Armenia Between Two Euros: Euro-pa or Eur-Asia

Hovhannes Nikoghossyan

PhD in Political Science
Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University

Yerevan

The former and most probably future President of Russia Mr. Putin starts the second round with a new project aimed at consolidation of the post-Soviet space. He has published an article,[1] outlining the road map for implementation of this strategy, and as the first step he presented creation of the Common economic space, embracing Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which will start operating since January 1, 2012. Armenia, as a strategic ally of the Russian Federation, has got a reason to think about its participation in the new processes in the post-Soviet space, although the National security strategy of 2007 exactly indicates the Euro-integration as a model of development.

Historians will certainly draw endless parallels between the previous attempts of integration under the Russian leadership – the Tsarist and Soviet models and their (in) effectiveness, but the new developments require new discussions both from the political and economic viewpoints.

The current Russian Prime Minister, Presidents of Kazakhstan[2] and Belarus[3] have already published appropriate articles in Izvestia newspaper.  Mr. Nazarbayev presents himself as the only author of the new idea, although it is clear that the starting point for the countries will be their desire (or absence) for the rapprochement with Russia.

The Eurasian Union, actually, proposes to substitute the CIS as an idea of a “civilized divorce” for a structure of “cooperation of the equals.”

As soon as any new initiative appears regarding the post-Soviet space, everybody start reasonably looking at the Moscow Kremlin. The only non-Moscow project GUAM has become nothing but a toothless anti-Russian organization.

Mr. Putin promises “integration on the new value, political and economic basis” to the CIS countries, and now in order to achieve the result the Russian Government should display activity on the public level, the lack of which was the main shortcoming of all attempts of the cooperation by the “Russian” model.

It is absolutely clear that the axis of the new integration model will be two main Eurasian states: the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan. The complex involvement of Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan seems quite realistic, meanwhile Turkmenistan most probably will not give up its declared neutrality, continuing the search for the new export roots for its oil and gas to China and Europe. Actually, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have already been united in the Customs Union and all internal customs have been removed since July of this year.

The political architects of the Eurasianhood insist that the new model will be first of all based on the economic component. For example, according to Mr. Nazarbayev, the export from Kazakhstan to Russia has been increased by 60% and to Belarus has grown 2.3 times in 2011.[4] The Russian Customs Service informs that in January-August 2011 the trade turnover between the Russian Federation and the CIS countries was $79 billion; $50 billion of which was the Russian export.[5] However, the following figures are much more remarkable, taking into account that they speak about just the “union of the equals.” If the union is created in the current macro-economic conditions, the GDP will outnumber it by 13-15% at the most. The well-known Russian political scientist V. Inozemtsev goes farther, pointing out that the Eurasian union, pretending to play the role of a global pole, with its $2.7 trillion, will remain  jammed between the EU (GDP: $15,6 trillion) and China (GDP: $11,2 trillion).[6]

Anyway, Armenia, being in the political and economic blockade, in October 2011 signed an Agreement on establishing a free trade zone on the CIS territory with seven countries (it is subject to ratification by the National Assembly),[7] and the idea of creation of the Eurasian Union was considered by Yerevan as a “positive step” without any political assessment of its features.

The lack of any special delight in Armenia is natural. Among the post-Soviet countries, only Ukraine and Russia pose interest for Armenia in terms of trade-economic relations and investments. Ukraine actually has already rejected all post-Soviet economic integration models, as for the main trade partner – Russia (as an individual country), the integration with it should not necessarily be on the level of the Eurasian supra-state institute. Moreover, it can break the current balance and become a political obstacle in the talks with the EU.

As in both directions, Europe and Eurasia, the problems of Armenia are not only related with trade and economy; they are also geopolitical. Being a land-locked country and in the blockade, Armenia is actually doomed to follow the development trajectory of Georgia to achieve the external markets by the available path (the Iranian way is a topic for another discussion). As early as since 1996, Armenia de-jure has been a state, neighboring to the EU Customs Union, i.e. by the Turkish border:  an unsuccessful attempt was made by Armenia to get some profits from it with the help of the Zurich protocols.

Along with the conversations about the Eurasia, Armenia is successfully moving forward in the talks on conclusion of the Association agreements with EU. The economic activity of the pre-crisis year of 2008 proved that even in the conditions of the lack of the land connection the relations between Armenia and EU are developing, although there is a challenge to the possibility of enlargement and creation of additional opportunities (the August war and the limitations of the Georgian transit). Armenia was included into the System of improved regime within the Generalized system of preferences (GSP+) in December 2008, which supposes exporting goods to the European markets by zero or cut customs tariffs. Certainly, the Armenian business circles do not fully understand the essence of this opportunity, which sometimes causes some amusing situations, but the EU Information Center to be opened in Armenia in 2012, will help businessmen to comprehend the provided possibilities.

It is also important to understand the difference between the post-Soviet and European integration. Let us single out three spheres.

First. In the Big Europe the idea of seucirity, cooperation and joint sustainable development has been able to unite such countries as Poland and Germany, Britain and Ireland. In the post-Soviet space there has not yet emerged any idea that could unite Armenia and Kazakhstan, except warm feelings that have remained since the Soviet times. Even more, all Central Asian republics, being members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and at the same time the CIS and CSTO (with the exception of Turkmenistan), very actively take part in approving anti-Armenian resolutions: there is no cooperation with the CIS countries, also members of the Council of Europe and/or OSCE (we mean, first of all, the parliamentary dimension) either.

Second:  the experience of the last 20 years shows that integration processes in the post-Soviet space displayed their concentration mostly on the governments, not societies. For example, in the sphere of education, Armenian students are mostly offered to study at second-rate and provincial universities, meanwhile the European project Erasmus Mundus offers more attractive conditions. And vice versa, the Armenian-Russian (Slavic) university gets less and less financing from the federal budget, although it has become one of the leading universities in Armenia.

Third. For Armenia, that has declared the peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict a priority of its foreign policy, the European and “Eurasian” approaches to unrecognized states are also important. Europe actively works on the people’s diplomacy level, meanwhile the CIS states, including Russia, prefer the way of “strategic disregard.”  For example, there is a project named European Partnership for the peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno Karabakh that has been implemented with the financial support of the European Commission since 2010; it is a good springboard for building relations between the NGOs, partners of the European Union, and the unrecognized republics. The question ‘How many projects have been implemented by the CIS countries in the NKR so far?’ has only one answer:  “Zero.”

As a whole, the process of the European integration is considered by the Armenian authorities in a brighter light, than any cooperation in the post-Soviet space. The CIS is fairly associated in Armenia with the allied relations with Russia through the military cooperation and loans given some time ago. So the cooperation with the European structures is, in essence, a long-term cooperation, meanwhile with Russia it is connected with the state security threats.

 

For example, it is difficult for many in Yerevan to justify the allied relations with the Russian Federation, pointing out as counter-arguments that Russia sells big batches of arms to Azerbaijan, that a Russian governmental newspaper (!) has a supplement “Azerbaijan,” and that the Russian Federation was extremely active during the elections of the UN Security Council, as a result of which Azerbaijan has been elected a non-permanent member of this body.  Since 1997, when signing of the big treaty on the Russian-Armenian friendship, the Russian Federation has not proposed Armenia any special model, instrument or idea for a closer cooperation and/or economic integration, meanwhile Verkhny Lars checkpoint has been a punishing tool regarding Georgia for a long time, although becoming a more serious punishment for Armenia, than for a sea-country Georgia.

Let us recollect how some surrealists were roaming around in Yerevan streets in 1990s, collecting the signatures for participation of Armenia in the union with Russia and Belarus. Now the experts of the EU Consultative group are working in the higher echelons of the state system.

On the political level, Armenia is successfully moving forward in the talks aimed at signing the Association agreement with the EU. The High Level EU Advisory Group, which was created in March 2007, facilitates rapprochement between Armenia and Europe, having as priority supporting and consulting the implementation of the political and economic reforms, envisaged by the Action Plan of the European Neighborhood Policy. Symptomatically, the group was sent here by the request of the Armenian authorities, which shows the political intention of the government to carry out irreversible reforms. Even in the lack of perspectives for membership, from the viewpoint of the state governance the internal legislative reforms are the most important trend, as far as such reforms are driving the legislative base of Armenia, a transit state, to the level of European standards. And as in general, while the CIS countries and Russia, in particular, are considered as just geographically close markets in the half -blockade conditions,  the agenda of the talks with the European Union covers a wide scope of issues: from the cooperation in reforming the legal system and guaranteeing the civil rights to the economic, branch and financial cooperation.

Naturally, the EU-27 is also not a uniform organism, but it seems true that the “export” of the EU principles and norms (acquis communautaire) toward the neighboring countries provides all the more transparent EU borders for the neighboring states.

Meanwhile the only model for state development and overcoming the transition period that has been “exported” from the post-Soviet space is the introduction of amendments into the Constitution and actually the lifelong rule, i.e. authoritarianism, which is successfully implemented in the Central Asian republics, Azerbaijan, and de-facto in Russia. Such a path leads the resourceless Armenia to the stagnation of the economic and political life and fiasco.

The parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 2012, their quality, without exaggeration will show which of the two Eurosis aspired after by Armenian voters and MPs to be elected.

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