In the run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit, which is scheduled to take place on 24 November in Brussels, two questions have been pre-occupying the minds of those who are closely following events. The first question concerns a visit to the European capital by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, who for a long time was on the EU sanctions list. The second question concerns a more tangible component of the upcoming summit: will Yerevan sign the EU-Armenia Framework Agreement, considering the failure to sign the document in 2013? And if, up until now, there is no clear idea about the plans of ‘Europe’s last dictator’ Lukashenko to attend the event, there is no doubt about Armenia’s commitment to intensify its political and economic ties with the EU.
The planned signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement on the sidelines of the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels will be Armenia’s second attempt to get closer to the EU. The first one failed in 2013, when, after three years of successful multidimensional cooperation between Brussels and Yerevan, Serzh Sargsyan, the President of Armenia, refused to sign an Associated Agreement with the EU. Instead, he announced that Armenia would join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). It is reported that the decision was taken after meeting with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, who urged his Armenian counterpart to become a member of the Russian-led Customs Union.
The rapid change in political and economic preferences in Yerevan served like a cold shower for the EU bureaucrats. Stefan Fulle, who served as the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood at that time, could not hide his dismay when he said that the Association Treaty “is no longer on the table because of Armenia’s decision to join the EEU”. However, Fulle reiterated the EU’s support in continuing dialogue with the civil society in Armenia.
For some, the decision, taken by Sargsyan in the run-up to the 2013 EPS in Vilnius, was at first sight unexpected, but it barely surprised those who are familiar with the economic situation of this small South-Caucasian republic. Armenia, a landlocked country with very few natural resources, has long been dependent on imports of food, oil and natural gas. A sealed border with Turkey, uneasy relations with Azerbaijan (because of the protracted conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh), and the backing of Turkey by Baku, do not help to bring economic prosperity to Armenia. Considering these circumstances, this tiny Christian Orthodox country had no other options but to seek Russia’s support. John Kennedy’s favourite quote, “necessity has made us allies”, is perhaps a way of perfectly describing this ‘involuntary’ alliance. At present, Russia is Armenia’s biggest trade partner, with turnover reaching 1 billion 76 million in January-October 2016. Moreover, Yerevan is highly dependent on Moscow’s main tool of manipulation – gas – not to mention the close cooperation between the two countries with regards to security.
If Armenia signs the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in Brussels next week, it will be the first member of the pro-Russian led projects EEU and CSTO to sign a framework agreement with the EU. It looks as though Armenia, trapped between its traditional ties to the East and a desire to integrate with the West, chose the latter option.