Armenia chooses Russia over EU
By Andrew Gardner – 03.09.2013 / 18:31 CET
Armenia says it will join the Eurasian Customs Union, rather than enter free-trade deal with the EU.
Armenia announced today that it will join the Eurasian Customs Union led by Russia, a move that in practice will prevent it signing a free-trade deal that it had already negotiated with the European Union. Armenia completed technical talks on a ‘deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement’ (DCFTA) with the EU in July and it was set to be signed at a summit with the EU in late November. The EU has repeatedly stated publicly and privately that membership of the Eurasian Customs Union – whose members are Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan – is “incompatible” with a DCFTA.
Following his meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Armenia’s President Serzh Sarkisian said: “We have…held a detailed exchange of views on issues of Eurasian integration, and I confirmed Armenia’s desire to join the Customs Union and to join in the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union.”
Sarkisian also sought to maintain ties with the EU, saying that “this decision is not a rejection of our dialogue with the European institutions”. He said that Armenia “is a considerably more effective and competitive state than it was years ago” as a result of its negotiations with the EU and that “we intend to continue these reforms also in the future”. In addition to a free-trade deal, Armenia has been working towards the signing of an association agreement with the EU, a framework agreement on co-operation that is seen as a first step towards political integration with the EU.
Putin had asked for the meeting on Friday (30 August). The agreement comes just two days before a G20 summit that Putin will host in St Petersburg (5-6 September), and in the wake of a trade dispute with Ukraine over its bid to sign an association agreement with the EU. The EU’s leaders were expected to raise their objections to Russia’s pressure on Ukraine at the summit. On 14 August, Russian customs officials ordered checks on Ukrainian goods in a move accompanied by political statements that such restrictions could become permanent if Ukraine signs the agreements with the EU.
The situation at the border has since returned to normal, but Gunnar Wiegand, the EU diplomat responsible for relations with the EU’s eastern neighbours, told the European Parliament last Wednesday (28 August) that the clash was “likely to be a first warning shot if and when Ukraine moves closer to signing an association agreement” at the summit in Vilnius.
The EU has yet to comment on Armenia’s decision. Michael Kambeck of the European Friends of Armenia said that “today’s U-turn [by Sarkisian] was not a free choice”. Kambeck urged the EU to “find a new modus operandi with Armenia, which visibly wants to cooperate closely with the EU but apparently is restricted by a third country”.