It was once seen as obvious and logical for Armenia to strengthen its relations with Europe. President Serzh Sarkisian unexpectedly decided to make Armenia part of the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) in September 2013, precluding the signing of an EU-Armenia Association Agreement. When the government turned 180 degrees and turnt its back against the EU, this was widely attributed to Russian pressure. The Armenian government consequently denied this, by saying that close commercial ties with Russia are vital for the Armenian economy. Russia also offers security to Armenia, by offering not to become a threat. However, while Russia remains Armenia’s guarantor of security and most important trading partner, resentment over the hugely unequal relationship is growing.
Eurasion Economic Union
The traditionally open and liberalised Armenian economy had to adopt the higher tariffs and more protectionist policies of the other EAEU* members. For Armenia, the asymmetry is prevalent: it has been granted a meagre 1.13 percent of the EAEU’s total customs revenue. Hence, Armenia’s withdrawal from the EAEU, and parallel intensification of ties with the EU and NATO are currently actively discussed, whereas before this was taken for granted.
Edmon Marukyan, a leader of the Yelk (“Way Out”) parliamentary faction, got the ball rolling when he argued that Armenia should withdraw from the EAEU and launch new talks on forming an agreement with the EU, after Russia stopped recognizing the validity of driving licenses issued by Armenia and other countries where Russian is not an official language. The ruling Republican Party (RPA) then claimed that Armenia has no alternative to the EAEU.
“[…] This autumn this will be one of the main issues discussed by the Yelk alliance,” Aram Sarkisian said. “The issue of discussions on the EAEU, relations with the EAEU and leaving the EAEU will definitely be on the agenda of the Yelk alliance.”
Yelk was set up by three opposition parties late last year and won 9 of the 105 seats in Armenia’s current parliament elected in April. Two of those parties, Sarkisian’s Republic and Bright Armenia, have a pro-Western orientation, while the third one, Civil Contract, advocates a more neutral Armenian foreign policy.
Lena Nazarian, a parlementarian of the Civil Contract party, has stated that all opposition parties believe that the President’s decision to join the EAEU was a “serious mistake” which has created a risk for Armenia’s sovereignty. But she also acknowledged that there is no certainty regarding the right time to come up with a proposal to leave.
President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) has brushed aside the opposition leaders’ calls to leave the EAEU, and since the current government enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament, the decision to leave the EAEU will likely not be made.
Sources: The Diplomat, Radio Free Europe, European Council on Foreign Relations, Azatutyun
*A treaty aiming for the establishment of the EAEU was signed on 29 May 2014 by the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and came into force on 1 January 2015. Treaties aiming for Armenia's and Kyrgyzstan's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union were signed on 9 October and 23 December 2014, respectively. Armenia's accession treaty came into force on 2 January 2015.