WASHINGTON—Hosted at the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (Subcommittee on European Affairs), U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland answered questions regarding the upcoming EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, and whether or not the E.U. and the U.S. will continue to work with Armenia after its “surprising” choice to join the Russia-led Customs Union, made public in early September 2013.
Presiding over the hearing, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut (D) asked whether the E.U.’s Association Agreements were mutually exclusive from joining the Russia-led Customs Union. “For instance, we were obviously surprised by Armenia’s decision to do an about-face and join the Customs Union. Does that mean we give up Armenia as a potential partner down the road with the European Union?” – asked the Senator.
Assistant Secretary Nuland replied: “There is nothing in the AAs that precludes any of the Eastern Partnership States continuing to have strong trade relations with Russia or any of the Customs Union countries. There are provisions in the Customs Union that preclude CU members from associating with anybody else. So, the Armenians had a difficult choice to make, and they have made it. It does not change the fact that both the E.U. and the United States will continue to try to build our economic and trade relationship with Armenia. We think that there is more that we can do together. But they are not going to have the benefits of the Association Agreement under the Customs Union rules”.
Following up his question, Senator Murphy wondered whether there had been any lessons learned from Armenia’s decision to reorient itself towards the Customs Union, with respect to the tools that Russia used, and the EU efforts that were made.
Assistant Secretary Nuland elaborated that “for reasons of geography, political choice, economics, history, Armenia has for quite a long time been significantly more dependant, in economic and security terms, on its big neighbor and, frankly, did not…. Well, I won’t speak for the Government of Armenia, but as we have spoken to them, they found it a very difficult choice, given how knitted together they are with Russia”.