President Serzh Sarkisian called on the European Union on Friday to continue to deepen its relations with Armenia through a new cooperation framework that would be “compatible” with his country’s upcoming accession to a Russian-led alliance of ex-Soviet republics.
“We are committed to taking further steps with our EU partners in order to form a new legal foundation regulating our relations, which on one hand will reflect the contents of Armenia’s preceding discussions with the EU, and on the other hand will be compatible with other formats for cooperation,” Sarkisian told a gathering of the EU’s Eastern Partnership program held in Prague.
“It is our conviction that none of the partner countries should be forced to pay a price for the decision it makes regarding its participation level in one or another integration process. We do not want to make a choice between friends, but we want to have as many friends as possible,” he said.
Sarkisian clearly alluded to the EU’s decision to abandon a planned Association Agreement with Yerevan following his unexpected decision last August to make Armenia part of Russia’s Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. EU officials had repeatedly made clear that the agreement’s dominant component -- the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Freed Trade Area (DCFTA) -- is “not compatible” with membership in the Russian-led trade bloc.
EU leaders rejected last fall an Armenian proposal to sign a watered-down version of the Association Agreement that would exclude the DCFTA-related provisions. Yerevan renewed the offer last month after Brussels signed the political segment of a similar deal with Ukraine in a show of solidarity with the pro-Western interim government in Kiev.
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden, a key backer of the Eastern Partnership, ruled out such a possibility on March 23, citing Yerevan’s acceptance of the legitimacy of a disputed referendum in Crimea that led to the region’s annexation by Russia. “I don't think they would qualify to be in the same league [with the EU] in terms of political affinity any longer,” Bildt told RFE/RL.
Armenia raised more eyebrows in the West four days later when it joined Russia and “rogue states” like North Korea and Syria in voting against a pro-Ukrainian resolution overwhelmingly adopted by the UN General Assembly. Armenian opposition leaders and pundits denounced this stance, saying that Yerevan should have abstained or not voted at all.
“Our vote at the UN killed any chance of us signing an Association Agreement,” said Alexander Arzumanian, an opposition deputy and former foreign minister. “We took an overtly anti-European step.”
Another former senior diplomat, who did not want to be identified, claimed that many in Europe now regard Armenia as a “discredited Russian satellite.” He also said that the EU has no intention to sign a major political accord with the Sarkisian government anytime soon.
“The Eastern Partnership is not solely about an association agreement,” Sarkisian declared in Prague. “It is basically an instrument.”
He insisted that even without such an accord Armenia has already benefited from the EU scheme offering closer partnership to six ex-Soviet states. “Over the past five years Armenia and the European Union have done an extensive work: our political dialogue has been consolidated, we have taken joint efforts at responding to multifarious challenges,” said the Armenian leader. “We have agreed upon and applied a visa-facilitation mechanism, which is one among the first tangible outcomes of our partnership.”