Putin Trip Goes Awry With Angry Protests and Awkward Photo Ops

The European Parliament voted a non-binding resolution to designate Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism” on Wednesday, just as Vladimir Putin arrived in Yerevan, Armenia, for a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia’s collective military alliance.

“The deliberate attacks and atrocities carried out by the Russian Federation against the civilian population of Ukraine, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and other serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law amount to acts of terror against the Ukrainian population and constitute war crimes,” the members of parliament said.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova retorted Wednesday that the European Parliament should be designated a “sponsor of idiocy.”

Resistance to Putin is also bubbling up in other regions, even in countries that Russia considers allies. On Wednesday, the Russian president was greeted by hundreds of demonstrators in Armenia, carrying lit torches, signs that said “no to the war,” and Armenian, Ukrainian, and U.S. flags. The protestors gathered in Russia Square and Nzhdeh Square and called for Armenia to distance itself from Russia, according to The Moscow Times.

Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinynan, too, appeared to try to distance himself from Putin during a photo opportunity on the sidelines of the meeting. The behavior appeared to be a far cry from Putin’s last visit to Armenia in 2019, when Pashinyan took a selfie with Putin.

Pashinyan, has, of course, other reasons to distance himself from Putin. The Armenian Prime Minister has voiced displeasure in the past with the way the CSTO, led by Russia, has handled a surge in fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia this fall.

Pashinyan aired his frustration again Wednesday at the CSTO meeting as well, according to Reuters.

“It is depressing that Armenia’s membership in the CSTO did not deter Azerbaijan from aggressive actions,” Pashinyan said.

Putin only acknowledged CSTO had “problems” but did not specify what they were.

The growing resistance to Russia comes just as Russia unleashed strikes on Ukraine Wednesday, hitting a maternity hospital and killing a newborn baby as well as three in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian authorities. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of committing “terror and murder” following the attack.

Zelensky has asked Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Nations to request a UN National Security Council meeting after Russia’s strikes Wednesday, which hit a maternity hospital.

“Murder of civilians, ruining of civilian infrastructure are acts of terror,” Zelensky said Wednesday.

The European Parliament’s website was down following the terror sponsor announcement in what appeared to be a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, in which hackers flood a site with traffic so it can no longer function. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said it was a “cyberattack” for which “pro-Kremlin” hackers claimed responsibility. A spokesperson said it was a DDoS attack.

“My response: Slava Ukraini,” Metsola said on Twitter, repeating a phrase that means “Glory to Ukraine.”

The interruption had echoes of Latvia’s experience when it designated Russia a state sponsor of terror in August, after which Latvia’s parliament website was down in another apparent DDoS attack.

While the designation from Europe is largely symbolic, it represents a growing swell of opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine. In addition to European Parliament and Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and the Czech Republic have also previously passed similar resolutions.

Many members of Congress have been urging the Biden administration to designate Russia as well, but the United States has so far steered clear of designating Russia a state sponsor of terror, which would put Russia on a short list of countries including North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Syria.

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