In November 2013, the European Union and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries will hold a biennial summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Expected to be a major milestone in EU’s relations with EaP countries, Levan Kakhishvili explains why the Vilnius summit has been challenged by recent developments.
Recently, Armenia’s President, Serzh Sargsyan, had a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. After the meeting Sargsyan “expressed intention to join Customs Union with further plans to be involved in formation of EurAsEC.” Armenia was expected to face a choice between the EU and Russia, but having completed technical talks on DECFTA in July the news came to be a surprise and a disappointment for many experts and ordinary citizens.
EU-Armenian relations are now facing a major challenge, which has given rise to the “goodbye Eurointegration” discourse in the local media. Experts and EU decision-makers believe that DCFTA and the Eurasian Union are incompatible with each-other. According to Linas Linkevicius, Lithunia’s Foreign Minister, Armenia “cannot enter both organizations at the same time because of different tariff requirements.”
It has also been suggested that Armenia’s choices were limited. Secretary General of the European Friends of Armenia, Michael Kambeck believes it “was not a free choice;” while Elmar Brok, the German chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee told RFE/RL that Armenia had been blackmailed by Russia. Tomas De Waal of Carnegie Moscow Center argues that Yerevan had to react on the Kremlin’s announcement of a “massive sale of offensive weapons” to Azerbaijan. Consequently, Armenia was forced to be part of the Russian project in order not to alienate its major military ally. As a result, this will eliminate the prospect of a European future for the country.
Apart from Armenia, Moscow has repeatedly offered Georgia an opportunity to integrate with Russia. It seems that Russia is not going to step aside and watch the EU’s struggle to bring the EaP countries closer to it. Georgian Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s statement about the news caused anxiety among many of the Georgian politicians. When asked about his position on the Eurasian Union, Ivanishvili said “If in perspective we see that it [Eurasian Union] is interesting for our country, then why not; but at this stage we have no position.”
One of the major incentives for the EaP countries besides signing the Association Agreements is the possibility of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU. However, it seems that Moscow’s alternative to the EU’s economic space in the Former Soviet Union – the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) – has been gaining momentum. With Armenia choosing Russia instead of the EU and Georgia considering the same path, the EaP may be failing its primary goal – keeping the six countries it targets close. Given the inability of the EaP to provide incentives for reforms in Azerbaijan and Belarus, as well as continuing competition between Moscow and Brussels over Ukraine, EaP may be an inadequate instrument for the stated goal.
EaP without a membership guarantee is, as one expert has suggested, “not a geopolitical weapon.” Although it would be naïve to ask for such guarantees from the EU, with the current offer on the table the credibility of the EU may suffer in the eyes of ordinary citizens in EaP countries. The absence of the “carrot” may have contributed, in various degrees, to the turn of the six states toward Russia. Meanwhile, the geopolitical weapons at the disposal of Russia sometimes prove to be more effective than what Tomas De Waal has wittily referred to as BUMAGA*. They have now created the conditions to make the Kremlin’s favoured policy choices a reality.
BUMAGA – is a combination of the initial letters of the EaP countries, which is a Russian equivalent to “paper.”