Armenia’s hopes to salvage a small part of its draft Association Agreement with the European Union were dealt another serious blow on Tuesday during Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian’s visit to Poland, a key promoter of closer ties between the EU and former Soviet republics.
Nalbandian flew to Warsaw in what appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to secure support for an Armenian government proposal to conclude the agreement without its basic component envisaging the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade (DCFTA).
President Serzh Sarkisian urged the EU to water down the planned deal after unexpectedly deciding to make Armenia part of a Russian-led customs union on September 3, something which will run counter to the DCFTA. The EU’s executive body, the European Commission, effectively rejected this idea.
Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski backed Brussels’s stance at a meeting with Nalbandian. According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, Sikorski “stressed that the Armenian government’s decision to join the Customs Union formed by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan has complicated the initialing of the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement with the EU.”
“He also underscored that Poland does not back the idea of signing only the political part of this package,” the ministry said in a statement.
The statement quoted Nalbandian as telling Sikorski that while the Armenian authorities remain committed to closer cooperation with the EU they believe "it cannot be at the expense of our allied relations with Russia." “He added that Armenia and Russia are bound by a military alliance and a privileged economic cooperation, especially concerning energy, which justifies the declaration made in Moscow by Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian on Armenia's accession to the Russia-Kazakhstan-Belarus Customs Union,” it said.
The idea of initialing a watered-down version of the Association Agreement at the EU’s November summit in Vilnius has also been rejected by Sweden. The latter initiated the EU’s Eastern Partnership program for Armenia and five other ex-Soviet states jointly with Poland in 2009.
Visiting Yerevan on Friday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said the EU and Armenia should now think about a “new legal framework” for their relations. But he indicated that it cannot be worked out in time for the Vilnius summit.