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Armenia's membership in EEU will further undermine regional security

By Amanda Paul

Today's Zaman

October 15, 2014

Despite many Armenians hoping that it would not happen, it came as no real surprise that Armenia's president, Serzh Sarksyan, signed the agreement to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) last Friday at the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in Minsk. Hence as of Jan. 1, 2015, three will become four as Armenia joins Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

As I have written before, like many analysts, I do not consider this membership to be beneficial to Armenia for at least five reasons: First, membership in the EEU will further erode Armenia's independence and sovereignty. Second, it will further consolidate Russia's hold over the Armenian economy and the oligarchic networks that control it. Third, unlike the agreements offered by the EU, which were abandoned in September 2013, it will not act as a roadmap for reform and modernization. This means that the current corrupt and monopolized system will continue. Fourth, it limits the sort of economic relationship that Armenia can have with the EU, meaning that diversification will be even more difficult than it was previously. And finally, it will further undermine Armenia's security and increase regional tensions not least because it still remains unclear how this is going to affect the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. There is concern that the agreement will have very negative consequences for Karabakh's economy as it depends on Armenia, which is its only export market.

This has been a very sensitive issue for other members of the EEU, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan, and Minsk and Astana want to avoid any negative ramifications on their relations with Azerbaijan, underlining that membership in the EEU must be within UN-recognized borders. While there has been some discussion over a border post between Karabakh and Armenia, nothing is confirmed. Furthermore, one could hardly say this would represent watertight control. Hence, there remains a very high risk of goods from Karabakh being relabeled and exported. There can be no doubt this situation seems set to increase tensions with Azerbaijan.

Armenians are also right to be concerned about the further erosion of their sovereignty. However, while Sarksyan may have been the one to sign on the dotted line this time, he is certainly not alone in taking decisions that erode Armenia's independence. In fact, one way or another, all of Armenia's presidents have made decisions that have allowed Moscow to nibble away at the country's sovereignty. It was Armenia's first president, Ter Petrossian, who cut the deal with Moscow to allow the Russian military a base in Armenia and Russian troops on the Turkey-Armenian border to “protect” the country from Turkey. He was followed by Robert Kocharyan, who sold off key infrastructure to Russia related to energy, transport and communications networks. And then came Sarksyan, who has not only brought Armenia into the EEU, but also extended the Russian military base lease at Gyumri for a further 50 years as well as allowing Russia to share its Erebuni airport.

Armenians believe that Russia will take care of their security and that Russia is essential to them in their conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. During the Minsk meeting, Putin announced that a military exercise at Gyumri a few days later with some 3,000 soldiers and numerous pieces of military hardware including Mig fighter jets and tanks. Russia claims that its military bases shore up peace and security in the region. To me it seems the opposite is true as these military bases are used by Russia to project power and create instability, further undermining the already-fragile security situation in the South Caucasus

Furthermore, despite the fact that Russia claims to be Armenia's security guarantor and close ally, at the same time Moscow continues to sell arms and sign military deals with Azerbaijan. Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu paid a visit to Baku on Oct. 13, and it is reported that a Cooperation Plan for 2015 was signed between the ministries of defense of the two countries. Nagorno-Karabakh is used by Russia to divide and rule, to play Armenia and Azerbaijan off each other and, along with South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, guarantee Russia's ongoing stake in the region. Armenia's membership in the EEU serves to consolidate this stake.