A coalition of Armenian civic organizations promoting European integration on Wednesday condemned President Serzh Sarkisian’s decision to join a Russian-led alliance of ex-Soviet states as a “national humiliation” and pledged to fight for its reversal.
“Serzh Sarkisian’s surprise announcement inflicted irrecoverable damage on Armenia’s international standing and reputation as a credible partner,” the Civil Society Forum (SCF) said in a long statement.
The SCF said membership in the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan would earn Armenia no major economic or security benefits and would only thwart sweeping reforms which Yerevan pledged to carry out in accordance with an Association Agreement planned with the European Union.
“Numerous programs that are aimed at implementing reforms in various areas and strengthening ties with the EU … have become futile,” read the statement. “The completed programs will not produce desired results whereas the ongoing ones are now at serious risk.”
The SCF, which is sponsored by the EU and unites several dozen non-governmental groups, dismissed arguments that the Sarkisian government had no choice but to succumb to Russian pressure because of Armenia’s heavy dependence on military ties with Russia. It said Armenia will on the contrary become more “vulnerable” in the long term if it joins the Russian-led bloc.
The NGO grouping also argued that Yerevan should have pulled out of nearly four-year association talks with the EU much earlier if it felt that there are serious security risks involved. In that case the Armenian entry into the customs union would have been more “dignified and acceptable,” it said.
Up until this month, the Armenian government seemed determined to conclude the Association Agreement and steer clear of a trade bloc which Moscow plans to turn into a Eurasian Economic Union of ex-Soviet states. Sarkisian announced a radical change of this policy following his September 3 talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Armenian leader has made no public statements on the issue since then.
The SCF said that this unexpected U-turn “cannot be deemed irreversible,” demanding an emergency session of the Armenian parliament. “The situation can be rectified through civic activism and the consolidation of healthy forces of the society that are not indifferent,” said its statement.
The statement added that the pro-EU civic groups will hold a conference for that purpose on Thursday. It urged government officials to attend the forum and explain Sarkisian’s about-face.