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Armenia’s Membership in the Eurasian Economic Union: Political Implications

By Ruben Mehrabyan 

“Improving Armenia’s Security Policy Debates” Program

The Armenian Institute of the International and Security Affairs (AIISA) 

By announcing about its intention to join the Eurasian Customs Union/Economic Union (EEU) on 3 September 2013, Armenia put aside the Association/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) Agreement with the EU, which by then was totally negotiated and ready for initialing.

Armenia’s authorities and their representatives publicly accounted their step for the country’s security interests, perspectives to improve economic indicators, whilst quite a number of Western and Armenian observers considered it as a direct result of monstrous pressure from the Kremlin side and coherence of the latter’s interests with those of totally corrupted oligarchic system that rules in Armenia.

From the very first days of that total foreign policy U-turn an endless debate takes place among the Armenian society on how this is in line with the interests of Armenian statehood and Armenian society, and whether it corresponds them in general.

Even a cursory glance at essential political, economic and social trends and their causality show, that arguments of the authorities brought for this “one night decision” (even on the very day of the September 3 statement the closest associates of the incumbent president were assuring on Armenia’s commitment to the country’s European integration) so far didn’t withstand the test of time and are unviable.

From the security perspective Armenia turned to be more vulnerable in the aftermath of continues delivery of modern weaponry by Russia to Azerbaijan and by virtue of this—more consolidation of Aliyev’s regime and increase in political repressions and crackdown within the country, drastic decrease of political will to reach a negotiated agreement on peaceful settlement over Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and tension growth on the contact line.

Armenia’s economic situation also worsened—inflation of national currency – dram, export to primary market – Russia, obstructed and shortened, western direct investments and transfers from Russia shrank as well, dependence on which, since Robert Kocharyan’s presidency (1998-2008) has just been increasing.

Negative trends in Armenian economics along with intrinsic causes were conditioned by the systemic crisis, emerged in Russia both by virtue of its internal systemic shortcomings of political-economic character (stripping themselves after the fall of the world prices on hydrocarbons), and its aggressive politics toward the Ukraine, which compelled the USA, the EU, G7 and others to impose sanctions to weaken Russia’s potential.

However, if earlier Armenia was losing its capabilities for sovereign decision-making step by step, after the 3 September U-turn the loss of subjectivity took a collapsing character.

Parallel to the failure of association with the EU and greater rapprochement with Russia, the poor and unsteady trends to separate business and politics and to oust the oligarchs from the power, that were marked in Armenia in 2011-2012, also turned to the opposite direction right up to “oligarchic revanche” in April 2014, when Prime Minister Tigran Sarkissian was replaced by Hovik Abrahamyan, the in-law of the non-governmental “Prosperous Armenia” party’s then leader Gagik Tsarukyan.

Virtually, oligarchization spread into opposition segment of political field as “Prosperous Armenia” was consolidating it around its axes. After G.Tsarukyan’s step-down from politics, the ruling party relatively strengthened and stayed out of competition, and the only political opponent to the authorities remained the civil society, whose interests were largely ignored by political forces. The National Assembly’s voting results on ratification of the agreement on Armenia’s joining the EEU reflected this reality: only 7 deputies out of 131 voted against.

Joining the EEU, yet Armenia is the only “partially independent” country in this club of post-Soviet dictators, as per rating of Freedom House. Judging by practical steps of the Kremlin to projects its repressive legislation in Armenia, as well as direct statements of Russian high-ranked officials, the freedom of speech and the right of citizens to protest are declared as a danger of “color revolution” and elevated to the rank of “major threats to national security” as manifestation of extremism.

Likewise approaches inevitably affected Armenia: statements of Russian officials, like Konstantin Kosachov, the special representative of the Russian president to the CIS, or Ivan Volinkin, Russia’s Ambassador to Armenia, indicate that Moscow sees a danger in the Armenian society in terms of furthering its own interests. They labeled as “unacceptable” the organized civic opposition to the Armenia’s membership in Putin’s “integration” projects, which have neither future nor present, especially when Armenia has no land border even with one of the “union” member.

Like in Russia, a vertically integrated system of pervasive corruption has been lined up simultaneously in Armenia, that relies on total interpenetration of business and political institutes and criminal oligarchy, with decorative obedient parliament, without a mere hint on separation of power, checks and balances proclaimed by the Constitution, and finally obedient to the will of only one person.

Against the background of reinforcement of anti-Western moods in Russian politics, the possibility and likelihood for pressure over Armenia and establishment of analogous system of repressive policies in the sphere of civic and information activism and against non-governmental organizations and mass-media increases.

Intrusion of the analogue of “Yanukovich’s dictatorship package” of 16 January 2014 to Yerevan by Moscow seems very likely, through which particularly citizens’ freedom of speech and right to protest might be legally restricted. Apparently, at present the Kremlin in its way declared a “war” on NGOs, independent press and, and in general, on the civil society of Armenia.

Membership to the EEU transforms Armenia from the subject of international relations into an object and adjunct of Russia’s interests in the region and in international arena, where the steps required from it by Moscow, directly contradict its interests as a state. The first manifestation of that was the voting of Armenia against the resolution supporting the territorial integrity of the Ukraine at the UN General Assembly, putting the country among “rogue states” of the world.

To prevent irreversible processes in Armenia and in the region, the EEU and the USA should preserve, enlarge and deepen relations as much as possible with Yerevan—not only with the authorities and political forces, but civil society as well, and not to turn or to punish it. Timely and adequate reaction is essential on any possible retreat of Yerevan and under any pretext from its international commitments to respect human rights and freedoms.

As the American general Philip Breedlove, Commander of NATO forces in Europe, observes, while the NATO’s policy on “what to do” with the post-Soviet countries hasn’t shaped yet, this threatens with the fact, that all post-Soviet area may be turned into a unique “gray-zone,” where sovereignty of the countries is restricted by Russia by virtue of its “special interests”.

Armenia’s situation makes it more vulnerable vis-à-vis losing sovereignty and statehood de facto. A historical opportunity for rapprochement and integration of South Caucasian countries, particularly of Armenia, with unified Europe still exists, but it’s curtailed by domestic resources and by time.

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