Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Moscow Miscalculated in Small Ways and Large with Its ‘Panik’ Provocation, Khzmalyan Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – In order to bring Yerevan to heel after Nikol Pashinyan’s visit to NATO, Moscow first hoped to restart the Karabakh war and then failing that to organize an imitation of such a conflict with the appearance of Russian soldiers in the Armenian village of Panik last week, Armenian commentator Tigram Khzmalyan says.

            But in small ways and large, he says, Moscow miscalculated and now that event has backfired on its Russian organizers who are having to scramble to salvage the situation lest its moves further radicalize Armenian opinion instead of intimidate Yerevan as the Russian authorities had clearly hoped and expected (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5B54E884A0CEF).

                According to Khzmalyan, “the place and timing of this local fire show were chosen not accidentally.” On the one hand, he says, the Russians probably didn’t think about the various anniversaries on July 17, although they did want to avoid staging something this in Gumri where many are still angry about an event in January 2015 when a Russian soldier killed two people.

            But on the other, the Russian “’experts” were obviously unaware that the Armenian name Panik has absolutely no connection with the Greek god Pan or with the sparking of fears that derives from his name.  However, that may be, the Russians by their actions in Panik sparked not “panic and fear” but “anger and resistance.”

                “For the first time in the history of Armenian-Russian relations, something unheard of happened.” In reaction to the appearance of “’little green men,” Armenian villagers “will empty ands blocked a military column, forced the Russian soldiers to get out of their machine, and ordered them to unload their guns.”

            At least, the situation didn’t escalate to the taking of Russian hostages and the seizing of Russian weapons.

            A village elder officially called on the Russian embassy to compensate and apologize. The prime minister denounced the event as a provocation directed “against Armenian-Russian relations and a challenge to the Armenian government. And the Armenian defense minister said that the Russian basing agreement needed to be revisited.

            The Russian response was symbolic: the commander of the base, Col. Yelkanov said three times over that “nothing happened in Panik and that there were no shootings. There was only the imitation of shooting.” 

            According to Khzmalyan, “imitation” is “the key word in present-day Armenian-Russian relations” in which Moscow talks about strategic partnership with Yerevan but arms Baku and repeatedly says it favors a peace deal over Karabakh but does nothing to advance things toward that end.

            But “imitation in politics is just as fruitless as in love,” the Armenian analyst says. “There are things which it is impossible to achieve by money, provocations or threats. For example, love, trust, and friendship. One can imitate them but not for long.” And when they are seen to be an imitation, they backfire. 

            Even the suggestion that Yerevan will revisit the basing agreement is a remarkable indication of that. “It is,” Khzmalyan says, “the beginning of a long and difficult but inevitable and irreversible process of the do-colonization and de-occupation of Armenia.”

            Frightened by this possibility, Moscow has taken two steps designed to forestall it: It has promised Armenian 200 million US dollars’ worth of arms (planeta.press/news/25507-armeniya-poluchila-ot-rossii-vooruzhenie-na-200-mln/), and its diplomats have hinted that the Russian side may now press for including Karabakh in the Minsk talks (regnum.ru/news/polit/2452045.html).

            Moscow’s willingness to take these steps shows how serious it considers the situation to be. In the short term, these actions may help: the Armenian defense ministry has already issued a statement saying Yerevan must shoulder some of the blame for the events in Panik (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/323366/). But in the longer term, they are likely to be every less effective.


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