Up until the last moment it seemed that the negotiations might yet again end in failure, but Armenia now has the chance to be a bridge of cooperation between the West and East
Photo: Gevorg Ghazaryan, JAMnews.
On 24 November at the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, Armenia and the European Union signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement. This has already been deemed ‘historical’ by the chairman of the Armenian Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Relations, Armen Ashotyan, who said: The agreement has not only allowed us to combine Eurasian Economic Union membership with cooperation with the European Union, but it has allowed us to shift from a policy of confrontation to a policy of consolidation.
An agreement with a sad history
The association agreement was supposed to be signed four years ago on 24 November 2013. However, after a meeting with Vladimir Putin on 3 September 2013, the president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan unexpectedly made an announcement stating that Armenia intended to enter the Russian-led Customs Union in order to later become a member of the Eurasian Economic Union – which hadn’t even been created at that time.
The European Union then stated that it would not be able to sign an agreement with a country which is entering into a different customs union. Even though Armenia offered to only sign the political part of the agreement, the European Union declined.
Negotiations with the European Union
Negotiations with the European Union resumed in 2015 soon after Armenia entered the Eurasian Economic Union. It was during that period that the events in Ukraine broke out: the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.
Yerevan actively sought a way to diversify its foreign policy and economy and, though it was difficult to do so given its connections to Russia, Armenia was still able to bring the negotiations to an end with the European Union and sign the association agreement.
Serzh Sargsyan named three achievements for citizens of Armenia
Answering a question posed to him by Radio Freedom as to ‘how the signing of the association agreement with the European Union will affect citizens of Armenia’, Sargsyan said that it will take time for the full effect to be seen, though cooperation with the European Union will accelerate the implementation of reforms.
Moreover, Armenian citizens will receive the ability to freely travel to Europe.
The question of whether the agreement will affect security in the country has given rise to concern. Serzh Sargsyan noted that the unanimity of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group is very important:
“It is a rare case when they all cooperate together so for us this is an enormous achievement.”
Sargsyan noted the main achievements of the latest period:
- financial and other assistance to the EU in carrying out reforms in the country;
- the liberalisation of the visa regime;
- certain security guarantees that the EU can give on the non-resumption of hostilities in the region.
In turn, the EU Commissioner for Foreign Policy and Security Federica Mogerrini said the agreement includes close cooperation in the transport, energy, migration, business and investment and trade sectors.
In addition, the European Union concluded negotiations with Armenia on a new aviation agreement during the Eastern Partnership summit. The EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulk noted that the aviation agreement will not only improve access to markets, but also contribute to the establishment of higher standards of safety and environmental protection.
The agreement and the Karabakh conflict
Resolving the conflict would be impossible without realizing the people of Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination, said Serzh Sargsyan while speaking at the Eastern Partnership summit. He urged the conflict to be considered on its own, outside the framework of other post-Soviet territorial conflicts.
After the signing of the Armenia-EU agreement Federica Mogerrini said:
“We will support the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs which are aimed at a peaceful resolution [to the conflict].”
The European People’s Party (EPP) summit also took place just a day before the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels.
“We confirm our support for the efforts made by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group which are aimed at a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the basis of standards and principles of international law: the non-use of force or threats, territorial integrity and the right of nations of self-determination.
“We call on all sides of the conflict to adhere to the cease-fire regime and to respect the 1994-1995 cease-fire agreements, and to undertake steps to increase mutual trust and to lower tension on the line of contact, including agreements arrived at during summits in Vienna, St Petersburg and Geneva,” the statement of the EPP summit says.
Azerbaijan did not hide its intention to derail the signing of the Armenia-EU agreement
Azerbaijan tried to achieve a formulation of the Armenia-EU agreement that would be unwanted by the former, and used a similar strategy at the Eastern Partnership summit for the conference’s concluding statement. Up until the last moment, the sides could not come to an agreement on the text of the declaration as Azerbaijan insisted that it also express support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan.
European institutions have repeatedly called for the unconditional restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and in the case of the Karabakh conflict they refer to territorial integrity, self-determination and non-use of force.
Azerbaijani diplomacy has long tried to end this trend but without success. Moreover, not long before the summit in Brussels the Azerbaijani diplomatic team was highly active in Europe: Baku tried to play on anti-separatist sentiments in Europe after the Catalan independence referendum. Forums were convened and declarations made, but this did not affect the position of the European Commission.
Moreover, Azerbaijani diplomacy tried to bring up discussions about the Karabakh peace process via Turkey, however this also did not work out. On 9 November a meeting was held by the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna where the USA, Russia and the EU expressed their support for the idea of the non-use of force in the Karabakh conflict and the deployment of containment mechanisms in the conflict zone.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev participated in a NATO Council meeting one day before the Brussels summit where he again spoke of territorial integrity. However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg responded by saying Aliyev should continue negotiations with Armenia but exclude military options to resolve the Karabakh conflict.
The European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Johannes Hahn said that the EU supports the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group in finding ways [to resolve] the Karabakh conflict and does not intend to discuss the Karabakh problem at the Eastern Partnership summit.
“Azerbaijan tried to disrupt the signing, but after the resolution of the European Parliament wherein Azerbaijan was defeated, it did not have any cartridges left,” said Kaitz Minasyan, an expert at the Center for Strategic Studies in France.
As a result, only general formulations and declarations on conflicts were made in the text of the declaration of the Eastern Partnership, with Azerbaijan unable to derail the process.
Russia respects the choices of Armenia, but believes that the agreement is not significant
Armenian experts warned up until the last moment that Russia may also try to derail the signing of the agreement, despite the fact that the entire agreement was said to have been coordinated with and reviewed by Moscow.
Although there was not a single mention of the Eurasian Economic Union in the text of the agreement, the Armenian authorities did not miss out on the opportunity to point out that there were contradictions to its obligations in that union.
Nonetheless, Russia has on several occasions expressed its opinion regarding this agreement – neither positive, nor negative. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who recently visited Armenia for a two-day state visit, was conspicuously silent on the issue.
The Russian Ambassador to Armenia Ivan Volynkin said in an interview with Arminfo that Armenia is a sovereign country and has the right to participate in any treaties and alliances that do not contradict the commitments that it has previously made, but he also issued a warning:
“The European Union is not in a position to replace Russia in providing security guarantees for Armenia. The EU itself depends on NATO in this regard. The agreement to be signed between the European Union and Armenia does not contain commitments for the EU to provide Armenia with any economic or trade benefits.”
He also stated that ‘Armenia can become the bridge of cooperation between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union, between the West and the East which is so often spoken about.”
In her turn the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said the day before the signing that:
“Each country has its own foreign policy interests, goals and objectives. We treat this principle with respect.”
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