Armenia’s surprise pledge to join the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will thwart its Association Agreement with the European Union, EU officials confirmed late on Tuesday.
News reports quoted Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania, the current EU president, as saying that Armenian membership in the Russian-led union will be incompatible with the key element of he planned agreement: the creation of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area” with the EU.
"We respect any choice of countries but they cannot enter both organizations at the same time because of different tariff requirements," Linkevicius told the AFP news agency.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country has been a key backer of association deals with ex-Soviet states, made similar comments on Twitter. “Seems as if Armenia will break talks on free trade agreement with EU and integrate with Russia instead,” he wrote.
“Armenia negotiated 4 years to get Association Agreement with EU. Now President [Serzh Sarkisian] prefers Kremlin to Brussels,” Bildt added in a separate entry.
Elmar Brok, the German chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, likewise said Armenia’s Association Agreement will not be signed any time soon. “I feel very sorry because it is legally -- because of certain conditions -- not possible to be a full member both of the Customs Union and have an association agreement and free trade area agreement with the European Union,” he told an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels.
Brok blamed Russia for Yerevan’s U-turn that was announced after Sarkisian’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “A small country like Armenia was blackmailed to make such a decision,” he said.
Asked about the future of Armenia’s relationship with the EU, the lawmaker said, “There will be a relationship as we have with every country but not a relationship with a European perspective.”
The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has not yet officially reacted to the development. A spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele told RFE/RL that he is "currently consulting our Armenian partners on the latest developments" and that the "potential implications" will be examined when "all the necessary details" emerge.