Will Yerevan Emulate Kiev?

By Edmond Y. Azadian

If anyone tries to convince you that the Cold War is over, take that statement with a grain of salt. The Cold War is continuing, if not intensifying.

After the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the West rushed in to fill the power vacuum left in the absence of a central Soviet regime, by engaging the newly-emancipated Eastern European countries into the European Union and NATO structures. It even drew the line in the sand for Russia after dismembering former Yugoslavia.

In 2008, Moscow drew its own line in the sand by attacking and “liberating” parts of Georgia. Ukraine remained the center of a tug-of-war between Russia and the West, shifting allegiance at least three times.

The Orange Revolution of 2004 brought to power Victor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, which nudged the country toward the West. By 2010, the erstwhile allies had become bitter enemies and during a three-way presidential election, former Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich won, shifting the country back towards Moscow.

Thus the country teetered between the two tectonic centers of power until the recent revolt emerged at Kiev’s Maidan, which brought down Yanukovich’s administration.

He had just struck a deal with the opposition, with the blessing of the foreign ministers of France, the UK and Poland. The agreement called for the revival of the 2004 constitution limiting the presidential powers and setting a December date for the election. The Maidan protestors, however, did not heed the agreement and the government fell. Yanukovich was deposed by the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament), which appointed Alexander Turchinov as interim president.

Naturally, these developments were filtered through different and opposing lenses; for the West, the will of the Ukrainian people had won, while for the Russians, street gangs and thugs had usurped power through violence.

A pivotal role was played in this transition by Arsen Avakov, minister of the interior, an ethnic Armenian.

There is no doubt that the tug-of-war will continue. Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security chief, has warned Moscow against any military intervention.

Ukraine is a vast country with a population of 46 million. Seventy percent of its trade is with Russia. There is a precedent that Moscow has interrupted the flow of gas to Ukraine when things did not go to its liking.

The eastern regions of the country are the most industrialized and are populated by Russian-speaking and Russophile Ukrainians, who have already been agitating. The Crimean peninsula, birthplace of Hovhannes Aivazovsky,  by the way, is predominantly populated by Russians. Incidentally, while former Politburo member Heydar Aliyev accused any Armenian who sought the return of Karabagh and Nakhichevan as reactionary and nationalist, Nikita Khrushchov, an ethnic Ukrainian, annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 and no one accused him of nationalism. Of course, at that time, border adjustments within the Soviet Union did not have the same political significance as they will have today because the Russian Black Sea fleet is based in Crimea.

A hostile neighbor with a potential of joining NATO will certainly irritate policy planners in Moscow, compelling them to take remedial action now before any further deterioration of the situation. That reaction may lead the country into a partition.

Political analyst Igor Muradian believes that “there will be actual federalization while maintaining Ukraine as a single internationally-recognized state and at the same time, the issue of the state budget, utilities and mobility of the people, foreign relations, army and law enforcement agencies will be addressed. At the same time, the process of separating Crimea from Ukraine will begin, which is apparently inevitable.”

There are striking parallels between Ukraine and Armenia, especially since both made their U-turn to join Russia’s Customs Union, at the same time interrupting their negotiations with the EU, ostensibly  under Russian pressure.

Before these events, Moscow had pledged $15 billion worth of aid to Ukraine. Now the new leaders believe that Ukraine needs $60-70 billion to avoid an economic collapse, it is doubtful if Moscow will abide by its early pledge. The US and EU have made some vague promises, which may or may not meet the expectations of the new leaders.

In Armenia, there is no love lost for the Russians who are increasingly treating the country in a cavalier manner. Armenian political groups organized a solidarity unit with Maidan and even travelled to Kiev to support the protestors.

Political pundits are comparing the March 1, 2008 Armenian demonstrations which claimed 10 lives with Kiev’s Maidan.

All opposition parties are wishing and trying to enact the repeat performance of Maidan in Armenia. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the opposition is so splintered that no two groups can agree on any common ground. The well-oiled media is entirely financed by foreign governments and agencies and they are trying hard to incite anti-Russian sentiments. Armenia’s well-being is the least of their worries. They finance the media for their own selfish purposes. Many starving journalists are serving these foreign agencies for their own survival, oblivious  of their cumulative impact on the fate of the country.

Any veteran or novice in politics there begins his rhetoric with calls for regime change. But modern history has demonstrated time and again that any change will only rout one set of oligarchs and bring new ones to power.

Corruption is endemic in all former Soviet republics. No country in the region can remain sanitized as long as they continue their former economic and business relations with each other.

Georgia, the most Western-oriented state in the Caucasus, had trumpeted loudly that it had eradicated corruption under Mikheil Saakashvili, that the rule of law had become paramount. Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Party rose to power, and last week former Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili was sentence to a five-year prison term for corruption.

The Orange Revolution had catapulted Yulia Timoshenko to power in Ukraine and she landed in jail for corruption. Even Greece, the cradle of democracy and civilization, and a member of the European Union, is plagued with corruption. This means that association with Europe alone is not a panacea.

Corruption is a genuine cause for concern in Armenia. It has to be criticized. It has to be eradicated, but only for its own sake so that the lives of its people improve and not in order to feed the agenda of foreign powers who have a vested interest in Armenia without a strong central government.

Events in Ukraine shook the world and its echoes reverberate more in Armenia, having the same predicament. But a repeat performance of Maidan will only bring chaos.