Armenian–Ukrainian Relations: Common Challenges and Different Visions

BY ARMENAK MINASYANTS &  IRYNA BAKHCHEVA (Op-Ed Contributors) 

Ukraine is a strategically important partner country for Armenia despite the ongoing stalemate in bilateral political relations, which has appeared as a result of the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine and the surprising accession of Armenia to the Eurasian Economic Union. The Armenian-Ukrainian bilateral cooperation has huge potential, bearing in mind Ukraine’s role as a key state of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Program. On the other hand, Ukraine has also become the key element of the common European and Euro-Atlantic security system. At the same time, both countries are part of the Eastern Partnership Program, which offers post-Soviet countries entrance into deeper engagement, gradual integration in the EU economy, easier travel to the EU through visa liberalization, and the introduction of measures to tackle illegal immigration.

The Armenian-Ukrainian bilateral cooperation has huge potential.

Nevertheless, within recent years Ukraine has passed through turbulent times of democratization processes accompanied by the success of the Revolution of Dignity, the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the ongoing military conflict in the East of Ukraine with the pro-Russian and/or Russian-supported terrorists. In its turn, the Armenian political leadership managed to make a shocking political U-Turn from the European integration and association path, and furthermore joined the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. On the other hand, since 1994, Armenia recently was involved in tense and unprecedented military skirmishes and escalation with Azerbaijan over the disputed areas of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Even though the above mentioned processes in Armenia and Ukraine are not geographically connected, they have a common line which can be described as the ongoing deep political and geopolitical challenge through which the wider Black Sea region is going through now. The geopolitical instability brings new and multilateral challenges to the Eastern Partnership region, as the previously established model of the state governance falls short while providing sustainable growth and economic and political stability of the region.

Within this framework, the prospect of Armenian-Ukrainian relations is much broader from the bilateral context. The real value added implication of the relations can be found within the broader framework of the ongoing regional developments.

Today, Ukrainian statehood faces a variety of institutional challenges.

Today, Ukrainian statehood faces a variety of institutional challenges: corruption, necessity of public sector reforms, Russian propaganda, economic recession and etc. The outcome of the democratization processes in Ukraine will be crucial not only for the Ukrainians but generally for all post-Soviet states, including Armenia. Simultaneously, Armenia, despite its membership to the Eurasian Economic Union, faces almost the same institutional and democratization challenges as Ukraine. The high rates of corruption and low level of economic competitiveness are hampering barriers to further development and diversification of Armenia’s economy.

When it comes to the discussion of Armenian-Ukrainian relations, one of the biggest facts and data usually dismissed is the amount and importance of the Armenian ethnic diaspora community in Ukraine. In accordance with the data provided by the Union of Armenians of Ukraine, there are approximately 350 000 ethnic Armenians living in Ukraine.[1] It is worth mentioning that in Ukraine the Armenians have the second biggest ethnic community in Europe (first is in France). The key feature of the Armenian community in Ukraine is its tightly integrated status within the Ukrainian society. The community acts in accordance with the ongoing political and social agenda of the Ukrainian state. According to the Member of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Mr. Nikolay Knyazhytskyy, 52 Armenians have sacrificed their lives in eastern Ukraine while fighting against the pro-Russian rebels. This number of causalities has also been confirmed by the Minister of Interior Affairs of Ukraine Mr. Arsen Avakov[2], who is also considered to be one of the key Ukrainian policy makers of Armenia descent. The very recent public events of the Union of Armenians of Ukraine have been attended also by other representatives of the Ukrainian political elite, namely by the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Mr. Vyacheslav Kyrylenko and the Chairman of Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service Mr. Viktor Nazarenko.[3]

The level of political and economic relations between Armenia and Ukraine remains dramatically low.

Simultaneously, the level of political and economic relations between Armenia and Ukraine remains dramatically low. First and foremost, there is a lack of public push towards deepening of relations between two countries. The Armenian reality is that Ukraine is usually perceived as a country that confronts Russia and automatically “harms and hampers” the prospects of a strong Russian-led economic union in face of the Eurasian Economic Union. On the other hand, the Armenian ruling political majority usually believes that the recent developments in Ukraine are not naturally driven by the necessity of change and democratic reforms but are rather a reflection of a weak political power system that was formed by the ex-President Viktor Yanukovych. Accordingly, there is a dominating misunderstanding of the real reasons of the Revolution of Dignity and further democratization processes in Ukraine. As a result, the key policy makers in Armenia perceive Ukraine as a country not located in the nearest neighborhood and strategically important for Armenia, but rather than as a country that does not have a direct connection with the Armenian political realities and its foreign policy.

This process would not be as painful for Armenia if not for the existence of the unsolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

On the other hand, Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Nalbandyan at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s 89th Rose-Roth Seminar in Yerevan voiced the official position of Yerevan on Ukraine. He particularly noted that “Today, the attention of the international community is focused on finding ways of settlement of the Ukrainian Crisis. Armenia and Ukraine are connected not only with centuries-old friendship, but also through thousands of Armenians living in Ukraine.”[4] The reality, however, is that the Armenian leadership has already made some steps which not only do not comply with the term “friendship”, but rather totally discredit Armenia as a reliable international partner for the Ukrainian government. Armenia’s controversial vote of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine”[5] put at stake the future of Armenian-Ukrainian relations, thus causing deep diplomatic crisis and urging the Ukrainian authorities to call back their ambassador.[6] This process would not be as painful for Armenia if not for the existence of the unsolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and increasing potential of the Azerbaijani lobby in Ukraine and other countries that have ongoing hardship with territorial integrity.

Meanwhile, the clash between two different value systems, “European” and “Eurasian”, seems to be inevitable in the post-Soviet region. It is a result of ongoing systematic internal development of the European Neighborhood Policy and the development of Russia’s Eurasian project.

The Russian Government has decided not to close down its Eurasian project but rather to play it in a new manner.

The rapid expansion of Russia’s Eurasian agenda has brought new realties for Armenia and Ukraine also. Today, the Russian economy is in its gravest condition since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ongoing Ukrainian Crisis, the deepening of Western-imposed economic sanctions and embargo as well as the dramatically decrease in international prices for oil are the key elements which continue to worsen the economic situation in Russia. Accordingly, the Russian Government has decided not to close down its Eurasian project but rather to play it in a new manner. As a key element of its new policy, President Putin imagined the creation of buffer zones that will protect Russia from the West. These buffer zones were directly drawn in Ukraine and Armenia. In particular, President Putin chose two different buffer models in Armenia and Ukraine. Russia has used the “tough buffer model” for Ukraine.  By engaging military power and its proxies to annex Crimea and bringing total instability and war to Donbas and Lugansk regions, buffer zones were accordingly created in these areas.  In Armenia, the Russian side tried the so called “soft buffer model”, which did not have a direct military component, but successfully forced the Armenian government to make an unexpected political U-Turn on 3 September 2013 and urged the leading political class to withdraw its pro-European ambitions and replace it with blurry Eurasian integration prospect.

As a result, the current stage of Armenian-Ukrainian relations can be described as the “Hybrid Age”. There is a dramatic necessity to reconsider and reframe the platforms of cooperation and interaction. It is, however, worth mentioning that even during the pre-Euromaidan times the ties between Armenia and Ukraine were developing mostly in accordance with the logic of private or corporate business interests of particular individuals. These business ties and amounts of Ukrainian exports to Armenia continue to be the only real and sustainable lifeline in the bilateral relations. Many government officials and businessmen both in Ukraine and Armenia remain interested in the development of bilateral economic relations because it benefits all even though the bilateral trade fell to $223 million in 2014.[7]

There is a necessity to implement sustainable and systematic policy for melting the ice in bilateral political relations.

Due to the ongoing economic crisis and recession in Russia, official Yerevan currently has an opportunity to implement a balanced policy towards Ukraine, thus effectively maneuvering and changing the perception of Armenia among the Ukrainian political leadership. There is a necessity to implement sustainable and systematic policy for melting the ice in bilateral political relations, which can also help to boost the further interaction between business entities and societies. It is worth mentioning that all preconditions and grounds for making this happen are found on the Ukrainian side as well. In particular, on 24 April 2015, the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada had a minute of silence in respect of the victims and the centennial of the Armenian Genocide[8]: a step which was highly appreciated and highlighted by the Armenian media and politicians.

The willingness of the Armenian government to negotiate and finalize the new framework agreement with the European Union is another positive signal.

In context, the recent developments in the Armenian-Ukrainian relations can be described as turbulent as ever. There is a glance of hope that strong political dialogue can be reestablished as a result of broader geopolitical transformations in the post-Soviet area. On the other hand, global political trends, such as the lifting of sanctions from Iran, can also catalyze the situation, thus opening Ukraine up to new economic opportunities and attractiveness in the South Caucasus region and in Armenia particularly. The willingness of the Armenian government to negotiate and finalize the new framework agreement with the European Union is another positive signal. It can also be perceived by Kyiv as an important step from the Armenian government to withdraw from its pro-Russian stance and diversify its foreign policy agenda by getting closer to the European community in face of the EU.

However, the key element to be undertaken is the continuous development of people-to-people contacts between Armenian and Ukrainian societies, which share a common historical past and traditions of friendly relations for already 9-10 centuries. In order to foster better mutual understanding between Armenia and Ukraine, it is vital for the civil societies in both countries to take the position of a bridge and bring a real breakthrough in bilateral perceptions.

Notes

[1]“СоюзармянУкраины -.” СоюзармянУкраины -. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://sau.net.ua/organisation.

[2]“”TsavdTanem”” ArsenAvakov. April 24, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/arsen.avakov.1/posts/824759957614112.

[3]“Union of Armenians of Ukraine Decides on Priorities for 2016.” News.am. November 27, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://news.am/eng/news/298762.html.

[4]“Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia.” Address of Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian at the Opening Session of the Rose-Roth Seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. June 18, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www.mfa.am/en/speeches/item/2015/06/18/min_roseroth/.

[5]“High-level Meetings and the General Debate of the Sixty-eighth Session of the General Assembly Plenary Meetings.” United Nations PaperSmart. March 27, 2014. Accessed February 04, 2016. https://papersmart.unmeetings.org/en/ga/68th-session/plenary-meetings/documents/voting-record/resolution-68262/.

[6]“Ukraine Recalls Ambassador to Armenia over Crimea Recognition.” Asbarezcom. March 21, 2014. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://asbarez.com/120951/ukraine-recalls-ambassador-to-armenia-over-crimea-recognition/.

[7]“Ukraine’s Ambassador Says Economic Relations with Armenia Are ‘successful.” Ukraine’s Ambassador Says Economic Relations with Armenia Are ‘successful. February 02, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://arka.am/en/news/economy/ukraine_s_ambassador_says_economic_relations_with_armenia_are_successful/.

[8]“ВР вшанувала хвилиною мовчання пам’ять жертв масових убивств вірмен.” :Новини УНІАН. April 24, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www.unian.ua/politics/1071029-vr-vshanuvala-hvilinoyu-movchannya-pamyat-jertv-genotsidu-virmen.html.

Works Cited

“High-level Meetings and the General Debate of the Sixty-eighth Session of the General Assembly Plenary Meetings.” United Nations PaperSmart. March 27, 2014. Accessed February 04, 2016. https://papersmart.unmeetings.org/en/ga/68th-session/plenary-meetings/documents/voting-record/resolution-68262/.

“Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia.” Address of Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian at the Opening Session of the Rose-Roth Seminar of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. June 18, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www.mfa.am/en/speeches/item/2015/06/18/min_roseroth/.

“TsavdTanem”” ArsenAvakov. April 24, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/arsen.avakov.1/posts/824759957614112.

“Ukraine Recalls Ambassador to Armenia over Crimea Recognition.” Asbarezcom. March 21, 2014. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://asbarez.com/120951/ukraine-recalls-ambassador-to-armenia-over-crimea-recognition/.

“Ukraine’s Ambassador Says Economic Relations with Armenia Are ‘successful.” Ukraine’s Ambassador Says Economic Relations with Armenia Are ‘successful. February 02, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://arka.am/en/news/economy/ukraine_s_ambassador_says_economic_relations_with_armenia_are_successful/.

“Union of Armenians of Ukraine Decides on Priorities for 2016.” News.am. November 27, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://news.am/eng/news/298762.html.

“ВР вшанувала хвилиною мовчання пам’ять жертв масових убивств вірмен.” :Новини УНІАН. April 24, 2015. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www.unian.ua/politics/1071029-vr-vshanuvala-hvilinoyu-movchannya-pamyat-jertv-genotsidu-virmen.html.

“Союз армян Украины -.” Союз армян Украины -. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://sau.net.ua/organisation.

About the Authors

Armenak Minasyants is a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

Iryna Bakhcheva is pursuing her M.A. in Human Rights and Democratization in the South Caucasus and the Eastern Partnership.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ERA Institute.

This article is produced by the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute, Inc. (ERA Institute), a public, 501(c)(3) nonprofit institution devoted to studying Eurasian affairs. All views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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