Russia Strengthens Its Presence in the Caucasus amidst Protests
In a monthly Operational Environment Watch commentary, EFD Fellow Anna Borshchevskaya observes that Russia is not intending to loosen its grip in the South Caucasus. This decision comes soon after Armenia's joining of Russia's Customs Union.
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Armenia on 2 December. His trip’s starting point appeared symbolic — not Yerevan, the country’s capital, but Gyumri, home to the Russian Army’s military base, whose lease Armenia had agreed in 2010 to extend to Russia until 2044. Putin’s remarks further reinforced the symbolism when he said that Russia does not inend to leave the South Caucasus, but rather strengthen its presence there. Some Armenians protested Putin’s visit because of Armenia’s recent move towards Russia by joining Russia’s Customs Union. The accompanying excerpts describe the protests and provide a broader perspective on Putin’s visit. The first excerpt, from Kavkaz-Uzel (Caucasian Knot), describes the diversity among the protestors, including traditional rivals, whom Putin brought together. The second, by Leila Noroushvili in Georgia Online, describes unprecedented security measures which “somehow smacked of North Korea or the early USSR.” According to Western press reports, approximately 1000 protestors came out in the streets in Armenia. For a country of three million, this is not a large number. Indeed, previous recent protests in February 2013 following the presidential election in Armenia drew a crowd of several thousand, according to Western reports. To put Armenia’s December anti-Putin protests further in perspective, perhaps as many as one million Ukrainians, according to some reports, came out into the streets following Ukraine’s similar recent move away from Europe in November, numbers comparable to what became known as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004. Nonetheless, the protests in Armenia against Putin’s visit matter, both in the context of unprecedented security measures in Gyumri and, more broadly, within the context of public dissatisfaction in the post-Soviet space in general, in response to governments (e.g., Ukraine and Armenia) moving their countries closer to Russia and away from Europe. This dynamic certainly matters as other post-Soviet countries watch. It particularly matters for Georgia, which initialed an association agreement with the European Union in November.
The article was originally published here.