Sunday, 18 August

Thomas de Waal: "It was more important for Putin to stop Armenia signing an Association Agreement than..."

Interview with Thomas de Waal who is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, specializing primarily in the South Caucasus region comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia and their breakaway territories as well as the wider Black Sea region.

-Mr. de Waal, what took place in Vilnius? What did Armenia get out of that summit? 

-Obviously, Armenia got much less out of the summit than it had expected a few months before. It was important that an agreement was signed with the EU on visa liberalization, which will have a positive impact for thousands of ordinary Armenians. But there was no initialing of an Association Agreement or start of talks on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. I am not sure that everyone in the Armenian government had understood before how these two are closely linked. There had been hopes that some of the political parts of the Association Agreement could be extracted and preserved, but that proved to be impossible. 

-What was the significance of the joint statement of Armenia and the EU? 

-The joint statement in Vilnius kept the door open for Armenian-EU relations in the future, while making it clear that due to the euphemistically worked “new international commitments” that Yerevan had made with Moscow, negotiations on what had already been agreed would not proceed. It was important in that it hinted that the decision Armenia had made over the Customs Agreement was made under pressure.

-Russian President Putin arrived in Armenia on December 2. Some observers say the visit was to strengthen military ties between the two countries. What consequences will the visit have in this regard? 

President Putin’s visit was obviously intended to reinforce the decision made by President Sargsyan in September to join the Customs Union and to demonstrate Russian power and influence in the Caucasus. It was therefore symbolic that Putin travelled first to Gyumri and visited the Russian military base and only then to Yerevan.  

For the Armenian side, the relationship with Russia is primarily about security. The government seeks a more balanced foreign policy and Armenia now trades more with the European Union than it does with Russia. Clearly, the decision to give up on three years of intense negotiations with the EU and opt for the Customs Union was taken under pressure and because of the message that Armenia might lose its preferential security arrangement with Moscow and Russia could sell more weapons to Azerbaijan.  

However, I believe that, with regard to the Customs Union decision, there is more symbolism than substance here. Armenia is a very small economy and it has no common border with Russia. It was more important for Putin to stop Armenia signing an Association Agreement and to send a message to Ukraine than it was to get a real economic deal with Armenia. And I believe there are many in Yerevan who are hoping that the Customs Union project will collapse and they can eventually and quietly get back on the EU path.

-Taking into account the Karabakh conflict, what will change in the region by Armenia joining the Customs Union? 

-The new Armenian-Russian agreement effectively preserves the status quo, it does not create a new one. Armenia is reassured of its security alliance with Russia, but Putin also wants to maintain a business and political relationship with Azerbaijan, so he will never fully support one side or the other. Armenia will also work hard to keep its relations with the United States, the EU and NATO alive. The main contours of the unresolved conflict and the reasons for its non-resolution remain the same. As the French say, “the more it changes, the more it stays the same.”

Photo: Photolure

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Comments (4)
1. Varoujan18:04 - 10 December, 2013
I think Armenia made the right choice for now. They should not have any hope that joining the EU trade ASSOCIATION would significantly change things. Look how poorly Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, and several other poor countries are doing, I think being a bigger fish in a small pond works well for now, let's see how the landscape changes.
2. Varaz Syuni (Amsterdam)22:16 - 10 December, 2013
And I think that Armenia made a VERY bad and dangerous choice. Actually, it was not Armenia who made the "choice", but the oligarchic clan in Armenia- for the SOLE purpose of staying in power. Because the EU did demand CONCRETE measures in Armenia against oligarchy and corruption. IF Armenia officially joins the CU, then within 5 years Armenia will lose its independence to Russia. And the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) is a russian SHAM: fake- only on paper.
3. TT00:31 - 13 December, 2013
And anything Armenia does is naturally bad for Turks, as posting from Varaz shows. The reality is that CSTO is effectively balances Turkey's power in the region. Hence "only bad decisions" ha ha ha.
4. Ray09:06 - 13 December, 2013
What many fail to realize is that Armenia needs an economic boost right now, and Russia stepped in at the right time to shake on it. The European Union talks big but offers small. The EU simply did not work hard enough to offer a concrete deal to Armenia, so they lost the deal to Russia. The EU wants to install their missiles and bases in as many countries as they can, but the return is very small and ineffective. The population of Armenia is starving and the people are fighting really hard to make things work. The EU needs to admit the fact that they don't care for Armenia's well being, and that all they want is to put up their missiles on Armenian soil, and create a shorter pipeline from Baku to Europe. Unfortunately for EU, Armenian's are survivors, and they have been surviving for thousands of years because they know how to play politics, and they will not fall for this European scam. I think Armenia has made a wise decision in not joining the European Union. The Banks own Europe and in return would end up selling Armenia to the Turks, just as they did with the Armenian Genocide. Many if not most think that the Armenian Genocide was the act of a single government, yet they fail to realize that the British Petroleum(BP) and other powerful entities have Armenian blood on their hands. BP had a lot of money invested in that region(Baku Oil). The Armenian Genocide is one of the biggest coverups in human history. As was the Genocide of the Jews. There are powerful entities in existence. They walk amongst the shadows of religions and governments, orchestrating wars, ruining economies, and murdering innocent people. Most people prefer to look away from reality, but that is the very nature of a weak human being. No one wants to stand up and fight for what is good, they prefer to look away. Sheep they were born, sheep they will die. God Bless Armenia!
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