Foreign Policies in 2012: Developing ties with EU, Safarov Affair, moves in Karabakh, genocide recognition mark ending year for Armenia

2012 may go down in history as the year of the revision by the Armenian government of its pro- Russian foreign policy and unprecedented rapprochement with Europe. Another major event that predetermined Armenia’s policies was the so-called Safarov Affair, which led to Armenia’s severing diplomatic ties with Hungary and created a new situation in the Karabakh settlement process. Even though the Karabakh conflict and relations with Turkey have not been priorities in the pre-election year of 2012, they still provided a background for other foreign-policy trends amid attempts by Azerbaijan to change the status quo.

In particular, in January then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hosted in Sochi a meeting between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, but the two South Caucasus leaders did not accept his proposals.

After this meeting, which was called the failure of Russian mediation effort, new trends appeared in the settlement process. In particular, the expert community began to discuss the possibility of “cooperation without resolution”, say, the opening of communications with no signed treaties about a final settlement of relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Such allusions were made also during the visit to the region, including to Armenia, by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton . Besides, Armenia called on mediators to stimulate the signing of a document guaranteeing the non-resumption of hostilities in the region. Armenia, in fact, asked for security guarantees from the United States.

The Karabakh settlement process screeched to a halt after Azerbaijan “persuaded” Hungary to extradite Ramil Safarov, a murderer who hacked a sleeping Armenian officer Gurgen Margaryan in Budapest eight years ago. The extradition and glorification of Safarov in Azerbaijan caused outrage and criticism from many countries and international organizations . Armenia, meanwhile, suspended its diplomatic relations with Hungary, accusing this Central European nation of making a deal with Azerbaijan at the expense of justice.

The suspension of the negotiations led to the development of another process – the international recognition of Karabakh . NKR has been recognized by two small American states and the largest Australian state of New South Wales.

Besides, Speaker of the Uruguayan Parliament visited the NKR . He did not exclude the recognition of the NKR by Uruguay.

This led to the mediators trying to keep the parties to the conflict away from action that could lead to renewed hostilities, including the opening of an airport near Stepanakert , rather than trying to bring them to an agreement.

At the end of the year, in Dublin, the Republic of Ireland, a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council was held and there the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group stated that no principle of international law has advantage over the others. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sent the Karabakh settlement “to bed” for a year, saying that 2013 is an election year in Armenia and Azerbaijan and nothing new can be expected.

As for the Armenian-Turkish relations, there was a tense period again at the beginning of the year after the French Senate approved a law criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide , but after some time, the Constitutional Council of France declared the law unconstitutional.

After that, there emerged an opinion in the world that now it is time preparations were started for 2015, the centennial of the Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians, when the United States can recognize the Genocide and Armenia will present territorial claims to Turkey. That Armenia is getting ready for 2015 was also reaffirmed by President Serzh Sargsyan in his election program speech at the convention of his Republican Party on December 15.

The foreign policy focus in 2012 was also on Syria where a sizable ethnic Armenian community was caught in the middle of an internal conflict.

However, the main trend of the year was the growing competition between the West and Russia for influence in Armenia . 2012 has showed that Armenian authorities feel like developing closer relations with the West, but are not going to spoil relations with Russia. Moreover, a certain division of labor could be noticed – Armenia seems to have entrusted its security to Russia, as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, but is seeking to integrate with the European Union and develop closer ties with the United States in terms of economy and democracy.

President Sargsyan visited Brussels where he addressed the European Parliament and spoke before officials at the NATO headquarters.

Then Armenia was visited by EU President Herman Van Rompuy and the end of the year also by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. They announced that in November 2013 Armenia will sign an association agreement with the EU and an agreement on the establishment of a deep and comprehensive free trade area.

At the same time, during the year Armenia also played host to high officials from Moscow, including the chairmen of both chambers of the State Duma and ministers who persistently invited Yerevan to a yet vague, but actively promoted Eurasian Union. Armenia politely refused to commit itself to this integration project advocated by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader has not visited Armenia since his reelection in March 2012.

The struggle between Russia and the West shifted into the economic domain, and now Armenia is seeing increased opportunities for loans and other preferences.

By year’s end it also became clear that no one yet is giving money to Armenia to build a new reactor for the Metsamor nuclear power plant .

Moreover, the issue of Russian Gazprom’s raising natural gas price for Armenia was expected to be solved by the end of the year. Apparently, this means that Russia has chosen a stick to carrot.