Staunton, April 23 – Russian officials and commentators already are saying the massive popular protests in Armenia which forced Serzh Sargsyan, the former president who had just become prime minister in order to remain in power, to resign are not like the color revolutions that have led to the formation of anti-Moscow governments elsewhere in the post-Soviet space.
But it is obvious they are concerned about three things: the possibility that the ouster of Sargsyan will become an inspirational model for Russians who also have a president who became a prime minister to keep his power, a shift in Yerevan’s relationship with Moscow, and a possible upsurge in along the ceasefire line between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
This last “fear” may also be an indication of something Moscow might try to provoke: any Azerbaijani moves will simultaneously unite Armenians and ensure that they will continue to look to Moscow rather than anywhere else for their security, a reality officials in Baku almost certainly understand however tempted they might be to exploit the unrest in Armenia.
The Znak news portal has provided one of the first roundups of Russian opinion and commentary (znak.com/2018-04-23/kak_v_rossii_reagiruyut_na_smenu_vlasti_v_armenii_v_rezultate_narodnogo_protesta). Among the key Russian statements it records are the following:
· Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mariya Zakharova writes on Facebook that “a people which has the strength even in the most complicated moments of its history not to split up but to preserve respect for one another despite categorial disagreements is a great people. Armenia, Russia is always with you!”
· Igor Lebedev, the LDPR politician who is deputy speaker of the Duma, says that the Armenian people have shown that “no one wants to put up with one and the same individual at the head of the state for decades. There needs to be changes in those in power and in their parties.”
· Lev Shlosberg, leader of the Yabloko Parrty in Pskov, says that the events show the triumph of “the will of the people.”
· Gennady Gudkov, a former member of the Duma and an opposition politician, says that “Armenia provides an example for Russia. He says he imagines that officials in the Kremlin are worried by the precedent of a people unwilling to tolerate political twists and turns to keep one person on top of the political system forever. The Armenians have “stopped the slide toward totalitarianism.”
· Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Moscow foreign policy commentator, predicts that with Sargsyan’s departure, there will follow “stormy new elections” because “the Armenian power structure turned out to be more rickety than we thought.” Sargsyan was right to go under the circumstances, but any such retirement under pressure of crowds in the streets is always “fraught” with problems.
Pro-Moscow Armenians, like commentator Armen Gasparyan, however, are providing some reassurance to the Russian government. In a comment for the Nakanune news agency, he says that the Armenian opposition and the Armenian authorities view Russia as their country’s “main strategic partner” in all respects (nakanune.ru/news/2018/04/23/22505341/).