers asked participants not to provoke the Police, so that they did not use force, and also reported that there were provocateurs among the protesters.

In the morning of June 23 after nearly five days waiting for the country's leadership's response, the activists went to the residence of the President Serzh Sargsyan, but there they were met by Police units. They rigorously removed protesters from Baghramyan Avenue. Police used water cannons (as a result up to 25 people were injured) and detained 237 people, journalists included. 11 Police officers were also injured. The Prosecutor's Office of Armenia has opened a criminal investigation into the protest. According to the Police, the demonstrators who participated in the action at night on June 23 in Baghramian Avenue, had cold weapons (knives, awls, electric shockers, etc.). On the same day, in a protest against the violent dispersal of the meeting, the opposition left the meeting hall.

As a result of recent events — the previous demands of the activists (to cancel the new tariffs for electricity) were added demands to release the detained during the morning break-up (in the evening all the detainees were released). After the re-statement of Serzh Sargsyan's readiness to meet the activists, the latter refused, and the coordination group suggested that the President should live on television annul the decision to raise tariffs. More Police force, with batons and aluminium shields, have arrived in Bagramyan Avenue, the electric lights went out, and the Presidential Palace again was bristling with water cannons.

It should be noted that the protest in Yerevan was supported by MPs from the opposition, who joined the protesters. At the protest, together with activists on the Avenue were current and former Deputies of Parliament, actors, scientists, businessmen, intellectuals, who formed the “human chain” between the Police and demonstrators to avoid violence. According to the leader of the “Free Democrats” Party H. Kokobelyan, they did not plan to interfere with tactics of the organizers of the demonstration and arrived  only to prevent any incidents.

Protests in support of the Yerevan activists against the rise in price of electricity spread to other Armenian cities — Gyumri and Vanadzor (former Leninakan and Kirovakan), as well as to Ashtarak, Aragatsotn and Abovyan. In Gyumri, law enforcement officers by force detained 12 people. Protests were supported by representatives of the Armenian diaspora abroad — there were meetings in American Los Angeles, as well as in several cities in France and Germany.

In general, the demonstration against the increase in electricity tariffs in Yerevan was quite peaceful. Many protesters were holding the tricolor state flag of the country. According to the initiators of the action, the main thing was to avoid violence, to prevent protesters' clashes with Police. However, it took Yerevan activists only a few days to realize once again how totally false some Russian media are. And as a result, the activists sent away from the Yerevan square correspondents of the Russian TV channel “Zvezda” for attempting “... to write another absurd propaganda story”, and spoiled the Kremlin propaganda channel LifeNews' live program by slogans  “Russia 24 — go to a*ss!”

Participants of the protest action in Yerevan, the number of whose gradually increased to 20 thousand people, were putting forward already three demands to the Armenian authorities: to suspend the decision to raise electricity tariffs; to begin negotiations with community activists to lower electricity tariffs, as well as to prosecute police officers in plain clothes, who used violence against activists and journalists on June 23. Later, one more demand was added — to review the last year's decision to increase electricity tariffs, as it was not justified from the economic point of view.

The last days of June in Yerevan were rather quiet. The protesters were waiting for the President's decision and promised to continue the action if their demands were not met. Meanwhile, in Yerevan were held meetings of the government, as well as meetings of the governing bodies of the pro-government Republican Party of Armenia, which were attended by the President Serzh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan.

June 27 at the meeting with officials from the sphere of ​​economic policy, President Serzh Sargsyan said that until the government receives the conclusions of the audit in the company Electric Networks of Armenia CJSC, it will take over the entire burden of the increase in electricity tariffs. (The agreement on the audit was reached the day before, during a meeting of the Armenian President with the Co-Head of the Armenian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission, Russian Minister of Transport Maksim Sokolin). He also did not rule out that the Electric Networks of Armenia CJSC will be returned into the state's ownership if it turns out that the tariff increase was unreasonable. Nevertheless, according to the head of the state, the  increase in price of electricity was grounded and the decision to raise the tariffs would not be revised, as it would ruin the country's energy system. At the same time, Serzh Sargsyan once again invited to his office representatives of the protesters to discuss possible methods of solving problems.

Following the President's statement, the protesters first began to celebrate “victory”, but after a few minutes, their mood changed. They began to chant: “We are staying,” “We demand the abolition!” Members of the coordination group “No to plunder!”, despite the Armenian President's statement, decided to continue the protest.

28 and 29 June, the confrontation and seeking compromises between protesters (15-20 thousand people) and police forces (who were ready to turn on the demonstrators) continued. The Police did not allow the protesters to approach the government quarter, having actually blocked a part of them on Baghramyan Avenue. Later, the Police began dismantling barricades and pushing aside the second part of protesters from Baghramyan Avenue to Svobody (Freedom) Square (the demonstrators got divided due to the police's statement about the intention to “clean up” the Avenue, if the activists did not move to Svobody Square).

From that moment in Yerevan there were two simultaneous meetings: on Baghramyan Avenue and on the adjacent Freedom Square. As a result, the movement “No to Plunder!” moved to Svobody Square, and those who remained on Baghramyan Avenue, called the activists that moved “traitors”. In fact, the protesters in Yerevan banally split.

Although the meetings in early July did not stop (with the hunger strike of activists, voicing bilateral ultimatums, emerging of anti-corruption slogans, activists' threatening to expand barricades and possible changes in the tactics of the protest movement — to turn from social demands to political once and so on), but their tense significantly decreased, and July 6, in the afternoon, the Police finally eliminated barricades on Baghramyan Avenue.

July 8 Armenian Electric Networks CJSC, which belongs to a Russian company, was fined for 126 thousand US dollars. According to the Armenian authorities, the reason was violation of consumers' rights. In particular, the “Armenian Electric Networks” demanded to take advance payments from tenants of new buildings for getting connected to the electric network.

The series of protests in Yerevan's Svobody Square, which had lasted 20 days, ended July 9

The series of protests in Yerevan's Svobody Square, which had lasted 20 days, ended July 9. The demonstrators' demands had not been fulfilled. By the way, Gyumri but not Yerevan, became the city where the economic protest was politically motivated from the first days of the actions: there were posters “Nationalization!” And there were demands for resignation of the government in case if the decision to raise electricity tariffs would  not be canceled.

According to experts of “Borysfen Intel”, the background of the latest developments in Armenia is much more serious. In fact, they show that the revolutionary processes in the post-Soviet space against totalitarian, pro-Russian regimes in former Soviet republics are actively expanding.

2. Real Reasons for the Public Protest in Armenia

The protests in Yerevan were triggered by the state communal services' announcement of the increase in electricity prices by almost 17 %.

But in fact, at the heart of the public protest in Armenia there were not only these prices, but also the discontent with the Russian dominance in the economy, as well as corruption and nepotism, which constitute the basic principles of functioning of the Kremlin's business model in the post-Soviet space.

Energy company “Electric Networks of Armenia” (ENA) is 100 % owned by the Russian state company “Inter RAO UES”

It is known that the energy company “Electric Networks of Armenia” (ENA) is 100 % owned by the Russian state company “Inter RAO UES”. It is headed by V. Putin's close friend Igor Sechin. And protesters justifiably accuse the company ENA of corruption.

The available information suggests three versions of corrupt business activities around the “Electric Networks of Armenia”, which were the real causes of the social protest in Armenia.

Version One. According to the documentary information of the opposition forces, to date, as a result of misuse of the financial loans that the company has received from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), as well as from the Russian “Vnesheconombank”, ENA is in a state of actual default. At the same time, several Armenian companies, including “Glendale Hills”, belonging to the brother of the President of Armenia A. Sargsyan, are ENA's debtors.

At the beginning of June, opposition forces in Armenia promulgated documents on ENA's financial activities, which caused a scandal in the Armenian Parliament. At the same time, instead of starting the procedure of default of the ENA  and taking funds from its debtors, the Armenian government tried to solve the problem by raising the price of electricity for the Armenian population. This is what angered the Armenian citizens, fed up with the misuses of the corrupt Armenian government and its Russian business partners. Thousands of Armenians took to the streets, expressing dissatisfaction with the way they are treated by the Russian owners of energy companies and their puppet minions. The groundless raising of prices of  energy carriers by the Russian state-owned companies resulted in the patience of the Armenian consumers coming to the end.

Version Two. The Executive Director of ENA, the Russian Federation's citizen Yevgeniy Bibin explained the reason for rising prices that angered Armenians, by the company's financial losses. According to him, the company ENA has a debt of  250 million US dollars, but he never explained to the government or parliament, or the public because of what the debt arose.

At the same time, independent experts on the facts proved that his explanation  was fiction. The Financial Report, published by the Russian state company “Inter RAO UES”, indicates that it received 104 million US dollars of profit in Armenia for the I quarter of 2015 alone. For comparison, during the same period in 2014, the Russian company received from the Armenian company ENA 60 million US dollars.  It is clear that ENA has no losses. In May 2015 alone,  the company's revenues grew to 12.3 million US dollars, as compared with 2.3 million US dollars over the same period last year.

Version Three. Journalists of the FRE/RL (Radio Liberty) in Armenia found out that funds have been constantly laundered through the company ENA. For the technical support needed for it, it pays the price about 20 % higher than the market one. At this, it constantly makes purchases from companies that have close ties with the Armenian government.

For example, the ENA's documents indicate that the company has paid a  thousand times more than it had to pay for the technical equipment of the company “Ararat Cement Factory”, whose owner is the influential Armenian oligarch Gagik Tsarukyan (by the way, the Deputy of the Armenian National Congress /Parliament/). By the way, his daughter is the current Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan's wife.

Besides, human rights activists from “Transparency International” also admit that all procurements and payments of the Armenian company ENA are suspicious and not very transparent.

According to Prime Minister of Armenia, Hovik Abrahamyan, the price of electricity increased for three reasons. Firstly, the year 2015 turned out to be a low-water year, which is why hydroelectric power stations could not produce enough electricity. Besides, the increase in tariffs was affected by the dead time of the Armenian NPP in December 2013, which lasted 88 days, and the devaluation of the national currency by 20 %.

Leading international experts (including from the Jamestown Foundation in Washington) point out that President Serzh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan will not investigate the ENA's financial and economic affairs for corruption, and mainly for political reasons.

According to their estimates, “...the corrupt high-ranking officials of Armenia's  slave-like dependence on Russians, as well as criminal nepotism in the power structures of the country” cost  citizens of Armenia (currently Russia's one and only  close partner within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in the South Caucasus) a lot. There are Russian Federation's military bases on Armenia's territory, plus Yerevan has joined Putin's project of the Eurasian Economic Union (hereinafter — the Eurasian Union), which, according to his plan, should be an alternative to the European Union.

 

3. Assessment of Possible Consequences

The main reason for the spread of protest moods in the Armenian society had actually become the citizens' dissatisfaction with the country's ruling regime headed by the President Serzh Sargsyanм

So, the main reason for the spread of protest moods in the Armenian society had actually become the citizens' dissatisfaction with the country's ruling regime (totally corrupted and authoritarian) headed by the President Serzh Sargsyan. He does not solve the country's social and economic problems, caring only about his own enrichment and enrichment of his closest environment, and openly betrays Armenian national interests in favor of the Russian Federation.

By the way, the previous protests in Armenia began back in 2008 due to the falsification of the results of the presidential elections, but were rudely, with the involvement of the armed forces, suppressed by the authorities. At this, at least ten protesters were killed. Later (in 2011 and 2013) the cause of rallies and demonstrations was higher prices for energy and utilities, falsification of results of elections of different level, incidents around the Russian military base on Armenian territory (killing by the Russian servicemen of the Armenian family in Gyumri /the 102nd  Russian military base is deployed/ in January 2015), and so on.

The catalyst was a sharp worsening of the socio-economic situation in Armenia, as well as an increase in corruption and pro-Russian orientation of the Armenian government, including after the country's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEC) from 2 January 2015. This is what sparked the social unrest in the country in June 2015.

We can't ignore the fact that along with the demands to reduce electricity tariffs there were also political demands of  resignation of the President and the government of Armenia, as well as of the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Armenia. Moreover, in order to demonstrate firmness of their positions, and devotion to European and democratic values, the​​ participants of the protests raised the flags of Ukraine and the European Union.

The scale of the protests, their participants' refusing to compromise with the government, as well as the unwillingness and fear of actual use of force against the civilian population after the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, forced the Armenian government make certain concessions to the demonstrators (at least, demonstrate such concessions) in terms of the international monitoring of the “Electric Networks of Armenia” and partial compensation by the state of the increase of the price of electricity. True, this did not satisfy the protesters, but once again demonstrated the effectiveness of the so-called “street” methods of pressure on the government if it ignores the interests of its people.

However, taking into consideration the real reasons for the protests in Armenia and their consequences, we can say that they have already caused catastrophic losses to both, the image of the current government of the country, and the popularity of the ideas of Eurasian integration and authority of Russia, which had provoked the growing problems of the Armenian national economy.

In particular, Russia has found itself in a very difficult position in terms of its obligations to Yerevan within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty. Thus, in case of a critical deterioration of the situation in Armenia, Russia has to assist Serzh Sargsyan's regime, including with the involvement of the armed forces.

This need may arise in case if peaceful protests in Armenia turn into actions of  civil disobedience and the associated potential unrest in the Armenian territory, which would create a direct threat to the current pro-Russian authorities. In its turn, the advantage of this situation can be taken by Azerbaijan, who dreams of resuming its control over the occupied Azerbaijan's territories — Nagornyi-Karabakh and seven adjacent Azerbaijan's districts around it, occupied by Armenia in the early 1990s.

At the same time, if Russia dares to interfere into the Armenian events, it will be forced to carry out “power breakthrough” through Georgia, or to attack Azerbaijan. And it will cause a strong conflict in the South Caucasus region with further involvement in it of the North Caucasus of the Russian Federation. Such a threat is dangerous for Russia, especially when tensions remain in its South, including under the influence of the armed conflict provoked by the Russians in the Donbas, aggravation of the situation around R. Kadyrov as a “guarantor of Chechnya's pro-Russian position,” as well as the fact that the extremist organization “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (IS) intends to create a caliphate in the Russian Caucasus.

Besides, the protests in Armenia will necessarily serve as an example for other member countries and potential members of the Eurasian Economic Union. In particular, there is considerable potential for conflict in Kyrgyzstan, where both, the problems of the Kyrgys economy and contradictions between the northern and southern clans, as well as relations between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations are getting exacerbated. Apart from this, it is possible that social and economic unrest will spread in Kazakhstan, where there are significant political and economic problems that can trigger the people's protests.

We may witness a series of protests and disobedience (a possible new wave of so-called “extravagant” revolutions

That is, in the short and medium term, we may witness a series of protests and disobedience (a possible new wave of so-called “extravagant” revolutions: “oil”, “energy”, “electric”, “tariff-utility”, “credit and deposit”, “transit”,  “border and customs”, etc. ones). They will gradually cover a number of countries, first of all the post-Soviet territories of so to speak, pro-Russian orientation.

Isn't this a wishful thinking? Possibly it is, but this quite bold assumption has the right to life.

In turn, the emergence of a new wave of such revolutions in the space of the Eurasian Economic Union will serve as an example to the Russian population which feels, so to speak, quite uncomfortable in the situation of further complication of the socio-economic situation in the country, especially under the influence of the international sanctions. The Russian Federation's leadership, which is making preparations for all kinds of social unrest of its population, also realizes this. For example, there is information already about plans for early parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation — while Putin's regime has not started to lose its popularity among Russians.

This means the actual failure of the Kremlin's policy on resuming its control over the countries of the former Soviet Union within the framework of creation of the Eurasian Union (EAU) and realization of the ideas of the so-called “Russian world” project.

The former Soviet republics, having joined the political and economic union with Russia, inevitably face problems in their economic and social spheres

Of course, the peoples of post-Soviet countries are gradually beginning to realize the real nature of their ruling elites — Russian puppets, as well as the real goals of the leadership of the Russian Federation and the methods to achieve them. Moscow's integration initiatives for potential partners are increasingly perceived by the latter as a set of negative and problems that is imposed on them contrary to their own interests. The leadership of the Russian Federation is committed to act only in the interests of Russian oligarchic circles, redistributing in their favor economic assets and markets of former Soviet republics, while supporting totalitarian, corrupt and criminal regimes that are ready to betray the national interests of their countries in favor of the Russian Federation. Besides, the experience has shown that the former Soviet republics, having joined the political and economic union with Russia, inevitably face problems in their economic and social spheres (especially after introduction of the West's sanctions against the Russian Federation).

At the same time the CIS countries lose their ability to maintain political and economic cooperation with foreign countries, not members of the pro-Russian integration associations. Russia makes them involved in the confrontation with the West and other countries (including within the framework of strengthening of the Russian military presence on their territory and international problems due to this).

This way the potential for conflict accumulates in countries-Russia's  allies and partners. Over time, it can cause social unrest with the direct participation of the local population, including under anti-Russian slogans. And Armenia, as one of Russia's closest allies, a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, can serve here as a shining example, indicating the beginning of qualitative changes in former Soviet countries controlled by Russians, where the latter are losing their positions and with them the possibility of realization of Moscow's plans for revival of Russia as a “great world state”.