In a dramatic about-face that will likely scuttle Armenia’s Association Agreement with the European Union, President Serzh Sarkisian announced on Tuesday his decision to join a Russian-led union of ex-Soviet states after a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
A joint statement issued after the talks held near Moscow said Sarkisian informed Putin about “the decision of the Republic of Armenia to join the Customs Union” of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and “take necessary practical steps for that purpose.” The statement added that Yerevan will also “participate in the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union,” which Putin hopes will bring together a larger number of former Soviet republics loyal Moscow.
Sarkisian confirmed the unexpected U-turn at a joint news conference. “I confirmed Armenia’s desire to join the Customs Union and get involved in the process of the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union,” he said.
Explaining the “rational decision,” Sarkisian pointed to Armenia’s membership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance. “I have repeatedly said before that when you are part of one system of military security it is impossible and ineffective to isolate yourself from a corresponding economic space,” he said in remarks posted on his website.
“This decision is not an abandonment of our dialogue with European structures,” added the Armenian leader. He said his government remains committed to “institutional reforms” sought by those structures but made no mention of the planned Association Agreement with the EU.
EU officials have repeatedly made clear that the agreement is “not compatible” with possible Armenian membership of the Russian-led trade bloc. The authorities in Yerevan seem to have accepted this precondition, speeding up the association talks with Brussels this year.
The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, announced “substantive completion” of the talks in late July.” It said the Association Agreement will be initialed at an EU summit in Vilnius in November.
The prospect of such a deal has triggered growing Russian pressure on Yerevan over the past year. A host of Russian pundits close to the Kremlin have warned in recent months that its signing would cause irreparable damage to Russian-Armenian ties and military cooperation in particular. One of them, Konstantin Zatulin, was quoted by the Moscow daily “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” as saying ahead of Putin’s latest talks with Sarkisian that Armenia risks the kind of “negative consequences” that are currently facing Ukraine, another ex-Soviet state planning to sign an Association Agreement with the EU.
Russia briefly banned imports of most Ukrainian goods last month in what was widely seen as a warning to Ukraine.