Video Bridge - Summit in Vilnius and the Future of the Eastern Partnership

Video

Video Bridge - Summit in Vilnius and the Future of the Eastern Partnership

 
The video bridge took place on December 2, 2013.
 
 
Experts in Yerevan:
Sergey Sargsyan, Deputy Director of the Center for Political Studies of Scientific-Educational Foundation “Noravank” 
Manvel Sargsyan, Director of the Armenian Centre of National and Strategic Studies
 
Experts in Baku:
Natig Jafarli, Executive Secretary of the political movement REAL (Republican Alternative Movement)
Yusif Aghayev, Head of the Institute of Military and Political Studies; independent expert
 
Question:Your comments upon the resume of Vilnius Summit: what was signed, what was not; what was expected, and what was the actual result?
 
Yusif Aghayev: As it is known, we expected signing of many agreements in the course of Vilnius Summit , and mainly with five of six countries involved in the Program of Eastern Partnership. Those were Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Belarus stayed out of this game.
But due to the well-known recent events, namely, after the statement of the Armenian leaders concerning its accede to the Customs’ Union, followed by the last-moment statement of the Ukrainian leaders as to their refusal to sign the agreement on association with the EU, the actual signing was fulfilled by three countries only: Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Each of these states had its own block of questions which they signed. That is, for Georgia and Moldova it was the association with the EU, and for Azerbaijan – agreement on simplification of visa system. We can put it the following way – our expectations were not fully realized. 
 
The recent events show that our expectations connected with integration with EU were not realized  intoto. Meant well , but all turned out as usual. For which there are both objective and subjective reasons.
 
Natig Jafarli: In my opinion, it was practically clear long before the Vilnius Summit, which countries would sign and which particular agreements. Only the position of Ukraine was not quite clear. It’s quite explicable why Russia was putting Ukraine under stronger pressure than Moldova. Obviously without Ukraine both ambitious projects of Kremlin, namely, the Customs’ Union and the Eurasian Union, established to counterbalance the European Union would fail. Russia clearly realized that, therefore putting Ukraine under such strong economic and political pressure. With the rest of the states – Georgia and Moldova – it was clear beforehand that they would sign the agreements. Azerbaijan and Armenia were conducting negotiations on simplification of visa system. After all, Armenia declared about its decision in advance. As to Azerbaijan, it did not carry on any negotiations on associative agreement, as one of the main pre-conditions permitting signing of the given agreement is the obligatory membership in WTO, which Azerbaijan has not joined yet, unlike Armenia and Georgia, and even Russia. I would like to emphasize on the main conflict between Russia and the West is related to Ukraine, because this country is important for Europe as well as for Russia, in which case the latter will be able to realize its ambitious projects. I think, it is impossible to qualify the results of this Summit as victorious neither for Russia nor Europe. I guess it is still a draw. Russia has taken upon itself huge liabilities. I do not think that in future Russia will be able to shoulder such burdens as Customs Union and Eurasian Union.
 
Manvel Sargsyan: In my opinion, all that happened to the program of Eastern Partnership in Vilnius, and actually before that, is directly connected with the large-scale political changes in in the world. It could not bepossible that these countries would have been discussing  the topic for years in friendly environment, negotiating, while those against this partnership would not expose their true position in a proper time. And, as it turned out in September, the rest of the states suddenly found themselves in a sort of a collapse. This is perhaps the most important circumstance permitting to give a certain characteristic to the panic situationwhich has now emerged in Europe and its surrounding. Many people cannot understand what is actually going on in Ukraine, and why all that has happened, why has Russia reached such a degree of blackmail and achieved its objective – to make Ukraine refuse from signing the associate agreement. These questions will still be discussed, but the fact remains that Russia has from a certain moment arrived at the following decision: to hold up the process by means of harsh pressure; and there had been rumors even before the Vilnius Summit, that probably other countries  – Moldova in the first place – would not sign the agreement as well. And we do not know yet what to expect in future, because it has been merely the initialing of the agreement. Has Russia received carte blanche in its international relations? A question which needs further discussions. In my opinion, it has, because the Eastern Partnership and the CU took up the load of geo-political projects. It would not be correct to state that these are purely integration processes. But the part which truly relates to geopolitics has always been given shallow discussions.
 
Sergey Sargsyan: In my opinion, those who were determined to sign something did sign what they wanted, and those who had no intention, did not sign.
 
As to the pressure realized by Russia. Frankly speaking, I do not remember a single political process which would be able to elude and flow without pressure of either side. And I would not like to say that Russia was somehow blackmailing all these countries. Here the matter of blackmailing can be compared with interrelations of seller and buyer. When we go shopping and the seller states the price, we can always claim he is putting us under pressure or blackmailing us making use of his advantageous position, and we are made to buy what we have come to his shop for. The same has happened within the relationship of our countries, as well as between Europe and Russia. And one thing more. Up to this moment Russia, in principle, says: you can chose and sign what you prefer, it’s your sovereign right, but my right is to act in the present situation as I find it necessary to.
 
Comments of Yusif Aghaev: I would herein like to comment the statement of our colleague from Yerevan. In particular, in connection with the position of my colleagues that do not see the situation of blackmail, where there is a seller and buyer – the seller does not put the buyer under pressure. Unfortunately, I did not see that. Quite the contrary, I saw blackmail in everything, to which the recent events are the best proof of – there should be no market relations, each country should be free in its choice. What we see is a pure political blackmail. As to Azerbaijan, I can state, that in spite of the fact that Azerbaijan was involved in the integration process much less than other countries, we permanently felt that political pressure from Russia, and during the period of presidential elections as well. I mean the events in Biryuliovo, immigrants’ pogroms in Moscow. That is, a devaluated blackmail of Russia committed against Azerbaijan as well. As to the cart-blanche,..what sort of cart-blanche can Russia have in the present  situation? Every country here has its own specific political interests.  Russia too has its own specific political interests, because the Customs Union is in the least measure presenting trade-economic integration, than masked political imperial ambitions of Russia. It is my personal opinion. Thanksfor your  attention.
 
Response to the comment – Manvel Sargsyan:  I think, the Eastern partnership is not a separate local process, but is a constituent of the huge changes that take place in the world, and from that viewpoint it already makes no difference if we try and analyse why all has suddenly beenput on brakes.
If you remember, the Eastern European countries have already pondered over this situation, and realized that any new relations between Russia and the USA bypassing European interests may cause even bigger problems in Eastern Europe. But at the time it did not sound that acute! Difficult to understand why it should have been that way! But now we are dealing with a fact, and in this sense i think Russia is acting in accordance with some plan,, it knows whom to consult with, and how to act.
 
Question: What is the prognosis of future development of the processes after the Summit both, on the level of the countries participants of the Eastern Partnership and the EU and on the level of inter-relations of Russia and the EU?
 
Manvel Sargsyan: I think that the political significance of the Vilnius process is in the realias that took place there, but not the ones that had been planned before it. They are going to determine now a new situation. We already can observe what’s going on in Ukraine, and in general, it is very difficult to forecast what the result will be like in that country. Similar processes can take place now in other countries. The very idea of European integration was given a heavy blow, and it has nothing to do with the fact that someone signed and someone did not. The problem is that the long-term strategy of international relations, of Europe reformation has suddenly found itself in grave danger. And I do not think, that such evens can be easily forgotten or will straighten itself out. No. And, generally speaking, Ukraine can become an example of what may happen to the whole region of Eastern Europe, or Russia itself. Processes are developing, they do not abate. And they can be seen in Armenia as well. Today when President Putin has arrived to Armenia with an official visit, demarches can be seen everywhere – even confrontation with the police. New wave of protests, new political demands can be heard in the streets.
 
- What will happen to the “Eastern Partnership”?
 
- “Eastern Partnership” in the way it exists now has already been done with. Let’s see what will come out of its failure and what will happen with Europe and its relations with Russia.
 
Sergey Sargsyan: I think that Vilnius Summit has completed one of the initial stages of our relationship with Europe and Russia. The line is now yet drawn, nothing horrible has happened, all the parties should now learn a lesson from what happened, change their policy and be able to insist on their interests in future. As to Ukraine, one of six partner-countries of the Eastern Partnership program, which has a powerful economy, the question, sure enough, was put forward more toughly. Ukraine could, nether the less, conduct a more independent policy. And even Ukraine faced a forwarded problem, that after signing the agreement with the EU would have to change its economic policy. But then she would have to answer another question whether it would be able to avoide social revolt and economic collapse in the period  of conversion of its economy,  putting it on new European rails, or would it not. As to Armenia, it was quite obvious that we could not afford hanging up in between Russian and European economics. That very process of restructuring, conversion of our economics, of the system of our state security into European, or rather Euro-Atlantic system would turn out catastrophic for Armenia. I do not mean that joining CU will be an easy process and will bring only positive things. But, on the other hand, this process does not carry in itself the disastrous changes which we would by all means face have we signed Association Agreement with the European Union. And the last comment: why do I insist that nothing disastrous has happened. Because now all our countries have already chosen the main and additional vectors of their development. Armenia has chosen the CU, and Moldova and Georgia – European Union. But there is also ansubsidiary vector. We are not going to sever our political, economic and cultural relations with Europe. And that very correlation of European and Russian vectors will determine domestic and foreign policies and situation in Armenia for the nearest several years.
 
As for the Eastern Partnership, I must say the following. The fact that agreements were not signed between European Union and the countries-participants does not mean that that project has failed. The Eastern Partnership after all attained certain success on the initial stage. What is going on nowadays in the Euronest - parliament of the Eastern Partnership -  is somewhat alerting me. There are almost no parliamentarians from old Western Europe, but the majority is from Eastern Europe. And that arouses a certain prudence among Armenian parliamentarians, that work there. This is also one of the lessons to learn.
 
Natig Jafarli: I think that things became clear to everybody after the Vilnius Summit which way all the six countries - members of Eastern Partnership chose for themselves. And only the question of Ukraine is still remaining open, it is questionable how the evens will develop after all.  And upon that will depend Europe’s attitude, as well as of all the countries involved in the given process, to the Eastern Partnership. As to Azerbaijan and Armenia, both countries refused to collaborate due to different reasons. One of the main reasons – organization of our political system.Collaboration with Europe implies not only the economic block of relations, but certain obligations in the spheres of elections, human rights, democratization of our institutions, also liabilities in the judicial (court) system. To my mind, the political elite of our countries is not interested in taking such serious obligations in front of Europe, in signing documents obliging them to carrying out certain reforms. I am sure this is one of the major reasons why Azerbaijan and Armenia do not get in closer contact with Europe, except for some economic elements. What sort of processes will happen in future? I think that Europe and the EU learnt its own lessons from the Vilnius Summit. Our countries should by all means consider thoroughly and reflect upon the ways that should be chosen in future. I do not think that Europe will “swallow” that failed summit. Sure, there will be new initiatives, new proposals, programs, because it is of great importance. We have quite different time frames. If we are eager to have reforms in our countries today and now, also  a high level Euro-integration, for European countries two or five years are of no serious importance. They understand that Russia in spite of its ambitious projects, will not be able to carry on its shoulders for long both the Customs and Eurasian Unions .it is a huge burden for Russia’s economics, which, by the way, is very vulnerable and depends on  energy resources. It is still not known what will happen in a year or two at the fuel market, therefore I assume these processes will be continued by both sides.
 
Jusif Aghaev: Vilnius Summit is in all a next in turn intermediate stage in the program of the Eastern Partnership, as it did not conclude the program. I think, this program will be continued. Though a lot of hopes were placed upon this summit, each of the countries – participants of this program had its own goals, which they set for themselves in connection with the summit. As to Azerbaijan, the Government of the country chose for itself from among the four topic platforms on which the program is based – democracy, reforming, management, stability or economic integration, free market, energy security, human relations -  the most beneficial for the country platform of energy integration and security, national security and human relations, that is – in this particular case – simplification of visa system,- leaving behind the border of its interests very important goals, such as human rights and Mass-media  and citizen freedoms, reformation of  state structures, electoral and judicial systems. On the threshold of Vilnius Summit certain leaders were talking about new qualitative changes in reciprocal relations between the EU and Azerbaijan beyond the frames of European Partnership. Though once asked they could not give any clear answer to the questions related to these relations and how they will be exhibited. I am sure that European partnership will have continuation and quite an efficient one. The only thing I agree on with my colleagues is that it should be open and more accessible for public, so that people can participate, introducing their proposals in the program of the Eastern Partnership.

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