Armenia is ready to continue deepening its relations with the European Union as long as that does not run counter to its forthcoming accession to a Russian-led union of ex-Soviet states, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said on Tuesday.
It remained unclear, however, whether the Armenian government still hopes to salvage a small part of its draft Association Agreement with the EU that would have no provisions on free trade and economic policy harmonization.
Asked by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) whether a much shorter version of the agreement may still be initialed at the EU’s November summit in Vilnius, Nalbandian said, “We have been clear about that. I also said that at my meeting with Lithuania’s foreign minister … and after my meeting with [EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan] Fuele. We publicized during that meeting Armenia’s desire to have close and deep cooperation with the EU, in all possible formats and ways, and to continue moving forward our relations … in all possible directions which will be deemed possible by the EU and which will not contradict Armenia’s decision to join the customs union.”
Fuele said after talks with Nalbandian last week that the Association Agreement with Armenia is unlikely to be finalized at Vilnius. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt likewise stated on Monday that the accord is “now off the table.”
Nalbandian briefly spoke to reporters after addressing the Armenian parliament on reasons for the government’s unexpected decision to opt for the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The minister answered lawmakers’ questions behind the closed doors for more than an hour.
Most opposition deputies were not satisfied with his explanations. “Edward Nalbandian didn’t answer any question,” one of them, Nikol Pashinian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “In essence, we didn’t get any substantive information.”
“The meeting was devoid of any substance,” agreed another opposition lawmaker, Alexander Arzumanian.
Nalbandian dismissed such complaints. “If somebody only wants to publicize their question and don’t hear the answer, they will think that there is no answer. I gave answers to all questions that were asked,” he told journalists.
Nalbandian did not answer, however, an RFE/RL correspondent’s question about why Yerevan spent several years negotiating the key element on the Association Agreement -- the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU -- only to ditch it at the last minute. EU officials have repeatedly warned that the DCFTA is “not compatible” with membership in the Russian-led union.