Though the government can’t produce any clear-cut arguments in favor of the country’s membership, it opts to remain in the union
Armenia’s withdrawal from the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and parallel intensification of ties with the EU and NATO, has stopped being a marginal issue in Armenia and is actively discussed in the current discourse. Until recently, the EAEU was considered a ‘sacred’ issue in Armenia.
This issue was ‘set in motion’ by Edmon Marukyan, an individual leader of the ‘Yelk’ (translated as ‘the way out’) faction. He claimed that Armenia should initiate withdrawal from the EAEU and launch new talks on associating with the EU.
Mane Tandilyan, an MP from the same faction, pointed to a number of reasons why Armenia should withdraw from the EAEU: the Eurasian Union hasn’t been beneficial to the Armenian economy; Russia, which is Armenia’s strategic partner, hasn’t stopped selling weapons to Azerbaijan; accession to the EAEU destroyed the perception of Armenia as a free and independent state.
The Armenian Heritage party also issued a statement, calling for revision of the Armenia-Russia gas agreement. There have also been direct calls for joining NATO and seeking new security guarantees.
Although the representative of the ruling Republican Party (RPA) claim that Armenia has no alternative to the EAEU and CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), they are now at least engaged in debates on this issue.
According to Armenian analysts, the RPA would like to demonstrate to Russia that there is no former unanimity with regard to indispensability of the pro-Russian vector in Armenia. Thus, the RPA wants to gain the upper hand in the bargain with Russia. However, the scantiness of arguments is also a kind of reprimand to Moscow for not ‘giving’ enough to the RPA in exchange for its loyalty.
Economic benefits – a bluff or reality?
After Armenia joined the EAEU, the gas tariff on the border has changed in favor of our consumers, – said Eduard Sharmazanov, the Armenian National Assembly Vice-Chairman. He also noted that Armenia wasn’t going to terminate it’s cooperation with other global centers. He added that the deal over the Vorotan HPP cascade was eloquent evidence of Armenia’s energy cooperation with the USA.
As a reminder: Armenia sold the Vorotan hydro-cascade to the U.S.-based ContourGlobal Co. However, the organization has so far failed to achieve liberalization of the Armenian energy market, which will allow it to enter into free competition. This a clear example of how monopolization of the economy by the Russian state-run corporations restricts Armenia’s economic development.
Armenian analysts actively expose the government officials who are trying to justify Armenia’s membership to the EAEU by stating the economic benefits. The most basic of fact checks proves the contrary: Armenia lost quite a lot when it joined the EAEU, and the matter concerns not only the economic preferences from the EU, but also the customs allowances in communication with Georgia and Iran.
Is it a forcible or voluntary union?
So, what keeps Armenia in the EAEU and CSTO, given that even the authorities couldn’t find any clear-cut arguments in favor of its membership in those unions? Here we deal with two factors. The first one is the Armenian political elite’s dependence on the Kremlin, which has proved on a number of occasions that it can easily ‘change power’ in Armenia. The second one is the growing pressure on the part of Moscow, which has now resorted to blackmailing and threats.
Almazbek Atambayev, the President of Kyrgyzstan, has recently admitted that a ‘certain country’ threatened Kyrgyzstan with missile strikes, and that is against the background of the U.S. military base which was stationed at Manas international airport. “Some countries warned us that there would be missile strikes on the U.S. military facilities and that the Kyrgyz people would be affected,” said Atambayev. He specified that it had been so up until 2014, when the U.S. military base withdrew from the republic.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the National Assembly Vice-Speaker, also indirectly admitted the fact of being pressured on the part of Russia. Speaking about tourism development in Georgia and Armenia, he said that Georgia would have probably preferred to have less tourists, but maintain its territories. People in Armenia perceived it as a confession: Russia threatened Armenia by the loss of its territories in case the latter refused to join the EAEU.
Did Russia really threaten Armenia? And what could Moscow have done if Armenia had refused to join the EAEU? “Russia couldn’t have seized territory from Armenia, it couldn’t have given Artsakh to Azerbaijan and arranged anything worse than the April war,” said Hakob Badalyan, an analyst at Lragir.am. He believes that the Armenian authorities agreed to join the EAEU solely for their own benefit.
It is noteworthy that, alongside the RPA members’ ‘rosy statements’ about the benefits of the Eurasian integration, Russia has started losing its former supporters in Armenia. This has been manifested in many different ways: for example, not a single application has been submitted for the 40 vacant seats, offered this year by the Faculty of Russian Language and Literature at the Yerevan State University.
Generally speaking, the excessive pressure from Russia and the total Eurasian loyalty of the Armenian authorities cause public rejection in Armenia, which is fueled by both the sales of Russian weapons to Azerbaijan, as well as Russia’s ‘obscene’ proposals to grant the Russian language official status in Armenia.
Armenia has so far determined the following ‘red lines’ in its relations with Russia: first of all, there could be only one official language in Armenia – the Armenian language, and secondly, as President Sargsyan pointed out, Russia’s sale of weapons to Azerbaijan hasn’t led to any serious consequences so far. But if something serious happens…
USA and EU become more active
Along with the exposure of the Eurasian bluff in Armenia, the USA and EU have also intensified their activity. Richard Mills, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, stated that U.S. companies could possibly invest USD 8 billion in Armenia’s renewable energy sphere, which is a tremendous amount for Armenia, with its state budget hardly amounting to USD 4 billion. France and Germany also expressed it’s readiness to invest in Armenia’s energy sector.
Piotr Świtalski, the Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, called on the Armenian authorities to promote the use of renewable solar energy in the country, emphasizing that ‘EU is doing a lot in Armenia to facilitate its energy independence’.
The Armenian authorities didn’t respond concretely to this proposal. Instead, the President issued a statement saying that Armenia would highly welcome cooperation with the USA in the technological sphere. Armenian experts noticed that Armenia can’t ‘let’ the western capital into the energy sphere, which is practically monopolized by Russia.
Meanwhile, NATO has been actively seeking cooperation with Armenia. Armenian military have participated in two large-scale NATO drills in recent months. During NATO-led exercises in Romania, the participants underwent training in countermeasure operations against Russia’s possible ‘aggressions’. Other NATO exercises, which will be launched in Georgia in the near future, will be also related to the Russian threat.
Is there any alternative?
Eduard Sharmazanov, the National Assembly Vice-Speaker, claims that Armenia’s economy is tightly linked to the EAEU member-states and that their goods can compete at the EAEU market. “There is no alternative either to the CSTO or the EAEU. The reason we joined those unions is to serve our national interests, rather than to please anyone,” he said.
However, as the Heritage party pointed out in its statement, Armenia has energy alternatives, be it Iran or renewable energy sources. “The USA and EU’s proposal to invest in the Armenian energy sphere is not just a guarantee of energy security, but also that of the country’s economic development,” reads the statement.
Gagik Ambaryan, a political analyst from Gyumri, suggests that Russia should be urged to undertake expenditures for the 102nd military base in Gyumri. “On the model of Kyrgyz Manas, Armenia should provide its airport in, let’s say, Arzni, for a small NATO military base,” said Ambaryan.
Serzh Sargsyan opposes this idea. “Is it possible to have closer ties with the West, and will NATO welcome us with open arms?” he stated during the ‘R-Evolution’ program on one of the Armenian TV channels.
Crisis in Russia-Armenia relations
Gagik Hambaryan, a political analyst, termed the Armenian-Russian relations as ‘farcical’. “A strategic ally can’t sell weapons to our adversary. Also, the Russian monopolists’ presence at the Armenian market has taken on the characteristic of looting. This ‘formal robbery’ is the case in the gas field, as well as in the railway communication sphere. All our strategic facilities, be it transport, energy or communication ones, belong to Russia.
“We have entrusted our security to it, we even covered the utility service costs of the Russian military base in Gyumri, as well as half of the expenses of the Russian border guard troops in Armenia. Meanwhile, the Russians have to pay a lease fee for their military bases in Syria, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We provided huge land areas to the Gyumri base, whereas the base servicemen have proved to be a real disaster for the townspeople,” he believes.
Levon Shirinyan, a political analyst, noted that Russia’s pressure proved to be counterproductive: “I think they are very much afraid of transformations in the Armenians’ collective consciousness, which is actually the result of their own policy. After the April war, when even the fifth column didn’t work, they saw that the young generation was ready to give themselves over to the ideas of statehood and sovereignty. It’s an extremely important psychological act. Psychological ‘sovereignization’ is a real nightmare for them.”
Ultimately, the Armenian political forces are unlikely to initiate a withdrawal from the EAEU at this stage, though the ‘Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union’ provides for such an opportunity.
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