Last Friday, Armenia has signed a cooperation agreement with the European Union at the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels, which aroused a lot of controversy about dangers for Russian-Armenian allied relations caused by Yerevan’s rapprochement with the West. The director of the Institute of Contemporary Economics Nikita Isayev told Vestnik Kavkaza about current and long term threats of it.
– Nikita Olegovich, what are the threats from Armenia’s EU Association Agreement for Russia and Russian-Armenian cooperation?
– Indeed, Armenia does not hide its integration aspirations, which are economic, military and geopolitical, in the vector of the European Union, primarily Germany and France. Yerevan explains this to the external Russian observer by the fact that Russia conducts some kind of bilateral policy towards Armenia and Azerbaijan, primarily in relation to arms sales to Baku. Yerevan also says that Moscow also is in contact with the European Union and NATO, and therefore Armenia, being a sovereign country, has the right to do the same thing, even if Russia is the basic guarantor of security for the republic. In my opinion, the approach is only partially true in diplomatic sense, since both Russia and Armenia still continue to call each other “allies,” while other countries are designated by the less obvious notion of “partners.” Despite the fact that President Serzh Sargsyan made a number of statements that the agreement with the EU is not directed against Russia and does not violate the agreements with Moscow, the event itself was not in the interests of Russia. Look, Belarus was presented at the Eastern Partnership summit not by President Alexander Lukashenko, but Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey, thus, Minsk made it clear to the organizers of the Eastern Partnership that its attitude to this project is very restrained – while Armenia, on the contrary, did not demonstrate any restraint in respect of this EU program, because Sargsyan personally led the Armenian delegation.
What does this mean for Russia? In fact, Russia’s position on the Eastern Partnership format was voiced by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said that this program is not perceived by us as harmless. For Russia, this is the formation of a certain group of post-Soviet states to reconfigure them and put under the influence of Western countries, primarily Germany, although Berlin is wary of the Eastern Partnership, and Poland, which plays an increasing role in the disintegration processes in the western part of the post-Soviet space. In this regard, Russia continues to observe the rapprochement between the program participants and Europe with apprehension and concern.
At the same time, the Eastern Partnership is rather a club for the release of negative energy from our direct enemies, like the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, who incites the leadership of European countries, in particular, British Prime Minister Theresa May to make tough anti-Russian statements . As long as it is limited by anti-Russian Ukraine’s statements, as long as the Eastern Partnership has no integrated image in the form of permanent governing bodies and sufficient influence on the states participating in the program, Russia will not actively react and perceive it as a serious threat. But we do not rule it out, given the way in which conflicts in the post-Soviet space are fueled at various levels, in particular, the new events in the Donbass and the Karabakh conflict that has reached direct military action over the past year and a half. Such things can be used, including, to strengthen the influence of the Eastern Partnership.
– Does it mean an even deeper separation between Armenia and Russia and its greater focus on the West?
– Yes, of course. As long as Russia does not correspond to Armenia’s understanding of the allied relations between Russia and Armenia, as for economic support and a direct pro-Armenian vector in international politics, Yerevan will continue to strengthen integration processes with the European Union and, of course, with the US, which still patronizes it.
– What is the most probable impact of a greater focus on the West for Armenia and Russia?
– The consequences of such a drift are very uncertain. Armenia is increasingly becoming a completely isolated country, among other things, it is limited by Russia’s actions, in particular, agreements with Yerevan’s direct geopolitical opponents – Baku and Ankara. Here it is worth mentioning Putin’s latest active diplomacy at the presidential level, and the tripartite meeting between Moscow, Iran and Azerbaijan, and the agreements with Turkey on the situation in the Middle East, economic and trade relations. We also should not forget the Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative, which builds different logistics branches, bypassing Armenia, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, bypassing Armenia, which turns the republic into an enclave.
Accordingly, in case of Armenia’s active movement towards the West, it will be very difficult for Europe to provide economic support to Yerevan in the existing tangle of relations in Transcaucasia, especially against the background of the Chinese factor. And in case of obvious unfriendly steps towards it, Russia can reconsider the format of allied relations with Armenia.
– In that case, are there any sectors where Armenia won’t be able to replace Russia with the European Union?
– There are historical trade relations between Russia and Armenia, Russia accounts for more than a quarter of Armenia’s trade volume, even though it mainly relates to the sale of Russian hydrocarbons. Of course, it will be much more difficult for the European Union to provide adequate supplies of energy-dependent Armenia, for which it will have to negotiate with Iran and other countries surrounding Armenia, and the EU, meanwhile, has uneasy relations with Turkey, turning into blackmail. In this regard, I believe that Armenia will try not to bring the situation to a serious strain of relations with Russia, otherwise, in case of a large geopolitical conflict, Armenia may get a threat of weakening its sovereignty.