Turkey tests the waters: Eurasian integration ahead?
The Minister of Economy of Turkey, Nihat Zeybekçi, says Turkey intends to sign a customs agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union. Zeybekçi made the announcement at an exhibition in Izmir last Friday.
“We have received an offer to begin discussions with the Eurasian Economic Union to sign a customs agreement: without violating its agreement with the European Union, Turkey would like to establish cooperation with the EEU,” said Zeybekçi.
A strange situation
The statement has been commented on by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia. The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Shavarsh Kocharyan, told Armenpress in an interview that ‘First of all, entrance into the Eurasian Economic Union does not entail entrance into the Customs Union. Moreover, it is absurd for Turkey to discuss joining the customs territory of the EEU, given that the country has unilaterally closed the Armenian-Turkish border – the only dry-land route between Turkey and the customs territory of the EAEU.”
Does this mean that Armenia may agree to the EAEU agreement with Turkey if Ankara opens its borders? And does Kocharyan’s statement also mean that Armenia will veto the agreement if Turkey declines to open its borders?
The Armenian-Turkish border has been unilaterally closed by Ankara since 1993. In doing so, Turkey expressed its solidarity with Azerbaijan over the Karabakh conflict. And Armenia has already gotten used to living in a partial blockade, though the opening of the border with Turkey may stimulate economic growth in Armenia.
Armenian political scientist Levon Shirinyan believes that Armenia must put forward firm conditions in front of Turkey, including the recognition of the genocide and dealing with its consequences.
In turn, internet portal lragir.am asked the question: What will happen if Turkey signs an agreement and in doing so opens the only border with the EAEU? Then, Armenia’s situation may become indeed rather absurd. The charm of the situation is that Armenia itself does not have borders with other countries of the EAEU. That is, even if Turkey does open the border with Armenia, then it still has to ship its goods to Russia through Georgia, which is not obliged to abide by any agreements with the EAEU. It is much simpler for Turkey to do business with Russia via the Black Sea.
Shuvalov forgot about Turkey
First Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov stated at an economic forum in Issyk Kul on 22 August that the Eurasian Economic Union is not a political project and is being realized not upon the initiative of Russia alone. “The project was born in the beginning of the 1990s per initiative of the president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, who came up with the idea of Eurasian integration,” he noted. The countries of the union will have issues when it comes to creating free trade zones with non-member states. “So far, such a mechanism has been launched only with Vietnam, which is developing rather well. In parallel, tough negotiations with Iran are being conducted. Consultations on this issue are being lead with Singapore and China as well, and the possibility of cooperating with the PRC in the project ‘One belt – one way’ is also being considered.” Shuvalov did not mention Turkey.
Moreover, Russia has not officially commented on the statement made by the Turkish minister, which allowed experts to suppose that the statement was not agreed upon beforehand with Russia and may simply have been a move to check on the reaction of Russia. Or Russia simply did not take the statement of the Turkish minister very seriously.
Who sent the offer to Turkey – Tigran Sarkisyan?
However, it is really the Eurasian Economic Commission which should react, not Russia. The EAEC is currently headed by ex-premier of Armenia, Tigran Sarkisyan. The Turkish minister did not specify who sent Turkey the offer. Was it Russia or close-to-Turkey Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan? Or perhaps the offer was sent personally by Tigran Sarkisyan, whom after being appointed Premier Minister of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev called ‘the big boss’ As a whole, the appointment of retired Armenian formerly high-placed officials to leadership positions in the EAEU and CSTO (the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization is also the former head of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces Yuri Khachaturov) is ambiguously assessed in Armenia.
There is the opinion that Russia, in appointing Armenians to these positions, is trying to accomplish unpleasant deeds by their hand. On the other hand, it’s possible that Russia is trying to protect itself from superfluous pressure from Turkey and Azerbaijan. Experts note that if offers made by Baku or Ankara do not suit Moscow, then they are sent on to the ‘Armenians’, and make a counter offer to take up the issue with them. The position of Tigran Sarkisyan concerning Turkey’s joining the customs zone of the EAEU is unknown. But the silence of the ex-premier of Armenia says that the statement of the Turkish minister had other aims. Zeybekçi’s statement is blackmail aimed at Brussels and Washington – believes Armenian political scientist Stepan Grigoryan.
As Grigoryan noted, of all, Russia is the least interested in Turkey’s integration into the EAEU, because it would interfere with its protectionist policies. On 23 August, a meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Russia, Serzh Sarkisyan and Vladimir Putin will take place. Whether this question will be discussed or not at the meeting is as of yet unknown.