When Russia considers you undesirable
On August 30th 2016 I had quite an unusual experience and I think it is high time for me to finally analyse what has happened and draw the appropriate conclusions. On that day the Russian authorities refused me entry into their country. The border guards at Sheremetyevo, Moscow’s international airport, did not allow me to leave the airport stating that I am not permitted to enter Russia until 2030. My flight, however, was a transit one and late that night I was supposed to be on my way home to Yerevan. Since I had 14 hours to spare before my flight, I was planning to visit one of Moscow’s cemeteries, where in October 2014 my father Gevork Grigoryan was buried.
Instead, I was deported back to Armenia. During the time I was detained at Sheremetyevo, my passport was confiscated and I was escorted to the so-called “sterile zone”, which is controlled by the guards. In the notification that I received from the Russian guards, there were different references to the Federal Law of Russia “On the order of exit and entry into the Russian Federation” which were largely dedicated to listing different kinds of criminal activity or any sort of deed breaching the rules committed by foreign citizens.
But none of this has anything to do with me. I have not been doing any sort of activity in Russia in the last 20 years. In my case, only the clause nine of Article 26 of that Law could have applied: “About expulsion of foreign citizens who have participated in activities of international organisations which are undesirable on Russian territory.”
It is no secret that the Analytical Centre on Globalisation and Regional Cooperation(in Yerevan), of which I am the head, actively co-operates with European NGOs, Euro-Atlantic centres and various funds which support our activities. Moreover, we are not hiding the fact that we would like the future of the Armenian nation to be one of the European family of nations, which upholds democratic values and freedoms. That is why I am confident that the decision of the Russian authorities was unequivocally politically motivated.
Naturally, during my arrest and detention, my family contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia with a request to find out where I was and what was the reason for my delay. Taking into consideration that I was a previous deputy of the Armenian parliament (1990-1995) and I had worked at the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (between 1995 and 1998 I was the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Armenia to Russia and in 1996-1999 the plenipotentiary representative of Armenia in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation of the Commonwealth of Independent States), the actions on the part of Russian authorities can hardly be called friendly.
On September 2nd the Armenian ambassador to Russia demanded an explanation as to my detention from the Russian authorities. Furthermore, Shavarsh Kocharyan, the Armenian deputy minister of foreign affairs, asserted that the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is dealing with the issue and will notify when there is information to report. On September 6th the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs still had not received a response about my deportation from Russia. On that day Kocharyan told journalists that any state has a right to refuse entrance to certain people without explanation. “This particular incident is unusual because it was the first time that such measures were taken in the relations between Armenia and Russia. That is why we have been in touch with the Russian foreign ministry and we are awaiting a response”, Kocharyan said.
Also on September 6th there was a reaction by the Russian embassy in Armenia. An advisor named Oleg Shapovalov commented on the “Sheremetyevo issue”, during his interview with journalists saying that Russian authorities do not have a “blacklist” of Armenian citizens. He did not mention any possible reason why I was not granted access to enter the country only adding that he did not know: “In this particular case it just so happens that Mr Grigoryan was not allowed to enter the Russian territory. Technically, we are not obliged to provide any explanation, however, upon request from the Armenian foreign ministry, we asked our counterpart for a comment on the situation and we are working on the issue. We will inform the Armenian ministry about the results.”
At that time there was still hope to receive an official response as requested from the Armenian side. But to this day I, personally, am still awaiting a response from the Russian authorities; one which reassures me that this action was politically motivated. The sole fact that I am denied the right to enter Russia until 2030, says a lot already.
Many Armenian politicians and experts have proposed their own possible explanations regarding my incident. The most popular presumption is that Moscow is trying to put pressure on representatives of the Armenian civil society. Generally speaking, the civil society in Armenia is quite liberal and could pose a threat for the Kremlin who wishes to turn the country into a Russian province. The majority of those working in the civil society are convinced that Russia has a blacklist of citizens who are proponents of democratic developments in Armenia or who are critical of the Russian government.
I would also like to turn the reader’s attention to the comment by one of the Russian experts concerning my incident, who remarked that any country can close the border for any undesirable individual, even if it is politically motivated. To which I would like to now respond: It is understandable when Russia and Ukraine adopt individual sanctions against each other since they are currently, to put it lightly, not on friendly terms. But the relationship between Russia and Armenia is strategic and I consider it to be unacceptable if Russia really does have a blacklist of undesirable Armenians. Furthermore, there is a visa-free regime between Armenia and Russia; Armenian citizens have the right to move freely in Russia. If there is a ban for certain individuals, then Russia has to send a notification on every particular case beforehand.
The story about my deportation from Moscow to Yerevan received a lot of attention in Armenia and abroad. Many Armenians have conveyed their solidarity to me. A large number of politicians, experts, public activists and journalists have expressed their criticism towards the policies of the Russian authorities and have voiced their own opinions why the government acted in such a way. Many deputies of the Armenian parliament and high-ranking officials have openly spoke out and asserted their support in my case, not to mention numerous announcements made in my defence by various Armenian and international organisations. I would also like to point out that on September 16th the Armenian National Platform for the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which consisted of more than 200 active NGOs in our country, posted a message about the incident with the observation: “Recently such cases have become more frequent, where Armenian people have become a target of the Russian governmental and non-governmental institutions. Not long ago a Russian website posted a list of people – representatives of the Armenian civil society – with their private information and photos who, presumably, belong to an Armenian network of American spies. The platform condemns the actions of the Russian government towards Stepan Grigoryan…”
The authors of this statement also emphasise that if such actions in regards to Armenian civil society should continue then they would have to contact their partner-organisations in the EU and the Eastern Partnership and ask them to refrain from visiting Russia and make the territory solely a transit zone.
In the end, it is clear to me that this incident was an attempt by the Russian authorities to put pressure on the independent sector of Armenian civil society.
Translated by Viktoria Chaban
Stepan Grigoryan, citizen of Armenia, is the head of the Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation based in Yerevan.