YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Russia does not object to Armenia’s intention to deepen its relations with the European Union through a new comprehensive political and economic agreement, according to a senior Russian official.
The planned deal is meant to serve as a substitute for an Association Agreement which Armenia and the EU nearly finalized two years ago. President Serzh Sarkisian unexpectedly precluded its signing when he announced in September 2013 his decision to make his country part of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The decision is thought to have resulted from strong Russian pressure.
Yerevan and Brussels subsequently began exploring the possibility of negotiating a less ambitious accord that would not contradict Armenia’s membership commitments to the EEU. On October 13, the EU formally authorized its executive body, the European Commission, to launch such negotiations.
“I think that [the planned EU-Armenia accord] does not contradict partnership with the Russian Federation,” Vasily Nebenzya, a Russian deputy foreign ministry, was quoted by the RIA Novosti agency as saying in Yerevan late last week. “We ourselves developed relations with the EU until the EU stopped wanting to develop relations with us in their entirety.”
“Other Eurasian Union partners of ours also have cooperation agreements with the EU. We not only do not impede but we actually welcome that,” he said.
Nebenzya stressed that Armenia is “well aware” that closer ties with the EU must not run counter to its EEU obligations. In particular, the ex-Soviet states aligned in the Russian-led union are not allowed to cut separate free trade deals with other states or blocs. They are bound by uniform import duties and a number of other commercial regulations.
The ill-fated Association Agreement was incompatible with membership in the EEU because it envisaged Armenia’s inclusion in a “deep and comprehensive free trade area” with the EU.
Armenian officials said that the planned alternative accord with the EU will contain many other economic provisions of the Association Agreement not relating to trade tariffs. A senior European Commission official, Luc Devigne, confirmed this when he visited Yerevan on October 16 for talks with the Armenian government. He said Yerevan is specifically ready to adopt EU regulations on business competition, government procurements and food safety.