ISTANBUL: What is next for Armenia?

Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Nov 9 2013

What is next for Armenia?

by Amanda Paul

Ever since Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan announced on Sept. 3 that
his country would join the Russian-led Customs Union, Armenia has been
in turmoil.

Sarksyan, who is disconnected from society and many actors in his
country, made a total U-turn on his previously declared foreign policy
priority of proceeding to initial, at the upcoming EU Eastern
Partnership Summit, an Association Agreement that includes a Deep and
Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). This decision has serious
implications for Armenia’s future.

Russia carried out a very successful campaign brainwashing Armenian
society via the media and other channels that the EU path was the
wrong one, making it clear there would be huge price to pay,
apparently including stopping Armenian labor migration to Russia,
which would have huge financial consequences; threatening to close all
transportation links to Russia; making it impossible to carry out bank
transfers from Russia to Armenia; and Moscow support switching from
Armenia to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and any future
war. Russia has also been increasingly been using xenophobia as a
political tool.

Being part of the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) is dangerous for
Armenia. As one expert recently put it, `if Armenia gets any closer to
Russia, it will disappear.’ Armenia has not yet signed the Customs
Union agreement. The process is expected to take a long time, if it
ever happens at all. There is no need for Armenia to join; there is
nothing positive for Armenia to gain from it. Armenia is an economic
dwarf and already tied into so many other Russian-led projects that
there would be no added value at all. For Russia, it is about the
broader impact, so, ultimately, Russia may not be in a hurry, either,
as Moscow has achieved its goal of derailing the EU process and
further fragmenting the South Caucasus. Russia’s Customs Union
partners also seem far from eager to have Armenia on board. Both
Belarus and Kazakhstan have close relations with Baku that they wish
to retain and have reassured Azerbaijan that Armenia’s eventual
membership would have no negative impact; they will look out for
Azerbaijani interests.

With Armenia having no Customs Border with Russia, it makes the
decision even more absurd and complicated as there would be a need to
use Georgia as a transit state, dragging Georgia into this debacle.
While Russia has tried to draw comparisons with Kaliningrad, this is
nonsensical given that Kaliningrad has a sea border with Russia. It
would also violate the constitution, which prohibits Armenia from
being part of any supranational organization eroding Armenia’s
sovereignty. However, amendments to the Armenian constitution are
apparently in the pipeline. Russia is also consolidating its already
significant military presence in Armenia, which represents an
increasing security threat for the entire region. Given that Armenia
is entirely dependent on Russia to guarantee its security, all of its
arms and legs are tied. Unfortunately, as long as the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict remains unresolved, and Armenia continues to occupy a further
seven Azerbaijani territories, which also keeps its border with Turkey
closed, Armenia’s future looks bleak and tied to Russia’s whim.

Now that the EU track has been significant blocked, what sort of
arrangement the EU will ultimately be able to have with Yerevan
remains unclear. On Sept. 25, Sarksyan declared that Armenia would
only develop ties that would not undermine its strategic relationship
with Russia. Sarksyan still wants to sign something with the EU, but
Brussels needs to be cautious and not allow itself to be used as a
tool for Sarksyan to announce he has achieved success with both Moscow
and Brussels. It seems that some sort of political declaration will be
signed with Yerevan at the Eastern Partnership Summit. However,
whatever agreement Yerevan could eventually have with the EU, without
the DCFTA element it would be very light-weight.

Civil society needs the EU to remain engaged, pushing Armenia to make
serious political and economic reform — something Yerevan has failed
to do. At the same time, it is demanding much more focus on
conditionality in line with the EU’s more for more approach. Without
the DCFTA, the tangibles in return for reform have been reduced, yet
the EU still has leverage because Armenia, with some 40 percent of its
population living in poverty, needs and wants EU financial assistance
and aid. This needs to be strongly tied to tangible progress in key
areas, such as serious judicial reform.

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