Thursday, April 26, 2018

Armenian Maidan Only in First Stages with Many Questions Still Unanswered, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 26 – Many commentators writing about the events in Armenia have decided that they are a Maidan that has already succeeded or that it isn’t a Maidan at all, in both cases failing to understand that any Maidan is not a single of events but a series of them and that Armenia is only in the early stages, Vitaly Portnikov says.

            The Ukrainian analyst suggests the extreme cases of such misunderstanding are in Ukraine where many want to declare that the Armenian Maidan has already won  and in Moscow where at least those near the Kremlin continue to deny that the Armenian events are a Maidan at all (

                Both the one and the other have forgotten that the Maidan in Ukraine was not a single event but a chain of them and that the final outcome depended on how various forces responded, Portnikov says. Armenia is in fact in the midst of a Maidan, he says; but it is far from clear how it will end. That depends on how various forces evaluate the situation and then act.

            Consequently, observers should openly acknowledgethat there are a large number of questions for which no answer is yet clear and admit that they simply do not know whether the Armenian Maidan will succeed or will be crushed by the ancien regime or by its allies from abroad, in this case, Moscow.

            “Armenia is dependent on Russia more than Ukraine was,” Portnikov says. “Sargysan’s retirement in now way means the end of this dependence, especially because all the leadership of the country and the Republican Party, which is the Armenian United Russia remain in their positions.”

            No one knows “how Moscow will behave if its supporters begin to really lose power. And what is more we do not know the Armenian law enforcement agencies will behave.” Moscow has stressed how peaceful the Armenian events have been as a way of suggesting or convincing itself that they are different from the Ukrainian Maidan.

            “But the Maidan too was a peaceful protest until the application of force by the Berkut. It grew into a clash of forces only after attempts to disperse the protest.” Moreover, Portnikov says, “the Armenian protest of 2008 wasn’t peaceful, it was dispersed, people died, and its leader Nikol Pashinyan (the same) landed in prison.” On the other hand, the Ukrainian Maidan of 2004 was peaceful and quite similar to the events on Yerevan’s streets now.

            “What we are observing today is only the first phase of the Maidan,” a period when “the ruling group still doesn’t feel a genuine threat to its power and money” and when the protesters still assume that they can manage to drive this group out of office “with the help of peaceful protests” alone.

            Portnikov says that the Armenian authorities may be able to “’wait out’” the protesters. That is what Yanukovich did in the first stage of the Ukrainian Maidan.  “It is completely possible that the Armenian authorities will be able to disperse the protest by force – then the Russian leaders and their speakers won’t great the people on the streets.”

            And at the same time, he continues, “it is completely possible that the Armenian powers will have to leave and yield power to the opposition” and that in that event “the plans which its representatives are discussing in Moscow today will collapse.”

            If that happens in Armenia, then the same things will happen there that happened in Ukraine “after the Maidan.” There will be a war. “For Ukraine, the weak place was Crimea and the Donbass. Armenia’s weak place is Karabakh. An effort to solve the Karabakh problem by force will be undertaken literally the day after the collapse of the current Armenian powers.”

            In that event, Portnikov says, Moscow will simply “shrug its shoulders and call Armenia and Azerbaijan to begin talks.” The people in power understand this, even though the people in the streets do not want to. But in this case, “supporters of the incumbents are right: a revolution always leads to the disorganization of the state machine and an enemy always uses this.”

            “Supporters of the Ukrainian Maidan couldn’t imagine Russia’s reaction to their victory. Predictions that after the Olympics in Sochi, Putin ‘would take up’ Ukraine simply weren’t taken seriously,” the Ukrainian analyst says.  “Supporters of the protests in Yerevan don’t believe in a big new war.”

            “On the other hand,” Portnikov says, “there is always the question” for each participant: “’Is Paris worth a mass?’” Was the territorial integrity of Ukraine worth the cost of “dictatorship, a dead end situation, and life in a Russian colony?” Is maintaining Armenian control over Karabah and adjoining Azerbaijani districts worth something similar?

            “Ukraine before 2014 was a typical Russian colony, and Armenia today is simply a Russian colony, a colony whose residents are struggling for their freedom. They think they are struggling with their own powers. But in fact, they are struggling with Russian controllers of these powers. They are in fact fighting with Putin.”

            And a struggle of that kind, Portnikov says, “in case of its success will never be simply a street festival.”

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