The National Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to ratify Armenia’s controversial accession treaty with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union which President Serzh Sarkisian hopes will come into force next month.
The treaty signed by Sarkisian in October was backed by 103 members of the 131-seat Armenian parliament representing not only the ruling Republican Party (HHK) but virtually all opposition factions. Only 7 deputies voted against it, while another lawmaker abstained.
The vote followed three days of heated debates during which parliamentary opponents of Armenia’s membership in the EEU decried what they see as a grave threat to national independence. They included all three members of the opposition Zharangutyun party’s parliamentary faction and non-partisan opposition deputies like Alexander Arzumanian and Nikol Pashinian.
Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, dismissed their concerns, saying that even Western powers have reacted “more calmly” to Sarkisian’s controversial foreign policy choice. “There is no need to fret and worry,” he said in a concluding speech.
Baghdasarian also brushed aside arguments that the bloc comprising Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan holds no promise for Armenia especially now that the Russian economy is plunging into recession partly because of Western sanctions. He said that the Russian crisis will not be long-lasting.
Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian, who was present at the parliament vote along with some cabinet members, likewise spoke of “good things” awaiting Armenia in the union. “That membership in the EEU will earn us benefits and that it will contribute to our economic development is a fact. You will see the results next year,” he told reporters after the vote.
Abrahamian noted at the same time that Armenia’s macroeconomic performance in 2015 will hinge on the gravity of “regional economic problems.” He appeared to allude to Russia’s economic woes.
The main opposition parties other than Zharangutyun cited different reasons for their decision to acquiesce Armenia’s accession to the EEU. “We are not voting for the steps taken by the authorities,” said Tigran Urikhanian of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest parliamentary force. “They could and should have been better. We are voting for not damaging Armenia at this particular moment.”
Several members of the BHK’s 36-strong faction, including the party’s leader Gagik Tsarukian and former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, were conspicuously absent from the parliament or did not take part in the vote.
The much smaller faction of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) backed the treaty while acknowledging risks emanating from EEU membership. “At any moment member states can decide to leave the union and complete that process within a year. Therefore, all talk of a loss of independence is purely emotional,” Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader, told fellow lawmakers.
Zurabian claimed that President Sarkisian’s alleged lack of domestic legitimacy is more of a threat to Armenia’s sovereignty than Russia or the EEU. This is why, he said, Yerevan will be “obeying and executing orders, rather than raising issues and voicing demands” in the EEU after completing the accession process.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), another major opposition party, said joining the EEU is critical for Armenia’s national security. “We don’t just lack a better alternative. We have no alternative at all,” Dashnaktsutyun’s Armen Rustamian said, referring to the country’s close security ties to Russia.
Sarkisian unexpectedly decided last year to make Armenia part of the Russian-led alliance after years of negotiations with the European Union on a far-reaching Association Agreement. The EU abandoned the agreement following the volte face widely attributed to strong Russian pressure.