Armenia’s national independence is not at risk, President Serzh Sarkisian insisted over the weekend amid continuing claims by his critics that he jeopardized it with his unexpected decision to join a Russian-dominated union of former Soviet republics.
“We live in a free country and can make anything a subject of discussion. But there is one thing that cannot change in any situation: the sovereignty of the Republic of Armenia,” Sarkisian said in a speech at an official reception held on Armenia’s Independence Day.
“It’s a dream come true and an obligation that always accompanies us,” he declared. “It’s a holiday that we inherited with the blood of our heroes and an obligation that we must pass on to our grandchildren.”
The remarks appeared to be an attempt to allay fears raised in Armenian opposition and civic circles by Sarkisian’s September 3 pledge to make Armenia part of the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which Moscow wants to turn into a more tightly-knit Eurasian Union. Kremlin critics view the idea as an attempt to recreate the former Soviet Union. Hence, accusations in Armenia that Sarkisian put national independence at risk with his last-minute U-turn.
Pro-Western Armenian pundits insisted on Monday that Sarkisian’s move has severely damaged Armenia’s international reputation and put the country at the mercy of its ex-Soviet master. Boris Navasardian, who leads a coalition non-governmental organizations promoting European integration, said Moscow will now dictate the terms of Armenia’s membership in the customs union.
“What we are going cede in terms of sovereignty will not be the result of our own decision-making,” Navasardian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Nobody is going to ask about our opinion. And that is the main danger to our independent statehood.”
“Armenia is in the danger of becoming little more than a Russian garrison,” agreed Richard Analyst, a prominent Yerevan-based analyst.
Sarkisian’s political allies imply that Yerevan had no choice but to succumb to Russian pressure on the customs union because of its heavy dependence on Moscow for defense and security. They say that military cooperation with Russia is vital for continued Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Navasardian dismissed these arguments, claiming that Sarkisian caved in for fear of losing power. He said that in case of an open confrontation with the Kremlin “powerful forces in Armenia that are not interested in the country’s democratization and economic liberalization and Russian support for them would pose a threat to the current president and government.”
“That was the main danger that prompted our president to make such a statement. The danger of losing his power,” added Navasardian.
Giragosian also insisted that national security was not the key factor behind the dramatic policy change. He said that an Association Agreement which Yerevan was close to signing with the European Union until this month did not threaten Russian military presence in Armenia or broader Russian-Armenian ties. Armenia is now seen by the EU as “less reliable, less trustworthy and less important,” he said.