Armenia: to Europe or to Eurasia?

Armen GRIGORYAN

“Democracy for Development” NGO

Yerevan

 The year of 1996, when the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed (in effect since July 1999) can be considered as a period of the maximal intensification of relations between Armenia and EU. The mentioned agreement became the document, on the basis of which the Armenian-EU relations started to develop in the trade, investments, culture and other fields.

Afterwards, wishing to enlarge the cooperation with Armenia, the EU decided to include it into the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which is sometimes considered as a preparation tool for the subsequent membership of a country in the EU. However, in fact the ENP is different from the procedure required to accession to the European Union. Its main goal is to offer some privileged relations to the neighbors, based on the common values.[1]

The ENP confirmed that the EU and Armenia have a common interest in intensification of the cooperation, but in the long-term perspective the ENP does not create bases for Armenia’s accession to EU. On April 24, 2006, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan in his interview to Golos Armenii newspaper said that Armenia intensified the relations with the EU, but “without the aim of membership in it. The European ambitions of Armenia are well-balanced and realistic; they are taken by the European structures positively, not posing any problems with Armenia. We defend our position in Moscow, in Brussels and in Washington.” He also added that Armenia’s membership in the CSTO and the                   military-technological cooperation with Russia on the highest possible level solve the security problems of Armenia.[2]

On May 26, 2008, the Polish and Swedish Foreign Ministers Radoslaw Sikorski and Karl Bildt officially presented the eastern Partnership initiative in Brussels, aimed at strengthening cooperation of the European Union with six post-Soviet republics: Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. The new initiative envisages acceleration of the talks on easing the visa regime, regulation of the free trade in the commercial activities, services and agriculture, as well as cooperation in the environment protection and social spheres. The Eastern Partnership is specific for its proposal to the European Commission to cooperate not only with the government of Armenia, but also with its civil society.[3]

On September 19, 2011, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan presented to the Commissioner for the EU enlargement and the European Neighborhood Policy Štefan Füle a new agenda for reforms in Armenia, consisted of 33 points.  During the press-conference after the meeting Štefan Füle said: “The summit of the Eastern Partnership to be held in Warsaw will be a key moment, where a new impetus will be given to the Eastern partnership project to let the countries engaged be closer to Europe.”[4]

It is in Warsaw, at the summit of the Eastern Partnership that the Armenian President Serj Sargsyan stressed the importance of a differentiated approach, as far as each country requires such an assessment that would be adequate to its merits and progress. He added: “We are planning with the support of the European partners to start synchronic and large-scale reforms immediately in several directions. We are strongly determined to carry out reforms resolutely and consistently in such spheres as economy, effective governance, democracy, human rights, rule of law and public life meeting with the European standards.”[5]

However, at the same time with the partnership of Armenia and EU, there have occurred some events that may seriously challenge the further cooperation between Armenia and the European Union. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in his article, published in Izvestia newspaper (October 4, 2011), proposed to create a Eurasian Union on the territory of the former USSR that is supposed to compete with the EU and USA.[6]

The concept of the Eurasian Union was put forward by the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in his speech in the Moscow State University as early as in 1994. Apparently, this was the reason why he was the first who welcomed the idea. Nazarbayev pointed out that Kazakhstan has always supported the idea of the economic integration with Russia, as well as with the other post-Soviet countries.

In his article Vladimir Putin refutes the assumptions that the creation of the Eurasian Union has a long-term aim of reviving the USSR. He says: “It would be naïve to try to revive or emulate something that has been consigned to history. But these times call for close integration based on new values and a new political and economic foundation.”

At the same time he mentions such a legacy of the USSR as its infrastructures, industrial specialization, common language, scientific and cultural space, and insists that using all this would be out of common interests.

According to the author, at first three members of the Customs Union (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus) will become members of the Eurasian Union. Putin supposes that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will most probably join it.

The author says: “We welcome if other states, including the CIS members, are engaged in this project. But we would not urge or hurry anybody. The membership in the Eurasian Union should be a sovereign decision made by any state and based on its long-term national interests.”

However, the promises that they would not hurry or urge anybody are far from being reality, as far as there have already appeared the first responses in Armenia. Prime-Minister Tigran Sargsyan, during his meeting with the students and professors of the St.Petersburg University of Economy and Finances, said that Armenia’s opinion about Putin’s idea is positive, because the proposal is perspective and timely.”([7])

The chairman of the Union of Armenians of Russia said in his interview to “Regnum”: “Serj Sargsyan welcomed the idea of creation of the Eurasian Union. The Eurasian Union, proposed by Vladimir Putin is necessity.” However, it is a negative attitude that is prevailing in the public discourse regarding the integration within the Eurasian Union.

Thus, on the one hand, Armenia has undertaken EU obligations to implement democratic reforms, also supposing a closer economic integration with the EU. On the other hand, the Armenian authorities welcome the Eurasian Union, which also supposes Armenia’s integration into new regional processes. Russia can directly impact the political decisions in Armenia, as far as Russia is a big investor in Armenia, possesses a number of economic enterprises, and, by means of its military base, Russia is a component part of Armenia’s security system.

The EU should provide more assistance to the reforms in Armenia to reduce the Russian pressure to minimum. The first group of states that joined the Eurasian Union – Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus are authoritarian regimes, and the integration into this process supposes creation of a similar regime in Armenia.

The Eurasian Union is not only a challenge for Armenia, but also a new club of authoritarian regimes that can be a new source of regress for the transit democracies in the process of enlargement. The best partner for Armenia to overcome such a challenge is the European Union.



[1] Aghasi Harutyunyan “Neighborhood Relations Between The EU and Armenia” Central European University, Budapest.

[3] Marcin Łapczyński. “The European Union’s Eastern Partnership: Chances and Perspectives ” available on http://www.cria-online.org/7_3.html

[6] Vladimir Putin, “ A new integration project for Eurasia: The future in the making” http://premier.gov.ru/eng/events/news/16622/

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