By Richard Giragosian, Director of Regional Studies Center
For small, landlocked Armenia, history has not been very kind. Centuries as a prisoner of geography have meant that Armenia has had to survive as an arena for competition among much larger regional powers. And although Armenia has been both victim and victor, it has also faced a challenge of isolation.
More recently, that threat of isolation has only increased. Armenia’s decision to choose Russia’s Customs Union over the European Union has only heightened the limits and reduced the options for Armenia.
It seems clear that Moscow is building fences, crating new divisions and dividing lines along its borders. And Armenia is now in danger of being trapped along the wrong side of those divisions and dividing lines.
No mater what the excuse, it also seems clear that Yerevan is determined to live with that choice.
In fact, even Moscow is surprised at the speed of the Armenian government’s commitment to joining the Customs Union. As Russian Ambassador to Armenia Ivan Volynkin notes, “Armenia is moving forward by leaps and bounds……. many did not expect that Armenia will be moving towards the Customs Union so fast.” And even during his December visit to the country, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that “we are struggling to keep up with our Armenian partners.”
But Putin’s warning may also signal Russian hesitation with covering the cost of bringing Armenia into the Customs Union. And even despite the Armenian government’s creation of roughly two dozen working groups, assigned to do the work necessary to prepare the country to join the Customs Union by May 2014, the other members, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, do not seem very content, and certainly not very committed to bringing in Armenia.
No matter what happens, Armenia has already made the wrong choice. And as the Customs Union represents a new diving line and division based on Russian control over the “near abroad,” it seems that the Armenian government has only welcomed a new degree of isolation.
Armenia is also trapped ever more firmly within the Russian orbit. Which means not only limited options for Armenia, but that also makes Yerevan more of a prisoner of Moscow’s decisions.
And in light of the unrest and unhappiness in Ukraine, not all of Russia’s neighbors are so willing to submit and surrender sovereignty to Russia.
But for Armenia, the challenge will be to regain its own place and position, to overcome isolation and to prevent overall insignificance. A truly difficult task, but if history reveals anything, it is that Armenia is able to survive. But this time, it is equally clear that for Armenia, survival alone is not enough.