President Serzh Sarkisian singled out and promoted his controversial decision to make Armenia part of a Russian-dominated alliance of former Soviet republics in his New Year’s address to the nation.
“Dear fellow citizens, I cordially wish you a Happy New Year!” Sarkisian said in televised remarks. “The passing year has been full of many initiatives and events, but I believe the most significant among them was the deeply conscious work aimed at Armenia’s economic growth and enhanced level of security.”
“We have furthered Armenia’s economic, political and military cooperation with the Russian Federation, and next year, I am certain, we will become a full member of the Customs Union. Armenia is creating a new reality which will make her more protected and more competitive,” he added.
The Armenian government signaled no plans to join the union until last August, pushing instead for an ambitious Association Agreement with the European Union. Sarkisian precluded the signing of that agreement when he unexpectedly announced during a September 3 visit to Moscow that Armenia will seek to join the Russian-led union.
The foreign policy U-turn followed what appeared to be growing Russian pressure on Yerevan. Observers believe that Moscow exploited Armenia’s heavy economic and military dependence on Russia. Some of them think that Sarkisian also feared that an open confrontation with the Kremlin would threaten his hold on power.
Sarkisian and his political allies have denied any Russian pressure in their public statements. Russian President Vladimir Putin likewise insisted on December 2 that the volte-face was a “sovereign choice of the Armenian people and Armenia’s leadership.” Putin said Sarkisian told him that “Armenian experts have properly calculated the benefits and preferences that Armenia will receive in case of joining the Customs Union.”
Armenian Economy Minister Vahram Avanesian said on November 28, however, that the authorities in Yerevan “have not calculated all economic risks connected with accession to the Customs Union.”
Moscow plans to transform the trade bloc currently comprising Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan into a Eurasian Economic Union by January 2015.