The visit was marked by an impressive number of protesters -- hundreds (!!) -- who marched on the streets and met the "delegation" and the over-cautious security forces with posters and chants. That, in itself, is a big story of course, which was covered real time - on Twitter using the hashtag #PUTinOUT - as well as by more independent sources such as
Yet, what caught my attention and was, perhaps, the most disheartening part of the whole charade, was a line in Putin's speech (and, for whatever reason, the official press release does not contain that bit):
"Что касается Закавказья, то Россия никогда отсюда уходить не собирается. Наоборот — будем укреплять свои позиции."
Which, I'd translate as:
"As for the South Caucasus, Russia has no plans of ever leaving it. On the contrary - we will be strengthening our position."
If you actually watch the video, this comes at about 6:40 and is then followed by...
There. You saw it yourself. Armenia is probably one of the very few (if not the only) former Soviet states that - especially, in light of the recent events - would have welcomed this blunt statement with so much "official enthusiasm".
As I wrote on this blog last year -- this is yet another sign of Russian total hegemony in the country. Plain and simple. And although hegemony might not necessarily come with a negative connotation - depending on where one stands, of course - this does go a long way to demonstrate why some Armenians' "European" hopes were nothing but a pipe dream. Armenia - perhaps somewhat unlike some of the more significant, wealthy, and better-situated FSU states - has been and will comfortably remain in Russia's sphere of influence.
To seal the deal and demonstrate the brotherly dedication, Russia's Gazprom also bought out Armenia's 20% share of ArmRosGazprom, effectively monopolizing Armenia's gas supply routes. That would, supposedly, allow Armenia to get Russia's gas at Russian domestic prices, and the Armenians are supposed to thank the Customs Union for it. Let's see how long this goodwill lasts.
I'll leave you with an old Soviet joke, quoted on this blog before:
The Russian and the Bulgarian are walking down the street and find a 25-ruble bill. The Russian, all excited, says, "Let's share it as brothers would!"
The Bulgarian replies, "No, thanks. I'd rather share it equally."