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Russian deserter detained in Yerevan

11 April 2023
Protesters hold the white-blue-white flag of Russia, which has come to symbolise opposition to the war among Russians. Image via epress.am.

Armenian Police have detained a Russian citizen wanted by the Russian authorities for deserting the army. 

In a statement on Saturday, police said 23-year-old Yuri T was taken into custody on 7 April. 

No details have been made public about the case by either Russian or Armenian authorities.

Evgenia Baltatarova an anti-war activist from the Russian group Point of No Return, told TV Rain that ‘Russians wanted by the homeland are not safe in countries with “easy access” ’. 

Baltatarova said this included former Soviet states, and countries with extradition treaties with Russia. She added that some of those countries faced a ‘dilemma’ as they maintained a neutral position on the war but had agreements obliging them to extradite those wanted in Russia. 

Baltatarova said the man had been released while the case continued. 

Following Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, tens of thousands of Russians have fled to the South Caucasus, with over 60,000 settling in Armenia. 

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The influx of Russians has had a significant impact, especially on the economy, with the Armenian dram gaining value against Dollar and Euro and rent prices doubling.

Russians have also organised protests against the war in Ukraine in Yerevan, resulting in some confrontations with local police. 

‘Extremely safe’ in Armenia

Despite some tensions, Russian activists who settled in Armenia following the war largely say they feel safe in the country. 

Anti-war activist Yuri Alekseev told OC Media he felt ‘extremely safe’ in Armenia despite being detained during several anti-war protests and once being beaten up by a Putin-supporter in the street. 

Alekseev did raise concerns about the latest arrest and that of anti-war activist Nikita Kamensky.

Kamensky was detained upon arrival in Yerevan airport in late February and released several hours after later with no further comment from Armenian law enforcement. He is wanted by the Russian authorities for painting anti-war graffiti in Moscow. 

‘The case of the deserter is not unambiguous for me’, he said. 

‘On the other hand, the case of Kamensky is undoubtedly political, and therefore under international agreements, Armenia has no right to extradite him to Putin's regime.’

But Alekseev said he had ‘little doubt that as long as Armenia maintains its course towards democracy, none of the politically persecuted Russians will be extradited to Russia’.

Alekseev also raised concerns about the presence of Russian special services in Armenia. 

‘Theoretically, criminal activities by these services are possible on the territory of Armenia, and here I can only hope for adequate work by the relevant services of Armenia’, he said, adding that the presence of Russian FSB officers was another issue. 

The Russian special services operate in the airport, and the Armenia-Iran and Armenia-Turkey border is observed by Russian border troops. There are also around 5,000 Russian troops located in Gyumri’s 102nd military base. Some of the base’s troops were deployed to the country’s east and south, following the tensions with Azerbaijan.