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EU and Russia: Rivalry or Cooperation?

EU and Russia: Rivalry or Cooperation?


The Rivalry between Russia and the EU Has Manifested Itself, but Not in Relation to Armenia

- For many years a number of post-Soviet states strived for EUAA membership. However, when it could have become a reality, both Armenia and Ukraine officially refused to sign the agreements. Does Russia have so great an influence on Armenia and Ukraine?

- The influence of Russia on the post-Soviet states, by all means, is rather substantial. One can say that it is, to a great extent, determining, but at the same time it is different for these countries. It stems from the fact that the countries vary in their geographic positions, sizes, and the levels of cooperation with other leading powers of the world. Russia applies various leverages on Armenia and Ukraine.  In the case of Armenia it is the security, in the case of Ukraine it is economy. The point is that Ukraine in terms of economy is closely tied with Russia. In the early 90s the Armenian economy collapsed due to the war, blockade and energy crisis. As a consequence, all the Soviet-type heavy industry came to a standstill. The present-day economy of Armenia has close ties with Europe. Interestingly, our major investor is Russia, but the major trade partner is Europe. We may say that Russian rubles are being “europeanized” through Armenia. The Russians are building the aluminum plant, but the production is being exported to Europe. This is an ongoing process. As for Ukraine, all the Soviet-type heavy industry (pipes, metals, helicopters) are still being produced and can be exported only to CIS countries and to Russia, in particular. The economy in Ukraine is structured in a way that it imports from Europe and exports to Russia. Roughly speaking, Russia is the main market for Ukrainian products. If Russia stops buying goods, Ukraine will face a collapse similar to the one we had in the 90s. Russia can exert influence on Armenian through economy as well, e.g. by gas prices. Of course, Russia imports large amounts of goods to Armenia; however this is of little importance as they can be easily replaced by products imported from elsewhere. Armenia has the Karabakh conflict, while Ukrainians don’t have a conflict of the kind. Russia is irreplaceable for Armenia for defense. No other country can guarantee our security. EU member states do not provide security; they are mere consumers of what EU can provide them with. NATO guarantees their security. Security is top priority, so whenever there is a risk of crossing the red line, any discussion of any matter is immediately terminated. When I need bread I go to the baker’s, when I need aspirin I go to the drugstore, not the other way round. If I need to keep peace in the region, I will turn to the Russians. It’s of no use asking Europeans for weapons. It is the same as going to the drugstore for bread. However, if I want progress I will, for sure, turn to Europe, because the Russian and Kazakhi social structure development models are far from the ideal one.

- At the Vilnius Summit the President of Azerbaijan had a meeting with the Presidents of Ukraine and Belarus. Have they developed a common position on EU membership? What were the goals of Armenia and Ukraine at the summit?

- Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Belarus could not possibly develop a common position on the Vilnius summit. Only Ukraine can sign an agreement, the rest can only initial it. Azerbaijan has taken a neutral position. It has never expressed a wish to join the Customs Union. Azerbaijan attended the summit because it was devoted not to the association agreement, but to the Eastern Partnership. Our participation was provided by the fact that we have always been and still are a member of the Eastern Partnership program. The Vilnius Summit didn’t bring about a historical shift, nor did it affect these 4 countries. The Vilnius Summit is a part of a process which started long ago, since these countries gained independence. We have joined the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and will join a couple of more international organizations and partnerships in future. After the Vilnius Summit there will be many more frameworks within which Armenia, Ukraine and other states will maintain relations with EU to a reasonable extent. It was necessary to mark that fact during the Vilnius Summit. Armenia has been working on this document for 3.5 years. It had been approved by both parties. Although it was not signed, it still exists, so it was necessary to mark that a work was done and will develop in future in all possible directions. 

- Can we say that the process of pushing the countries to reject the EU Association Agreements only highlighted the rivalry between Russia and EU? Is Russia compelled to defend itself from the EU expansion or is Russia simply Europhobic?

- You can put in as you wish; however, “pushing” is a word from newspaper language. There is such a thing as interaction and all states, even the most powerful ones, have to take into consideration the interests of other countries. There is a rivalry between Russia and EU; however, this was not the case with Armenia, as we in an economic aspect are of little value to Russia. Armenia, to some extent, became one of the instruments to influence Ukraine. The events of September 3 have nothing to do with us. We have not mentioned Georgia so far, and it is no accident. Russia has practically no means of exerting pressure on Georgia. In the conflict with Russia Georgia has lost virtually everything. Armenia would have been in the same position if it had lost Karabagh. Armenia was a means of influencing the situation in general. However, Armenia was not the case. There is a political game in which Russia tries to win back all the post-Soviet territories. There can be no EU expansion; at least, EU has not made such suggestions to these countries. It is not so easy to become an EU member. Turkey has been negotiating to join EU for 50 years already. Joining EU is a major problem – financial, technical, and organizational. At first, EU accepted 10 countries all at once for political reasons. Then joined Romania and Bulgaria, with which EU has problems till now. But Romania is twice smaller than Ukraine and 4 times smaller than Bulgaria. There are only 3 countries (Iceland, Switzerland and Norway) which would have been an acquisition rather than a problem for the EU, but none of them has expressed any desire to join the EU. The rest are simply consumers of what the EU can provide them with and they cost a lot, and this goes beyond financial aspects.

- Would it be possible for Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach peace agreement through the EU Association Agreement? Would it benefit to the partnership between Russia and EU?

- Azerbaijan cannot become an associative partner. AA has nothing to do with the Karabakh conflict. It is a framework for free movement of goods, services and people at the European market and also for the alignment of legislation in these states with that of the European ones. That’s all. Regulation of conflicts is the business of another union, OSCE, which has nothing to do with AA. Unfortunately, the Armenian idea of different political platform is faulty. They see it as a fairytale opposition of the villain and the hero, of good and evil.


The Eastern Partnership Depends on the Collaboration of Russia and the EU
 
 
- For many years a number of post-Soviet states strived for the associative membership to the EU. However, when it could have become a reality, both Armenia and Ukraine officially refused to sign the agreements. Does Russia have so great an influence on Armenia and Ukraine?
 
- It is definitely great, and the leaders of those countries do not hide it. Notably, both of these countries have thoroughly prepared to sign contracts of Association with the EU, aligned national legislation to the requirements of the associative membership, reformed or adapted socio-political institutions to the new conditions of the close partnership with the European Union. And when it was all agreed, they encountered the tough reaction of Moscow. The result was obvious. The President of Armenia made an unexpected visit to Moscow several months ago where he announced about the intention of his country to become a member of the Customs Union, and a few days ago Yanoukovich, the President, intimated that he would not force his country’s participation in the association process with the EU. A more eloquent testimony on the dependency of Yerevan and Kiev on Moscow cannot be found. Depending on the foreign economic support and Russian energy supplies, on the eve of winter these countries appeared in a quandary of a choice between the pragmatic reality and the ghostly ‘‘bright future’’. The thoughts on ‘‘daily bread’’ turned up to be more important.
 
- The President of Azerbaijan met the President of Ukraine and Belarus on the eve of the Summit in Vilnius. Did they work out a common position? What is the point in participation in the Vilnius Summit for the presidents of Armenia and Ukraine?
 
- Of course, it is hard for me to talk about the meaning of their participation in the summit of Eastern partnership in Vilnius. From a practical point of view it has no meaning. Yet, it makes sense to save face and to show Europe as well as the public in their own countries that the strategic course on European integration will continue. 
 
The meetings of the three presidents are of special interest not only from the perspective of their participation in the Eastern Partnership, but also in terms of their views on integration processes in the post-Soviet space. The latter, as a result of the intensification of Moscow’s role, is of special importance.
 
Belarus, Ukraine and Azerbaijan are countries that have their own views and approaches to cooperation problems within the CIS. And these approaches do not always meet the expectations of Russia. At the same time, it is important for all the three countries to maintain stable and pragmatic relations with Moscow. In terms of this, a certain degree of coordination between them can be quite logical.
 
- Can we say that the process of pushing the countries to reject the EU Association Agreements only highlighted the rivalry between Russia and EU? Is Russia compelled to defend itself from the EU expansion or is Russia simply Europhobic? 
 
- There were contradictions between Russia and the EU long time ago, but they never led to a full-scale confrontation. After all, what is the EU? It is primarily a union of European countries, and what is more, this union is not always perfect and monolithic. Each of the EU countries has its own interests and its relations with Russia. Germany itself has depended on Russian gas supplies already for over 40 years. Russia has good relations with Italy and France. Therefore, there is a certain risk of spoiling bilateral relations, and this feeling is there in the relations between Russia and the EU. As for the Russian phobias in connection with the EU, perhaps it is a Cold War rudiment in the preservation of which Brussels and Moscow are equally to blame.
 
Both parties cannot decide between the principles and rules of interaction, and this not only leads to fierce disputes between themselves, but also has the most unpleasant consequences in international relations, particularly in relations between these players with their European neighbors and partners. Therefore, Brussels-Moscow relations are permanently topical for Europe and the sustainability of the Eastern Partnership will depend on what relations between Russia and the EU and on the effectiveness of the cooperation between them.
 
- Could Armenia and Azerbaijan reach a peace agreement becoming associative members of the EU? Would Russia-EU cooperation contribute such a peace agreement? 
 
- I do not think so. Unfortunately, the EU has never set the progress in Nagorno Karabakh conflict resolution as a condition for Armenia’s or Azerbaijan’s participation in EU programs.   The EU distances itself from all possible problems of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict trying to put relations with Baku and Yerevan into a more pragmatic context of commercial and economic cooperation and bilateral political interaction. Although the EU special representation mission in South Caucasus is expected to participate in political consultations, including those on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, it remains strictly observant and aims to ensure the realization of Brussels’ interests in the region in the conditions of any layout. As for EU-Russia cooperation, I can hardly imagine it. The parties approaches, interests and tools for real influence on the decision-making process of the conflict are absolutely different from one another.

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