Media speculates about recent deterioration of Yerevan-Brussels relations. In the meantime, other evident trends are being talked upon. Namely, that Europe pushes for cooperation with Armenia in certain areas, and this is thought-provoking in view of Russia’s growingly active geopolitical position in the region.
Armenian-style refusal from the European Union
It is not just the country itself but the entire South Caucasus that contradictions of Armenia’s foreign policy expose to uncertainty. Having had acted as a country on the path of European integration for some time, the country suddenly had a change of heart towards the Customs Union membership in September 2013. Thus, from the point of view of geopolitics, this provoked many questions on the regional scale. Experts failed to identify elements of logical and objective conduct in the actions of the official Yerevan.
Fascinating was the reaction of the European Union and America. First, Brussels accused Yerevan, then threatened it and finally delivered assurances. Washington was confined to official objection. Moscow’s patient and reserved posture indicated the “winner of the game”. In the meantime, Armenian public opinion became polarized. Proponents of the association membership with the European Union harshly condemned the authorities. Their key argument was that Sargsyan has betrayed the national interests. However, authorities showed calm reaction that implied inadvertence of the decision.
Rumors and speculation were put to rest with ”road map” on Armenia’s Customs Union membership adopted during the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Moscow, on 24 December 2013 (see: В Москве утверждена дорожная карта по присоединению Армении к ТС / “Interfax”, 24 December 2013). President Putin’s announcement after the meeting was adjourned was that ”…we do not intend to put off the issue” (Armenia’s Customs Union membership – Newtimes.az) (see: previous article).
Armenian side stated that the agreement may be signed in May 2014. Announcing the news during a press-conference in Yerevan, the Prime Minister T. Sargsyan also said that working groups were already in place and the process was rapidly progressing. This is a part of publicity campaign by the official Yerevan to promote the benefits of the Customs Union membership.
For example, President Sargsyan said that 139 flights per week were carried out between Russia and Armenia and his country hosted 1300 Russian companies. According to the Armenian President, trade turnover between the two countries reached $1.3 billion, making Russia Armenia’s main trading partner (see: Армения рассчитывает на привилегии и в ТС, и в ЕС / ”Росбалт”, 2 December 2013).
With such a rapprochement between Moscow and Yerevan on the backdrop, calibration of relations with the EU is quite fascinating because usually, Europeans do not tolerate such vacillation. This time around, however, Brussels demonstrates astounding ”original objectiveness”. The point is that the European Union has re-launched its engagement with Armenia! Those in Brussels maintain that Russia has to safeguard Armenia’s security and Kremlin’s military domination is to be accepted.
Under raised eyebrows of Kremlin
According to the Armenian media, Russia is boosting its military presence in the country and extra troops are being deployed to Gumri military base. In fact, Armenia is being transformed into a military ”backyard” of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Experts regard Armenia as being used as a Russian military installation for implementation of adept military policies on the issues related to the Middle East and Iran. Apparently, Brussels has reconciled with Russia’s military prowess growing in the South Caucasus. On the other hand, EU displays no palpable objection to Russia rendering financial aid to the countries on the post-Soviet space. What do these developments embody in geopolitical terms?
Experts believe that the Europeans have changed tactics within the “Eastern Partnership” program. They have given up on tough pressure against Russia. Instead, they opt to buttress the process of civil society building in the countries they wish to maintain good neighborly relations with. However, these features are more evident with respect to Armenia.
Recently, a number of agreements were reached between Brussels and Yerevan, including visa facilitation, readmission, and cooperation on supporting social, economic and political reforms (see: Европарламент открыл для Армении доступ к Европейским программам / ”Росбалт”, 12 December 2013; Евросоюз увеличил финансовую помощь Армении / “Росбалт”, 20 December 2013). Interestingly, the process has only intensified, instead of subsiding (see: Армения и ЕС продолжают переговоры / ”Lragir.am”, 9 December 2013). In the meantime, the EU has called upon Armenia to uphold human rights. Stefan Fule, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, has urged for prevention of intimidation of civil society representatives and human rights advocates, and called for objective investigation of several pending crime cases (see: Фюле пообещал гражданскому обществу Армении поддержку со стороны ЕС / ”Росбалт”, 9 December 2013).
According to the experts, special motives underpin EU’s leniency towards Armenia – the West’s cautious policy on the South Caucasus. Developments demonstrated that proponents of Europe within the local societies are not that potent as they fail to withstand Moscow’s actions. Moreover, the societies with overwhelming civil support of European values experience enduring and fierce opposition to external geopolitical forces.
Ukraine’s experience is a testimony. Regardless of severe weather conditions people stood their ground in Kiev’s squares and the process is ongoing. Nonetheless, there is a need to address other factors. European Union may allow Russian initiatives in financial, military and political domains but it amplifies its outreach by impacting people’s mindset. Criticism of the official Yerevan mainly concerns the issues of human rights, freedom of speech and fair criminal investigations. Therefore, EU is in fact, setting the stage for future relations with Armenia.
Reactions of the regional states
The issue just does end there, considering different views on EU-Armenia relation from the perspectives of Yerevan, Tehran, Ankara, Baku and Moscow. The failure to take the abovementioned into account makes comprehension of the entire picture inconceivable. Armenians have not abandoned their traditional ambitions. They are convinced of being entitled to privileges in their relations both with the EU and the Customs Union. They articulate this aspect clearly: “Armenia is hoping for privileges with EU and CU” (see: Армения рассчитывает на привилегии и в ТС, и в ЕС / ”Росбалт”, 2 December 2013). Psychological reasons for such a “spoilt” conduct of the Armenian politicians are clear. They have historically relied on the external forces for existence. Nevertheless, it is obvious that Armenian political mindset is on the verge of a next tragedy, if regarded from the national statehood prism.
Essentially, this is an indication of the lack of prospects, when a small nation counts on one country for its social-economic, political and culture growth while seeking others to ensure its security. No country in the world can forever guarantee the safety of another state because in modern era circumstances change rapidly. If it is by relying on Russia’s military might and Europe’s economic power that Yerevan aims to establish a privileged geopolitical position in the South Caucasus, this is clearly futile and silly effort. Geopolitical powers of the world put their interests ahead of the needs of others. It is not accidental that picture drawn by the experts in their analyses of Western countries’ and Russia’s policy on Armenia differ.
In his analytical article titled ”Armenia’s place in modern world” A.Ayvazyan addresses various aspects of this issue (see: Агарон Айвазян. О положении Армении в современном мире / ”Фонд Стратегической культуры”, 13 October 2011). According to the author, U.S., France and Poland were not always objective towards Armenia, citing elimination of the Armenian criminal groups in the U.S. and official Washington’s failure to find to common ground with Armenian diaspora. He maintains that Armenian diaspora of America has been consistently independent and that explains why the U.S. would never comprehensively support Armenia. Although the situation with respect to France and Poland is slightly different, the picture has similar substance.
Thus, A. Ayvazyan concludes that ”Europe and America is beyond the horizon for Armenia. In the meantime, its historical, political, legal and economic benchmarks point towards Russia… The nation is aware that emergence of the Armenian state and its perseverance is exclusively conditioned by Russia’s mission in the South Caucasus” (see: previous article). Surely, the author’s remarks cannot underlie final and defining conclusions on this topic. Nonetheless, evaluations of such kind are in abundance and they indicate controversial and hesitant position that Armenia holds in modern geopolitical environment.
Today, even Iran refuses to accept Russia’s energy policy on Armenia. Tehran made it clear to Yerevan that it was ready to offer more affordable rate for the natural gas. Experts believe Moscow views Armenia as most convenient leverage on Iran. Great deal of contradictions has emerged regarding this aspect of the issue.
Citing Qatari ”Al-Arab” newspaper, Turkish media reported that American investments are already finding their way to Iran (see: Ali El Zafiri. Nicin Turkiye degil de Iran? / ”Zaman” newspaper, 29 December 2013). Such changes are deemed capable of tipping the balance of power in the region, including expected revisiting of America’s policy on Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Syria and others. In this context, if viewed from a different angle, Russia factor may acquire new content for the Western geopolitics. For example, Iran’s strategic ally image may change. How should Moscow react in such an event? In fact, Moscow faces a ”multiple variable equation”.