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Leonid Bershidsky

Kremlin Fears a Revolution in Armenia

Protests against a corrupt Russian-owned energy monopoly won't die down in Yerevan.
No to overpriced electricity.

No to overpriced electricity.

Photographer: Karen Minasyan/AFP/Getty Images

The events of the past five days in Armenia can be followed on Twitter under the hashtag #ElectricYerevan, but they aren't on the front pages of global newspapers. The world doesn't get excited about protests over an increase in electricity prices in a country of 3 million, tucked into a beautiful but resource-poor corner of South Caucasus. The demonstrations in Armenia are watched closely in Moscow and Kiev, however, because they reflect unusually intense dissatisfaction with Russian power in a post-Soviet nation that had seemed to be securely in the Kremlin's grip.

It all started last month when the country's energy monopoly, Electric Networks of Armenia, asked the government to raise electricity tariffs by 40.8 percent. The utility complained that Armenian hydroelectric plants were producing less energy, and that repairs at the country's sole nuclear power plant were taking longer than planned, causing the company to go into debt to the tune of $250 million -- a huge sum in a country with a gross domestic product of just $10 billion -- and fall out of favor with Armenian banks.