A Russian military court has sentenced a soldier accused of killing an Armenian family of seven to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
The 5th Garrison military court in Armenia announced the sentence on August 12 after the soldier, 19-year-old Private Valery Permyakov, pleaded guilty to charges of desertion with weapons, stealing firearms and ammunition, and illegally carrying weapons.
Permyakov is to be handed to Armenian officials for trial on charges of killing the members of the Avetisian family in Gyumri, the city in northwestern Armenia where Russia's 102nd Military Base is located, in January. The Russian trial did not address the killings themselves.
Permyakov sat impassively as the judge read the sentence. As the courtroom cleared out, he put on his camouflage cap and turned his face to the wall.
According to the RIA Novosti news agency, Permyakov told the military court he was tired of serving in the army and broke into the Armenian family's home with the intention of robbing them to finance a trip back to Russia.
The victims included a couple, their daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and a 2-year-old granddaughter, who were found dead in their home on January 12, and a 6-month-old grandson who died of his wounds a week later.
The date for his trial in an Armenian court has not been set.
About 20 members of the public and press attended the August 12 hearing in the small courtroom, including relatives of the victims, many of whom wept during the proceedings.
Rita Petrosian, the sister of the slain father, said relatives for the past two days had been "preparing psychologically to see this murderer for the first time."
Permyakov's first court appearance comes after months of controversy over whether Russia or Armenia would have jurisdiction over the gruesome murder case.
A day after the killings, Armenia's Prosecutor-General's Office indicated Permyakov would not be handed over to Yerevan, noting that the Russian Constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian citizens to foreign states.
That prompted thousands of Gyumri residents to take to the streets in mid-January to demand the handover of Permyakov, who continues to be held at his base since he was detained by a Russian border guard unit at the Armenian-Turkish border hours after the killings.
A statement on January 20 by Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin, who said the investigation and criminal proceedings against the suspect would he held "exclusively on Armenian soil" but in accordance with Russian legislation, did little to ease tensions. His remarks were widely seen as confirming that Permyakov would be tried only by a Russian military court at the Gyumri base.
There were few signs that a compromise would be reached until demands for Permyakov's handover became part of large-scale street protests in Yerevan in June against electricity price hikes by Electric Networks of Armenia, a local subsidiary of Russia's Inter RAO that operates Armenia's power grid.
Amid those protests, Moscow unexpectedly agreed to transfer the murder case to Armenian investigators in what many observers interpreted as an effort to improve Russia's image in the small South Caucasus country -- its only ally in the strategic region between Russia, Turkey, Iran, and the Caspian Sea.
Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and joined the Eurasian Economic Union, another grouping of former Soviet republics that Russian President Vladimir Putin sees as a counterweight to the West, 10 days before the massacre in Gyumri.
Russian Soldiers Abroad
As Permyakov, who police said confessed to the killings, begins the first of his trials, many ordinary Armenians remain unhappy he will not appear first before an Armenian court.
"I still think that the principal case is the one concerning the murders, while [the soldier's] desertion, his taking arms out of the military unit, and other such charges are just related circumstances and cannot be primary for court hearings," says Levon Barseghian, the chairman of the Gyumri-based Asparez Journalists Club, who participated in the January protests.
The trial of Permyakov, a conscript from Siberia who had served at the base less than two months before the killings, comes amid continuing public concern in several countries over the presence of Russian bases and the possibility of soldiers stationed there committing crimes.
Two Russian soldiers are currently on trial at the Russian military base in Tajikistan on charges of severely beating and then slashing the throat of a taxi driver near Dushanbe in August 2014.
Russia has military bases in Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
Permyakov served in a garrison of around 3,000 soldiers at the 102nd Military Base, located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of Yerevan.