In recent days, some Armenians have been up in arms over increases in electricity tariffs by the evil Russian-owned electricity monopoly that will bring them up to… well, a level slightly higher than in Russia and about 2-3x lower than in most EU countries (don’t you love comparative context?). Discourse in both Russia and the West has now shifted to the familiar template of color revolution. Cookie girl Victoria Nuland was in Armenia last February in a closed meeting with NGOs, which is never a good sign, and the Maidanist Ukrainian elites are salivating over the prospect of a color revolution in Yerevan, with Interior Minister (and ethnic Armenian) Arsen Avakov going so far as to express his support for the “Electromaidan” couched in a bizarre anecdote about his adventures with a thermos in (Ukraine’s) Euromaidan.
Does this presage the overthrow of Russia’s colonial “puppet” in Armenia and its inevitable transition to the promised land of freedom, prosperity, and end-of-history that all such revolutions inevitably entail? At first, one might have cause to be skeptical. The numbers of protesters has been few so far: No more than 1% of Yerevan’s one million strong population. And while they do include the usual young pro-Western and anti-Russian types, there’s also plenty of older leftists and apoliticals, so for the most part it could be said to be a domestic political affair with no particular connection to questions such as Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union or its hosting of a Russian military base in Gyumri. In opinion polls, Armenians are highly positive towards Russia. On the other hand, pretty much of all of this could also have been said of Ukraine’s Euromaidan before November 2013.
There is however one very critical difference between Ukraine and Armenia and it is summarized in the following chart (figures are from SIPRI):
Azerbaijan does not much like Armenia. The two fought a war in the early 1990s soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was officially Azeri but populated by Armenians (thanks to Georgia’s Stalin). Occupying favorable defensive positions and enjoying high morale and funds from the diaspora, the Armenians got by far the better of the exchange, and Nagorno-Karabakh has since been de facto theirs, albeit that is hotly disputed by the Azeris and unrecognized by the world community. Azerbaijan is fully committed to revanche, and relations between the two countries are poisonous to an almost slapstick degree. This is mostly amply demonstrated by the case of an Azeri military officer who murdered an Armenian counterpart while on a NATO exchange program in Hungary. Upon being sent back to Azerbaijan to serve the rest of his life sentence, he was immediately set free by Presidential decree, named a national hero, and given a free flat. Azerbaijan is backed to the hilt by Turkey, but is constrained by uncertainty over Russia’s possible response to overt aggression.
The two countries maintained a rough parity in military spending until the mid-2000s, with Armenia also benefitting from below market cost Russian weapon supplies. Since then, however, Azerbaijan has surged massively ahead, and its oil-fueled military spending is now higher than Armenia’s entire state budget. It now enjoys an approximately threefold preponderance in air and armor, and its equipment is on average more modern. Once relatively isolated, Azerbaijan now enjoys good relations with Turkey, Israel, the US (especially its neocon/corporatist nexus), and even Russia. A new war between them – absent Russian support – will almost certainly no longer be a repeat of the early 1990s when the Azeris suffered debacle after military debacle.
As a result, any even minimally sane Armenian administration will take great pains not to alienate Russia, even if they should come to power as a result of a color revolution. For a country surrounded by two avowed enemies (Azerbaijan and Turkey), a neutral (Georgia), and one lukewarm friend (Iran), alienating Russia would be so phenomenally stupid and counterproductive that it would be functionally close to treason. The discomfiting thing, though, is that said stupidity and chiliastic fanaticism is a feature of all Maidan-like movements in Eurasia. If the Washington Obkom commands them to sacrifice their national interests just to spite and undercut Russia, they will generally do so with pleasure – as happened in Saakashvili’s Georgia and (twice) in Maidanist Ukraine – since if worst comes to worst ,they can always retire to a comfortable position at Columbia University, while it is the ordinary people who are left to pick up the pieces.