As if calamities that had befallen on Armenia had not been enough, August 14 brought another tragedy, when an explosion ripped through the Surmalu market, leaving 16 citizens dead and sending 61 to hospitals. While rescue operations continue, the authorities are investigating the cause of the blast, which all indications suggest is poorly-stored explosives. They have already ruled out an act of terror but speculation continued in the news and social media, with many proposing different scenarios and even some pointing a finger at Armenia’s foes.

Only some members of a fringe political group called the National Democratic Axis (Bever; NDA) have indirectly accused Russia as the perpetrator of the disaster.

Indeed, a supporter of the NDA has claimed in a Facebook post: “The Russians will blow up half of Armenia with fireworks until it capitulates.”

Another leader of the same group, Garegin Chukaszyan, believes that “foreign forces are behind these actions, diverting public attention from the upcoming ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh.”

Other than those few statements, there have only been scant references to Russia regarding this tragedy. Mainstream media, in particular, has been cautious not to make similar claims against Russia.

However, Moscow has lodged an irate protest with the Armenian government, asking it to curb the promulgation of such accusations.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

The Russian embassy in Yerevan sent a note to Armenia’s Foreign Ministry, stating, “We are outraged by the cynical fake reports in the local media containing blasphemous and false accusations against Russian structures in connection with the August 14 tragedy at the Surmalu shopping center. We consider this a direct provocation by the political forces behind such insinuations aimed at undermining Russian-Armenian relations. We expect the Armenian authorities to take steps aimed at preventing such unfriendly manifestations, including necessary public comments.”

Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry Ivan Nachev added, “We are awaiting a response.”

Russian analyst Stanislav Tarassov, who is known for his sympathies towards Armenia, has warned that Moscow has serious concerns, otherwise it would not come out with such a protest, and he has added: “Armenian authorities, unlike [Azerbaijan President Ilham] Aliyev, were not able to become trusted allies for Russia.”

This confession marks truly the disproportionate reaction of the Russian side.

In the first place, the Armenian authorities cannot be held accountable for a statement made by a fringe group. Second, Moscow can order the suppression of free press only to a vassal state. It is indeed an obscene intrusion in the domestic life of an ally.

We need to remember that Moscow had requested Yerevan to lodge a protest against Canada, whose government had decided to open embassies in Armenia and some Baltic states. The Russian authorities had regarded this opening of embassies on Russia’s periphery replete with ill intent. However, considering that one of those embassies was for Armenia itself, one has to wonder how it expected Armenia to twist itself into such a political pretzel by protesting a major country opening an embassy on its soil.

Moscow is not very comfortable with the fact that, once in a while, Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations head towards consideration by Brussels.

The statements by a fringe group in Armenia would not have been sufficient cause for that kind of official reaction. There is indeed a growing anti-Russian sentiment in Armenia, avidly fanned by the Western-leaning forces, but mostly engendered by Russia’s blatant actions. In recent months, there have been many incursions on the territories of Karabakh and Armenia proper by Azerbaijani forces, in plain view of Russian peacekeeping forces, and yet the Kremlin has turned a blind eye to them. Armenia’s correct protests regarding Russian peacekeepers’ inaction during those provocations were ridiculed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a press conference in Cambodia.

After the 44-Day War, in an interview given to an Armenian news outlet (1st Channel), President Vladimir Putin’s alter ego, Russian analyst and top strategics Alexander Dugin (whose daughter was just killed in a terrorist attack) bluntly claimed that Armenia did not keep its side of the bargain and forced President Putin to engineer the 44-Day War. He revealed that former President Serzh Sargsyan’s administration had promised to Ilham Aliyev, through the good offices of the Russian president, that Armenia was ready to cede the five regions it had taken as insurance back to Azerbaijan, but after the Velvet Revolution of 2018, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan reneged on that promise.

But most importantly, a crucial summit is approaching where historic decisions may be made. On August 31, Presidents Putin and Aliyev will be meeting with Prime Minister Pashinyan. Armenia’s political establishment is apprehensive that once again the Russian president may sell out Armenia to Azerbaijan.

At issue is the Zangezur Corridor in Armenia’s Syunik province, linking Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan with Turkey. Despite public assurances by Moscow that the corridor would not compromise Armenia’s sovereignty, indications are that Mr. Putin will pressure Pashinyan to give in. Indeed, Mr. Lavrov had stated that “there should not be any equivocation that the roads and corridors to be opened will remain under the control of their respective governments.”

Mr. Putin’s motivation to cede the corridor to Azerbaijan goes beyond Armenia; it is a move to hurt Iran. Russia has weaponized its energy resources to counteract Western sanctions in light of the former’s war against Ukraine. As the Iran nuclear deal is becoming a reality, Tehran will turn out to be a real competitor to Russia by selling oil and gas to the West, thus blunting Russia’s most potent weapon. And Iran is as wary as Armenia over the control of the Zangezur Corridor by Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Although Iran extended diplomatic courtesies to Baku by congratulating Azerbaijan after its victory in 2020 “for recovering its historic territory,” it was also a loser along with Armenia, as Israel, a close ally of Azerbaijan, will have a broader area to conduct surveillance activities from Azerbaijan over Iran, not to speak of the latent rivalry between Azerbaijan and Iran over historic territory. Azerbaijan openly claims two regions in Iran where ethnic Turks reside while Iran claims Azerbaijan’s territory was amputated from the motherland.

In this game, Baku plays the Turkic card of demographic fault lines to entice Iranian-Azerbaijanis, while Iran plays the Shia religious card. Shia extremists have become very active in Azerbaijan and as the world witnessed only a few weeks ago, they literally took over the Azerbaijani embassy in London for a few hours.

As we can see, there is a global confrontation in Armenia and in the region and a simple protest by Russian has deep political reverberations in Armenia and in all of the Caucasus region.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: