10:15 20 July

Will Armenia’s choosing Customs Union change Europe’s attitude towards Nagorno Karabakh conflict? - ANALYSIS

If the West does not meet the expectations of Azerbaijan, it will lose its positions in the South Caucasus once and for all

Baku. Vugar Masimoghlu – APA. Armenia has made a choice between Europe and Russia and officially turned back on Europe with its decision to join the Customs Union. Yerevan’s “attempt” to play among the two power centers failed in the short run. With the decision announced yesterday Armenia once confirmed that it is not and will not be an independent player.

Armenia has made official its strategic choice passing a decision to join the Customs Union. It is not surprising that a country, which is not independent from political, economic and military point of view and is an outpost of Russia in the South Caucasus, has selected Moscow instead of Brussels. It was surprising that earlier, Armenia intended to sign an association agreement with the European Union and Europe sincerely believed this intention. Europe is well aware of Russia’s dominant position in the policy of Armenia and it was naive to think that it would draw Yerevan out of Moscow’s influence with the association agreement. Europe is suffering from this superficial approach.

The membership of the Customs Union crossed out Armenia’s Europe prospects and means the gradual loss of Europe’s initiative to interfere in Russia’s influence – the importance of the “Eastern Partnership” program. Europe is expected to face the same fate regarding Belarus after Armenia. Thus, the target countries of the “Eastern Partnership” program will be only GUAM member states.

A question arises – Why Armenia, which was aware of Russia’s plans on the Customs Union and its place in this project, was going to sign an association agreement with the European Union? It should be estimated as an indirect message of Armenia to Russia. The migration crisis and economic collapse in the country and the sharp decrease of financial means transferred to the budget of Armenia through Diaspora obliged Armenia to think.

The world is facing a serious financial crisis, which has led to the decrease of Diaspora donations. On the other hand, the investments in Armenia’s economy by the countries, where the Armenian Diaspora organizations are strong, have also decreased. Last year, direct foreign investment in Armenia’s economy dropped 64%. Russia has invested a total of $38 million in Armenia’s economy this year.

Though Armenia, which is facing severe economic crisis due to the self-isolated policy relies on Russia, the support of Moscow is restricted to political and military support. In the recent presidential elections, some candidates accused Russia over the lack of economic support and some of them showed Europe as a way out of the situation. These views should be assessed as an approach of the Armenian society, not of separate political circles.

Armenia’s attempt to sign the association agreement with the European Union was a message to Russia. Threatening Russia with European integration plans shows that Armenia can’t objectively evaluate its foreign influence capabilities and political maneuvering opportunities are so limited that it can be easily predicted (“It will be finally admitted to the Customs Union”, “It will do what Russia says” and other evaluations).

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy towards Azerbaijan has also influenced Armenia’s choice of the Customs Union. The statements issued in Baku and steady development of relations between Azerbaijan and Russia caused the fear in Yerevan that “Moscow may refuse the mission of guarantor of Armenia's security” and this fear objectively made the neighboring country hastily formalize its role as “Russia’s mistress”.

The European Union’s superficial assessment of the processes also played a key role in this process. Europe that doesn’t seriously interfere in the process of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and tries only to ensure its economic interests in the region has jeopardized its long-term plans. Though, steps were taken to remove the South Caucasus region from the sphere of influence of Russia (the Eastern Partnership, energy projects, visa facilitation regime for the South Caucasus countries, financial aid, etc.), political basis has not been established. One can also see these mistakes in the West’s relations with Georgia.

The only way for the West, wishing to gain strength in the South Caucasus, is to appeal to Azerbaijan that has openly declared its policy of European integration and is pursuing a balanced policy. Unlike Armenia and Georgia, the West shouldn’t repeat its mistakes regarding Azerbaijan. Baku has made its energy resources an important factor of the foreign policy and assumed an important role in ensuring energy security of Europe.

Azerbaijan has expectations from Europe – unlike Europe, the official Baku wants to ensure political interests rather than economic interests and doesn’t hide that the main objective of the energy policy is to obtain results in the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Following the recent step of Armenia, it would be another mistake for the West not to assess these expectations.

The first statements of the EU officials on Sargsyan's decision to join the Customs Union bore initial signs of it. For example, German member of the European Parliament and chairman of its Foreign Affairs Committee Elmar Brok stated that the European Union not dealing with this issue up to now should be seriously interested in the solution of "frozen conflicts". It is not excluded that high-ranking officials would make similar statements soon.

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