The Protests against the Electricity Price Hike Gives New Dynamics to Armenia-Russia Relations
The civic disobedience against the electricity price hike instantly fuelled the process of solving a number of issues between Armenia and Russia. Though it cannot be actually stated that the ongoing protests in the downtown of Yerevan have led to the solution of issues, the protests are likely to have catalyzed the process, political analysts believe.

Earlier, the Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA) – a 100% subsidiary of Inter RAO (Russia), applied to the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to raise the electricity tariffs. The company suggested increasing the daytime tariff from the current 41.85 to 58.93 AMD per 1kWh and the nighttime tariff from the current 31.85 to 48.93 AMD per 1kWh.

Despite the vehement public protests, on June 17 the PSRC took a decision to partially satisfy the ENA’s application. At the PSRC meeting a decision was made to raise the tariffs by 6.93 AMD instead of 17 AMD suggested by the ENA.

The decision led to public discontent that has grown into unrest and mass protests. On June 22, the protesters blocked Baghramyan Avenue in Yerevan, in front of President Sargsyan’s residence. On the morning of June 23, the demonstration against the recent electricity price hike was dispersed with blasts of water and use of force by the riot police. 237 protesters were dragged away by the police. Journalists and bloggers reported that they, too, had endured rough treatment by uniformed and plainclothes officers.

President Sargsyan has suspended an increase in household electricity rates in an effort to end the protests. He stated the tariff rise would go into force, but the government would cover the extra "burden" instead of the public until an independent audit of the decision was completed. Sargsyan's announcement followed a meeting the night before with Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov. During the meeting, they agreed to an audit of the electricity company. Parallelly, Valery Permyakov and Hrachya Harutyunyan will be tried by an Armenian court. In addition, Moscow is to give Armenia a $200 million loan to purchase sophisticated Russian weapons at a discount.

“I would not connect the rallies in Yerevan with the solution of certain issues in the Armenian-Russian relations. Nevertheless, the relations between the two countries have long been built and develop with a certain dynamics. The protest has spurred the settlement of issues and accelerated their publicization,” said Alexander Iskandaryan.

The Media Center held a discussion on the rallies against the electricity price increase and the Government’s reaction. The speakers included: Suren Zolyan, political analyst, Public Council member; Alexander Iskandaryan, Head of the Caucasus Institute; Alexander Margarov, Director of the Armenian branch of the CIS Countries Institute; and Styopa Safaryan, Head of the Institute for International and Security Affairs.

Suren Zolyan described the proposal ENA submitted to the PSRC as reasonless. “The discussions at the PSRC revealed that fact but the committee did not reckon with it. Whether there will be an audit matters least now because such audits are conducted in that company annually. The tax agencies are well aware of how the things are going on there. It is truly important that the young people’s rebel caused the authorities to refrain from using force. But the authorities are the same and Armenia still remains the most militarized country. Only tough public reaction forced them to take that step back,” Zolyan said.

President Sargsyan’s statement, Styopa Safaryan believes, is a sly and well-written text.

“Following the statement, the movement got divided and weaker, naturally. Protesters on Baghramyan Avenue had a common claim with diverse attitudes towards the further struggle. Sargsyan actually said citizens will not pay and the Government will take the burden. The country’s budget, however, belongs to the society but a lot of people seem not to understand it. What matters for them is that they will not pay directly from their pocket,” Safaryan said.

The protesters should have chosen either to stay on Baghramyan Avenue and continue the civil struggle or politicize the movement.

The politicization of the movement, Alexander Margarov believes, did not happen since there has not so far been a possibility to shape the social protest into a political one. “There is no powerful opposition which can take on that burden while the young protesters had one well-stated claim but they did not have any action plan,” said the political expert.

“I see a lack of texts, slogans, leadership, infrastructure and hierarchy. The authorities know how to deal with such protests but the Government reacts only with technical means whereas the problems remain unresolved. In other words, social and political discontent in society does not vanish and rushes to streets at every possible moment,” Iskandaryan said.

Arshaluis Mghdesyan, Editor-Coordinator

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