The Armenian-Russian relations and strategic military alliance between the two countries are based on real interests, not on mutual sympathy or civilizational values. The remarks came from Sergey Markedonov, a Russian political analyst, at the conference “Eurasian Economic Union and European Union: Armenian Factor.”
He is sure that any country with the regional geopolitical specifics of Armenia would start building allied relations with Russia and searching for alternatives, at the same time. Armenia is trying to maneuver. Azerbaijan and Belarus are doing the same, Markedonov said. “When countries get far from final and one-sided choice comprehending the possible consequences of such one-sidedness, they gain. In 2013, Armenia set accession to the EAEU as its policy. This did not hold it from signing a new framework agreement with the EU. There are opposite examples too: Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova,” Markedonov says.
Stepan Grigoryan, an Armenian political analyst, director of the Analytical Center for Globalization and Regional Cooperation, disagreed with him, saying that many forgot that Armenia made its civilizational choice yet long ago when it became a member of the Council of Europe.
As an outspoken supporter of European integration Grigoryan is sure that Armenia’s EAEU membership is in favor of oligarchs and big business only and it does not meet the interests of small and mid-sized businesses and the ordinary people. “The framework agreement with the EU clearly specifies the role of the civil society and SMEs, whereas EAEU protects the interests of oligarchy engaged in various corrupt practices,” Grigoryan said. At the same time, he said, Armenian gains from the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri and the military alliance with Moscow from the viewpoint of security.
In response, Grigoryan was presented with the examples of Moldova and Georgia where oligarchy does not support integration into the EAEU and Association Agreements with the EU not always reflect the interests of small businesses. “Until recently, Moldova was perceived as the flagman of European integration and Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc actively promotes pro-European course. In Georgia, exports to EU decreased after the country signed the EU AA. In 2016, the exports fell for 13%, whereas imports increased for 20%,” one of the conference participants reminded to Grigoryan.
In the meantime, Markedonov believes that Russia admits the importance of EU for Armenia. “Firstly, there is economic interest. Moscow is a major trade partner of Armenia and takes the leading positions in the country’s foreign trade structure. Besides, EU is important to Russia as well, despite propaganda. Russia keeps supplying energy to Europe, cooperates with the West over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and even the Ukrainian crisis,” he says.
In response, Grigoryan said he casts no doubt on the necessity of the Russian-Armenian strategic partnership. The only problem is Moscow’s attitude towards the framework agreement between Yerevan and Brussels. Russia needs to comprehend that the document is not aimed against a third country, Grigoryan said.
Markedonov, in turn, emphasized that among the signatories of the document (Armenia’s agreement with EU) on the side of Brussels, there is also Euroatom (European Atomic Energy Community). “What about the Armenian NPP? Aren’t there any Russian interests? Back to the text, it contains some quite unequivocal recommendations, though not imperatives (with specific dates and schedules). Among such recommendations is ‘closure and safe shut down of the Metsamor NPP and sooner adoption of a road map or an action plan to replace it with new capacities.’ Meantime, that plant supplies about 40% of the country’s need in electricity,” the Russian political analyst said.
Besides, he said, Armenia’s security factor will prevail as long as there is unresolved Karabakh conflict and closed border with Turkey, as long as Ankara supports Baku in that conflict. “Of course, there are claims to Russia over sales of weapons to Azerbaijan. After the armed clashes in Karabakh last April, Moscow has also drawn certain conclusions. Nevertheless, one should comprehend that Russia will not make a final choice between Armenia and Azerbaijan, like Armenia does not choose between Russia and EU,” Markedonov said.
Political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev partially agreed with him saying the new agreement between Armenia and EU cannot be interpreted as a shift of Yerevan’s foreign policy line from Moscow to Brussels. “Considering Armenia’s economic and military and political dependence on Russia, one cannot say that Armenia has found an alternative to EAEU in the new document with EU,” he said. “Security factor is important to Armenia and neither EU nor the West at large can provide it to Armenia.”
“The EU does not provide security to any country. Moreover, EU’s security is provided by another organization – NATO, which comprises such country as Turkey,” Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute, recalled.