Armenia’s Emerging New Foreign Policy


Ukraine has been in the spotlight of the international media since President Viktor Yanukovich announced1 the suspension of the Association Agreement with the EU, just a week before it was due to be signed in Vilnius, Lithuania, in favor of deeper ties with Russia. The Nov. 21 decision3sparked a wave of protests, known as the Euromaidan, demanding Yanukovich’s resignation. In December, following a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents, an agreement was reached for a $15 billion Russian loan and an over 30 percent cut in the price of Russian natural gas, which further angered the opposition that supports the European integration of Ukraine. The, however, issue is not as black and white as the classic case of a people against its repressive government. The country has a stark divide between its eastern and western provinces—the former being generally more supportive of closer ties with Russia, and the latter in favor of Ukraine’s European path. Historical and geographic factors4 play a big role in the recent developments taking place in Kyiv and other regions of Ukraine.

Sahakyan 3: President Serge Sargsyan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Yerevan in Dec., 2013. (Photo:

Similar to Yanukovich’s announcement on Nov. 21, the Sept. 3 joint statement5 by the presidents of Armenia and Russia—announcing Armenia’s desire to join the Russian-led Customs Union (CU)—came as a big surprise to many, especially in the West. It was expected6 that Armenia would sign the EU’s Association Agreement with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/DCFTA) component later in 2013, yet the Armenian leadership ostensibly notified7 the EU Commission of its decision to join the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space (CES) of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia just three days before the official visit by President Serge Sarkisian to Moscow. Official Yerevan effectively made a U-Turn from the Association Agreement with the EU, which took more than three years to negotiate8 and was due to have been signed at the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit.

In making its decision between the “East” and “West,” the Armenian leadership did not have many alternatives. Just like Russia, the EU was not eager to allow Armenia much maneuver space. Therefore, Brussels, alongside Moscow, has its own share of the blame in regards to the recent developments. Blaming Armenia for choosing the CU in this case is unreasonable, as it would have been blamed regardless of which side it chose. Rather, the question should be addressed to the EU and Russia, as to why they are so unwilling and incapable of coming up with a framework that allows for the dual integration of the states in the shared neighborhood, especially when both sides claim9 that their policies are not targeted against the other.

Considering the close collaboration between Armenia and Russia in the economic, political, and military spheres, news of the Armenian choice should not be entirely surprising. Russia maintains a

President Serge Sargsyan and President François Hollande during Sargsyan’s working visit to France in Oct., 2013. (Photo:

military base in Armenia10 (effectively serving as the security guarantor of the state), owns most of the country’s critical infrastructure, is the leading foreign investor, and is home to the largest Armenian diaspora in the world. Having so much political and economic leverage over Armenia, Russia did not face a major challenge from the European side, whose collaboration with Armenia has been limited. Armenia’s chances for a possible membership in the EU are currently close to zero, whereas the CU and consequently EAU membership might prove to be beneficial in increasing Armenia’s international relevance as part of a much larger entity. Taking into consideration the above-mentioned factors, as well as Armenia’s cultural and historical connections with Russia, one can better understand why it ended up rationally choosing the Russian side, when cornered by Brussels and Moscow.

Since the Sept. 3 decision some noteworthy developments have taken place, which will likely change the geopolitical and economic situation of Armenia and the region at large. President Sarkisian paid a working visit to France in October 201311 and delivered a statement during the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).12 During the Q&A session, he touched upon the topic of the AA/DCFTA agreement with the EU, noting, “We [Armenia] are still ready to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union… [A]fter our announcement that we join the Customs Union, our partners in the European Commission said that there is a direct contradiction between the Customs Union and Free Trade Agreement; the rules are different.”13

Even though Armenia took part in the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on Nov. 28-29, and despite President Sarkisian’s earlier statement regarding Armenia’s readiness to initial the AA/DCFTA with the EU, no agreement was signed (as many expected). A joint declaration between Armenia and the European Union following the Vilnius Summit stated that “based on common values, both sides are committed to further cooperation aimed at the continuous improvement of democratic institutions and judiciary, the promotion of human rights and rule of law, good governance, the fight against corruption, the strengthening the civil society, the further improvement of the framework for enhanced trade and investments, the continued implementation of the mobility partnership, and increased sectorial cooperation.”14 The parties further acknowledged the completion of negotiations for the Association Agreement, but said they would not proceed with its initialing due to Armenia’s new international commitments.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits his country’s military base (102nd) in Gyumri, Armenia, accompanied by Armenian President Serge Sargsyan in Dec. 2013. (Photo:

On Dec. 2, 2013 President Vladimir Putin paid a state visit to Armenia.15 As part of his trip, he visited the 102nd Russian military base stationed in Gyumri,16 participatedin the Russian-Armenian Interregional Forum,17 and together with his Armenian counterpart witnessed the signing of a set of bilateral agreements. Putin was accompanied18 by a 500-member delegation, including 6 cabinet ministers, 11 provincial governors, and heads of large Russian companies, signifying the importance Russia places on Armenia as a strategic partner. Additionally, Russia recently announced19 its plans to create a unified air defense network with Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member states, including Armenia. This will effectively further expand and modernize the latter’s air force. Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan declared that “the agreements [with Russia] on buying up-to-date interoperable arms, military equipment, and long-range precision-guided weapons allow us to improve our defense control mechanisms.”20 In short, the economic, political, and military cooperation between Armenia and Russia is expected to only expand in the future, since there is no motive to predict otherwise.

The Eurasian Supreme Economic Council (the highest decision-making body of the CU/CES) convened21 its meeting on Oct. 24, 2013. In addition to the presidents of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus, the leaders of Ukraine, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan were also present at the assembly. It was agreed to create22 working groups to develop roadmaps in order to expedite Armenia and Kyrgyzstan’s accession to the CU/CES. As early as Dec. 23, 2013, the government of Armenia adopted23 the road map, which entails 262 measures, 150 of which should be realized prior to the accession. The following day, on Dec. 24, the Eurasian Supreme Economic Council also approved24 Armenia’s roadmap.

As is evident from the timeline of events, the Armenian side is moving very quickly towards the final accession to the Customs Union. In particular, Putin stated25 that “we [Russian side] are struggling to keep up with our Armenian partners.” Furthermore, the Russian ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Volynkin, recently said that “Armenia is moving forward by leaps and bounds. Many did not expect that Armenia would be moving towards the Customs Union so fast.” 26 It is anticipated27 that Armenia will become a full-fledged member of the Customs Union by May 2014, before the existing three members initial28 the draft agreement on the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), planned to commence its full-scale work on Jan. 1, 2015.

Developments since September have effectively brought an end to the current phase of Armenia’s “Complementarity”29 policy in foreign affairs, which entailed developing good and balanced relations with regional and global powers. Although this strategy is likely to continue, since Armenia cannot afford to have poor relations with more states than it already does, some of the dynamics will change. By the summer of 2014, the Republic of Armenia will be a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the CSTO, and CU/CES, which means that it will be fully aligned with Russia in the political, military, and economic realms, respectively. This, without a doubt, will place certain constraints on how the diplomatic corps of the state conducts its foreign affairs within the framework of complementarity. The challenge will be parallel to further deepening relations with Russia, to be able to develop relations with other regional and global powers.

Armenia should also look into deepening its ties with India, China, and others—something the leadership has not given much priority to thus far. Further cultivation of a policy inclined to develop and strengthen ties with the east should be one of Yerevan’s top priorities. This will enable Armenia to create more alternatives for itself and loosen its dependence on both Russia and the EU, allowing for more flexibility in its foreign and domestic policies. How they do this is different question, but the fact that we will witness changes in the current strategy is almost certain. Armenia must develop a qualitatively new “Complementarity 2.0” policy that will best reflect current risks and opportunities.

original article can be found:


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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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