Lavrov Visits Armenia, But What’s Up With the Eurasian Agreement?

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (center) visits Armenia's Dzidzernagapert Genocide Memorial, accompanied by Armenain foreign minister Edward Nalbandian (right). June 23, 2014. (Photo: Photolur)


BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN

I will treat this as Asbarez’s news recording of a visit to Armenia by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, since most of the official statements and reporting reflect an exchange of niceties and praise for the two countries’ centuries-old friendship and expressions of hope for advancement of trade and other cooperation agreements.

Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian was quoted on the Foreign Ministry website as saying: “During the negotiations a separate set of issues was devoted to the integration processes on Eurasian space, we thoroughly discussed the questions related to Armenia’s joining the Eurasian Union.”

The one-sentence summation by the foreign minister of the discussion over the Eurasian Economic Union is troubling in that it adds to a series of what can be deemed as public snubs against Armenia as it prepares for membership in the EEU.

Our readers will recall the surprise announcement by President Serzh Sarkisian last September, when, after visiting Moscow, he declared Armenia’s intention to join the Customs Union and surprised the international community for what was called a U-turn from its three-year negotiation with the European Union for an association agreement.

Since then Armenian officials have publicly assured that the government was working diligently to finalize all necessary agreements to join the Customs Union, which will be replaced by the EEU, which was made official last month in the Kazakh capital of Asatana with signatures of the Russian, Belarus and Kazakhstan leaders. That’s when the U-turn seemed like the wrong turn.

Aside from the signing of the document, which was presented with much fanfare in the media, official Baku, which until then was never part of the negotiations entered the picture via Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev expressing concerns outlined by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on Armenia’s membership in the Union, specifically pointing out that Armenia must join the Union based on the borders that were recognized by the United Nations. While President Sarkisian was in the audience in Astana, he opted to shrug off the statement four days later while meeting with a group of youth from his ruling Republican Party of Armenia.

Nazarbayev continued to pursue this bit days later when he visited Turkey and invited that country to join the EEU. Furthermore, not only did Moscow remain silent on the announcement in Astana, Lavrov, who visited Baku last week, assured Azerbaijan’s leadership that Karabakh would not be part of the Eurasian Union.

WTO vs. EEU

While Lavrov was in Armenia on Monday, leaders of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan were meeting in the Russian port city of Sochi, the site of this year’s Winter Olympics, to discuss details of the EEU.

It emerged on Monday that if Armenia successfully joins the EEU it will have to renegotiate its terms and understanding with the World Trade Organization,

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said on Monday in Sochi that Armenia will have to adopt the EEU’s uniform import duties that are considerably higher than its existing trade tariffs that have not changed since Armenia joined the WTO in 2003, reported RFE/RL.

“If Armenia successfully joins our format, signs an [accession] treaty and it is ratified, Armenia will have to open negotiations with the WTO on compensations,” Shuvalov was quoted by the Interfax news agency.

“That [the new trade regime] will differ from the obligations which it had assumed within the WTO framework,” Shuvalov told reporters in Sochi. “Since the situation will change for Armenia’s trading partners, Armenia will need to start negotiating with them under a WTO procedure,” reported RFE/RL.

This new revelation could pose significant problems–both foreign and domestic–for Armenia, since the potential increase in import duties might complicate matters for foreign supplies coming into Armenia, as well as for products being exported by Armenia to other nations, which would have to pay higher duties.

Shuvalov was confident that all necessary documents would be finalized by July 1 and be ready for Armenia to ratify.

The Karabakh Factor
Azerbaijan reared its ugly head in the EEU process by infringing on the parties’ ability to freely negotiate an economic deal. Through their actions, the main players–Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan–seem to have sanctioned such an intrusion, despite unofficial reports that Nazarbayev’s announcement in Astana infuriated official Moscow, not because of Karabakh, but because the international perception that Moscow annexed Crimea and the discussion of the UN-predicated borders would certainly complicate Moscow’s plans for the EEU.

Ever since the Astana incident, reports of arms supplies to Baku by Moscow have increased, with Moscow admitting that it has sent more military hardware to Azerbaijan than to Armenia from 2007 to 2013. Last week a group of arms exporters from Russia met with government officials in Baku to discuss a fresh round of arms sales.

Meanwhile, the West is ramping up its pressure on Armenia, following what is being deemed as a pro-Russian stance by Yerevan in the UN regarding the Crimea issue, which is being used by Europe and the US to punish Armenia for its rejection of the EU Association Agreement.

On the eve of the EEU agreement, the US’s OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairman, James Warlick, unveiled his country’s position on the Karabakh conflict, which among other things urges Armenia to return the so-called “occupied territories” to Azerbaijan and ensures only a pathway linking Armenia to Karabakh through Lachin.

Since the process to join the Customs Union has not been transparent and no details are being revealed about the agreements and changes imposed upon Armenia on its road to conforming to EEU membership regulations, it is unclear whether Armenia was aware of the obstacles that are now coming to light when it unequivocally threw its hat into the EEU process.

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32 Comments

  1. Hratch said:

    Mother Russia will throw us under the bus when push comes to shove. Since September the Ukraine crisis has taken center stage. Russia is hell bent on punishing the west for its role in the loss of Ukraine. The Bear has decided to have complete hegemony over the southern Caucasus. It is now courting Azerbaijan and offering incentives for them to join. In return, the Azeris are demanding the return of Artsakh as a pre-condition and they’re using Mr. Nazarbayev to convey the message. Russia, acting in its own interest is ready to hand over the territory. Armenia is at a disadvantage because it has virtually handed over all its security, sovereignty and negotiating powers to Russia. The feeble minding Armenian leadership trusted too much gave too much and now the bear is hungry for more!

    The only way out of this predicament for Armenia is to start courting the west’s interests. Otherwise, the Bear is ready to sneeze and does not care who gets infected.

    • GeorgeMardig said:

      The West screwed us for almost 100 years, Albert Einstein’s Quote: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

  2. Armenian said:

    It’s so clear that the Eurasian Union/Customs Union garbage is so explicitly against each and every single one of Armenia’s interests, but when we have idiots like the HHK, who are busy pushing a pension plan that 80% of the people are against (yet miraculously get re-elected over and over again), and act as the vicar of Russian interests in Armenia because as the saying goes, “without Russia, there is no Armenia”, we have completely backed ourselves into a ditch of gradual destruction.

    Armenia is already isolated from the east and west, and now importing and exporting with Armenia is going to become so expensive, that the traffic on the Georgian-Armenian border is going to become virtually lifeless.The only thing we’re going to have is a narrow strip of land between Armenia and Iran, and that too might disappear if the Azeris get a hold of Karabagh.

    I can’t emphasize enough how bad this alliance with Russia and their gang of backwards autocrats are. I’m amazed that more people don’t see right through this, and remain hopeful that Russia is going to make things better when it’s very clear that its isolation as well as overall backwardness does not benefit anyone, especially Armenia.

    Pat yourselves on the back, Russophiles. You’ve done an exemplary and brilliant job.

  3. Hratch said:

    Instead of fostering power through strength, we have somehow managed to alienate both the West and the East. The evolutionary theory of natural selection is a very powerful mechanism.

  4. Armenian said:

    This lack of transparency and coherence is characteristic of the types of “unions” that the likes of Lukashenka and Putin want to run– they answer to nobody, and the people end up fearing their governments instead of the opposite. These things are not conducive for positive economic growth, and these attitudes are even coming back to hurt us now that we know that Moscow has been helping the Azeris more than they’ve been helping us since 2007.

    Armenia should have gone ahead with the European Association Agreement all along as trying to appease Russia clearly does not work. Most of our economic contact with the outside world goes through Georgia. It makes absolutely no sense to tariff yourself off from one of your most important economic allies. If anything, going in the path of the EU would have helped Armenia and Georgia facilitate more trade as more investments would have came in from the EU and at least better access to a market of 500,000,000 people would have been assured. The Customs Union is a waste of time and a massive leap backwards.

    • Norin Radd said:

      Yes, because joining a 25+ member EU economic block on the verge of collapsing is a great idea, especially since we would get 3rd tier status behind such powerhouses as Easter European countries. Look at how great Bulgaria is doing right behind Greece.

      The EU is the economic playground of the truly only 3 member states that reap major benefits, Germany, UK, and France. Everyone else is used as a capitol market to dump goods into. Never mind the fact that Armenia would be taken even less seriously in the EU than the CU/EEU merely because we will be shoved under the Turkish umbrella a la NATO affiliations that the EU is obligated to.

      I think some of the things you say are relevant but unfortunately most of it carries to much emotional undertone to be objective. Armenia in the EU will fare worst than Greece and even worse than Bulgaria, both of which are not much more than resort brothels at the moment for tier 1 EU states. And since we are behind Georgia behind the brown nosing department, expect us to be even lower on the totem pole.

      The CU/EUU has its problems, yes, but sitting at the table of 28, being the 29th member seems a lot worse than being 4th at a table of 3. Once Nazarbayev croaks, we will be all the better for it, in the meanwhile, beggars can’t be choosers.

      • Armenian said:

        Waiting for Nazarbayev to croak, and assuming that the individual who replaces him will be more pro-Armenian is not a legitimate strategy? It’s based too much on an assumption that most likely will not happen, and it’s a totally ridiculous attitude to take up especially when there is so much at stake. And you claim that I’m the emotional one? “Spasenq tesenq inch klini” is not a viable foreign policy strategy, but unfortunately, this passiveness is reflective of everything Armenia has been doing both internally and externally these past few years.

        And don’t worry about the size of the EU, Russia and the Customs Union has already managed to make a mockery out of us and there are only three of them. Comments like NGO’s should be shut down in Armenia, or that Armenians should learn to speak Russian if they know what’s good for them is about the lowest it can get– don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll get worse because the Russians are holy people who deserve the benefit of the doubt, always.

  5. GB said:

    Lavrov is well aware of Tatar-Turks intention toward Armenian Nation. He is one of frequent visitors of AG Museum and pay special attention, when he is touring inside the Museum!

    • Armenian said:

      Who cares about that? As long as he’s not using his position of power to reflect those policies, those “private visits” are useless. It’s nice that he does these things on the private level, but at the end of the day, the “private level” doesn’t do anything. If he took that into account, even as a half Armenian, he should have not gone to Baku with announcements of arms sales…

      • steve said:

        Asbarez .Why is this guy Armenian running your show.It must be in our blood to attack ourself
        I DON’T blame the Russian at all .The time will come we will destroy ourself .

        • Armenian said:

          Yeah, don’t blame them at all. For anything. Even when they’re overtly working against you, it’s not their fault. Moscow always deserves the benefit of the doubt.

          • steve said:

            Because of people like you attacking the Russian all the time.I live in Australia. America says,jump.We Australian say.How high .Almost .Every country’s takes sides.Who you thing you are
            Together we can survive.Remember what the Genghis Khan said [with the arrows ]

  6. Argos said:

    This is a piece of panic driven commentary. There are those that would love nothing better than wreck Armenian accession to the euras. Armenia and Artsakh are one, Armenia will accede the Euras. Look to the future and don’t look back .

    • Armenian said:

      The “Euras” is a one-way ticket to the past, as exemplified by KGB style politicians, and “glory” for Soviet era traitors like Mkoyan.

    • Armenian said:

      and yes, you should be panicking. Armenia is in an extremely difficult and potentially destructive position right now. It’s almost frightening how nonchalant most Armenians are about Armenia’s place in the world, and dismiss everything as “panic driven commentary” and “hysteria”, and act with 100% certainty that Armenia will always be safe and that we can win every war against the Azeris. This sort of arrogance backfires on anyone who carries themselves this way.

      • GB said:

        It seems to me, that you have a pro AXEri stance, than most of us here! It is good, that Armenia “politically” staying out of CU/EU.. that is part of political games that we Armenians don’t have very much!

  7. Lus said:

    Mr Lavrov, a man of honour and dignity who has contributed enormously to the development of Russian-Armenian relations… May God bless him!

  8. Berge Jololian said:

    No need to be emotional about associations with either the EU or Russia.

    Armenia’s government failed for lack of diplomacy, not knowing how to delicately balance the superpowers’ interests. The present government has set a record of back-to-back foreign policy failures. There are simply no foreign policy professionals in the Armenian government.

    With few exceptions, the Armenian parliament is populated by oligarchs running illegal private business with lack of attention to foreign relations and international associations and agreements.

    No one in the current government is representing Armenia’s national interests. For the sake of Armenia’s survival, there needs to be a professional diplomatic corps.

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  10. Berge Jololian said:

    Armenia’s foreign ministry and its lack of diplomatic corps is a disgrace to the country.

    Rather than engaging in advancing Armenia’s interests in foreign countries, the embassies of Armenia in Europe and elsewhere are used as motels while the “diplomats” are far too busy shopping and sight-seeing.

    Instead of research to enhance Armenia’s position by engaging with local politicians of the host countries, the local Armenian communities, seek trade and tourism opportunities, the senior staff of the “diplomatic mission” are too busy playing in video games and watching youtube videos.

    Sad and hard to believe but true. But somehow, Armenians succeed in-spite of themselves.

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  12. Fedy said:

    The equation is clear and simple. Assuming Russia disappears as political force, a political factor in the Caucasus, where does that leave Armenians. ? It leaves Armenia at the threshold of extinction at the hands of Turkey. That is the cold fact of realpolitic. Go ahead wish the elimination of Russia, and all what you are wishing is the dissapearance of Armenia as an independent nation. There is incredible ignorance on display with some commentators. Armenia is not in a ” desperate situation”, Armenia is not in a critical situation any different than she had always been in her history. A number of opinionated scribblers pass comments, pregnant with prejudices and biased, sitting in their comfortable lounges in Glendale or some other place, clacking at their keyboards without the slightest hint of what goes on in Armenia. These armchair generals, wise men and dilettante political scientists, whose sole basis of information is second and third hand, must first journey to visit the motherland , and see it, then let’s hear their informed comments.

  13. Dr.Hermon Mihranian said:

    Yerevan must sign the Eurasian Union. This will have a positive impact on Armenia.

  14. Ron said:

    I wonder if Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan also have to renegotiate their WTO agreements, or are they expecting that only from Armenia? Armenia needs to pursue all possible non-Russia energy options while also working with Russia. The reported arms sales from Russia to Azerbaijan if true are extremely concerning and raise serious questions about Russia as a reliable partner for Armenia.

  15. Dr.Hermon Mihranian said:

    Armenia must immediately join the Eurasian agreement. This will boosts the Armenian economy and
    will have a positive impact on security and prosperity.

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