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Armenia will manage to keep a foot in both worlds
19 October 2013 | Laszlo Kemeny

The ruling party of Armenia claims that the decision to access the Customs Union stems from national security of Armenia. How much grounded is that statement, given that Russia sells weapons to Azerbaijan amid Kazakhstans demands to immediately close the borders with Nagorno Karabakh? What did really motivate Armenia to access the CU?

The national security of all countries, including Armenia, is a complicate system having its secrets and nuances that are not subject to disclosure. I suppose that Armenias decision was based on long-term interests of your people. The geopolitical location of your country, as well as the political, economic, military and other developments around it should also be taken into account. It is necessary to take into account also the social and economic situation in the country, external factors, the attitude of external forces towards Armenia, their possible pressure and the countrys ability to resist that pressure or use it in its favor. I could bring further arguments to show how complicate was that decision, but the responsibility for that decision is laid upon the leadership of Armenia and the people will assess whether it was a right decision at the next democratic elections.

As regards the sale of arms of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstans pressure on Nagorno Karabakhs hot-button subject, one can assess those actions only taking into consideration all the aforementioned.

In Armenias decision to access the Customs Union besides strategic factors, there were also specific calculations and historical experience of partnership with super powers. Now we observe a new world order where every country is free to decide what integration process is more beneficial for it, though some political forces still force their vision of cold war. Armenia has decided that it is more favorable for it to access Russias Customs Union to establish ties with the countries of that integration bloc.

What prospects will Armenia have in the Customs Union and will there be any prospects at all? What impact will this decision have on the republic? Experts say that by making this decision the republic has once for all refused European integration. How much grounded is this opinion? What has Armenia lost by refusing the Association Agreement?

When speaking of Armenias intention to join the Customs Union, one should remember that Armenia has been negotiating with the representatives of the Customs Union and the European Union for a long time. In the meantime, Armenia also announced its intention to get integrated into the Eurasian Union. The country has been participating in the European Neighborhood Policy since 2004 and in the Eastern Partnership program since 2009. Moreover, a public opinion poll conducted in 2005 demonstrated that almost two-thirds of the countrys population would like to see Armenia in the European Union. In the meantime, Armenia has close ties with Russia and it stated in both 2006 and 2010 that there was no alternative to those relations.

The process is rather complicated. In the course of time the participants approaches towards the two major integration projects have changed. For instance, on 10 July 2013, Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, said in Yerevan that the European Union did not make Armenia choose between the integration projects. Your issue (http://www.arminfo.info/index.cfm?objectid=B96E67A0-EA06-11E2-A9410EB7C0D21663) said that Fule did not know whether Russia exerted pressure on Armenia though he followed the news and was aware of a number of problems. Fule thought that the signing of the Association Agreement would not restrict Armenia's interaction with other countries. It would help Armenia to strengthen its positions even more, he said. In the meantime, the European Commissioner stressed that there should be elementary compatibility between the two integration projects. He said that the EU did not force its partners to restrict their relations with Russia. He added that the EU would encourage the cooperation with Russia in the fields that met Armenia's interests.

On 11 September, 2013, Fule pointed out that the member states of Eastern Partnership could expand their cooperation with the Customs Union, however, as observers only, since the Customs Union membership was incompatible with Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. A day later he met with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and stressed that the issue of initialing the Association Agreement was no longer on the agenda given that on Sept 3 Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan announced Armenias decision to join the Customs Union and to contribute to the formation of the Eurasian economic union.

On October 8, Edward Nalbandian, Foreign Minister of Armenia, had a meeting in Brussels with Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. Minister Nalbandian underlined that Armenia wished to move forward the partnership with the EU in all possible directions relying on those achievements and progress which were jointly made in recent years in Armenia-EU relationships. High Representative Catherine Ashton noted that the EU wished to continue the development of comprehensive cooperation with Armenia in all areas, which could be compatible with the decision of Armenia to join the Customs Union (http://www.mfa.am/en/press-releases/item/2013/10/08/eu_hight/).

The impression is that Armenia will be able to keep a foot in both worlds and create a similar development prospect for other countries as well.

What should Armenia expect from the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius? Will EU offer Armenia a new format of cooperation?

The Eastern Partnership has undergone various changes since its establishment. Its initial goal announced in 2008 was to develop integration processes of the EU and the partner countries: Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Belarus. The situation has changed after the Constituent Meeting in Prague on 7 May 2009 when a new joint declaration was adopted to boost the political and economic integration between the EU and the EaP countries. However, the political and economic impact on these countries has not been fully justified.

The prior component of EU's new initiative is the energy component, particularly, energy supply to Europe alternative to Russia's deliveries. Another evident goal is to break Russia's geopolitical influence in Eastern Europe and strengthen the EU's positions there. Some Russian experts still think that the EU intends to finally disintegrate the post-Soviet area via the Eastern Partnership project and bring the CIS countries out of Russia's influence.

Actually, none of the six countries is able to fulfill the EU's requirements. Ukraine is closer to the EU partnership more than others, but it has faced an impassable barrier - "Timoshenko case." Ukraine will be able to overcome these obstacles only if it fulfills the EU's requirements, which have not been coordinated with the Ukrainian public yet. As for Armenia, it is out of the question.

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