Advocates for the survivors of an Armenian family killed by a Russian soldier say that the soldier's murder trial is being unduly influenced in favor of Russia.
The soldier, Valeriy Permyakov, has already admitted that he killed seven members of the Avetisyan family after deserting the 102nd Russian military base in Armenia's second city of Gyumri. He has been convicted of desertion by a Russian military court, and is now on trial for murder.
Russia originally announced that it planned to try Permyakov for murder, as well, but street protests in Gyumri and Yerevan against that decision forced Moscow to back down and agree to let Armenian courts try him.
But the way the trial is being conducted has again raised accusations that Russia is trying to influence it. The trial is being overseen by an Armenian judge, but is being conducted on the premises of the Russian military court at the base in Gyumri.
The trial began in December, and then lawyers for the defense complained that the presence of Russian servicemembers in the courtroom "shows that it is overseen by the Russian side," Armenian media reported. The judge at the time disagreed, saying they were needed to protect Permyakov, but when the trial resumed on Monday the Russian servicemembers had been replaced by Armenian guards.
However, the fact that the case is still being tried on the Russian base remains the source of controversy; one defense lawyer said that arrangement "strengthens our doubts that a fair investigation can be carried out in these conditions, since Permyakov can't speak freely in these circumstances."
Another told the judge that he was "obviously constrained... which will not allow an objective decision."
The case has become a flashpoint for Russian-Armenian relations, as Russia's attempts to dictate the terms of the prosecution has exemplified what some Armenians see as overbearing pressure, not the actions of an ally. Many in Armenia believe that crucial facts of the case are being covered up, a suspicion that the current trial seems unlikely to quell.