Electric Maidan?: Armenia protests viewed differently from Kyiv, Moscow

Armenia has become an unlikely point of contention between current arch-rivals Russia and Ukraine after protests against utility price hikes swept the South Caucasus nation earlier this week.

While in Russia pro-Kremlin pundits and media allege Armenia is facing the threat of a Western-led “color revolution” type uprising, the Kyiv perspective on the unfolding demonstrations in Yerevan is in the positive light.

Many Ukrainian politicians and analysts see similarities between the current youth-led protests in Yerevan and the Ukrainian anti-government rallies two years ago.

Arsen Avakov, an ethnic Armenian interior minister in Ukraine, gave words of encouragement to thousands of Armenians holding daily rallies against the planned rise in electricity prices.

Avakov, who was one of the key activists of so-called EuroMaidan, sustained street protests in Kyiv in late 2013, early 2014 that ousted the government of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, published a post on Facebook Wednesday beginning it with the words “My Dear Armenia”.

“There was a day when we were beaten and dispersed in Krepestnoy Lane in Kyiv, when our barricades were dismantled and our hopes seemed to have been crushed… It was winter, it was snowing, only eight of us would return to the Maidan, under a Ukrainian flag, all feeling cold, beaten, covered in snow,” he wrote, remembering episodes of the dramatic standoff in the center of the Ukrainian capital.

Avakov then told the story of a large vacuum flask that activists used for carrying tea to the Maidan, describing it as a symbol of their aspiration not to retreat and be free.

In Armenia members and supporters of the No To Plunder initiative insist, however, that their protests are not political and pursue no political demands, while they only reflect their civil position. Their only goal, they stress, is to achieve the cancellation of the decision to raise electricity prices by 16 percent beginning August 1.

Speakers at last night’s rally in Yerevan’s Baghramyan Avenue emphasized this message as they passionately addressed the crowd of up to 10,000 people.

Activists are also careful to avoid anti-Russian rhetoric and unnecessary anti-Russian sentiments considering the fact that the request for the electricity tariff hike was submitted by a Russian-owned company that operates Armenia’s power grid.

Unlike the civic activists, some opposition groups in Armenia do use this circumstance in their arguments that the country is losing its sovereignty as it has ceded nearly all of its prized assets to Moscow.

Russian state-run TV channels these days also cover the events in Yerevan from the perspective of a possible Western-led “revolution”, with many pundits expressing a view that dissatisfaction with rising electricity tariffs is only an “excuse” for Armenian opposition forces to start anti-government protests.

Russian politicians appear less categorical in their remarks yet. Thus, Chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev told Vestnik Kavkaza on Wednesday that “currently the situation in Armenia is apparently developing as a conflict of people who are dissatisfied with quite specific subjects related to their economic well-being.”

At the same time, he said he believed that “almost every colored revolution began with such events and then grew into a political event.”

“I think Armenia is also not immune to such a scenario,” Kosachev said, drawing parallels with Ukraine’s Maidan.

Meanwhile, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, reiterated on Wednesday that the Kremlin hopes that the differences in Armenia will be settled as soon as possible.

“We hope that answers to all questions will be found within the framework of Armenia’s current legislation,” he said.