BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN The announcement on Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country was abandoning the South Stream gas project in favor of a massive partnership with Turkey at the very least should have given pause to Armenia’s mad-dash to join the European Economic Union.
Instead, Armenia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ratify the agreement Thursday, without a question about the complications that are fraught by a Russia-Turkey energy axis, when Armenia last year, in preparation for its own ascent to the Eurasian Union all but signed away its energy interests to Russia by giving ownership of its gas supplies to the Russian giant, Gazprom.
Since Putin’s announcement Monday, I have been waiting, to no avail, for an official comment from the Armenian government or, at the very least, a comprehensive debate among lawmakers about the ramifications of the Russia-Turkey agreement.
For example, how does the deal impact Armenia, which for all intents and purposes is a subsidiary of Gazprom and has the Russian military stationed on its border with Turkey? A lot of questions have popped up since President Serzh Sarkisian last year stunned everyone by fully committing Armenia to the Customs Union/Eurasian Economic Union. None of the questions have been answered convincingly and yet 103 of the 131 members of Armenia’s Parliament, most of them citing national security reasons and an inevitability of sorts, opted to green-light this effort. [Members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation parliamentary caucus (with one abstention) also voted to ratify the document, citing national security reasons].
Sure, the inevitability element is there because soon after Armenia declared independence, the government began auctioning off critical components of our nation’s infrastructure to the lowest bidder with the public seeing no apparent benefits from those fire sales. That auction still continues and was sealed by selling the minor interest in Armenia’s gas supply to Russia over mounting pressures of price hikes by the Kremlin.
While US and EU media and government officials eagerly—and jubilantly–framed the Russia-Turkey deal as Kremlin’s defeat in the face of Western sanctions, Russia solidified and tightened its grip on the region ensuring that almost all its neighboring countries became dependent on its most valuable commodity—natural gas. Following the mammoth $400 billion energy deal Russia struck with China earlier this year, Putin has essentially guaranteed the flow of cash into the Kremlin for the foreseeable future and control of vast territory stretching from China to Turkey. [We will touch on what this should mean for the US as its “trusted ally,” Turkey, once again has turned its back].
Yet the Armenian government, which still has to comprehensively delineate and explain the pros and cons of an association with the EU versus Russia, sprinted toward the endgame of joining the EEU, despite the fact that now Turkey has become a player in that union and Kazakhstan’s close alliance with Azerbaijan is still a thorn that could prick with uncertain consequences as Astana continues to act as a proxy for Baku within the EEU.
In the current scheme of things, what would stop Russia from forcing Armenia to open its borders with Turkey, with heavy preconditions and without distinct benefits to Armenia? Since Armenia’s eagerness to enter the EEU has not halted Russia’s continued arm sales to Azerbaijan, what would stop Russia, a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, to force a resolution to the Karabakh conflict that would greatly damage Armenia’s national security? What guarantees are there of economic prosperity that would impede the flow of migration by Armenians to Russia? If there are distinct answers to those questions, they have not been articulated clearly. I am in no way suggesting that an alliance with Europe or the West would have been more beneficial for Armenia, given the West’s continuous pro-Turkey and pro-Azerbaijan posturing and no real economic/investment plans outside of USAID-funded projects and some European firms opening subsidiaries in Armenia.
However, a more transparent and succinct process would have countered the doubts that still persist with Armenia’s entry in the Eurasian Economic Union. Since Armenia’s independence the hope has been that its leaders would leverage the country’s geographic position and assets to carve a truly independent economic and social reality that would allow Armenia to prosper while benefitting from alliances with both the West and the East, without having to become either’s satellite.
With Thursday’s ratification of EEU by Armenia’s Parliament our country is one step closer to becoming a member of an elusive and nebulous structure, with the threat of war still looming and the grip of unfriendly neighbors tightening around our country.
For Armenia it should not be a contest between East and West, it should be an aspiration to become a self-sufficient entity that would guarantee its true independence.