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Protests die down; issues related to Russia are settled: the president seizes the moment

Participants of the protest action in Yerevan. Photo: rbk.ru

Protests against electricity price hike in Armenia’s capital city appear to have died down. Fewer and fewer protesters remain on the blocked Baghramyan Ave - one of the central streets in Yerevan - after the president made certain concessions that have split the protesters. Yet, some political forces tried to use the opportunity and lead the wave of protests. On the other hand, journalists and experts see a deep political process with hidden agenda behind the protests in Yerevan.  

Armenia’s leadership took advantage of the protests to gain certain dividends in the relations with Russia. The success was not long in coming. A week after the people poured into the streets protesting against electricity price hikes, it was announced that Russia will provide Armenia a US$200,000 concessional loan for army modernization, “Permyakov case” was transferred to Armenia’s judiciary, and the Electric Networks of Armenia – the subsidiary of Inter RAO UES – will undergo an audit. 

Such a pile of goods news about the things that repeatedly caused public unrest in Armenia yet not so long ago was announced by President Serzh Sargsyan at the meeting with Russian Transport Minister Maksim Sokolov. Meantime, the justice, military and energy issues are not within the primary responsibilities of Sokolov, though he is a co-chair of the Russian-Armenian Intergovernmental Commission.

“As the transfer of the “Permyakov case” and the provision of the loan followed the protests in Yerevan, one can suppose that the protests became a certain catalyst for all that. On the other hand, it could happen at any moment, considering the level of the military-technical cooperation and the solid contractual basis between the two countries," Alexander Markarov, political analyst, the head of the CIS Institute in Armenia, told EADaily

 “The protests gave a head start to the president in both domestic and foreign policy,” a high-ranking official told EADaily on condition of anonymity. “The president seized the moment.”

Director of the Caucasus Institute, political analyst Alexander Iskandaryan, says the gradually dying down protests were epected as one of the case scenarios. “The protesters lack good organization, hierarchy, and leaders, which may eventually affect the protest potential. Such an outcome was predictable, not least because the key organizers of the protests (the leaders of the “No To Plunder!” movement – editor’s note) left the field of protests after Serzh Sargsyan announced that Electric Networks of Armenia will undergo audit and the government will assume the expenses connected with the electricity price hike by 6.93 drams until the audit result is available,” Iskandaryan said talking to EADaily

According to Markarov, the tactics of the protests came down to the phrase “be realistic and do not demand the impossible.” “Perhaps, the alternative option suggested by the authorities has changed the positions of the protesters bringing them down from maximalist demands to more efficient cooperation. That is, the protesters are involved in the audit and the government assumes the expenses that the electricity price hike will result in. The protesters, inherently, demanded not only restoration of the previous tariff, but also a monitoring of ENA’s activity, which will become possible in the course of the independent audit. This option helped the parties get out of the situation with minimum losses. For the Electric Networks of Armenia, it is another opportunity to substantiate the price hike,” the expert says.  

Another way out of the situation would be politicization of the process, as public unrest amid heavy social and economic problems and discontent at the authorities is inherently a political process.  It can have various reasons – starting from environmental problems up to social ones -  as there is no strong opposition that could politicize the issue.

 “There are two reasons why the protests were not politicized. The number of the protesters was not growing until the Police dispersed the sit-in. However, the protests did not continue the upward trend.  The second reason was the attempt of some political parties and movements to grasp the process. Such efforts were doomed to failure after the breakdown of the opposition that is not popular even among the protesting youth,” the political analyst said. 

According to Markarov, the attempts to politicize the process were failed, as the protesting youth had no exact political demands or strategy, on the one hand, and actively prevented any attempts to politicize the social protest, on the other hand. “This means that the civic activists and the politicians lack mutual confidence. Yet, the activists and the political forces that see the potential of the youth movements may engage in certain negotiations ahead of the new election cycle (2017-2018) and possible establishment of new political forces. Whether the activists will take an interest in it is an entirely different matter,” the expert said.

Some experts and politicians say Armenia’s leadership could have used the protests to press the ENA and oust Inter RAO from the energy market of Armenia. After all, President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan said the Company may be nationalized. In this light, the process the government launched yet several months ago to change the owner of the power distributing networks will become imperative.  Besides, the government may nationalize the Company and transfer it to a new manager,” he said. 

Meantime, Iskandaryan does not think that the processes looked to oust Inter RAO from Armenia. He is sure that after the protests and the scandals over the electricity price hike, the public and the government attitudes toward ENA will change. “Russia is not interested in destabilization in Armenia. The cooperation with Russia continues for decades. I do not think that the protests in Yerevan have brought anything new to the Russian-Armenian relations,” he said.

Mass media still leak information that Inter RAO has been negotiating to sell ENA for a long time already. It is widely rumored that the most probable buyer of ENA is Tashir Group owned by Samvel Karapetyan, a Russian-Armenian tycoon. “The issue was settled long ago. The company will be sold to Samvel Karapetyan,” another high-ranking official told EADaily  on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile, Karapetyan’s representatives disclaim the reports. 

If Inter RAO was interested in its presence in Armenia, it should have managed the ENA efficiently not to face possible ousting from the country. “If Inter RAO seeks to enhance its presence in Armenia, the agenda of the political elites and the opposition must be reflected in the new policy of the Company or its Armenian subsidiary – Electric Networks of Armenia –in the country,” he said for conclusion. 

By Arshaluys Mghdesyan

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