Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Armenia's Membership in the Eurasian Economic Union: An Economic Challenge and Possible Consequences for Regional Security

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Armenia's Membership in the Eurasian Economic Union: An Economic Challenge and Possible Consequences for Regional Security

Article excerpt

Introduction

Just six weeks after finalising negotiations on the EU-Armenia Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), Armenia changed direction abruptly. Immediately after negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 3 September 2013, President Serzh Sargsyan announced that Armenia would join the Russia-led Customs Union, and later on the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Official statements made before had not indicated the likelihood of such a policy turn. Back in April 2012, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan had told the Russian newspaper Kommersant why Armenia would not join the Customs Union: "In global practice there is no example of a country joining a customs union without having a common border. ... We would only get into trouble with higher tariffs and taxes. It is not reasonable from the economic point of view. ... The Customs Union does not provide any functional instruments for our economic players. Therefore, it is of no use."1 Shortly before Sargsyan's visit to Moscow, on 21 August 2013, Shavarsh Kocharyan, deputy minister for foreign affairs, had said that entering the Russian bloc would mean "saying goodbye to one's sovereignty."2

Although Sargsyan made the decision about Customs Union membership unilaterally, without consulting parliament or members of government, none of the officials who had earlier spoken against it expressed any disagreement. Quite the contrary, they were supportive of the president's decision. In less than four months, a membership roadmap was prepared; in contrast, the negotiations on the EU-Armenia Association Agreement had taken nearly three years, including the DCFTA negotiations, which lasted about a year and a half.

The Armenian Political Parties' Attitudes to the EEU Treaty Ratification Process

By September 2013 it was predictable that Armenia's national assembly would ratify any treaty signed by Sargsyan.3 While the governing Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and its satellite, the Rule of Law Party, had a parliamentary majority large enough to pass any decision, in the case of the EEU accession treaty it immediately became clear that most of the opposition MPs would also vote in favour. Although the parliamentary opposition driven mainly by the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) and its ally at the time, the Armenian National Congress (ANC), were repeatedly criticising the president and the government, they did not oppose the decision to join the EEU. A smaller parliamentary faction, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Dashnaktsutyun (ARF), has traditionally been pro-Russian. The PAP, ANC and ARF have been avoiding criticism of Russia's policies on virtually any issue, including even arms sales to Azerbaijan. Together with the ruling coalition, they also praised the "referendum" in Crimea in March 2014.

The PAP, with the second largest parliamentary faction, was totally dependent on its founder Gagik Tsarukyan, one of Armenia's wealthiest businessmen. In addition to having large business interests in Russia, he often boasted of his personal friendship with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka. Tsarukyan not only showed consistent support for Armenia's membership of the Customs Union/EEU, but the media outlets he controlled vilified the government and criticised negotiations with the EU before Sargsyan's announcement on 3 September 2013, and then started attacking opponents of that decision. The ANC, led by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, started cooperation with the PAP in 2011. While the PAP had considerable financial and media resources, as well as a 36-member parliamentary faction (compared to the ANC's seven MPs), ANC members were especially active in organising joint public rallies.

In their public statements, including those at the rallies that took place until October 2014, the opposition leaders criticised the president and the government not for the decision to participate in the Eurasian integration process but for postponing such a decision until Russia supplemented long-term pressure with explicit threats. …

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