Armenia will receive few tangible benefits and risk alienating Moscow if it presses ahead with an “association agreement” with the European Union instead of joining a new Russian-led union of ex-Soviet states, according to a senior Russian diplomat.
Vyacheslav Kovalenko, who was until recently the Russian ambassador in Yerevan, issued the unusually stark warning on Monday in an interview with the news website of a Moscow-based youth organization promoting the Eurasian Union, a brainchild of President Vladimir Putin.
Kovalenko noted that Armenia is close to signing the association accord with the EU and therefore reluctant to seek full membership of the existing customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which Putin hopes will be the starting point of his Eurasian project.
“European countries offer Armenia to follow the ‘more for more’ principle,’” he told EvrazesNews.ru. “A question arises in this regard: what real assistance, except for advice and promises for the future, has the EU provided to Armenia in the past year? By embracing European values, Armenia, it appears, could step onto a slippery path. As they said in ancient times, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’”
The Association Agreement with the EU, Kovalenko warned, would mean that “allied relations between Russia and Armenia have their boundaries.” “With the signing of that agreement by the EU and Armenia, there will probably be greater tendency take into account one’s own interests in our relations, which is what the EU does. While certainly remaining allies, we will be developing bilateral relations on an equal and mutually beneficial footing.”
In that context, the diplomat, who headed the Russian mission in Armenia from 2009 until March 2013, quoted prominent Armenian intellectuals who viewed Russia as the sole guarantor of Armenia’s survival a century ago. “Armenia can only live with Russia or not live at all,” he cited one of them as having said a century ago.
The remarks are the clearest indication yet that Moscow is unhappy with Yerevan’s apparent determination to avoid joining the Russian-led unions and seal the association deal with the EU instead. Despite holding no concrete position in Russia’s Foreign Ministry at present, Kovalenko apparently did not retire from the Russian diplomatic service upon completing his mission in Armenia. The 67-year-old career diplomat kept a low profile and was very cautious in his public pronouncements during his four-year tenure in the country.
President Serzh Sarkisian insisted earlier this year that Yerevan is not under Russian pressure to join the Eurasian Union, dismissing intense speculation to the contrary in the Armenian media. Sarkisian and other Armenian officials have repeatedly voiced support for “integration processes” in the former Soviet Union. However, they have stopped short of explicitly advocating Armenia’s accession to the new bloc promoted by the Kremlin.
Sarkisian reaffirmed his administration’s intention to move much closer to the EU when he visited Poland last month. The Armenian people, he argued, are “carriers of European values.”
Kovalenko seemed to scoff at these remarks. “Nobody says that CIS countries, including Armenia, must look at the world through Russia’s eyes,” he said. “Every independent state is free to make a political choice and that is right. But isn’t there an ongoing devaluation of these European values?”
The Russian diplomat pointed to the West’s “irresponsible” and “immoral” policies in the Arab world. “Under the guise of a fight for democracy, they provoke color revolutions, make threats and use military force,” he told EvrazesNews.ru. Kovalenko also blasted Western officials and pundits for branding the Eurasian Union project an attempt to restore the Soviet Union.