Europe or Eurasia?: Armenia between a rock and a hard place facing hard choice of economic alliance

Russian State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin on a visit in Yerevan stated that Armenia is trying to find its place in the Eurasian Union, well aware of the fact that the Eurasian economic area is a format for developing economic relations. “The leadership of Armenia is watching closely how the Eurasian Union project is unfolding and is trying to identify its place in that project,” he stated. .

Armenia, however, has given no official response to Russia’s suggestion that Armenia join the Eurasian Union. During his meeting with Naryshkin, President Serzh Sargsyan spoke more about bilateral relations with Russia and no word about the Eurasian Union.

Sargsyan states that Armenia is interested in deepening its ally relations with Russia and stressed that the unflinching relations with that superpower are the cornerstone of Armenia’s security.

This might mean that the president was trying to implicitly say that Armenia views Russia exclusively as an ally in terms of security, but that economically it is planning to cooperate with another union – the EU.

On July 23 in Brussels, Armenian foreign minister Eduard Nalbandyan took part in the meeting of foreign ministers of EU countries and Eastern Partnership, during which he stated that 28 out of the total 29 points in the agreement on Association with the EU have been reconciled during the two years of negotiations, with only one point remaining to go. That point, most probably, is the one on Karabakh-related preamble and formulations.

“We are expecting progress also in the negotiations on the creation of deep and comprehensive free trade area and are hoping to complete them before the summit in Vilnius scheduled for 2013,” said Nalbandyan, adding that the simplified entry visa regime and readmission agreement text has been drafted.

Armenia’s desire to enter the EU is so obvious and unconcealed that Naryshkin had to come up with a new argument to attract Armenia into the Eurasian Union. The involvement of CIS countries, including Armenia, in the Eurasian Union would strengthen their European orientation, he said. Naryshkin also stated that in the politics of different countries “there is an ungrounded contraposition of Eurasian versus European vectors of development, expressed by certain countries’ fear that by entering the Customs union – single economic area – will make their European orientation impossible.”

He called upon Armenia to ratify the agreement on Free Trade Zone with CIS by fall; it was signed last year in Saint Petersburg and has so far been ratified only by Russia and Belarus. Why fall? Most probably, because that’s when economic agreements between Armenia and EU are expected to be signed.

It is noteworthy, that only a week ago Valentina Matvienko, chairing Russia’s Federation Council, visited Armenia and again talked about the Eurasian Union. And September will bring a high visit of Russian president Vladimir Putin to the Armenian capital. Experts wonder whether Armenia would be able to keep its policy of silence during Putin’s visit as well or would openly state that it’s not planning to enter the Eurasian Union. They are also eager to know what Russia would offer to attract Armenia: maybe lower gas tariffs or a new loan, or maybe even investment into the new power plant? It’s also interesting to know what the West would offer instead and what measures Russia would take should Armenia refuse to join the Eurasian Union.