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Armenian Foreign Policy U-Turn

Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

On 28-29 November, the European Union’s Lithuanian presidency will host the Eastern Partnership Summit, where association agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are expected to be initialed, and where an EU-Ukraine association agreement is expected to be signed. These agreements are accompanied by Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) with the EU, which are making Moscow nervous.
Russia on its turn has set up its own Customs Union, joined by Belarus and Kazakhstan. EU officials made it clear that membership of the Customs Union is incompatible with the DCFTAs.
On 3 September, 2013 Armenian’s President Serj Sargsyan stated that his country will join Customs Union and will take necessary steps towards the establishment the Eurasian Union. President Sargsyan announced his decision after talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Putin welcomed the move as a diplomatic victory at a time when Russia is struggling to bring former Soviet republics closer together and stop Ukraine from slipping into the European Union’s orbit.
In the EU appeared to be taken by surprise and came to know on this development from media reports. It was indeed unexpected that Armenian President and other dignitaries having announced in Brussels and other European capitals integration to Europe as a priority of country’s foreign policy suddenly made a U-turn joining Customs Union.

On 04 September, 2013 in its press statement the European Commission stated that after three and a half years talks the document was going to be finalized by July, 2014, but under the present circumstances the special decision is to be taken. Soon after that, on 06 September, the EC announced its inability to sign agreement with Armenia.
“Seems as if Armenia will break talks on free trade agreement with EU and integrate with Russia instead. U-turn,” tweeted Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister, during a dinner with Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers he hosted in the medieval Swedish city of Visby.
The European Commission wasted enormous efforts, human and material resources for the last more than three years to negations with Armenia as well as contributed handsome donations (2007-2010 the EU donated 98,4 mln. Euros and during the years 2011-2013 157 mln. Euros) to the country’s reforms on associative agreement and free trade.

The fact remains that the membership in one organization makes absolutely impossible the membership in another one. This move was also not taken equivocally and strongly opposed by prominent public and political figures of Armenia. As it was pointed out by Richard Griqoryan, Director of Regional Studies of Armenia “The decision taken within 4 days set the four years efforts to nil. The West, especially Europe will take Armenia as strategically not very important country. Due to the unexpected statement of the President, Armenia appeared to be a dishonest, un-competitive and week country”

This step also raised doubts about reliability of Armenia as a partner. It appeared that the leaders of the country are ready to compromise on vital national interests for the sake of their own benefit. And its therefore that there are loud voices from all over the Europe calling upon the EU and the member states to reconsider their relations with Armenia and stop overlooking the massive violations of human rights in this Caucasian state. Many European politicians openly doubt the use to cooperate with country where the violations of human rights has become a norm of life, where candidate for presidency was murdered and where the peaceful demonstrations were shot down. They believe that this cooperation may bring the EU a bad name.

It is also pertinent to mention that the fact that people of Armenia were not brought into confidence by Mr. Sargsyan and that the issue was not discussed publicly was treated as a slap on the face of democracy.

At the same time the argument of the Armenian political establishment that joining of Customs Union will enable them to make free trade with Russia and the other member states seems to be intriguing.

The fact remains that Armenia is having no common border with any of these states that makes impossible to make free trade with these countries? The very Richard Grigoryan said “Who will benefit from this? Indeed, not people of Armena, because from economic point of view there can be no benefit from Customs Union. The oligarchy will be a winner first of all…”

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