Friends and Foes: Ter-Petrosyan speech seen as unlikely overtures to Kocharyan

The Armenian opposition is doing everything to deny the incumbent president and reelection hopeful a trump card in the upcoming presidential election. Serzh Sargsyan is known to be building his program on the idea of diversification of Armenia’s foreign policy, in particular through promoting European ties.

One of the probable top rivals of Sargsyan - the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan – told delegates of the December 22 convention of the former ruling Armenian National Movement party that “certain forces” seek to make a division in society based on the perception of pro-Western and pro-Russian policies. He stressed that Armenia should be “neither anti-Russian, nor anti-Western.”

Ter-Petrosyan did not define his attitude towards the integration unions being proposed and even imposed on Armenia. He did not say whether he supports association with Europe or he rather backs a move towards Russia, which insists on Armenia joining the Customs Union that now also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Though Ter-Petrosyan hinted in his speech that in order to fight against the “dangerous forces” it is possible to form an alliance even with the bitterest of foes. He cited the example of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin who became allies to counter Hitler’s conquests in Europe.

Experts rushed to interpret Ter-Petrosyan’s words as an attempt to form a bloc with the second President Robert Kocharyan, who hasn’t said he would run for president, but formally has not spoken to the contrary yet either.

In the event of such an alliance a bloc torpedoing the European integration of Armenia may be formed in Armenia. Not without help from Russia a Ter-Petrosyan-Kocharyan alliance would be trying to persuade Armenian voters that supporters of pro-Western policies simply want to drive a wedge in the relations between Armenia and its centuries-old ally, Russia. This would essentially bring the debate down to foreign policy orientations and the problem of “friends and foes.”

At the same time, the leader of the opposition Heritage party, first foreign minister of Armenia Raffi Hovannisian formally announced his candidacy on Saturday, stating that he supported Armenia’s rise to Europe. He said, however, that current president Sargsyan is not capable of translating his “pro-European declaration” into reality, while only the people can make it a reality.

Armenia is facing a tough choice – it is already being openly stated that at the beginning of next year Armenia will be forced to sign documents that will allow it to cooperate with the Customs Union. In response, spokesman for the EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Maja Kocijancic, representing the official views of the European Union, said that Armenia’s conclusion of a free trade agreement with third countries does not contradict the negotiations around the creation of a deep and comprehensive free trade area (DCFTA) with the EU.

However, according to her, the issue here concerns mainly customs unions: “If Armenia decides to join any customs union, it would become incompatible with the bilateral agreement concluded between the EU and Armenia on the establishment of a deep and comprehensive free trade area. The thing is that a customs union has a common trade policy, and individual countries belonging to the union are no longer sovereign in their foreign trade policy.”

According to Kocijancic, a few days ago an EU-Armenia Cooperation Council met and during that meeting Armenia confirmed its commitment to the negotiations around DCFTA.

Meanwhile, late last week Russia-24 TV Channel asked Armenian President Sargsyan to comment regarding Armenia’s position on the Customs Union. Sargsyan answered evasively: “We have always been for all kinds of integration processes in the post-Soviet space, and the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space are no exception. And that’s why now we are very carefully studying the processes that are taking place. We agreed with the president of Russia in August to establish a working group to study the issue. Of course, we are being told that there is some specificity, that we have no common borders, and different requirements for entry into the World Trade Organization are also an obstacle. But we believe that here an expert assessment is required.”