Protesters came out by the hundreds in Yerevan to demonstrate against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the Armenian capital on 2 December. With estimates of around 500 protesters in central Yerevan, many held up banners declaring “Putin, go home” or “No to the USSR”, a reference to the Russian leader’s efforts to economically weld the former Soviet Republics together under the umbrella of Eurasian Union. Armenia’s decision in September to align with Russia over the European Union brought mixed reactions, with Putin lauding Armenia’s direction during his visit this week, saying it had already brought “tangible dividends”. Simultaneously, however, many Armenian citizens were decrying the decision, and protested, also in a display of solidarity with the Euromaidan demonstration in Ukraine. Let’s recap…
To Armenia with love
A great deal is being said about Ukraine’s mass and high-profile protests, but this week it was a dissonant chord which was also being played in Yerevan. Many carried the colours of Ukraine–flags, banners, masks–along with the flag of Armenia. Demonstrators marched to President Serzh Sargsyan’s administration to hand over a letter admonishing the government to renounce its decision to join the Russian-led Customs Union. Police blocked the protesters’ way, saying their demonstration was unsanctioned and several protesters were eventually detained by Armenian authorities.
— Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (@JSaryuszWolski) December 2, 2013
However, in spite of the backlash, Putin’s meeting with his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan concluded in several key agreements being made. Afterwards it was announced that Russia will supply natural gas to Armenia at a price of $189 per 1,000 cubic meters–roughly half the price Russia charges countries in Europe.
In addition, a document signed between Russia and and the government of Armenia, provides that Russia’s Gazprom takes over the remaining 20-percent stake in Armenia’s ArmRosgazprom, becoming the company’s 100-percent shareholder, and effectively taking it over.
Under the signed agreements Russia will also abolish the 35-percent duty on oil products supplied to Armenia. Putin also confirmed that Russia will enable Armenia to buy Russian arms at domestic prices. Putin spoke about the success of his visit, saying:
“We are going to strengthen our position in the South Caucasus, drawing on the best of what we have inherited from ancestors and good relations with all countries in the region,” Putin told a Russian-Armenian regional forum. “Participation in the Customs Union … already is bringing Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus tangible dividends.”
There have also been Ukraine inspired anti-Putin protests in Armenia. pic.twitter.com/7Swtqje7fh
— Ben Judah (@b_judah) December 3, 2013
Meanwhile on the Russian-Ukrainian front…
Speaking about the much larger demonstrations in Ukraine, which were initially started as a protest against Kyiv’s decision not to sign agreements with the EU at last week’s Eastern Partnership Summit, Putin called the protesters “very well prepared and trained militant groups”. He also hinted that they had been trained by outside actors, in order to destabilize the Ukrainian government, similar to the Orange Revolution 9 years ago.
Meanwhile, Putin’s critics have accused him of being just such an “outside actor” saying that the Kremlin has unduly pressured Ukraine, Armenia and other Eastern Partnership countries into rejecting deals that would increase their integration with the EU.
A scorecard: Georgia and Moldova approved EU Association, while Ukraine and Armenia rejected it, to protests in both capitals this week.
— Eurasia Foundation (@EFNetwork) December 2, 2013
But then again, was the EU’s Eastern Partnership really such a consummate success as to urge more of the EaP countries to consider integration? A report by The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), entitled “A post-mortem of the Vilnius Summit: Not yet a ‘Thessaloniki moment’ for the Eastern Partnership” suggest perhaps not:
“The third Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit at Vilnius on November 28-29th could have spurred a ‘Thessaloniki moment’ for the post-Soviet countries bordering the EU’s eastern periphery, but it failed to deliver. The analogy refers to the 2003 Summit between the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans, at which the latter were offered a clear prospect of future integration with the EU. But instead of defining the geopolitical finalité of EU-EaP relations by projecting a path towards future accession to the EU for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, the initial ambition for the Vilnius Summit was thwarted.”
The report further elucidates how the Summit fell short, explaining:
“After more than three years of negotiations, Moldova and Georgia initialled their respective AAs/DCFTAs with the EU at Vilnius. However, after intense pressure from Russia, the Armenian and Ukrainian Presidents abandoned negotiations with the EU before the Summit took place. In response, the EU – pushed by some of its member states – watered down the final declaration of the Summit. Whereas an early draft declaration acknowledged the sovereign right of each of the six Eastern Partnership states to choose the scope of its ambitions and final goal of its relations with the European Union and to decide ‘whether to remain partners in accordance with Article 8 of the Treaty of the European Union [TEU] or follow its European aspirations in accordance with Article 49 thereof’, the EU removed the reference to Article 49 from the final version. As a result, the Vilnius Summit fell far short of serving as a ‘rite de passage’ towards full integration with the EU.”
Protests in Armenia against Putin's visit today and govt decision to enter Customs Union. Ukraine flags on display http://t.co/vDsjWJ5lSX
— Tony Halpin (@tonyhalpin) December 2, 2013
What next, Armenia?
Another report, “The Eastern Partnership after Vilnius: stay the course and engage the people“, by European think Tank FRIDE, assesses the Vilnius Summit in a slightly more optimistic light, particularly in relation to those states being branded as “dead in the water” for the EU’s purposes–states like Armenia:
“The Ukrainian U-turn has led to demonstrations in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities demanding Yanukovich to sign the AA with the EU. After riot police brutally dispersed a few dozens of protesters in central Kyiv the night after the summit, protests have grown in number, as have the demands for Yanukovych to resign. The coming weeks will show if the country will be able to solve the political crisis peacefully. The events in Ukraine have overshadowed the summit, but there was some good news, foremost the initiation of AA and DCFTA agreements with Georgia and Moldova, which should be signed in mid-2014. No substantial progress was registered regarding Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus, which are not a lost cause to the EaP but which so far have showed little to no inclination to pursue democratic reform.”
FRIDE speaks even more specifically about Armenia, saying:
“Armenia is still in limbo; it will not be a member of the Customs Union for some time since it does not border Russia, and the Eurasian Union barely exists on paper. The EU and Armenia should thus continue to work on sectoral agreements and even keep the possibility open for association over time.”
Is there still time?