East or West?: Armenia at geopolitical crossroads ahead of 2013 election

East or West?: Armenia at geopolitical crossroads ahead of 2013 election

An agreement on visa regime facilitation for citizens of Armenia traveling to European Union-member countries is due to be signed in Brussels today, December 17. Armenia has waived the visa requirement for citizens of EU countries who will travel to this South Caucasus republic after January 1. And this is in the case when Europe and Russia are unable to agree on visa facilitation.

The end of the year has proved rich for Armenia in terms of visits of European officials and activation of U.S. policies. Late last week Yerevan hosted a troika of top diplomats of EU-member countries – the foreign ministers of Sweden, Poland and Bulgaria, Carl Bildt, Radoslaw Sikorski and Nikolay Mladenov, respectively.

Welcoming the ministers in Yerevan, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan stressed the importance of deepening cooperation between the countries within the framework of the Eastern Partnership program. According to the parties, Armenia-EU relations are developing intensively. They also noted that Armenia has made good progress in negotiations on the Association Agreement, and the negotiations on agreement on the establishment of a deep and comprehensive free trade area have proceeded successfully. These agreements could be signed as early as in November 2013.

Polish FM Sikorski highlighted the importance of the February 18 presidential election in Armenia. “The election process, we believe, must rule out even the slightest possibility of formulating any accusation. This is very important from the point of view of the Eastern Partnership summit due to be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, next November,” he told a joint news conference of the three diplomats and Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian in Yerevan on Friday.

The visit of the EU diplomatic troika overlapped with the visit of the State Secretary of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Yves Rossier. The Swiss diplomat said that Switzerland considers it important to develop mutually beneficial cooperation with Armenia. He discussed with Armenian leadership the possibility of expanding areas of cooperation and exchanged views on cooperation within international organizations.

Simultaneously, at the December 15 special convention of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) that formally nominated him for reelection, President Sargsyan unveiled his election manifesto in which as priorities he mentioned the following: strengthening allied relations between Armenia and the Russian Federation and implementing programs to enhance strategic cooperation, development and expansion of friendly partnership with the United States, continued policy of rapprochement with Europe, strengthening of relations with the European countries.

In other words, Sargsyan is not going to get off the course of so-called
complementarity”, but will deepen the foreign-policy “diversification” as far as it is possible.

Russia does not seem to be quite satisfied with this course, and it is not a coincidence that the end of 2012 has also brought the news of Russian monopoly Gazprom planning to raise the price of natural gas for Armenia.

Russia’s prime minister, leader of the ruling United Russia party Dmitry Medvedev sent a message to the RPA convention delegates, warning that the decisions of the convention would “have an impact on the future of the country and, therefore, on the Armenian-Russian relations that have a nature of strategic partnership.” Perhaps he expected Sargsyan to include more categorical statements about relations with Russia in his election program.

For his part, in his message of greeting to the RPA gathering, President of the European People’s Party (EPP) Wilfried Martens confirmed full trust in Sargsyan, describing his reform agenda as the only credible agenda for the implementation of “significant and sustainable changes” in Armenia.

”We are all Europeans. Armenia belongs to Europe. We share the same heritage, and, therefore, the same fate. Due to the Armenian president and prime minister’s works, the RPA has proved to be the leader for changes. I have no doubt that after two months the Armenian people will make the right choice to have consolidated democracy and subsequent changes in the country,” the EPP leader added.

And in the White House, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, who was on an ‘innovative’ visit to the United States, was received by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Armenia was visited by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas Melia. During his meeting with the Armenian president the sides pointed out the importance of the process of democratic reforms in Armenia, and efforts aimed at ensuring the rule of law. It was emphasized that the development of Armenia is impossible without serious steps in this direction. Apparently, Washington intends to support Armenia’s “decisive steps”.