By Edmond Y. Azadian
For the last three and a half years, Armenia had been negotiating with the European Union (EU) to sign the Association Agreement, yet on September 3, at the conclusion of the meeting between Presidents Serge Sargisian and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Armenia’s president announced that his country had decided to join the Customs Union with Russia. Polls in Armenia were indicating that 72 percent of the population preferred joining the EU, in anticipation of internal reforms bringing the country up to European norms, in terms of economic development, democratic processes and rule of law. But the president’s announcement caught everyone by surprise, since there had been no debate in parliament, nor was a public referendum held.
The negotiations of the EU Association Agreement (including a deep and comprehensive free-trade area) with Armenia were finalized in July. Upon learning about Armenia’s U-turn, the European Commission issued a memo, stating, “This agreement would allow Armenia EU support, to drive forward a program of comprehensive modernization and reform based upon shared values, political association and economic integration.”
Although the European Union has not expressed forcefully its disappointment with Yerevan’s decision, Western media has. The Wall Street Journal normally does not dwell much on what goes on in Armenia, but it published an article in its September 5 issue with the following headline: “Armenia Jilts Europe, Ties Trade Knot with Moscow.”
Commenting further, the Journal writes, “European diplomats were stunned this week by word that Armenia, which had been heading toward strengthening ties with the European Union, will instead join a Customs Union led by Russia — handing the Kremlin a victory in its tug of war with Brussels for influence in the region.”
The EU commission had limited its remarks to a wait-and-see position, announcing that it will wait for clarifications from Yerevan. One thing was clear — the two sides’ agreements were mutually exclusive. A few apologists with the current administration had announced that Armenia’s shift towards Russia would not take place at the expense of severing its ties with the EU. But the latter does not see the situation that way. European officials say that countries in the Moscow-led Customs Union cannot be integrated into the EU because they have effectively ceded their sovereignty over trade issues to Russia.