A retired diplomat who was until recently Russia’s ambassador in Yerevan said on Friday that President Serzh Sarkisian’s controversial decision to make Armenia part of the Russian-led customs union took him by surprise.
Vyacheslav Kovalenko also confirmed that the Russian leadership concurs with his recent claim that Armenia’s integration with the European Union is a “road to hell.”
“Yes, it was somewhat unexpected for me,” Kovalenko told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), referring to Sarkisian’s September 3 statement made after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kovalenko, who completed in his tenure in March, argued that Yerevan previously gave no indications that it wants to join the customs union and pressed instead for an Association Agreement with the EU. He said Armenian leaders even refused to share the draft agreement with their Russian colleagues. “They were saying something along these lines, ‘We can’t show you the text because it has not yet been finalized; we have promised the EU not to publicize the unfinished text,’” he said.
Kovalenko publicly criticized Yerevan’s European integration drive last July in an interview with the news website of a Moscow-based youth organization promoting the creation of a Russian-led Eurasian Union. “By embracing European values, Armenia, it appears, could step onto a slippery path,” he warned. “As they said in ancient times, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’”
Those remarks were a clear indication of growing Russian pressure on Armenia. Many analysts regard Sarkisian’s September 3 U-turn as being the result of that pressure.
Kovalenko insisted on Friday that his July comments reflected the views of Russia’s political leadership. “I am sure about that,” he said.
The 67-year-old diplomat cited the plight of the ex-Soviet Baltic countries as well as Bulgaria and Romania -- all of them EU members -- when asked to explain why he thinks European integration is tantamount to “hell.” “Where are they now?” he said. “They are in some anteroom, with begging hands. They have lost their national identity. They have effectively lowered their national identity to the ground level.”
“Does Armenia want to follow their path? No problem. It’s Armenia’s choice,” added Kovalenko.