Armenia would have dramatically increased the risk of another with war with Azerbaijan had it not decided to join a Russian-led customs union at the expense of closer ties with the European Union, according to a prominent political ally of President Serzh Sarkisian.
Vazgen Manukian, a veteran politician who heads the Public Council advising Sarkisian on domestic and foreign policies, suggested that the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU would have led Russia to end its military alliance with Armenia. That, he said, would have provoked economic and military “tensions” in the region.
“In that case, we would have to stop linking our security issues with Russia. And Russia is not the kind of state that digests such things easily,” Manukian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview with.
Manukian, who served as defense minister from 1992-1993, during the first war in Nagorno-Karabakh, cited in that context the disclosure last June of large-scale Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan. It was “not accidental,” he said.
The Russian arms supplies were revealed by a Moscow daily as the Armenian government completed its association talks with the EU. Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a high-profile visit to Azerbaijan in August. Three weeks later, Sarkisian announced his unexpected decision to seek Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Armenian government officials have since insisted in public that Yerevan was not forced by Moscow to opt for the union.
Manukian effectively blamed the EU for Sarkisian’s foreign policy U-turn. He pointed to European officials’ statements that Armenian membership of the Russian-led bloc would be incompatible with key terms of the planned Association Agreement.
“We thought that we could continue our strategic partnership with Russia and sign an Association Agreement with the EU,” said Manukian. “That would have been a very smart step. But at some point Europe said we can’t have both, we can’t carry on with both relationships. That immediately irritated and emboldened Russia’s leadership. And so we found ourselves caught between two egos, so to speak.”