Looking Toward Europe?: President Sargsyan prefers visiting France to attending former Soviet parties’ gathering in Yerevan

Monday sees the start of two-day consultations in Yerevan between major establishment parties of several former Soviet countries devoted to the discussion of the idea of forming a Eurasian Union – a Russia-led re-integration project for former Soviet space.

Taking part in the events are Russia’s United Russia party, the Ukrainian Party of the Regions, Kazakhstan’s People’s Democratic Nur Otan Party, representatives of the Parliament of Belarus, as well as two Armenian parties – the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and Prosperous Armenia.

Participants of the forum are expected to hold consultations on a new platform for strengthening ties among political parties of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member countries.

But President Serzh Sargsyan, the leader of the RPA, will not be attending the meeting as on November 11 the Armenian head of state went on a three-day official visit to France, where he was due to meet with French President Francois Hollande, as well as the French prime minister, speaker of parliament and head of the Senate. In Lyon Sargsyan is due to meet with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and the business community of France.

Perhaps the overlapping of the two events is not a coincidence and the Armenian president purposely planned it so as not to be attending personally a Eurasian event hosted by the Armenian capital. Recently, Armenian leaders have demonstrated a clear commitment to Europe. Despite assurances from the Russian side that the Eurasian and European directions are not in conflict, Armenian leaders have avoided meetings that might be construed as Armenia’s consent to reintegrate into post-Soviet space.

As Zbigniew Brzezinski, a leading geo-strategist and former adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, stated in a recent media interview, no one wants to join the Eurasian Union, because it is just a whim of Putin’s Russia. In Armenia they seem to understand it all too well.

In late November Armenia is due to host a meeting of leaders of the European People’s Party (EPP) in EU Eastern Partnership Program member countries, and President Sargsyan is certain to take part in that gathering. Among the guests attending the EPP meeting in Yerevan will be EPP President Wilfried Martens, (outgoing) President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat as well as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. The goal of the gathering will be discussing issues of regional European integration.

The Armenian authorities have not yet announced their intention to join the European Union and the matter now only concerns an Association agreement. But opinions are already being voiced on some world press pages that it is necessary to give some former Soviet republics, including Armenia, a prospect of becoming members of the European Union. This is what is being actively discussed in the case with Georgia and Moldova. But Ukraine, Armenia and Belarus are not forgotten either.

Membership in the EU is a very complex process, but even the declaration by Armenia and other countries of their intent to join the EU could by itself end the senseless struggle with the yet non-existing Eurasian Union.

In May 2013, Armenia will take up the rotating six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Perhaps that’s why Armenia has decided to speed up negotiations on its agreement with the EU on a free economic zone and complete them in 2013 and not in 2014 as originally planned.

Apparently, Armenia is afraid that it will be too insistently invited to the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. During a meeting between President Sargsyan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow in August, the Russian leader said that he treated with understanding Armenia’s argument that it had no common borders with the countries of the Customs Union. At the same time, Putin ordered development of “creative options”, and one of them may be the opening of the railway from Russia to Armenia via Abkhazia and Georgia. Georgia has already expressed interest in the reopening of the Abkhazia railroad stretch.

At the same time, an interesting trend is emerging - Russia is trying to draw the so-called unrecognized post-Soviet states to the new re-integration project. There are not likely to be any problems with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. (Russia recognized these two Georgian breakaway regions still in the wake of the five-day Caucasus war in 2008). Recently, the Russian State held consultations on the involvement of Transnistria, a disputed region of Moldova. It is not excluded that behind-the-scenes negotiations could also be taking place with Nagorno-Karabakh.

Remarkable in this sense is that representatives of two Karabakh parties, Free Homeland and the Democratic Party of Nagorno-Karabakh, have been invited to the “Eurasian” meeting in Yerevan as observers.