Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian dismissed on Wednesday opposition speculation that Armenia may be pressurized by Russia to abandon a planned agreement on deepening its political and economic links with the European Union.
Harutiunian and other Armenian officials fueled such claims by some critics of the Armenian authorities with their angry reaction to EU Ambassador Piotr Switalski’s criticism of Armenia’s recent parliamentary elections.
Switalski questioned on June 15 the “credibility” of Armenia’s government-controlled Central Election Commission (CEC), saying that it should be expanded to comprise civil society representatives. He also decried vote buying and other irregularities reported during the April 2 elections.
Harutiunian and the ruling Republican Party (HHK) responded by accusing Switalski of meddling in Armenia’s internal affairs. The envoy rejected the criticism on Tuesday.
Armenian opposition figures have defended Switalski’s statements. One of them, Aram Sarkisian, said Wednesday he is worried that the government might use the spat to avoid signing the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the EU.
Harutiunian shrugged off such insinuations, saying that they are “the result of a bright imagination.” “I see no problems [with the signing of the CEPA] apart from technical issues, which are moving forward as planned,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Asked whether Yerevan could abandon the CEPA under possible Russian pressure, the minister said: “I see no such prerequisites.”
The CEPA is meant to serve as a less ambitious substitute for an Association Agreement negotiated by Armenian and EU officials in the summer of 2013. President Serzh Sarkisian scuttled that agreement with his unexpected decision in September 2013 to make Armenia part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The U-turn was widely attributed to strong Russian pressure.
The alternative deal apparently contains the main political provisions of the cancelled Association Agreement. It was initialed in Yerevan in March and is due to be signed in Brussels in November.
According to Naira Zohrabian, a senior lawmaker representing the opposition Tsarukian Bloc, Yerevan has “discussed” the key CEPA provisions with Moscow and the latter does not object to them. “Therefore, right now I see no risk that the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement will not be signed in Brussels on November 24,” said Zohrabian.
Later on Wednesday, President Sarkisian flew to Brussels to take part in a summit of the European People’s Party (EPP), a grouping of Europe’s leading center-right parties, including Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats.