YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Armenia cannot sign a far-reaching Association Agreement with the European Union if it joins the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, a spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said on Friday.
“We are currently negotiating an Association Agreement together with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade part,” the official, Maja Kocijancic, told RFE/RL in Brussels. “Armenia is free and sovereign to enter into any agreement, including agreements with third countries. Armenia’s membership in a free trade agreement with a third country does not contradict the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) negotiations with the EU.”
“But if Armenia were to join any customs union, this would not be compatible with concluding a bilateral Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Armenia. Because a customs union has a common external trade policy and an individual member country no longer has sovereign control over its external trade policies,” Kocijancic stressed.
The Armenian government appears to be facing growing pressure from Moscow to seek membership of the Russian-led trade bloc which President Vladimir Putin hopes will eventually grow into a Eurasian Union of former Soviet republics. Putin and President Serzh Sarkisian are thought to have discussed the matter during talks held this year. Their most recent meeting took place in Moscow on Wednesday.
Neither Sarkisian nor other Armenian officials have explicitly pledged to make their country part of the Customs Union in their public statements made so far. The authorities in Yerevan seem more enthusiastic about signing the Association Agreement that would significantly deepen Armenia’s ties with the EU. They have repeatedly expressed hope that the ongoing association and free trade talks with Brussels will be concluded next year.
Kocijancic emphasized Yerevan’s declared strong commitment to the DCFTA. “You know that we had a [meeting of the EU’s] Cooperation Council with Armenia just a few days ago and at that meeting Armenia confirmed its commitment to negotiations on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement,” she said.
President Sarkisian gave similar assurances to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso when they met in Yerevan on December 1. He said he “reaffirmed our determination to develop and deepen Armenia-EU cooperation.”