Three months later after signing the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement at the Eastern Partnership Summit, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, Eduard Nalbandyan met in Brussels on February 22 to lay out the priorities for future cooperation between the European Union and Yerevan.
The signing of Partnership Priorities, which falls into line with the newly-enhanced cooperation between the EU and Armenia despite the laters’ last minute withdrawal from signing a key Associated Agreement in 2013, establishes four main areas where both sides hope to achieve results in the feasible future.
The list of priorities for future bilateral cooperation includes strengthening the role of public institutions; improving Armenia’s economic development and its market opportunities; increasing of people’s mobility and people-to-people contacts; as well as cooperation in environment and climate change policies.
Moreover, the document lays the foundation for €160 million in financial assistance that the EU plans to disperse to Yerevan, a substantial amount for a landlocked country with few natural resources, a high dependence on the import of food, oil, and natural gas, and remittances from Armenia’s vast diaspora in Russia, the US and Europe.
According to Mogherini, who actively pursues a policy of rapprochement with the nations of the South Caucasus, signing the PP serves to “further the enhancement of our already strong friendship and cooperation”.
Russia, Armenia’s biggest trade partner and the country’s security stability guarantor in the region, is highly skeptical of Mogherini’s intentions in the region and wary of any move by the West to enhance its position on Moscow’s southern flank.
Though Armenia is a full member of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, which imposes certain trade limitations on third parties, the Kremlin has so far idly stood by as more Western institutions look to court Yerevan.
Armenia’s own interest in re-examining its relationship with Europe likely stems from the conflict in Ukraine. Russia’s support of pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region and its annexation of Crimea has likely sent a signal to other former Soviet republics who entertain the idea of leaving Russia’s orbit that the Kremlin is capable of sparking deadly wars against former close allies.
Yerevan has grown increasingly worried about Russia’s support for its bitter arch-enemy Azerbaijan and the Kremlin’s increasingly warm ties with Armenia’s historic foe, Turkey.
Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody six-year war between 1988-1994 over Nagorny-Karabakh – an ethnically Armenian region that is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan. During the war, Moscow originally provided military aid to both sides before opting to heavily back Armenia as it began to rout Azerbaijan’s poorly trained army. Despite being officially part of Azerbaijan, Karabakh has been under the de facto control of Armenia since a ceasefire was negotiated by Russia, the US, and France.
Russian President Vladimir Putin enjoys a close relationship with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan, but the sale of S-300 surface-to-air missile systems and advanced anti-tank weapons to both Azerbaijan and Turkey has left Armenia feeling angered and vulnerable with its defence and economic fortunes tied to Moscow.