President Serzh Sarkisian has reaffirmed his stated commitment to closer partnership with the European Union but implied that it must be “compatible” with Armenia’s forthcoming membership of a Russian-led alliance of ex-Soviet states.
Sarkisian remained careful not to use the term “European integration” as he addressed a summit of the European People’s Party in Dublin late on Thursday. He spoke instead of his government’s “policy of complementing and harmonizing interests” of Armenia’s key foreign partners.
“We appreciate the assistance that the European Union and its member States have been backing Armenia in its social-economic and institutional development, strengthening of our government agencies, reform of the public sector, fight against corruption and reduction of poverty,” said Sarkisian. “About two weeks ago the National Security Council of Armenia approved an action plan for cooperation between Armenia and the EU in 2014 and 2015.”
“We are committed to continue our efforts at seeking effective cooperation mechanisms with the EU, which will both reflect the essence of the preceding discussions we had with the EU and are compatible with the other cooperation formats,” he added in a clear reference to the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Sarkisian unexpectedly decided to join the Russian-led bloc last August and has since been keen to expedite the accession process as soon as possible. A senior Armenian official said late last week that Yerevan will meet all legislative and administrative requirements for Customs Union membership within a month.
The foreign policy U-turn thwarted a far-reaching Association Agreement between Armenia and the EU that was due to be finalized in November. The EU had offered to sign similar deals with five other ex-Soviet republics covered by its Eastern Partnership program.
“This partnership is aimed at finally overcoming dividing lines,” Sarkisian declared during a high-level EPP meeting held in Moldova in July 2013, less than two months before his volte-face widely blamed on strong Russian pressure.
Sarkisian stressed the need to prevent such divisions in his speech in Dublin. “As in the past, we believe that expanding and deepening relations with a partner should not result in the emergence of new dividing lines,” he said without going into details.
The Armenian leader also denounced Turkey’s long-running economic blockade of Armenia and accused Ankara of pursuing a “xenophobic policy” towards his nation. He went on to implicitly accuse Europe of tolerating “manifestations of fascism” in Azerbaijani leaders’ public statements on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.