Head of the NGO “European Movement in Artsakh”
Vladimir Putin’s article about the creation of the Eurasian Union, published in one of October issues of Izvestia newspaper, stirred up an interesting discourse in the international analytical circles. The CIS Free Trade Zone Treaty, which was signed a coupled days after, made that discourse even more intensified and enriched it with new nuances. Unlike Ukraine and Georgia, Armenia reacted quite positively to the idea of the Russian Premier on formation of the Eurasian Union.
What kind of a trend is it? What new integration mechanisms can it offer to us? And does it contradict to the course of Euro-integration, chosen by Armenia?
According to V. Putin’s article, the union will be a continuation of the integration steps that have already been made so far, giving birth to the Russia-Belarus union state, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the European Eurasian Economic Cooperation (EvrAzES), the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The Russian Premier stressed in his article that the Eurasian Union is open for all concerned, especially for the CIS countries. A number of western analysts consider it as a rival to both: the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation in the Central Asia, where China’s role is growing, and to Euro-integration in the countries, included into the Eastern Partnership program. (See: RICHARD WEITZ, Global Insights: Dim Prospects for Putin’s Eurasian Union, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/10301/global-insights-dim-prospects-for-putins-eurasian-union)
At the same time, the new union, supposing a free movement and common market of the labor force, capital and services, is fully in line with the logic of the Russian policy of the recent years. Thanks to the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union, the Russian policy has penetrated and deeply rooted in the huge territory, so one way or another many countries of the Central Asia, South Caucasus and Eastern Europe have got a bold seal of the Russian culture. Many of these countries have compact Russian populations. By means of the Eurasian Union, Russia is trying to solve demographic issues, which were addressed with the use of some federal projects. At the same time, with the help of economic integration tools, Russia is trying to preserve the dominance of its culture on these territories in the future.
It is necessary to point out that Armenia has already got free trade treaties with two of three potential members of the Eurasian Union: Russia and Belarus. And the signing of the CIS Free Trade Treaty in October of this year, to which 8 countries, i.e. Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan joined, will let them have a duty-free trade with each other. So it is possible to state that Armenia in various aspects has already got high-level partnership and integration with the countries of the future Eurasian Union, and this direction of integration has not become any news for us, at the same time not preventing the Euro-integration.
It is the format that has become something new: Putin’s vision of the idea, presented in the mentioned article, related to the supranational structures, common currency and economic policy implies delegation of some sovereignty in the given spheres to the international bodies. Vladimir Putin is optimist, thinking that the Union will be created very soon, including appropriate structures, taking into account the EU experience, and the opportunity not to repeat its mistakes.
Besides the fear of some loss of the sovereignty, the concern of Armenians is related just to the word “Eurasian,” which is one way or another associated with the idea of “Eurasianhood.” This idea is presented as an intention of creating a Turkish-Russian union, to be the core of Eurasia. These fears are also aggravated with the statements of some Russian politicians, insisting on the possibility of Turkey’s joining to the Eurasian Union. The increased role of Turkey in Russia, the vast penetration of the Turkish capital in the country, which is considered as Armenia’s ally, reasonably invokes serious concern among the Armenian analysts.
The Eurasian union and its opportunities resemble restoration of former ties and relations, meanwhile the integration with the European Union supposes more interesting perspectives. The relations of Armenia with the European Union, started since the initiation of the TACIS project in 1991, have already reached the level of association talks. These talks are held within the frameworks of the Eastern Partnership (EP) program, envisaging the signing of the free trade treaty, gradual economic integration with the EU and facilitation of the visa regime. And prior to that, the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+) was introduced with nullification of customs payments for a whole number of goods. Although the European Union does not hide that one of the main goals of the Eastern Partnership is getting closer to the oil- and gas-rich countries to ensure their own energy diversification, the association agreement, proposed to six post-Soviet countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus) in exchange of appropriate reforms, opens interesting perspectives for them, taking into account that within the EP frameworks additional means are provided for the projects to reduce the social-economic polarization and increasing the stability level.
On the other hand, the Eastern Partnership program envisages an important role for the civil society, and there is an EP Civil forum with the aim of supporting the establishment of the third sector in the mentioned countries, democratization efforts and introduction of the effective ways of the governance. The integration projects, proposed by Russia, as a rule, do not envisage any much to the civil society.
Which way should Armenia move – toward the European Union or Eurasia?
The Armenian authorities declare that one of the foreign political priorities of the country is the Euro-integration. At the same time they support Putin’s ideas related to the creation of the Eurasian Union. I also think that there are no contradictions between these two trends. Various integration processes are inevitable, we should just make them serve our national interests. These both projects first of all suppose the economic integration, so we need a compatible economy to avoid getting lost in the common economic spaces. Whether the integration is a challenge or a chance, it depends on us and nobody else. Entering these processes with an oligarchic, corrupt economy, will create challenges for us, reducing our national potential. Meanwhile, improvement of our economy and development of competitive branches will turn the integration into an opportunity for development and enrichment. That is why, we should not be afraid of integration, it is only necessary to make it serve to our interests.