A Winning Hand at Eurasian Summit

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Armenia presided over the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) supreme summit, which began on October 1 in Yerevan. Much background politics and theatrics were at play.

The session took place on the heels of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s lackluster tour of the US; indeed, a crowd of 30,000 was anticipated at the Los Angeles rally. There were barely 6,000 enthusiastic expats who showed up, to whom the prime minister was profusely grateful. No prominent political figure met the Armenian leader, despite fanfare that Armenia had abandoned its strategic ties with Moscow, leaning Westward.

His photo opportunity at the halls of the United Nations headquarters with President Trump hardly amounts to a political success; the photos are pro forma.

Back home, some speculations and apprehension anticipated the EEU session, where in addition to the regular members of the organization, Armenia had invited the heads of Iran, Moldova and Singapore, which expanded the economic potentials and parameters of the organization.

During a previous session of the EEU, which had taken place in Armenia, that country’s then-President Sultan Nazarbayev had snubbed the Armenian leader and dispatched his representative to the session. At the same summit, Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko was outright dismissive of Pashinyan, if not insulting.

During the October 1 session, a drama was brewing with President Vladimir Putin’s anticipated participation. Russian media had signaled the Kremlin’s displeasure regarding the Velvet Revolution in Armenia, and social media in Yerevan was abuzz with gloom and doom.

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Former President Robert Kocharyan’s incarceration became a major issue and it actually turned into a political tug-of-war between the East and West.

President Putin had indicated that he would meet his old friend, Kocharyan, even in his jail cell. Therefore, a race against time began, and despite public rancor against Kocharyan, his potential release from jail became a cliffhanger.

Many hoped against hope that he would be released from jail temporarily to save the administration from embarrassment. Political pressure behind the scenes was certainly at play to deny a victory to the Russian President.

Bringing this drama to a close, Judge Anna Denibekyan declined the request by Kocharyan’s lawyer, Hayk Alumyan, to bail out the former president from behind bars. This judicial stand was interpreted by the media pundits as a reassertion of Armenia’s sovereignty.

Pashinyan’s administration was also able to withstand pressure by the EEU members to invite Azerbaijan as an observer to the organization. That drive was also deflected to forestall any possibility of cooperation between Baku and the EEU, at least on the leaders’ forum.

The opposition media were speculating that either President Putin would not show up at the last minute, or if he came, he would attend the official session only and depart in a few hours.

Indeed, Putin emerged from his plane with a poker face, but as the day wore on, his demeanor became livelier. Instead of  heading to Kocharyan’s jail, he opted for a brief encounter with Mrs. Bella Kocharyan. He fully participated in the proceedings of the program and on his way to the airport, he had a 1.5-hour one-on-one conversation with Prime Minister Pashinyan.

In his public meeting with the Armenian leader, he congratulated his host for his leadership; after all, Singapore’s and Iran’s participation added a new dimension to the forum. Armenia’s prime minster held separate meetings with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, with whom he signed agreements for economic cooperation. Lukashenko had changed his relationship with Pashinyan to the point of a close friendship.

Iran indicated its interest in reviving the power plant project in the Meghri region.

During the course of negotiations, Armenia discussed the potential for exporting renewable energy to Iran against gas imports. Tehran also considered Armenia not only as a conduit to the EEU market, but far beyond as a transit route to Europe.

Under Western sanctions, Iran was looking to form new friendships and Moscow was eager not to lose its old strategic allies, allowing Armenia to restore its sovereignty vis-à-vis old partners.

Turkey was the 800-pound gorilla in the background. Turkish military presence in Nakhijevan alarmed its historic adversaries, Russia and Iran.

Although the three nations have cooperated in Syria, Turkey’s robust activities in the region has instilled fear in its neighbors. Therefore, Iran and Russia have signed a military pact as a deterrent to the Turkish thrust in Azerbaijan, trying to drive a wedge between Iran and Russia at NATO’s behest. Although Armenia has no role in this new rapprochement, it becomes the prime beneficiary of that military pact.

Commenting on these developments, Manvel Sargsyan, director of the Armenian Center for Strategic and National Studies, writes, “But the times are changing. Global trends are forcing everyone to adjust their ideas about relationship with partners, even those who have never been considered a partner. Russia, driven into a corner by Western countries, can no longer rely on the Eurasian Union. There was an imperative to enter a wider space and into the sphere of relations between leading countries. And here you have to change your attitude towards your traditional partners, the club under the name EAEU (sometimes EEU is written as EAEU) has not become a mechanism for deploying a new network of global relations.”

EEU was created by Russia to emulate the European Union and act as a counterbalance to it on the global scene. But thus far, the organization has not met its goals, because its members have diverse interests and politics. Sometimes, they are even competitors against each other on the world scene, such as Russia and Kazakhstan trying to supply energy to the same markets. Even its bid to vie for a common currency is a far shot.

Armenia considers it a vehicle to conquer international markets as do the other member states.

The EEU session which began with apprehension, helped Armenia to consolidate its relations with its traditional partners and develop new relationships.

That allowed Yerevan to recover its position in the regional politics.

The World Congress of Information Technologies (WCIT), which came on the  heels of the EEU summit, proved to be the icing on the cake. As the prime minister announced, “Armenia can become a paradise for talented people.”

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