Armenia-EU Relations: ‘What Shall We Do?’


By Armenak Minasyants on April 8, 2014

On Sept. 3, 2013, following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir
Putin, President Serge Sarkisian unexpectedly announced Armenia’s
intention to join the Russian-led Customs Union (CU) comprised of
Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia. In both Armenia and abroad, the
decision was perceived as a sudden political U-Turn by Yerevan. But
was this decision so unexpected?

Since the mid 1990’s, the Republic of Armenia has walked a long road of
cooperation and interaction with the European Union (EU). The EU was
seeking an increasingly close relationship with Armenia that would
extend beyond cooperation, into a gradual economic integration and
deepening of political ties. The European Commission put forward a
concrete plan for enhancing its relations with the Eastern neighbors,
including Armenia.

Armenian activists protest against Putin, and the regime’s decision to
join the Customs Union. (Photo: Samson Martirosyan/The Armenian Weekly)

For three and a half years, officials from Yerevan and Brussels were
negotiating the signing of the Association Agreement, as well as
the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). However,
after the Sarkisian’s announcement, both parties faced a unique
situation, one that could be described by the title of a book by the
19th-century Russian philosopher, journalist, and literary critic
Nikolai Chernyshevsky: “What Shall We Do?” This rhetorical question
became a trending one, as Yerevan’s sudden decision brought classical
chaos to the ongoing preparations towards the EU-Eastern Partnership
(EaP) Vilnius Summit.

Before discussing the details of the agreements that were on the table
and analyzing the possible consequences of the decision to join the
CU, let us get better insight into the content of those agreements.

The Eastern Partnership initiative pursues the possibility of signing
new association agreements that encompass the following key elements:
deep and comprehensive free trade agreements with countries willing
and able to enter into a deeper engagement, gradual integration in
the EU economy, easier travel to the EU through visa liberalization,
and the introduction of measures to tackle illegal immigration.

The negotiated Armenia-EU Association Agreement was an all encircling
agreement that addressed numerous issues ranging from political
association, political reforms, dialogue and cooperation on foreign
and security policy issues, as well as economic cooperation and trade.

Inter alia, it included cooperation in the fields of migration, rule
of law, human rights, fight against crime and corruption, protection
of personal data, and cooperation against trafficking and terrorism.

The DCFTA part of the negotiated agreement touched upon such fields
as market competition, technical barriers for implementation of free
trade, intellectual property rights, export duties, and restrictions,
sanitary and phytosanitary measures, thus giving Armenia a unique
opportunity to develop a European-oriented functioning national
economy, which would enable it to overcome financial difficulties.

It is crucial to mention that Armenia and the EU had hosted
seven rounds of negotiations until they finalized the talks on
the Association Agreement and the DCFTA in mid July 2013. These
two conceptual segments should be considered only in their common
integrity; thus it is not appropriate even to discuss the signing of
the Association Agreement without the DCFTA, an opinion that has been
voiced by several Armenian politicians.

At a press conference following the 2nd European People’s Party
Eastern Partnership Leaders’ Summit in Yerevan, Armenia, on Nov. 30,
2012. (Photo:

Simultaneously, once we are discussing the Eastern Partnership
Program, we should bear in mind that it is a policy that seeks to
create opportunities for everyone. The Eastern Partnership is not a
copy-paste approach. It is a different attitude from the EU towards the
Eastern neighbors. Concurrently, —since its foundation the Eastern
Partnership has been and is about the political association based on
shared European values, which the Eastern neighbors would commit to
enroot in their own affairs and enact in the spirit of the principle
“more for more.”

Within the framework of its participation in the EaP, Armenia undertook
several vital reforms ahead of the Vilnius Summit.

Unfortunately, the Vilnius Summit did not become a triumph point
for Armenia and its foreign policy. Nonetheless, it is imperative to
highlight the reasons and grounds that forced the Armenian authorities
to step away from the European path.

“Will something like #EuroMaidan ever happen in Armenia?” is the
trending question amongst the Armenian political circles. My resounding
reply is NO! Unfortunately, all the political forces and parties in
Armenia seek Moscow’s support/assistance/patronage in order to come
to power. After the Sept. 3 announcement, the Armenian political
opposition did not have a sufficient reaction to the president’s
declaration. The opposition parties failed to organize a pro-European
march or meetings.

One may argue that the opposition leaders were thinking that the
president’s announcement was not definitive but rather declarative.

Sadly, Putin is a “very charming” person and in practice it is almost
impossible to go against his word.

In this context, the Armenian pro-European civil society organizations,
activists, young people, students attempted to take the lead, but
unfortunately, after their rally on Sept. 5, 2013, in front of the
Presidential Palace and the Head Office of the Republican Party of
Armenia (ruling party and majority group at the National Assembly of
Armenia), several activists were badly beaten by unknown thugs. The
police are still investigating the cases without any results.

These developments created a circumstance wherein all the political
groups reached a deadlock. They neither have any human resources,
nor a concrete ideological/propaganda tool to instigate pro-European
rallies in the city squares. Even the ruling Republican Party, which
is a daughter organization of the European Peoples’ Party, is now
paralyzed, as its continued membership to the EPP is unclear: Does
the EPP, the biggest political group in the European Parliament, want
a political ally that has suddenly turned its back to the EU? This
is another rhetorical question, which is probably already decided
in Brussels.

If we compare the above-mentioned Armenian case with the Ukrainian
developments, we would see that in Ukraine there are pro-European
political parties (such as “Batkivshchyna” and “UDAR”), as well as
nationalistic parties (such as “Svoboda” party), which have strong
connections with their European counterparts. Hence, they were
able to effectively use pro-European propaganda to gather hundreds
of thousands of Ukrainians in the city centers, which led to the
overthrow of Yanukovych’s bloody regime.

Another important aspect, which should be considered while discussing
Armenia’s U-Turn, is the security concept. Although Yerevan has never
stated that the decision to join the Russian-led Customs Union was
connected to the rising pressure exercised by Russia in the security
sphere, for a common researcher this is the most visible and realistic
point that solidly explains Armenia’s decision.

On numerous occasions, high-ranking EU officials have stated their
position in regards to the Nagorno-Karabagh issue. The EU has supported
a peaceful dialogue based on the principles of international law and
the framework set forth by the OSCE Minsk Group, co-chaired by the
U.S., Russia, and France. However, the security aspect remains one of
the weakest points of Armenia’s external policy. The Armenian public,
as well as the politicians, consider Russia as the guarantor of peace
in the South Caucasus.

In my opinion, however, the Sept. 3 decision has brought mostly
insecurity. Yes, Russia is one of the strongest players in the South
Caucasus, and Armenia is considered to be its closest ally in the

On Sept. 3, 2013, following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir
Putin, President Serge Sarkisian announced Armenia would join the
Russian-led Customs Union. (Photo:

region. However, Russia’s decision to sell huge amounts of advanced
weaponry to Azerbaijan (for around $2 billion USD), its signing of a
series (around 16) of bilateral agreements within different fields,
and finally Putin’s visit to Baku, all had a direct impact on Yerevan’s
decision-making. There were huge concerns that Azerbaijan was getting
ready to launch a widespread military operation on the borderlands
with Armenia, which could have had disastrous effects on regional
security. These concerns and the threat of a new military conflict
was the main playing card that Putin used to achieve his desired
results. However, the security concerns should have been on the
minds of Armenia’s political elite when they were enthusiastically
negotiating the Association Agreement and the DCFTA with the EU.

If in the beginning European officials and the EU itself were
disappointed with Yerevan’s decision, later on this disappointment
simply turned into a lack of interest towards Armenia. In mid-October
2013, there were intensive public discussions that Armenia would not
be invited to the upcoming EU-EaP Vilnius Summit in November 2013,
or that Armenia would simply decide not to participate, under Russian
pressure. Fortunately, these all remained rumors and the Armenian
delegation headed by President Sarkisian participated in the EU-EaP
Vilnius Summit.

In international politics and diplomacy, summit results are achieved
during the years of cooperation and commitment of the involved
parties. The EU-EaP Vilnius Summit was a landmark event in this
context, as first it destroyed the myths that the Association
Agreements and DCFTA’s are secret documents not accessible by the
public. Moreover, the Vilnius Summit was a half success and half
failure. The EU gained better knowledge and experience about how to
approach each partner country. At the end, Armenia and the EU presented
a joint statement. The Armenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward
Nalbandian and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and
Security Policy Catherine Ashton exchanged the Association Agreement
and the DCFTA’s texts to underline the difficult road these partners
had passed together.

Since the beginning of 2014, the Armenian government has implemented
several key actions aimed to fostering Armenia’s membership in the
Russian-led Customs Union. A special road map of actions has been
agreed to by the parties involved and several legislative reforms
are being introduced to move Armenia towards joining the CU.

Without expressing any approach to these developments, as a
conclusion, we should once again highlight the importance of the
Eastern Partnership Program, as a sustainable guarantee for achieving
European standards in all fields of life for the Armenian people. Our
Armenian society and people should stand firm and respect the values
we have proclaimed in our constitution and stipulated in various
international treaties.

Simultaneously, if the European Union wants to achieve more tangible
and long-term success in Armenia and bring the country back to “the
European tracks,” it should try to put more emphasis and impetus on
the following points:

1) Ensure the sustainability of the reforms. Over the last four
years, various reforms and EU-funded projects have been launched and
implemented in Armenia.1 However, the sustainability of all implemented
programs and reforms should be considered as a high priority for the
EU in a long-term strategy, as sustained and visible results may make
a strong argument for boosting more systematic multilateral dialogue.

2) Empower the EaP partners to be sovereign, both politically and
structurally. The Sept. 3 decision was a result of not only a weak
and unclear Armenian foreign policy, but also of a lack of political
guarantees and support coming from the EU. The above-mentioned reforms
should first benefit the Armenian government and allow it to feel more
sovereign in domestic and international affairs, and should avoid the
loss of sovereignty in case it becomes a member of the Customs Union.

Finally, there is no justification for Russia intervening in EaP
affairs, but EaP countries should voice their disagreement with Moscow
first. The future of the European Union and the Eastern Partnership
countries lies in an improved and more equal Europe. The times of
limited sovereignty in Europe is over; however, to make this statement
work more effectively in practice, the EU and the EaP countries should
be united in their willingness to see a better Europe for all.


1. See the list at

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