Saturday, May 31, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Could Joining Eurasian Union Lead Yerevan to Change Its Postion on Karabakh?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said this week that Armenia could join the Eurasian Union only as a country with the borders recognized by the United Nations, a statement that clearly shocked Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan by suggesting that the union won’t support his claims on Karabakh or other portions of Azerbaijan.

            Those who witnessed Sargsyan’s reaction to Nazarbayev’s statement that Armenia would have to do so in order to avoid offending Baku, “assert that to put it mildly, these were not the happiest moments in the life” of the Armenian president, according to Russian journalist and commentator Arkady Dubnov (

            Sargsyan after hearing this declaration asked for “two or three days” to find “a mutually acceptable” resolution so that he will be able to sign an agreement on June 15 about Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Community.  That won’t be easy, but history suggests, it isn’t impossible.

            Sergey Manasaryan, Armenia’s deputy foreign minister, told his country’s parliament that despite what Nazarbayev had said, “the remaining disagreements” between Armenia and the Eurasian Economic Community’s other members “do not bear a conceptual character.”  Yerevan has signed other agreements where its trans-border claims are left unspoken.

            Armenia’s dependence on Moscow for military and energy security is so great, and Moscow’s interest in expanding the Customs and Eurasian Union so large, that Yerevan will probably sign the accession documents as planned with the border issue allowed to remain implicit rather than become explicit.

            But there are three aspects of what may seem to some as a diplomatic tempest in a teapot worth mentioning. First, this is a clear demonstration that the Eurasian Economic Community is an “exclusively” economic union. That is how Kazakhstan views it, but it is not how Russia and Armenia do. And thus this highlights how weak and divided the new grouping is likely to be.

Second, if this is handled as it is likely to be, by silence rather than a statement, Moscow will show itself once again in the bind that has dictated much of its approach over the last two decades: it views Azerbaijan as the prize but is glad to have Armenia as a means of promoting instability in the South Caucasus in the meantime, a position that is worrisome in both capitals.

And third, it makes more likely that Yerevan will seek to promote independence for Karabakh and possibly the adjoining occupied territories rather than seek to annex them as some Armenians would like.  That could further complicate the situation and possibly prompt Baku to take more dramatic actions in response.

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