ANKARA: Armenia Surrenders To Russia On The Issue Of The Customs Uni


Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Sept 10 2013

by Mehmet Fatih OZTARSU*

Armenia, no longer able to withstand the pressures applied by Russia,
has finally agreed to enter the Customs Union. Armenian President
Serzh Sarksyan, during a Sept. 2 visit to discuss Russian-Armenian
relations in Moscow, made a surprise announcement that Armenia would
be entering into the Customs Union formed by a Russian initiative.

The fact that the announcement came at an important stage of ongoing
EU-Armenian dialogue caused a shockwave in Europe.

Sarksyan, who had given no information to the public prior to his
statement and who managed to show first and foremost that Armenia
would not be straying from the Moscow axis, stressed in his speech
how Russia was an important guarantor of the safety for Armenia. In
the meantime, opposition parties in Armenia have now begun to assert
that the country’s foreign policy has collapsed, and that the national
sovereignty of the leadership mechanism has been inextricably tied
to that of Russia.

A statement from the Armenian socialist Dashnak Party asserted that
while there was some level of reason in this move, not to have shared
this information with the public was a great mistake. At the same
time, the Dashnak Party noted that the decision would have a direct
effect on the security of both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and that
dialogue with the EU during the coming period must absolutely not
be cut off. The liberal opposition Heritage Party in the meantime
made a statement asserting that Armenian relations with the EU had
been forced to an end, and that a stance against European values was
pulling the country as a whole to the edge of a chasm.

One party supporting Sarksyan’s newly announced decision is the
Prosperous Armenia Party, which made a statement noting that
Armenia needed Russia for security, and adding that Armenia
was Russia’s biggest trading partner. As for the Free Democrats
Movement, it announced that in making his decision, Sarksyan had
in fact violated the first article of the Armenian constitution,
and was thus discounting national sovereignty. Raffi Hovhannisyan,
the founder of the Heritage Party and someone who clashed with the
leading party all through 2013, has now called on the Armenian people,
including those in the diaspora, to come up with an urgent solution,
insisting that Sarksyan resign immediately.

‘Armenia should not expect to be able to balance policies between
both Europe and Russia at the same time’

In an attempt to quell negative reactions, Sarksyan did announce
that in becoming a member of the Customs Union, Armenia would not be
breaking off relations with the EU. The current situation does appear
to put the Partnership Agreement — expected after much effort on both
sides to finally be signed in November in Vilnius — at risk. And in
the meantime, statements coming out of Europe have underscored that
Armenia should not expect to be able to balance policies between
both Europe and Russia at the same time. Similar warnings have been
issued in the past. One such example is when officials from the
European Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee warned Armenia
in relation to the Russian-backed Customs Union, noting that the
European Parliament would not be able to make partnership decisions
with members of this union.

While this has all been unfolding, various media groups based in
Yerevan have backed the idea that ongoing talks with the EU are in
fact not essential for Armenia, and that instead, the Customs Union,
with its promises of security and economic gain, is a wiser decision
for Armenia. As for factions insisting that Armenia has now missed its
opportunity to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, they are busy
debating just what sort of advantages the Customs Union will bring
to Armenia, which has no shared border with Russia. As Armenia does
not have strong relations with other Customs Union members Belarus
or Kazakhstan, many have already queried what sort of gain Armenia
will make from joining the union. Some have also pointed out that any
offer of security for the Nagorno-Karabakh region is a topic which has
nothing to do with the Customs Union anyway. In the end though, the
most essential problem herein is the undependable and unclear foreign
policies being followed by a Yerevan which has just betrayed Europe.

Some are now opining that Armenia’s seemingly sudden desire to enter
into the Russian-backed Customs Union is in fact one path Yerevan sees
for escaping from long-standing pressures placed on it by Russia. The
crises and large protests experienced in recent months over energy
appear to have forced the Yerevan leadership towards a rapid decision.

Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, who announced in May that the real
reason for the energy crisis was the question of the Customs Union,
noted at the time that as long as Armenia was not a member, the crises
would only get more serious. Government officials are also insisting
that the people of Armenia ought not have worries on the topic of
membership in the Customs Union, noting that under current laws,
it isn’t possible for Armenia to join yet anyway.

And so the seemingly sudden decision to join the Customs Union
is being linked to the question of the country’s security, with
frightening scenarios being drawn out in front of the people of
the country. Depending on Russia for security matters, as with
so many other issues, the military-rooted leaders of Armenia’s
Nagorno-Karabakh region have in fact caused the collapse of the
country’s foreign policies. In the coming period, the leadership
of Armenia may well confront serious resistance from opposition to
its path, with the struggles of the Karabakh and Armenian peoples
causing great turbulence. The Armenian people, weary of the push and
pull between Europe and Russia, may well propel opposition leaders
to the front when it comes to the topic of the hindrance of national
independence, and of Yerevan being pulled into a Russian sand trap.

*Mehmet Fatih OZTARSU is an analyst with the Strategic Outlook

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