Sunday

20th Jan 2019

Opinion

Armenia murder galvanises anti-Russia felling

  • The EEU entered into life on 1 January 2015, with four members - Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia. (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

A Russian soldier’s recent murders of seven members of an Armenian family, including a six-month old boy, has ignited anger across our country.

It is not just the murders themselves that caused the outrage, although killing an entire family with an AK-47 and a knife should be enough to prompt nationwide fury.

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  • Minefield: Russia is selling arms to both sides in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conlfict (Photo: halotrust.org)

Adding to the consternation of many Armenians was Russia’s indication that it would try the soldier in a Russian military court rather than surrender him to our government for trial.

Many Armenians worry that a Russian court will give him a light sentence or even ship him back to Russia to be set free.

Russia’s indication that one of its courts will have jurisdiction is also seen as the latest evidence of its growing neo-colonialist control over its South Caucasus neighbour.

With Russia playing the role of Armenia's protector in its old conflict with Azerbaijan, Russia critics say our government feels no compunction about acting undemocratically - ignoring the rule of law, stifling the opposition, and engaging in mass-scale corruption.

There is a stack of evidence to corroborate these claims - including beatings and jailings of dissidents and the burning of opposition figures’ cars.

Those critics are calling for the government to start extricating the country from the Kremlin’s bear-hug before it’s too late.

Sphere of influence

There have been several signs of increasing Russian influence in recent years.

To start with, Moscow has given no indication it will withdraw the 3,000 troops it has stationed at Gyumri in northern Armenia. Although ostensibly here to protect our sovereignty, many Armenians believe the troops are on our soil as a veiled threat - a reminder of what could happen if Yerevan refuses to toe the Kremlin line.

Even more galling to many of us who dislike Russian soldiers being in our country is that Moscow pays Armenia nothing for the use of the base.

In addition to “protecting” Armenia with 3,000 troops, Russia is also selling us arms.

That is of small consolation to a lot of Armenians, however, because Moscow is also selling arms to Azerbaijan, the country with which we fought a war after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Russia is supplying our government with cut-rate oil and gas. Although that lowers our energy costs, it makes us vulnerable to a Russian energy cut-off. That unnerves many Armenians, given Moscow’s propensity to use energy as a weapon against neighbours.

Our government has also dug itself deeper into energy-dependence by selling much of its oil and gas infrastructure to the Russians.

The most glaring example of Russia’s attempt to establish control over Armenia is its bullying us to join the Eurasian Economic Union rather than the European Union.

In July 2013, Yerevan was ready to sign both a free-trade agreement and a political association agreement with the EU.

Two months later, Russian president Vladimir Putin called Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan to Moscow like a feudal ord summoning his vassal.

Only government insiders know what Putin told Sargsyan.

But after their hour-long meeting, Sargsyan announced a 180-degree turn-around on economic integration. We were going to join the Customs Union, the forerunner of the EEU, instead of the EU, he said. The EEU entered into life on 1 January 2015, with four members - Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia.

Sargsyan probably thought he had little choice but to accept Putin’s dictates, given the 3,000 Russian troops in Armenia, the country’s dependence on Russian energy, and the way Russia reacted to the uprising which installed a pro-EU regime in Ukraine: invading Crimea and sending Russian arms and troops into eastern Ukraine to help separatists.

Demonstrations

Much of our public was incensed about the u-turn on integrating with the EU, which is our biggest trading partner, to integrating with the EEU.

A thousand or more Armenians turned out to demonstrate against Russia’s role in the about-face when Putin visited the country in December 2013.

Many more thousands have turned out to protest the Russian soldier’s killing of this young family and the possibility that he will be tried by a Russian court.

Indeed, those who contend that our government is becoming a colonialist client of Russia have plenty of ammunition for their argument.

For the good of our country our leaders need to begin backing away from Moscow. Seventy years of the Kremlin calling the shots in Armenia during Soviet times was enough.

It’s time for Armenia to throw off the Russian yoke once and for all. Our people want to be free from a long-meddling neighbour whose interests don’t coincide with ours.

Armine Sahakyan is a human rights activist based in Armenia

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