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'Electric Yerevan' Will Not Change Armenia's Pro-Russian Orientation

Attempted "colour revolution" in Armenia runs so far counter to Armenia's national interests that its ultimate failure is a certainty

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Though the international media has barely reported the story, Yerevan --- the capital of Armenia --- has been wracked over the last few days with angry protests complaining about steep hikes in electricity rates.

The protest movement has been given the name “Electric Yerevan”.

Inevitably there has been discussion in the Russian media about whether these protests presage a “colour revolution” in Armenia modeled on the Maidan revolution in Ukraine.

Andrew Korybko has discussed this issue thoroughly, and there seems little doubt that some of the organisers of the “Electric Yerevan” protests are indeed plotting a “colour revolution”.

If the purpose of this intended revolution is intended to draw Armenia away from Russia, then it is unlikely to succeed even if it does result in the overthrow of the present government. 

Attitudes in Armenia towards Russia are very different from attitudes to Russia in Ukraine. Armenian nationalism does not define itself through hostility to Russia in the way that Ukrainian nationalism does.

Though some young Armenians may hanker after Western lifestyles, the overriding reality is that Armenia depends heavily on Russia.  

It is locked in conflict with the much richer and more powerful former Soviet republic to its east --- Azerbaijan --- over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is occupied by Armenia but claimed by Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan in turn is closely allied with Turkey (the two countries share a common language), that together with Azerbaijan has imposed an effective economic blockade on Armenia, which is completely landlocked.

Behind these present conflicts there is Armenia’s historic fear of Turkey, which perpetrated a genocide of Armenians in the first quarter of the 20th century that it has never acknowledged.

In the face of these external pressures, Armenia traditionally looks to Russia as its protector. It is also heavily dependent on Russia for economic help.

All these factors argue strongly against any rupture between Russia and Armenia becoming permanent. Certainly if the price the leaders of “Electric Yerevan” are obliged to pay in return for reorienting Armenia towards the West is the abandonment of Nagorno-Karabakh, then it is one that Armenians as a whole will not pay. 

Conversely, if as nationalists the leaders of "Electric Yerevan" pursue a more aggressive policy towards Azerbaijan once they come to power, as apparently they have threatened (see Andrew Korybko's discussion) then Armenia’s dependence on Russia will actually grow and the Russians will insist on having some say in the matter.

The Maidan revolution in Ukraine in the end only succeeded because of the weak and temporising policies of President Yanukovych, who spurned advice he was repeatedly given by his security officials to order a crackdown.  

It is unlikely the Armenian government will make the same mistake, especially as it has Yanukovych’s example to learn from. Even if a “colour revolution” is indeed being attempted, the likelihood therefore is it will fail, as the recent attempts to stage “colour revolutions” in Hong Kong and Macedonia also seem to have failed.

Even if it temporarily succeeds, Armenia’s realities mean that it is no more likely to change Armenia’s long-term pro-Russian orientation than the similar protests that were staged in Armenia at the end of the 1980s, or the “colour revolution” known as the "Tulip Revolution" that took place in 2005 in Kyrgyzia.

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