Friday, 4 April 2008

“Union with Russia”? What’s the F* is going on?

I could hardly resist myself for not using the ‘F’ word in full. Was pretty pissed off (vulgar slang, I know, but pretty routine in Britain) this morning after read the news on a ‘proposal’ by Russian Duma’s Vice Speaker that “Russia and Armenia should form a union state”.

And when Ani made her comment under the different post, and then 2 more comments followed (including mine), I thought this warrant a special post.

Below I copy our relevant discussion so far. If anyone wants to contribute, please use the comments section below.

Re commenting on Unzipped: Dear readers, as a reminder, all comments are currently under moderation, which means they will appear here only after the approval by the administrator of this blog (and it may take time). As there is no possibility on a Blogger platform to edit comments during the moderation (either ‘publish’ or ‘reject’ options) please follow the norms of civilised discussions, as comments containing hateful remarks and inappropriate wordings will not be accepted even if otherwise have valuable input. I know, sometimes it is difficult to contain our outrage and disagreement (see above) within the civilised limits, but that’s the only way forward. Thank you for your understanding. I value your input very much!

Back to the topic:

Ani said...
As to Nazarian's comment (go where, Armenia?), this article on today gives pause as to just what Sargsyan promised when he was in Moscow:"RF Duma Vice Speaker: Russia, Armenia should form union state""Russia and Armenia should form a union state, said Vice Speaker of the Russian State Duma. If formation of a union with Belarus has slowed down, Russia should take up another direction. We should unite with Armenia, for example, or with any other friendly state,” said Lyubov Sliska, Duma Vice Speaker and member of United Russia faction, reports."
03 April 2008 19:46

artmika said...
Ani, although it's off-topic but very important - the only fact that the idea of a "union state" with Russia has been voiced on such a high level is very worrying, indeed. I felt disgusted when read about it this morning. First - economy, then - everything else... I really worry that if current direction continues Armenia's existence as independent state will be at stake (if not already)...
03 April 2008 21:15

Anonymous said...
artmika, with Russia controlling all of the strategic sectors of our economy (railways, construction, telecommunications, the Iran-Armenia pipeline, a great number of our natural resources factories and the list sadly goes on), we are effectively nothing more than a Russian province, and a backwards one at that. We are NOT an independent country; all our policy decisions are based on what Russia says we should do. I shudder to think what would happen if Armenia dared to contradict Russia...For everyone making baseless accusations about LTP selling off national assets to foreigners when he was president or planning to do so if he comes back, this is what selling off looks like. sorry to get off topic...
04 April 2008 00:07


Anonymous said...

I hope this is nothing serious.
Probably it's just a part of the Russian response to Georgia and Ukraine being invited to NATO.
Once again America's straightforward policy leads to radicalization of Russia.
I hope this is simple blackmailing, it's a typical Russian strategy - the parliament members say things which are too absurd for a government member to say.
Anyway, it still shows that, thanks to the policies of the "Njdehakan"
Serj Sarkissian, Armenia has become a simple bargaining chip in the hands of Russia.
I hope the ghost of Njdeh will haunt Serj in his dreams.

p.s. I really feel sorry for those few "idological" hanrapetakans who still remain trapped in Serj's party. I guess they are on the verge of committing suicide after all this.

proudly anonymous said...

I don't know if this thing's got legs, but as I (kind of) said in the 3rd comment (sorry I didn't sign it ;)), it's largely irrelevant whether or not they choose to formalize it this way, because Armenia is de facto a part of Russia. Its foreign policy is completely dictated by Russia already, and pretty much everything INSIDE Armenia is owned by them. So this "union" would merely be a recognition of status.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Interestingly, talking of Russian economic might, railroads have come up in another post on concerns about even more geopolitical railroads in Eurasia. Again, at the crux of the matter is Russian and NATO interests in control and expansion. Iran and Azerbaijan enter into the mix too.

There's something more on the Russian takeover of Armenia's railroads here as well.

Still, until I hear Putin, Medvedev, Sargsyan or Kocharian talk about such a possibility I won't be too concerned. It pays to keep an eye out, however, but such talk has been circulating since 1999-2000 anyway. Of course, the new geopolitical games afoot in the Caucasus might make it different this time round?

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

I don't think the private interests based in Russia that own much of Armenia are really Russian, at least not all of them, and maybe even not most of them: They're front-companies ultimately owned by Kocharian, his cronies, and the wanna-be oligarchs.

The so-called "economic boom" that has taken place in Armenia is really mostly a sham. It's aid money (almost 300 million dollars) siphoned off to these front companies that pose as "Russian" investment. Give a country 300 million dollars and, surprise, it looks richer.

Also, if we remove the bias western papers usually publish as reality, Putin, despite his authoritarianism, was a boon for Russia and its people. He managed to recover a good portion of the vital assets that that drunk boor, Yeltsin, sold to the oligarchs (I think they call them "The family") at bargain basement prices. And he did it with their initial help, by pretending to be their useful idiot before the election, then turning around and kicking them right out of the country afterwards. That's pretty impressive if you ask me.

The sad, simple fact of the matter is that Armenia is not in a position to be truly independent. Even China, with an economy that dwarfs Armenia's, has to deal with American and Russian meddling in its affairs. How is Armenia going to be independent?

Meanwhile, the US economy is collapsing. Bear Stearns was bought for about 250 million. This is the fifth largest US investment firm we're talking about here. If the US economy was healthy, and even if it had the flu, J.P. Morgan couldn't have bought it for even twenty BILLION.

So which country should Armenia turn to? One that elects a president that can't speak his own language, is fighting two guerrilla wars it can't win, can't even take care of its own cities after a natural disaster, and is about to start a third war with Armenia's neighbor and moderate source of support, Iran. Or should it turn to Russia, a country that has kicked out the worst of its corrupt oligarchs and whose economy is robust and getting stronger?

I think Armenia should do what it did with Rome and the Persian Empire: play one against the other and manage to eek out some true independence that way. US connected "help," after all, is a dubious thing. It is a big part of the reason Kocharian went corrupt. Had the World Bank fulfilled its responsibility and investigated the corruption Bruce Tasker has uncovered, Armenia would be a lot more stronger now, instead of teetering on the edge of complete totalitarianism. Yet even in the face of evidence, it refuses to investigate. Why? Do they want totalitarianism in Armenia?

So everything Russian isn't bad, and everything American isn't good. We're fully into the new, post-cold war, world and need to stand back and re-evaluate the situation.

Anonymous said...

and then they try to say that the opposition belongs to foreigners?? They are owned by Russia as proudly anonymous rightly points out. the only problem is that in their slave, colonial mentality they( i mean the serzhakans) don't see Russia as foreign. i dont know about njdeh but Rafael Ishkhanyan is for sure turning in his grave

artmika said...

Onnik, your second link is not working, could you check?

Onnik Krikorian said...

It's a problem in the URL -- not sure what happened there. Not to worry, these things happen. Anyway, the link should have been this one.

The sad, simple fact of the matter is that Armenia is not in a position to be truly independent.

I'm afraid I have to agree with this. There was no way that a small landlocked country such as Armenia was ever going to be "independent" in the way many thought it might. On the other hand, there are levels of independence, I suppose, or rather, levels of foreign involvement, interference, and control.

I also think that until there are other options, I don't really now what the solution is. I mean, no, I don't like Russian control over the telecommunications sector now (or any other sphere in fact), but I also didn't like Greek control.

I'd prefer a balance -- maybe Greeks owning one telephone company, the Russians another. However, that presupposes investors are lining up to pump their money into Armenia and I'm not convinced that is the case except in a few select areas such as IT and diamonds.

The reasons? Closed borders, coupled with a small internal market and the need to export, high level of corruption etc. We all know the reasons, in fact.

What we don't seem to be too clear on are the alternatives.

Anonymous said...

I agree that ideally Armenia should be able to play the greater powers against one another,
however for that you at least need a president who has unquestioned legitimacy in his own country.
And we haven't had such a president since 1996. A president who has never been elected by his own people is dependent on outside forces (Russians most of all, but to an extent also Americans, Europeans, etc.) and is easily pressured into concessions.
So, the reality is Armenia doesn't really have a choice - it wouldn't be able to turn to anyone expcept Russians, even if it wanted to.

Anonymous said...

Besides, you are being over-critical with regard to the USA, and not critical enough with regard ro Russia. I guess this is a result of the fact that US is a functioning democracy, where media and public opinion can be open and critical about president's mistakes and failures, while Russia is a quasi-Soviet dictatorship, which spends millions on propaganda, and suppresses critical voices.
Whatever the image of "Putin's Russia" is, it's a fact that Russia is loosing its strategic positions in the very region which used to be its backyard.
American missiles in Poland, Georgia and Ukraine being wellcomed to NATO - all this means that the Russian positions in the region have weakened dramatically during the last 10 years.

reflective said...

Thankfully, the days of privatization-for-pennies (as indicated above as relates to Yeltsin in Russia) is over now in Armenia (thanks again, to Ter Petrosyan, for giving away everything in the early 90s to families, friends and cronies).

Sadly, the buy-up of Armenian sectors (telecom, energy) continued under Kocharyan.

Part of this phenomenon may be considered positive (the airport from all accounts is being run better than ever). But most is worrisome for the reasons of dependence articulated by others.

I second Onnik's call: what now? Part of the answer may be in encouraging investors (or teams) to get in and invest. Diversification comes when there are diverse interested parties. Some of this comes from objective business environmental indicators; some of this comes from positive PR.

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

Hey, listen, anonymous, I'm no Russophile. Were I walking around on the streets of Moscow today, I would be a "black-ass" Caucasian nigger, at least in the eyes of gopniks. What I am concerned with is the safety and security of the people of Armenia.

I believe Armenia needs to prosper because it has a unique aesthetic. Armenians are a unique people, and in this world of corporate-produced culture where everyone is the same, it is good that there are unique cultures, and Armenia is, undeniably, one of them. And, hey, I happen to be an Armenian. And I like it. In my mind, I'm looking out for what is best for number one, Armenia.

The US is hemorrhaging. Thanks to Bush, the economy of the US is collapsing. Maybe for the class that he represents, what he has done won't be so bad because of its international nature, but for everyone who would prefer their tap-water without raw sewage, for everyone who would like to see the US doing in the world, it's over: the infrastructure and legitimacy of the US have been reduced irredeemably. Most of the world, after Afghanistan, Iraq, and the threats to Iran, hates the US and wants it to die a painful death.

That's too bad, because the US, at one time, really did used to be a force for the good. We're talking way back in the 1830s. Many people are fighting to keep it that way, but given many circumstances, those forces seem to be on the descendant, even if Obama wins. Just consider that the US is contemplating making president a man who equates a war flashback with the US's relationship with West Asia, the Middle East. There's a word for that: "Insane."

In this situation that is much different than ten years ago, what should Armenia do? That's the question. Certainly not what it did during the cold war, or immediately afterwards.

Onnik: Holy shit, we agree. (I always knew that you're reasonable, your libertarian infections notwithstanding.)

What should Armenia do?

Ani said...

Well, Russian investment is one thing, but Union with Russia basically means "goodbye, Armenia." And I think the Game is afoot with Russia--see the wink-wink nudge-nudge over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Also, Serzh must be inspired by the new-found wealth of the pro-Russian Chechen president, who showed up recently in Dubai with some new thoroughbreds and a fleet of Rolls Royces, without even having to go to Monte Carlo and win them.

Plenty of people from the West would be interested in investing in Armenia if they didn't feel like they were dealing with pirates and if they could see their investments actually paying off. And the sad part is that if there was true diversification the present oligarchs probably wouldn't even be poorer. There would be a much bigger economy with wealth for many.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, the argument is that Armenia is too small a market for domestic consumption to play a factor in influencing investors. There are some exceptions, but what Armenia needs to do is to attract industry that will come for a low-cost but skilled workforce.

Armenia would be seen as a low-cost but efficient regional manufacturing base.

However, with the exception of IT, telecommunications, diamonds etc, the borders need to be open for export. In a sense its why much of the Russian investment happens, probably. It's more for geopolitical rather than economic interests.

It would be hard to understand why anyone would want to invest in the Armenian railways, for example. It goes pretty much nowhere with closed borders on two sides (three if you count Nakhichevan). Basically, until the borders are open there's not much possibility for foreign investment except in one or two areas.

Yes, corruption plays a role, but if there's enough money to be made, international business turns a blind eye. Besides, whether its Europeans, Americans or Russians privatizing everything, the accusation of selling state assets is always going to be there.

Back to the Russian-Armenian Union, like I said, until I hear Putin, Medvedev, Sargsyan or Kocharian talk about such a possibility, I'm not going to be so worried. On the other hand, I don't suppose it's too far fetched by any stretch of the imagination either.

On the other hand, Armenia is still largely pro-Russian culturally and politically, and there's not been much sign of that changing of late even with these elections. Ter-Petrossian, for example, was careful not to alienate himself from either Russia or the West.

This is the unfortunate reality of Armenia. Small in size, landlocked and lacking in notable resources in a less than stable region, it is reliant on outside powers. It always has been and it always will be. The secret, perhaps, is to maintain the balance with the best interests of the nation in mind.

spm said...

Ok people, I dont have patience to read all comments, but... I was screaming about Armenia loosing its independence (voluntarily) on different blogs, Onnik's for example under GT.

No country is "independent", except for Mongolia probably. But guys, these are different types of independence. Come on. When japanese companies buy half of the californian economy, USA or California does not loose its independence. When a private Russian citizen invests in Armenia economy, Armenia does not loose independence. But when Gazprom or a few selected other energy monopolies governed from KGB buy armenian-iranian pipeline Armenia DOES LOOSE its independence. And when Armenian president gives those vital parts of economy to russians to save his ass Armenia DOES LOOSE its independence. And now take out your books with sins of LTP and show me that before 1996 it was the same. Remind me again about Telman and Grzo and try to convince me that its Levon who started selling country's assets and independence.

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

Onnik: "This is the unfortunate reality of Armenia. Small in size, landlocked and lacking in notable resources in a less than stable region, it is reliant on outside powers. It always has been and it always will be. The secret, perhaps, is to maintain the balance with the best interests of the nation in mind."

Very true. And with that in mind, let's consider a few new developments in the world that could very well prove to be Armenia's becoming much more powerful than ever imagined.

Today, a huge number of US-based companies are using Indian telemarketers, IT geeks, and telephone representatives to deal with their customers. Armenians could very easily do that.

That's low-rung employment, by my standards, anyway, for your average Armenian. Because Armenians, in Armenia, have managed to excel in certain specific areas in world commerce, just as they--beyond all comprehension--continue to be formidable opponents in chess, something every rational person has to marvel at.

Cryptography. There are some people in Armenia who excel at this. They probably have their own thing going and don't want to go mainstream, so I'll leave the details alone. But it is true that there are people in Armenia, who are the best in the world at what they do in electronic information. And it fits in with chess, if you think about it.

So the point is that the internet does not recognize closed geographical borders. Armenia could take the road of training superior, computer literate people.

We all know that that could be done. We need Armenian universities to start expanding their computer departments and incorporating classes that teach people to do what international corporations need as far as the internet and telephone communications are concerned.

Then, of course, beyond that, we need to develop our strengths in areas like cryptography to get the big ticket contracts, of the kind that turn Armenia into, say, Switzerland. You see where I'm going with this.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Today, a huge number of US-based companies are using Indian telemarketers, IT geeks, and telephone representatives to deal with their customers. Armenians could very easily do that.

Sure, and as I said, these types of industries can exist even with the blockade. However, they are just one of three main areas of potential long term growth -- IT and diamonds (construction could be included as well, but it is not long-term and in it's present form, in my opinion, corruption-driven).

However, we can't have the whole country working in the IT sector, I think. Or indeed, with diamonds. We need manufacturing as well, and even tourism would benefit from open borders. However, there's significant room for improvement in the IT sector, for sure but ArmenTel continues to hold it back.

However, start introducing some tax incentives, start up some IT incubators in the regions (why always Yerevan? Sure, Internet access, but that could change as the main line comes down from Georgia), reduce costs, improve IT education.

Even so, while it's a success story now, but with much more room to develop, more is needed than this. Anyway, I guess we're going a little off-topic so sorry for that, but just to say, I have nothing against the Russians investing in telecommunications as long as they bring the level and prices to at least the same as can be found in Georgia.

However, I see no sign of that yet. Even with the IT sector offering so much, we're still lagging behind in services and costs which make development of this sphere more difficult. Anyway.

tzitzernak said...

I agree with the general issues brought up (if that can be said) - ie, there is always a potential loss of independence when companies are foreign owned, that any country (especially small) trying to build itself in this day and age has alot of international politics to play. However, while i agree that selling off more and more makes one doubt the true "independence" of Armenia, what I'm pretty darn sure of is that a union with Russia is a qualitatively different and more fundamental loss of independence than those mentioned above. Which leads me to my first reaction - where is the ARF-D's reaction to this (now that they are pro-SS)?

Ani said...

Well, one of the reasons I brought this up to artmika is that the Diaspora needs to see that by focusing all its attention on 90 years ago, they are ignoring the very real threat that Armenia might disappear completely, so the topic should be disseminated loudly and widely. However mild this trial balloon from Moscow may seem, are there really any loose cannons in the Russian administration?

As far as developing IT jobs go, how badly was that set back by Kocharian's "emergency" censorship and the problems with the .am suffix? Internet jobs go to countries that allow free passage of information (not to mention widely available high-speed connections). Since Kocharian and Sargsyan are emphasising "control" and "security" over freedom and innovation, it's hard to see how Internet jobs will start blossoming anytime soon.

Onnik--off topic--thank you for making your book available online. Perhaps now you will be able to find a more willing audience to hear what you have been saying for years.

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

Onnik said: "we can't have the whole country working in the IT sector, I think. Or indeed, with diamonds. We need manufacturing as well, and even tourism would benefit from open borders."

The Swiss had and still do have a monopoly on good time-peaces, no? Why not the same with IT for Armenia?

The thing about diamonds is blood diamonds. If a country markets a resource, a valuable resource, it is going to attract attention that the people of that country very well do not want.

Armenians don't need DeBeers mercenaries running around, killing people. The mafia/feudal problem is already severe. Plus, diamonds are not a renewable resource, and, actually, the scarcity of diamonds in the world has been manufactured: diamonds are as plentiful as celery, but the monopoly is keeping that secret shut.

IT brains are a renewable resource. We need to invest in education in Armenia. We need to train people in English, or whatever language is going to become dominant in the future. And that might well be Chinese. But if we need to do that to survive, then we need to do that--to survive (with regard to this specific point: we were never invaded by the Chinese, we were invaded by the people the Chinese kicked out of their country).

Armenians are smart. Armenians have brains. Cryptography, as well as chess, prove that. One makes money on one's strengths. If rich Armenians are thinking about making donations, then those donations should go to Armenian universities, and specifically to those universities' computer departments.

Anonymous said...

This idea of a union is not very new; it was floated in 2003 as well. The problem is that a lot of Armenians in Armenia are not so adverse to such a union. They think it will be like the 'good old' days of the USSR.

nazarian said...

Onnik, Ani, SPM and Armen. What you are saying is way too sensible. The Armenian government doesn't work that way.

Sense and sensibility seem to be missing from the way the high ranking officials think.

Tax incentives...? They don't need no stinking tax incentives. Tax incentives are for wusses. Big words and shiny billboards are the way to do it.

proudly anonymous said...

Armen, you really thing investing in education is a good idea? I would much rather pour in all the diaspora resources and valuable time into recognizing an event that we claim is a historical truth and therefore needs no recognition anyway. I don't know about you, but that seems more sensible to me.