As Eurasian Union nears Armenia, West goes into panic mode - December, 2012

Ever since Vladimir Putin announced Moscow's intention of creating the Eurasian Union, Western officials have been scurrying to figure out an effective way to derail it. Now that the proposed Moscow-led economic pact seems to be getting closer to becoming a reality, the West is predictably going into a panic mode. 

For generations, one of the Western world's primordial fears has been the rise of a powerful Eastern bloc that would compete against it politically, militarily and economically. While the Soviet Union was a serious political and military rival, it was nevertheless not an effective economic one and as a result it did not last very long. The Russian Federation today has the - full potential - and in fact seems to be steadily heading towards becoming a serious political, military and economic rival for the West. Moreover, recent years has seen the evolution of good bilateral relations between Moscow and the world's second largest economy, Beijing. In fact, as Chinese-American relations continues to worsen, Chinese-Russian relations have never been better and continues to get better with each passing year. 

In today's US Dollar saturated toxic global landscape where the Western world is unfortunately the financial, political and cultural pivot around which the rest of the world is forced to rotate, the creation of a major, independent economic pact free of Western control like the one proposed by Moscow may in fact prove deadly for the Anglo-American-Zionist global order. Western high officials fully recognize this. 

The following blog commentary from about one year ago delves further into the topic of the Eurasian Union -
The phobia for Western policymakers is derived from their geostrategic calculations and forecasts. There have been tectonic political shifts taking place around the world in recent years. The Western elite, both political and financial, are seriously worried that their centuries old global dominance may be coming to an end. This fundamental fear of theirs is being expressed by their tireless efforts to preserve their hegemony around the world through the use of psy-ops, economic blackmail and military force. This effort to preserve Western power and wealth actually lies at the very root of most of the bloodletting we have been witnessing take place around the world in recent years. In fact, Washington's actions in places such as the south Caucasus, Russia, Serbia, China, Venezuela, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and Iran should be looked at from this perspective.

The following commentaries about Cold War II and Western Globalism are in many ways related to this topic -

The Rampaging Menace of Globalism, the Political West and the Vital Importance of Russia on the Global Stage:
It's very amusing that after many years of ignoring, by-passing and being down-right hostile to Armenia, Western officials have all of a sudden started pandering to Armenians now that Moscow has begun seriously promoting the Eurasian Union in Yerevan. See the articles towards the bottom of this page, all of a sudden Western officials are talking about serious economic matters with Yerevan.  This approach is somewhat similar to how in the late 1990s they got Armenians all excited by suggesting that they are interested in seriously investing in Armenia's automotive industry... only to later make the proposition contingent upon settling the Nagorno Karabakh dispute ultimately in Baku's favor.

The Carrot and Fear Approach

Their countermeasures against Moscow have been two-pronged within Armenia. Because they realize that their favorite carrot and stick approach (namely the stick part) will not work against Armenia because of Yerevan's military alliance with Moscow, they are instead using the carrot and fear approach. In addition to dangling imaginary carrots in front of starving Armenians, Western officials have had their assets in Armenia - Richard Giragosian, Raffi Hovanissian, Ara Manoogian, Paruyr Hayrikian, Ara Papyan, Vartan Oskanian and a number of Western funded propaganda outlets - come out make predictions of doom. Washington's operatives have been warning the Armenian sheeple that joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Union will be tantamount to taking Armenia back to the Soviet era  - or worst! 

Predictably, Washington's operatives in Yerevan are terrified that Armenia will join the Eurasian Union and as a result become immune to Western political manipulation and economic blackmail. They are afraid that with closer integration with the Russian Federation, Armenia will no longer be a staging ground for Western activists. As a result, they are out in force and they are trying to scare the Armenian sheeple about getting too close to Moscow. 

Naturally, the Whore of Babylon could not stay quiet. Clinton recently warned of the "Sovietization of Former USSR States" by Moscow. The news article in question as well as several other related articles are posted below this commentary. Please read them all because the tone of their content are revealing signals from the Western press that the Moscow-led Eurasian Union is indeed getting closer to reality. 

Incidentally, some of the people who are currently voicing their opposition to Armenia's membership in the Eurasian Union (e.g. Ara Papyan) also want to keep the Turkish-Armenian border closed at all costs (even though Turkish goods keep freely pouring into Armenia via Georgia) . Although I don't necessarily agree with keeping the Armenian-Turkish border shut (since Turkish goods keep coming into Armenia at a higher cost because of the Georgian middleman), I do nevertheless understand their sentiment regarding this very sensitive matter. But now, some of the same people that want to see Armenia's borders with Turkey closed also want Armenia closed to Russia!?
Are these people happy that Armenia is stagnating in its landlocked, remote and impoverished mountain prison, or do they think that the European Union is going to somehow come to Armenia's rescue? 

Our EUrotic idiots

Strangely, many Armenians today continue to think that the European Union is the answer to all of Armenia's ailments, even as the union in question has been imploding. In other words, as Europeans themselves are seeking ways to abandon their sinking ship, Armenia's idiots are enthusiastically seeking ways of jumping onto it. Absolutely a brilliant display of Armenian-style politics!
Do Armenia's EUrotic idiots (many of whom claim that Moscow's Eurasian Union is no good because Armenia does not have a common border with Russia) realize that Armenia does not have a land connection to the European Union? 

Do these people really think that the European Union is coming to the Caucasus?

Do these people really think that Georgia is going to last much longer being a staging center for Western, Israeli and Turkish interests?

Do these people really think that the European Union is going to last much longer?

Do these people really think the European Union is the answer to all of Armenia's problems?

Have these people been watching events taking place in Greece and Spain?

Do we want Armenia opening up to Europe, who's closest regional partner is Turkey or to Russia, who is Armenia's strategic partner? In fact, isn't Russia Armenia's only ally?

Don't Russian officials see Armenia as a major strategic asset worthy of protection? Haven't Western powers traditionally been in bed with Armenia's enemies?

Isn't Russia Armenia's largest trading partner, where Armenian products are well known and respected? Therefore, isn't Russia a massive market that is ideal for Armenian products?

Don't we have in Russia the largest and the most affluent Armenian diaspora, and one that is strategically situated to help Armenia both politically and economically?

Isn't Armenia closer to Russia - geographically and culturally - than to Europe or America? 
The case I just briefly outlined for joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Union may sound very logical and compelling, but for some strange reason a lot of this obvious logic and political wisdom seems to be escaping many Armenians. It may be the genetic trait I keep writing about that causes Armenians to be politically illiterate and self-destructive; the genetic trait that makes Armenians look at an old enemy like the West and somehow sees a friend and when looking at a natural friend like Russia somehow sees an enemy.

This is the bottom line: Geographically, economically, culturally and genetically, Armenia is a Eurasian nation. Armenians need to wake up from their silly EUrotic fantasies and realize that the economic pact proposed by Moscow is where Armenia rightfully and naturally belongs! 

Although Armenia has a not so little army of Washingtonian whores trying to drive a wedge between Yerevan and Moscow and sabotage anything that would genuinely help move the embattled nation forward in the much troubled region, I predict Armenia will sooner-than-later find itself in the Moscow-led Eurasian Union - as soon as the obstacle known as Tbilisi is negotiated. Encouragingly, there are clear signs today that Tbilisi and Moscow are in the long overdue process of ironing out their problems. Therefore, while the south Caucasus gradually heads towards a Russian imposed peace and Armenia heads towards the Eurasian Union, Armenian officials need to in the meanwhile stop undermining the young and impressionable republic's future by foolishly accepting loans from Western money cartels and by allowing subversive Western-funded NGOs and individuals to open shop in Armenia.

The Caucasus needs Pax Russica

Not through democracy; not through an anti-corruption campaign; not through gay-rights; and not even through Turkish-Armenian reconciliation will Armenia be able to remedy its many sociopolitical and socioeconomic ailments. Attempting to tackle Armenia's many domestic troubles as the region's geopolitical climate remains as it currently is would be an utter waste of time, and may even in fact be counterproductive.

Armenia's main problems are geopolitical, geographical and cultural in nature. Armenians need to recognize this and they need to fully rewire their thinking when it comes to matters pertaining to Armenia. The current approach taken by Armenia's Western-led political opposition is an attempt to fix this or that problem without seriously addressing the fundamental/core flaws the nation faces. At best, this Western-inspired approach is tactical in nature, i.e. short-term and most times shortsighted. The approach should instead be strategic, i.e. a long-term/farsighted approach to remedy the nation's ailments at its very source. 

In other words, Armenians need to begin thinking not in the tactical terms of how many mouths to feed or what this or that "oligarch" is doing, but in the strategic terms of how to free the nation from its landlocked and blockaded mountain prison. 

Enter Russia: Surrounded by genocidal enemies, the Russian nation has been, currently is and will continue being for the foreseeable future the single most crucial political player for Armenia. In a strong sense, Russia is the alpha and omega of Armenian politics. While this may put fear in some, it gives me hope. For the first time in perhaps well over one thousand years, Armenia's existence - as a nation-state in a very hostile political environment - serves the strategic interests of a major regional superpower. As long as Turkic peoples, Islmaists and the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance threatens the south Caucasus, Armenia will continue playing a very powerful role in the highest offices of the Russian Federation. 

Although many Armenians today are blind to it, I see Russia's role in regional politics an opportunity of historic proportions for Armenia. It is very important for Armenian military commanders to continue maintaining a combat state-of-readiness in Armenia and Artsakh, and it is even more important for Armenian officials to seek ways of becoming a ubiquitous presence within the walls of the Kremlin. 

While Armenia's military is Yerevan's tactical advantage, Armenia's alliance with the Russian Federation must be its strategic advantage!

For once, Armenians need to start using their world-renown brains to fully exploit Armenia's strategic relations with the Bear. For once, Armenians need to stop admiring Jews and start acting like them. At the end of the day, however, only through the establishment of Pax Russica will the greater Caucasus region once again enjoy peace and prosperity and will Armenia's renewed existence as a nation-state in the south Caucasus be ensured.

December, 2012


Russia: Introducing the Putin Doctrine


Six months after returning to power in the face of mounting opposition, Russian President Vladimir Putin is exercising his political capital—and doing so in imperial fashion. The most recent example: earlier this month, sitting at a small table in his ornate, oak-walled office in the Kremlin, Putin announced that Russia was creating the world’s largest publicly traded oil company. The goal: to restore the glory of Russia the only way Putin seems to know how—the raw acquisition of power. “He is trying to keep stability, as he sees it, with billions of dollars in oil,” said Evgeny Gontmakher, an analyst at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, a Moscow-based think tank. “I predict chaos.”

The announcement—which featured what appeared to be a staged tête-à-tête with one of the president’s advisers—seemed to crystallize what analysts are now calling “The Putin Doctrine.” Its essence is to consolidate political control at home and expand his country’s influence in Central Asia at the expense of the West. Earlier this year, as protesters crowded Moscow’s cold streets, demonstrating against the government in a way that hasn’t been seen in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin said his third term would give rise to a stronger military, improved social programs, and the creation of a Eurasian Union, a confederacy of states that resembles a watered-down version of the old USSR.

Apparently he wasn’t bluffing. Once the protests faded, Putin announced that he would boost the Russian Army’s budget from $61 billion in 2012 to $97 billion by 2015. Last month, he flew to Tajikistan and extended the lease on three Russian military bases for 30 years. Meanwhile, the Russian Air Force has begun joint exercises with its counterparts in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, and a special Kremlin committee is mulling the best ways for the country to further unite with its neighbors in Central Asia: “We take the Putin Doctrine as verbatim instructions for how to create revolutionary change,” said Yuri Krupnov, a Kremlin adviser who is trying to invest $12 billion in state money into the economy of Tajikistan.

On the domestic front, Putin appears eager to destroy his opponents. Over the past year, he has relied on a loose coalition of nationalists, secret service agents, and the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church to crush dissenters, including opposition figures, human-rights groups, and even musicians such as Pussy Riot, a group whose members were sent to prison—and later the penal colonies—for performing a punk protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. Every week, street protesters who chant slogans like “Putin is a thief!” in Moscow and other major cities are questioned by police or thrown in jail. The regime is unapologetic about the crackdown. “Everyone is sick and tired of this issue of human rights,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, recently told The New York Times. “It’s not on the agenda.”

Putin has also called for rich émigrés to come back to Russia. The hope is that they will start investing in state-owned enterprises and stop the country from hemorrhaging tens of billions of dollars a year. Gennady Timchenko, the cofounder of Gunvor, one of the world’s largest independent commodity trading companies, was among the first to return, arriving from Switzerland last month. “Putin personally asked his friend to come back to Russia to be closer to his roots,” said Igor Bunin, the president of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow-based think tank.

Skeptics doubt that rich expatriates will want to live in Putin’s new Russia. Both Alexei Kudrin, Putin’s former finance minister, and Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire and former ally of the president, have joined the opposition and now represent a threat to his power. Whether or not the opposition can gain further momentum remains to be seen. A few independent media outlets have been critical of Putin’s imperial impulses, warning that his third term will result in purges of elites and greater media censorship. But by and large, Putin’s cult of personality has continued to grow in the 12 years he’s been in power.

Indeed, for Putin’s 60th birthday in October, as portraits of the president hung from bridges and buildings, an art exhibit, entitled “Putin: The Most Kind-Hearted Man in the World,” opened in Moscow. The exhibit featured portraits of the president petting a tiger, feeding a calf with a bottle, and riding shirtless atop a horse. Patriarch Cyril, the head of Russia’s Christian Orthodox Church took things a step further, calling the former KGB agent a “present from God.”


Putin Warns of Foreign Meddling in Russia

Russian president vows in state of the nation address that Russia will not allow democracy to be imposed from abroad.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has warned against foreign meddling in Russian politics and criticised opposition politicians of being in the pay of foreign interests. "Direct or indirect meddling in our internal political process is unacceptable," Putin said in his annual state of the nation address on Wednesday. Putin, who last year accused the United States of encouraging opposition protests and claimed foreign governments spend money to seek to influence elections, said Russians receiving money from abroad should be barred from politics.

"A politician who receives money from beyond the borders of the Russian Federation cannot be a politician on its territory," added Putin.

The state of the nation speech is the first by Putin since winning a third term in March's election despite a wave of massive protests in Moscow. In July, Putin signed a bill forcing foreign funded non-governmental groups involved in political activity to register as "foreign agents" in Russia. Sergai Strokan, a staff writer for the Russian newspaper Kommersant told Al Jazeera that "Putin's speech was telling the opposition to think twice before they hit the streets in protest as they are now labelled as foreign agents."

Spiritual values

In the speech that also focused heavily on social issues, Putin promised to encourage families to have more children, create 25 million new jobs and develop new incentives for teachers, doctors, engineers and others. Turning to the economy, he said: "Our entrepreneurs have often been accused of lacking patriotism. "According to available data, nine out of 10 transactions by them go unchecked by our laws." He also pledged to support "institutions that represent traditional spiritual values," a hint at even more state support for the Russian Orthodox Church.

In August, three members of the punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for performing a protest song in Moscow's main cathedral against the church's backing for Putin. One of them was released on appeal, but two others are serving their sentences despite an international outrage over what was widely seen as the intolerance to dissent in Russia. Putin said Russia would follow its own view on democracy and shrug off any "standards enforced on us from outside."

Putin said that on the global stage Russia's task will be to preserve its "national and spiritual identity," adding that the strengthening of the nation's military might should "guarantee its independence and security."


Russia Courts the East Instead of West:

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then for the South Korean dignitaries it was a sight to behold. On a recent visit to Vladivostok, Russia’s so-called capital on the Pacific, a group of Seoul officials was treated to the Russian Far East’s first Korean pop competition, where dozens of (very Slavic) local teenagers took to a university stage to imitate, in choreographed dance, Korean music videos they had found on YouTube.

Girls took to the stage in red sequinned dresses, and shimmied, as the original Korean music videos played on a screen in the background. In the audience, 200 of their Russian contemporaries – and the visiting South Korean officials – erupted into applause. After years of neglecting its Asia-Pacific borders, Russia is stepping up efforts to woo its Asian neighbours, pouring money into Far East cities such as Vladivostok and seeking out new trade opportunities there. The change in Russia’s outlook from west to east is spurred partly by the problems in the eurozone. But analysts say it is a change that logically should have happened years ago. 

“If Peter the Great were alive he would leave Moscow and not go to St Petersburg but make his capital somewhere around Vladivostok. That is the frontier,” says Dmitry Trenin, of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow. “Even without the euro crisis the centre of gravity in the world of economic, political and military strategy is moving to Asia-Pacific region.”

In September, Russia will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit for the first time, before which it is rolling out the red carpet for the other country participants, with events such as the Korean pop competition, part of a month-long festival celebrating Russian-Korean friendship. On the political side, Moscow is ramping up visits with Asian leaders – Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev met seven times with their Chinese counterparts over the past 18 months – and strengthening economic ties. Russia and China have promised to increase bilateral trade from $83.5bn in 2011 to $200bn by 2020. Trade turnover with Japan more than doubled between 2005 and 2010 to $23.1bn, while trade with South Korea tripled to $17.7bn over the same period.

The evolution is driven by simple supply-and-demand as well as geography. Resource rich Russia can provide Asian industry with the raw materials it needs to sustain growth, and also get them there quicker than other resource suppliers. Raw materials typically take two to four days to reach China from Russia, versus 23 days by boat from South Africa, notes Artem Volynets, chief executive of EN+, the holding company for Oleg Deripaska’s assets, including the East Siberia-based Rusal and power utility EuroSibEnergo.

“Russia has the opportunity to create Canada out of Siberia,” Mr Volynets says. With the west in crisis, he adds, “there is a real chance for Russia to diversify away from its dependence on Europe”.

Despite this, much stands in Russia’s way, including barriers of Moscow’s own making. One of the reasons that Russia “largely overlooked the skyrocket growth of Asia” – a mistake that even faraway Europe and the US did not make – was a fear that China’s surging population would move in on Russia’s own, sparsely populated territory, says Sergei Karaganov, a faculty dean at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. “We never looked for opportunities, we looked for threats.”

While the idea seems antiquated, it still holds true. Last week prime minister Dmitry Medvedev warned of “negative manifestations” in the Far East, including “the formation of enclaves made up of foreign citizens”. “Not many people live [in the Far East], unfortunately, and the task of protecting our Far Eastern territories from excessive expansion by bordering states remains in place,” he said during a government meeting on migration. To develop the Far East, the Kremlin will not only have to boost flagging population numbers there but attract the type of professionals who can transform the region from a raw materials base to a diverse economy.

Unfortunately, most young Russian professionals are not exactly jumping to move to Vladivostok, especially when they can find well-paying jobs in more established markets such as Moscow, Europe or China. Meanwhile, the Russians actually living in the Far East are not exactly thrilled to be there either. According to new data from Moscow polling agency VTsIOM, two-fifths of the Russians who live in Siberia and the Far East want to leave, citing low salaries and a lack of career prospects as the main reasons. The human capital obstacle is one Russia may be able to overcome, especially with high-profile events such as the Apec summit, which are bringing more attention to the region. Harder to surmount are the infrastructure issues, which plague not just the Far East but the roads and railroads that are supposed to connect it with the rest of the country.

“This is great saying we are going to go to the east and build in the east, but how are we going to get there?” asked Klaus Kleinfeld, chairman of Alcoa, at the St Petersburg Economic Forum in June. “Only one-third of Russia’s roads in the Far East meet the World Bank’s quality standard.”

Mr Volynets estimates $600bn is needed to properly develop East Siberia and the Far East. While Russia’s natural resource companies can supply China, they cannot actually get the materials there due to bottlenecks, he says. The Port of Shanghai, for example, has an annual of turnover of 600m tonnes, while all of the Far East ports combined can export just 70m tonnes a year, due to the undeveloped infrastructure. For the time being, these bigger problems have been pushed aside as Vladivostok prepares for the September Apec summit. While Russians themselves may have reservations about the region’s development, its partners are more optimistic, as witnessed on the sidelines of the Russian-Korean friendship festival.

“Because of this summit and [Vladivostok’s transformation] we can expect a real rapid development in the region, in the economy and in its politics,” gushed Park Hyun Bon, director of the Korean Tourism Organisation’s Vladivostok office. Kwak Seung-Jun, chairman of the president’s council for the future of South Korea and one of the visiting dignitaries was also impressed. “It’s like I’m travelling not to a different country but to a different city in Korea,” he beamed.


Russia is Building Diplomatic and Military Tools to Prevent Western Resistance to its Eurasian Union

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks about Russia’s efforts to “re-Sovietize” the countries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have apparently touched a nerve with the Kremlin. Secretary Clinton warned that the United States is well aware of Russia’s intentions to rebuild its control over the former Soviet republics via extended regional integration and institutionalization under the benign-looking labels of the Customs Union or Eurasian Union. She also revealed that the US is trying to think of ways to slow this process down or prevent it (, Kyiv Post, December 7).

Clinton’s explicit comments at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) December 6 ministerial in Dublin caused quite a stir among Russia’s top officials. President Vladimir Putin caustically retorted that the US accusations were nonsense. He pointed to the common language, similar mindsets, as well as interconnected transportation and energy infrastructures as natural factors pushing Russian-led integration in the post-Soviet space. He even referred to the European Union as an integration project that restrains the national sovereignties of its member states even more than the USSR’s Supreme Soviet decision framework used to (, December 10).

Other officials followed the Russian president’s lead, including State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, and the Duma’s Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Committee Chair Leonyd Slutskyi. Naryshkin stated that US interference in the Eurasian integration processes was unacceptable (, December 10). Slutskyi reasoned that since the Eurasian Union is going to become a major global player, Clinton’s statement in Dublin was an effort to preserve the US-dominated unipolar world (, December 8).

Two essential ideas can be observed in the Russian officials’ emotional responses. First, the Russian statements, including last year’s explanation by Vladimir Putin during the presidential campaign, attempt to clarify Moscow’s intention to transform the Eurasian Union into one of the global poles of power, connecting Europe and the Asia-Pacific region (, October 3, 2011;, December 10). Russia’s envisaged continental Western Europe-CIS-Asia axis would thus leave the United States a lesser role in world affairs.

But how exactly is a Moscow-led Eurasian Union supposed to become a global pole of power? Russia’s goal is to turn this grouping into a chorus that will sing in international forums with one voice under a Kremlin choirmaster. The integration mechanism that Russia is willing to implement should create the necessary asymmetric dependencies that would consolidate its leadership position within such a union. For instance the recovery of Soviet-era common transportation and energy infrastructure would magnify economic and political dependence on Russia among many future Eurasian Union members. 

In the developing economies of the CIS countries, natural gas plays the role of a public good with pronounced social welfare effects. When delivered at low prices—as Russia is willing to offer in exchange for often painful concessions from its importers—natural gas has the potential to significantly affect the political capital of the national leaders. Russia also represents a huge market with lower standards for produced goods, making it more accessible for post-Soviet states.

Integration shall, by Moscow’s design, allow CIS country leaders to slightly improve their citizens’ standard of living through Russian-subsidized deliveries of cheap natural gas, a wider common union job market and other social benefits that Russia’s neighboring economies are not able to provide for their domestic constituencies alone.

With so much economic and political influence, Russia will then be able to promote its preferred candidates in national elections along its periphery—and will basically own the national governments. Such an outcome would also trigger a diffusion into neighboring countries of Russia’s political system, which is a form of “smart authoritarianism” mimicking democratic institutions and processes. This type of governance forces its citizens to trade between some minimal level of social welfare assured by the government in exchange for giving up many individual freedoms. The emergence of the Russian-led Eurasian Union would produce a wave of authoritarianism, slowly spreading from East to West, until it reached the borders of the EU.

The second idea revealed by the Russian officials’ impassioned responses to Secretary Clinton reflects the sharp unease that Moscow feels about Washington’s potential attempts to hinder its “gathering of the post-Soviet lands.” The Kremlin understands well that its offers to post-Soviet states may be rendered less attractive by alternative offers from the West, and its constraining mechanisms may, therefore, become ineffective if the targeted governments are supported by the US and the EU.

Consequently, in addition to its diplomatic moves, Russia is making significant efforts to strengthen its military tool of foreign policy. Moscow believes that modernizing its strategic nuclear capabilities to enable Russia to penetrate US missile defense systems would deter the United States from interfering into Russia’s foreign affairs. 

It is also massively funding its conventional forces, permitting Moscow to create facts on the ground that other actors would have to accept. Currently, Russia is believed to be the third largest defense spender in the world, after the US and China, with its defense expenditures being slightly over three percent of its GDP; while its combined “national defense” and “national security” spending totals over 30 percent of Russia’s annual budget (, October 18). It plans to increase its 2013 defense spending by over 25 percent compared to the current year (, July 19), leading some Russian experts to suggest Moscow is preparing for war (, November 17, 2011).

All these actions indicate that the new Putin administration is consistently building both military and diplomatic tools to support its declared goal of building the Eurasian Union. They also suggest the Kremlin is resolute in limiting interference from the West, willing to militarily deter any possible resistance to the fait accompli reality Moscow is attempting to create in the post-Soviet space.


Vladimir Putin Wants Soviet-Style Power Bloc to Rival EU

Vladimir Putin has said he wants to forge a "Eurasian Union" on the vast swath of territory that used to be the Soviet Union to compete with the European Union and the United States.

Speaking six months before he reassumes the Russian presidency for the third time, Mr Putin said he wanted to create a global power bloc that would straddle one fifth of the earth's surface and unite almost 300 million people. "We have a great inheritance from the Soviet Union," he wrote in an article extolling the idea in the daily Izvestia newspaper. "We inherited an infrastructure, specialised production facilities, and a common linguistic, scientific and cultural space. It is in our joint interests to use this resource for our development."

The Russian prime minister called the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" and is known for revelling in Soviet nostalgia. He denied his new plan was an attempt to resurrect the Russian-led superpower, insisting that the Eurasian Union would be freer than the Soviet Union and membership would be voluntary. "We are not talking about recreating the USSR," Mr Putin claimed. "It would be naive to try to restore or copy what was in the past. But time dictates that we should have closer integration based on values, politics and economics."

The Soviet Union included 15 different republics which became independent countries after its chaotic collapse in 1991. Three of those countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have since become members of the EU and it is unimaginable that they would sign up to the Eurasian Union. Georgia, a country that lost 20 per cent of its territory in a war against Russia in 2008, would also be highly unlikely to acquiesce. But Mr Putin said an existing kernel of three countries – Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus – were already locked into a new common economic space with shared customs and other rules that would serve as the foundation for the Eurasian Union.

Mr Putin said he expected Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to sign up soon. "We are talking about a model of a powerful supranational union capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world," he said. Andrei Okara, a political analyst, said: "Putin does not just see himself as a Russian leader but on a historical and global scale. He wants to make grandiose political moves that will leave their mark on history."

China, Russia, and the End of the Petrodollar,,16225038_401,00.jpg

Say you’re an up-and-coming superpower wannabe with dreams of dominating your neighbors and intimidating everyone else. Your ambition is understandable; rising nations always join the “great game”, both for their own enrichment and in defense against other big players. But if you’re Russia or China, there’s something in your way: The old superpower, the US, has the world’s reserve currency, which allows it to run an untouchable military empire basically for free, simply by creating otherwise-worthless pieces of paper and/or their electronic equivalent. Russia and China can’t do that, and would see their currencies and by extension their economies collapse if they tried.

So before they can boot the US military out of Asia and Eastern Europe, they have to strip the dollar of its dominant role in world trade, especially of Middle Eastern oil. And that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. See this excerpt from an excellent longer piece by Economic Collapse Blog’s Michael Snyder:

China And Russia Are Ruthlessly Cutting The Legs Out From Under The U.S. Dollar

China and Russia are not the “buddies” of the United States.  The truth is that they are both ruthless competitors of the United States and leaders from both nations have been calling for a new global currency for years. They don’t like that the United States has a built-in advantage of having the reserve currency of the world, and over the past several years both countries have been busy making international agreements that seek to chip away at that advantage. Just the other day, China and Germany agreed to start conducting an increasing amount of trade with each other in their own currencies.

You would think that a major currency agreement between the 2nd and 4th largest economies on the face of the planet would make headlines all over the United States. Instead, the silence in the U.S. media was deafening. However, the truth is that both Russia and China have been making deals like this all over the globe in recent years.  I detailed 11 more major agreements like the one that China and Germany just made in this article: “11 International Agreements That Are Nails In The Coffin Of The Petrodollar”. A few of the things that will likely happen when the petrodollar dies….
-Oil will cost a lot more.
-Everything will cost a lot more.
-There will be a lot less foreign demand for U.S. government debt.
-Interest rates on U.S. government debt will rise.
-Interest rates on just about everything in the U.S. economy will rise.
So enjoy going to “the dollar store” while you can. It will turn into the “five and ten dollar store” soon enough.

Some thoughts

Snyder goes on to note that both China and Russia are accumulating gold, which will protect them from the coming currency crisis and give the ruble and yuan greater legitimacy in global trade. In Jim Rickards’ book Currency Wars, he tells the story of financial war games conducted by the US military, in which one of the scenarios was a Russian gold backed currency that challenged the dollar. We’re apparently not far from that plan becoming feasible.

The US spends a big chunk of its $700 billion a year defense budget on dominating the Middle East in order to force the trading of oil in dollars. Let that trade be diversified into several currencies and the demand for petrodollars goes way down. Central banks and global corporations will sell part of their dollar holdings, sending the dollar’s exchange rate into a tailspin. This in turn will make it harder for the US to finance its military empire/welfare state.

The net result: America becomes Spain, no longer able to simply whip out the monetary credit card to cover its overspending. We’ll have to live within our means, cutting maybe $3 trillion a year in government largesse (including the growth in unfunded entitlements liabilities).

Cuts on this scale can’t be accomplished smoothly, as Europe is discovering. So in this scenario the coming decade will be even messier than the last one, with “Occupy” movements shutting down cities and every election producing incumbent massacres. A combination of higher prices for necessities and lower wages will demote much of the middle class to “working poor.”

Meanwhile, China and Russia will reap the rewards of stronger currencies, and will divide (or share) control over their part of the world. It’s hard to know who to feel sorrier for, Americans who thought they could depend on government programs for a middle class lifestyle, or the neighbors of China and Russia who will see the relatively light hand of the American empire replaced with something far more atavistic.


United States Decries “Sovietization” of Former USSR States

The statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Washington will openly oppose Russia’s attempts to re-integrate the post-Soviet countries into a new USSR-type union has caused a stir in the expert world. Clinton made the statement about this attempt to “re-sovietize” the former USSR space last week at a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Dublin, Ireland.

“It’s not going to be called that [USSR]. It’s going to be called customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that,” she said, referring to Russian-led efforts for greater regional integration. “But let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”

Armenia, as one of the allies of Russia that also has made noticeable progress it its relations with the European Union and the West in general, recently, is likely to adjust its foreign policy to this new reality as well. Following Clinton’s statement, experts began to speak more definitely about the U.S. now reconsidering its 2009 “reset” policy in relations with Russia. The so-called Magnitsky list adopted in Washington also evidences increased U.S. pressure on Russia. According to this legislative act, the United States bans entry to the country to Russian officials who violate human rights.

Russia, meanwhile, retaliated by passing a similar ban, and for greater assurance also introduced a ban on imports of meat from the United States. Washington is now likely to sue Russia at an international court for breaking the rules of the World Trade Organization that Moscow acceded to only this year. Apparently, the fight for the post-Soviet space between the West and Russia has entered its decisive phase. Everything will depend on 2013, when several former Soviet republics, including Armenia, are expected to sign association agreements and agreements on the establishment of free trade zones with the European Union.

Moscow is trying to entice these republics to the Customs Union (currently comprised of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) before such documents are signed. Apparently, this was the main issue raised during the Commonwealth of Independent States summit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, last week, which was followed by the top U.S. diplomat’s statement. Officially, no statements were made after the summit, but Russian President Vladimir Putin must have demanded integration in stronger terms than he has done ever before.

While some of the former Soviet states’ leaders were meeting in Ashgabat, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern traveled back home to persuade the Armenian-Americans to invest in Armenia. And Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan went to Germany and then to the United States also for the purpose of soliciting investment.

The U.S. appears to have decided to test the method of so-called “investment expansion” in Armenia. This method implies a large inflow of Western investment which would help not only transform the business culture in Armenia, which Washington appears to be unhappy with, but also prevent the “sovietization” of the South Caucasus country. Russia now is still the leader in terms of investments in Armenia, but this year the volumes of its investments have decreased.

Now it is a guessing game for local analysts as to what President Serzh Sargsyan will decide in this respect. He is unlikely to change his European integration course before the presidential election that has been slated for February 18, as such a change of policy would deprive him not only of key support from the West, but also a weighty argument in the unfolding election campaign. It is not excluded that Sargsyan will build his whole campaign on the idea of European integration, and his main rival, Prosperous Armenia Party led by affluent businessman Gagik Tsarukyan known for his ties with Russia and some autocratic post-Soviet leaders, yields to Sargsyan in this respect.

Andrew Weiss, who served as director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council staff under U.S. President Bill Clinton and now heads the RAND Center for Russia and Eurasia, believes that elites in post-Soviet countries are “not in a rush” to give their sovereignty back to Moscow.

It is obvious that in order to promote its “Eurasian integration” Moscow will use the “stick” because it does not have enough “carrots” even for itself, and especially that the “carrots” in the West taste better. Meanwhile, the West seems to have set itself the task of stopping Moscow from intimidating former Soviet republics into taking action for reintegration. In this context Clinton’s statement means that the West is ready to defend the post-Soviet countries from Russian encroachments.


Back to the USSR? Putin raises fears of return to Cold War days with plans for 'Eurasian Union' of former Soviet states

Near collapse: Three years later, however, the USSR's borders had retreated

  • Proposed alliance between Russia and other nations could be 'one of the poles of the modern world'
  • Unified market rules to be introduced between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan next year
  • Putin seeking 'higher integration with the Eurasian Union'
Global power: Vladimir Putin said the new group could compete for influence with the USA, Europe and Asia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today raised the spectre of a second USSR after he proposed forming a 'Eurasian Union' of former Soviet states. The former president said the proposed alliance could compete for influence with the United States, European Union and Asia. Russia has already formed stronger economic ties with Belarus and Kazakhstan, but Putin has suggested forming a group seen by some as rebuilding the former Soviet Union. Prime Minister Putin made the proposal today in the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia, adding that the new group should emerge as 'one of the poles of the modern world, serving as an efficient link between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region.

'However, given Putin's previous views, his current proposal will be seen by many as an indirect attempt to rebuild the Soviet Union. The single-party socialist state ruled by the Communist Party from 1922 until its collapse 20 years ago gave rise to Joseph Stalin and the Cold War political conflict from 1946 onwards. During the height of the Soviet Union, the USSR stood alongside the USA as one of the world's two major superpowers.Nations of the former USSR included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Russia, and ten other countries. The Soviet Union spread over an area of more than 22 million square km, with a population in 1991 of over 293 million people. It expanded its borders by taking some countries by force, as it did in 1956 when Russian troops in 1,000 Soviet tanks poured into Budapest to claim Hungary. 

But by the end of the reign of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, the end of the Cold War and increased nationalist movements among Soviet countries brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Former president Putin has lamented the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as the 'greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century', adding that the new group could be a major global player.He has remained Russia's de-facto leader after shifting into the premier's job due to a term limit, and his protege and successor Dmitry Medvedev proposed last month that Putin run for president. Putin denied, however, that the proposed alliance would signal a return of a Soviet Union. He said: 'There is no talk about rebuilding the USSR in one way or another. 'It would be naive to try to restore or copy something that belongs to the past, but a close integration based on new values and economic and political foundation is a demand of the present time.'


The concept of Eurasia, the huge area of land mass comprising Russia and some of its European and North Asian neighbours, was first featured in George Orwell's dystopian fantasy 1984. Under Orwell's vision of a Totalitarian dystopia after the Second World War, the UK falls into civil war and is integrated to Oceania, a society ruled by the dictatorship of 'the Party'. At the same time, the USSR annexed continental Europe and created the second superstate of Eurasia. The novel's third state, Eastasia is made of large regions of East Asia and Southeast Asia.

The novel describes the story of Winston Smith, who records how the world's three superstates are constantly fighting for the unconquered lands of the world. Smith recounts the Atomic Wars fought in western Russia, North America and Europe, and describes how 'the Party' referred to the postwar reorganisation of society as 'the Revolution'. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan already have formed an economic alliance that has removed customs barriers in mutual trade during the past summer. They are to introduce unified market rules and regulations starting Jan. 1. 

Putin said that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are expected to join the grouping. 'We aren't going to stop at that and are putting forward an ambitious task of reaching a new, higher level of integration with the Eurasian Union,' Putin said. 'Along with other key players and regional structures, such as the European Union, the United States, China and the Asia Pacific Economic Community, it should ensure stability of global development.' Russia has long called for stronger co-operation between ex-Soviet nations, but earlier attempts at forging closer ties between them have failed due to sharp economic differences.Many former Soviet nations have looked westward and remain suspicious of Moscow's intentions, setting a rocky path to Putin's 'Eurasian Union.' 

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, considered more Russia-friendly than his pro-Western predecessor, has continued to focus on closer relations with the European Union, shattering Moscow's hopes for luring Ukraine into its orbit. Yanukovych complained last month that the Kremlin was trying to coerce Ukraine into joining the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and said that he wouldn't yield to pressure. 

Even Russia's ties with its closest ally, Belarus, has been marred by tensions. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose government is struggling with a spiralling financial crisis, has staunchly resisted Moscow's push for controlling stake in Belarus' top state-controlled industrial assets. Putin's plan also comes in potential competition with the Eastern Partnership, an initiative launched two years ago by Poland and Sweden. It aims to deepen European Union integration with six ex-Soviet nations: Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan.


Russia will try to urge Armenia into Eurasian Union

Director of Regional Studies Center (RSC), political scientist Richard Giragosian said elections in Russia were neither legal nor transparent. Over 90 000 surveillance cameras were installed, most of which were out of operation, he told a press conference in Yerevan. Giragosian said the West gave almost no reaction to developments in Russia during the elections. “An interesting fact is that the opposition united against Putin, but it is split with regard to other issues, and this lessens its impact.” According to the expert, Putin will pursue a tough policy. “Russia will try to press Armenia so that the latter joins the Eurasian Union. The process of Karabakh conflict resolution will see minor development, with no tangible changes, because not everything depends on Russia,” he said. “There is also another party, Baku, and it does not want concessions; in addition, representatives of Nagorno Karabakh should also join the negotiations,” Giragosian added. The political scientist believes that the Russian-U.S. relations will face a new stage of development.


Armenia should not join Eurasian Union, opposition says

The opposition Heritage Party's Secretary General, Stephan Saparyan, thinks that entering into the Eurasian Union will not be beneficial for Armenia and it just has to preserve its good relations with Russia. Saparyan says that Russia’s influence in central Asian countries is being challenged by China while from the West; the EU Eastern partnership program is challenging Russia. According to him, the Eastern Partnership is already a realistic perspective, whereas Eurasian Union so far exists only on paper. Saparyan’s opinion is based on the reality that Armenia does not have direct borders with Eurasian countries. Despite not having common borders with the EU, Armenia could exercise such contact via Georgia, thinks Armenian opposition member.


Armenia Doesn’t Need It

In an interview with, head of Modus Vivendi Center Ara Papyan, dwelling on Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Union, said it is not expedient since this organization has not been even set up and nothing is clear about it. According to him, it seems to be an attempt to imitate the Soviet Union in a worse way. The Soviet Union, in Papyan’s opinion, had the advantage over the Euraian Union it had common pricing and salary systems. We sacrificed our independence for some economic benefits. Now, we already have suffered great losses in our foreign policy in terms of independence. Now we will lose even more if we join the Eurasian Union without any benefits. We need to have a clear idea that accession to that organization will harm our relationships with the European Union and the Middle East, says Ara Papyan.
He goes on to say that the benefit of joining such organizations is simplified customs procedures, but Armenia, having no common border with it, will have to cross the Georgian customs to reach Russia. He says the procedures will remain the same so this organization will bring nothing to Armenia. The more members the union has, the better it is for Russia. We will just boost the number of members and lose a lot, says Ara Papyan.
Repression is quite possible. We are now in such a situation when the authorities depend on Russia for different reasons. Naturally, if they face the dilemma of choosing between the government and the Eurasian Union, I think they will choose the organization. We have had a lot of economic and political losses just for the sake of fawning over someone, says the head of Modus Vivendi.
In general, we need one thing – rule of law in politics and economics. When there is rule of law in Armenia, capital will come, industry and competitiveness will develop. There is no capitalism in Armenia because it is based on competitiveness. We have a monopoly-based half-feudalistic governance. If Armenia is placed on a fair and competitive track, it will develop. If rule of law is established, Armenia will develop, if not, Armenia will never develop, neither within the European Union nor the Eurasian Union, said Ara Papyan.

Relations With West Expected to Define Armenia’s Future Ties With Russia

Agreements and Alliances: Relations with West expected to define Armenia’s future ties with Russia

Experts began to talk about the likelihood of a revision of military cooperation between Yerevan and Moscow after Armenia became the only South Caucasus republic with a Russian military presence. This happened after Russia refused to further use the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan. Not long before the 2008 armed conflict with Georgia Russia also withdrew its basis from Akhalkalaki.

Armenia relies on Russia for security and hosts a Russian military base in Gyumri. The frontier troops of the Federal Security Service of Russia also protects Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran. Besides, Armenia is a member of the Russia-led defense pact, Collective Security Treaty Organization, comprised of six former Soviet republics.

Still, many Western politicians are puzzled how Armenia, a country with such close military ties with Russia, is going to integrate with the European Union. There is even growing talk about a new scheme of West-Russia cooperation in Armenia – Moscow takes up the security matters, while the West helps Yerevan develop democracy and economy.

Nevertheless, the viability of such a scheme is doubtful, primarily because of the situation in the region. Tension builds up around Iran and its nuclear program. After Azerbaijan canceled a simplified visa regime with Iran, engaged in diplomatic altercations with its southern neighbor and most recently ousted the Russian military from Gabala, Armenia remains a sole platform for a Russian-Iranian bloc in the South Caucasus.

Yerevan will hardly want to lose ties with the West in case there is an escalation of tensions around Iran. Once this year the United States already accused Armenia of allowing its commercial banks to violate international sanctions against Iran. Armenia had to give explanations in this regard. But Armenia does not want to spoil its relations with Iran either.

The presence of a Russian military base in its territory does not allow Armenia to maintain neutrality in the Iran problem. It is not excluded that Armenia will raise the question of revising the question of Russian military presence inside its borders.

The growing ties between Armenia and the European Union, which plan to sign an association agreement by the end of 2013, as well as the emerging U.S.-Armenia economic ties, are possible early signs of such a scenario. The West does not conceal its intentions to invest in Armenia and support the aspiration of its leadership to revisit the integration-related relations with Russia. When the West-Armenia relations reach the point of no return, the issue of the continued presence of a Russian military base in Armenia is likely to be raised.

If Armenia ever has to make such a decision, it will require a lot of meticulous calculations and perhaps stronger guarantees from the West. Yerevan may well decide to let the Russians continue to be present in the country militarily, but demand a payment for the lease, something that Moscow does not pay for now.

Putin, Sargsian Meet

President Serzh Sarkisian and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of a summit of former Soviet republics in Turkmenistan on Wednesday as their governments continued to discuss Armenia’s possible involvement in a Russian-led customs union.

Official Armenian and Russian sources gave no details of the meeting. Sarkisian’s press office said only that the two presidents discussed “a number of issues on the agenda of Russian-Armenian strategic relations.” The RIA Novosti news agency quoted Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov as saying that the Russian leader spoke about “integration processes” in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) at his separate meetings with Sarkisian as well as the presidents of Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Putin referred to “our integration efforts” in a speech delivered at the CIS summit held in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat. “I mean the Customs Union, the Common Economic Space in the first instance,” he was reported to say.” “We will welcome all those states that will express a desire and be prepared to join these integration structures. I repeat, will both express a desire and be prepared.”

The Customs Union currently consists of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Moscow makes no secret of its desire to expand this structure and eventually turn it into a closely-knit Eurasian Union of ex-Soviet states.

Armenia has until now been reluctant to join the Customs Union, citing the absence of a common border with any of its three member states. Putin and Sarkisian discussed the matter when they met in Moscow in August. Putin said after those talks that the Russian and Armenian governments will form a work group to explore ways of Yerevan’s possible involvement in the bloc.

Top Russian officials actively promoted the Eurasian Union during visits to Yerevan this summer, fuelling media speculation that the Armenian government is under growing pressure to embrace the idea. In a related development, Viktor Khristenko, the Russian head of the Eurasian Economic Commission, the Customs Union’s governing body, visited Yerevan and met with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian on Wednesday. An Armenian government statement said he briefed Sarkisian on “processes taking place within the framework of the Customs Union.”

The Armenian premier, for his part, told Khristenko that his government is holding successful negotiations with the European Union on a far-reaching free trade deal and plans to complete them next year, said the statement. “The prime minister pointed out that Armenia is interested in integration processes and regards them as complementary,” it added.

Tigran Sargsyian said Armenia must “deepen and expand ties with the Eurasian Union” when he addressed the Armenian parliament later in the day. Yerevan will therefore increasingly “cooperate” with the Customs Union, he said. The premier stopped short of explicitly calling for Armenia’s accession to the Russian-lead union, however. He has repeatedly spoken out against this possibility before.

President Sarkisian held talks with Putin less than a week after hosting a summit in Yerevan of the leaders of Armenia, Georgia and Moldova. The summit, which was also attended by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, focused on efforts by the three ex-Soviet states to integrate more closely with the EU through “association agreements” currently negotiated with Brussels.


Sarkisian, Putin Discuss Strategic Ties

President Serzh Sarkisian on Wednesday met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, following a session of the Collective Treaty Security Organization, which focused on the proposed Russian-led customs union. According to Sarkisian press office, the two leaders discussed issues of mutual interest in Russian-Armenian strategic relations and possible avenues of cooperation between the two countries.

Ahead of the Sarkisian-Putin meeting a senior official in Moscow said that the absence of a common border with Russia is not an “insurmountable obstacle” to Armenia’s accession to the customs union, which enjoys the membership of all CSTO member-states except Armenia. Armenia has expressed reservation in joining the union, known as the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc), saying the fact that it does not share a common border with Russia could raise problems in the long run.

EurAsEc member-state presidents met separately in Moscow immediately after the CSTO summit. That meeting in turn was followed by trilateral talks between Putin and presidents Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus. Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus make up the more tightly-knit Customs Union, which Putin hopes will eventually develop into a larger Eurasian Union of former Soviet republics.

Armenia appears to be facing growing pressure from Moscow to join the Customs Union. It has avoided committing itself until now, citing the lack of common borders with any of the three member states, reported RFE/RL. Viktor Khristenko, the Russian head of the Eurasian Economic Commission, the Customs Union’s governing body, questioned the official Armenian rationale in an interview with the Moscow daily “Vedomosti” published on Wednesday, according to RFE/RL.

“Many thought [the absence of common borders] is an insurmountable obstacle. But in my view, it’s not,” Khristenko said, pointing to the existence of Russia’s Kalinigrad exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.
“Given the developed level of communications existing today, the Customs Union can definitely have an exclave,” he stressed.

“Of course, Armenia has very sensitive infrastructure constraints: it has a sole transport corridor to the Customs Union passing through Georgia. But Armenia’s strategic interest has been articulated and it boils down to its being a Eurasian country,” added the former Russian deputy prime minister. Khristenko discussed the matter with Armenian leader when he visited Yerevan on December 5-6. He met Sarkisian the day after the latter’s most recent talks with Putin held on the sidelines of an informal Commonwealth of Independent States’ summit in Turkmenistan.

Putin and Sarkisian had earlier agreed to set up a joint task force that will explore possible ways of Armenia’s integration with the Customs Union. In that context, Khristenko spoke of unspecified “new models of interaction that have not existed before.” He also told “Vedomosti” that the Russian and Armenian governments are now working on trade memorandums aimed at facilitating bilateral trade.

Russia has already signed similar memorandums with Ukraine, another ex-Soviet state which Moscow hopes will join the Customs Union. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was scheduled to visit Moscow on Tuesday for talks on trade and energy ties. Yanukovich cancelled the trip at the last minute. “I think that our movement forward with Armenia may be even more intensive than with Ukraine,” declared Khristenko.


Under the Kremlin Thumb: Pre-Election is period of deal-making – favoring Big Brother

Over the past two weeks a number of factors have most clearly outlined the pressure Big Brother and strategic partner Russia is putting on Armenia for not embracing the “neo-soviet” idea of Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Union. “If not for Russia Armenia would most probably not even be on the map. Armenia enjoys today’s status solely due to Russia and is able to survive again solely due to Russia,” wrote Kremlin-adjunct Mikhail Leontyev, commentator for Odnako magazine.

The latest issue of Odnako led by Leontyev, who is viewed as Putin’s non-official spokesman, is titled “Whither Armenia?”. Leontyev in his article titled “Armenia enjoys today’s status solely due to Russia” mocks that “Armenia has no alternative” other than entering the Eurasian Union and that “its ravings about European choice are rather strange”.

Why now? Why is Russia concerned about Armenia now? There are two reasons: first, it’s a pre-election period and, second, Armenia’s success in the negotiations on signing the European Union Association Agreement. The pre-election period is optimum time for putting pressure on the authorities, and that pressure is obviously being exerted.

Various politicians and political analysts have stressed a number of times that Putin’s idea of creating a Eurasian Union with ambitions of becoming the European Union’s competitor and counterweight, in reality is set to solve Russia’s “empire-worshipping” goal of completely depriving smaller countries of their sovereignty.

Yet in April-May Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarsgsyan in his interviews to two Russia-based periodicals Vedomosti and said that “entering the Customs Union” which is the basis of the Eurasian Union “is pointless to us because we have no common borders”.

Speaking publicly against the Customs Union meant opposing also Armenia’s potential membership in the Eurasian Union; as Putin pointed out in his famous article of October 2011, the creation of a free trade zone – the Customs Union – would become the foundation for building a much bigger – Eurasian - union.

The Armenian premier in his interview to even suggested that a special status be granted to Armenia “respective subsidizing, assistance, grants, if it is about integrating into a respective economic area. Economic stimuli have to be created to motivate integration.”

Theses bold sentiments faded away in August when during Putin-Sargsyan’s meeting, Putin distantly answered the premier’s suggestion saying “we will discuss it”. It was right after this that persistent speculations started in Armenia’s political backstage on premier Sargsyan’s possible dismissal. In September the sentiments changed yet once again.

During the newly-elected parliament’s very first Q&A the premier, responding to Armenian Revolutionary Federation MP Artsvik Minasyan’s question, said something completely opposite to his earlier statements: “There is one absolute truth: the steps on creating a free trade zone around Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus have illustrated the advantages of that process.”

In Armenia Putin’s promise to discuss the issue was interpreted as the last chance for positive cooperation. Political analysts did not rule out that just as the Ukrainian premier had set a condition for entering the Customs Union – Russia would have to sell natural gas for $150 per 1000 cubic meters -- Armenia, as a strategic partner, would be able to claim gas for no more than $180.

These hopes died last week when the data placed on State Revenues official site made it clear that since July Armenia has been purchasing gas for $244, rather than the officially announced $180. This confirms radical opposition Armenian National Congress MP Levon Zurabyan’s claims that “the government has been hiding the price-hike in gas tariffs” not to create tensions among public prior to the presidential elections.

At the National Assembly’s Q&A during the previous four-day session Zurabyan raised a point that the government had been paying the added gas tariff by selling shares of ArmRusGasArt stock, which is 20 percent owned by Armenia. It has been speculated that the government sold its share for $157.5 million. Zurabyan asked the prime minister whether this information was accurate.

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Armen Movsisyan answered the question saying that “negotiations are in process with Russia over the gas tariffs, and as soon as they are completed people will be informed”. But before anyone was “informed” the damaging news emerged on the State Revenues site. This latest “property for gas” deal has once again pointed out the truth in Leontyev’s commentary when he writes that Armenia put herself “in total dependence” of Russia.

The tradition of such resource for security trades was first set prior to the urgent presidential elections of 1998, when 45 percent of ArmRusGazArt company share was given to Russia as compensation for natural gas, then prior to the 2003 election a whole package was given by a “property for gas” deal which included five major entities, and after the election Sevan-Hrazdan cascade was given away as a payback for $25 million worth of atomic fuel supplied to Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant.

In 2007 and 2008 the communication field and the railways were sacrificed for the 2007 and 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections, as well as Hrazdan Hydro Power Plant’s fifth energy block – Iran back then was offering much more favourable purchase terms than Russia.

Hrazdan’s fifth block was given away in 2007 for gas subsidy – back then Russia, again, had raised the tariff 2.5 times and in order to ease the social tension the Armenian government subsidized the gas price for two years, and did it by selling the energy block for $60 million cash and the remaining $189 million as payment for the subsidy. Nonetheless, the gas tariff underwent a drastic 40-percent hike in 2009.

“This is the consequence of a short-sighted policy, which continues up until now and will keep damaging us. And this kind of short-sighted policy will ultimately lead us to entering the Eurasian Union which is potentially dangerous to us from several perspectives,” former foreign minister, MP Alexander Arzumanyan told ArmeniaNow.

While messages and reminders are voiced by Russia on different levels on Armenia’s status as its “outpost”, Armenia is expecting Putin’s visit which has been postponed three times since late September. Political analysts assume it is being postponed “because of attempts to come to certain agreements”.


EU Warns Armenia About Russia Customs Union

Armenia cannot sign a far-reaching Association Agreement with the European Union if it joins the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, a spokeswoman for Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said on Friday.

“We are currently negotiating an Association Agreement together with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade part,” the official, Maja Kocijancic, told RFE/RL in Brussels. “Armenia is free and sovereign to enter into any agreement, including agreements with third countries. Armenia’s membership in a free trade agreement with a third country does not contradict the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) negotiations with the EU.”

“But if Armenia were to join any customs union, this would not be compatible with concluding a bilateral Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Armenia. Because a customs union has a common external trade policy and an individual member country no longer has sovereign control over its external trade policies,” Kocijancic stressed.

The Armenian government appears to be facing growing pressure from Moscow to seek membership of the Russian-led trade bloc which President Vladimir Putin hopes will eventually grow into a Eurasian Union of former Soviet republics. Putin and President Serzh Sarkisian are thought to have discussed the matter during talks held this year. Their most recent meeting took place in Moscow on Wednesday.

Neither Sarkisian nor other Armenian officials have explicitly pledged to make their country part of the Customs Union in their public statements made so far. The authorities in Yerevan seem more enthusiastic about signing the Association Agreement that would significantly deepen Armenia’s ties with the EU. They have repeatedly expressed hope that the ongoing association and free trade talks with Brussels will be concluded next year.

Kocijancic emphasized Yerevan’s declared strong commitment to the DCFTA. “You know that we had a [meeting of the EU’s] Cooperation Council with Armenia just a few days ago and at that meeting Armenia confirmed its commitment to negotiations on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement,” she said. President Sarkisian gave similar assurances to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso when they met in Yerevan on December 1. He said he “reaffirmed our determination to develop and deepen Armenia-EU cooperation.”


Battle of Loans: Russia-West Fight For Armenia Enters Economic Sphere

Battle of loans: Russia-West fight for Armenia enters economic sphere

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Tuesday approved the next tranche of the loan for Armenia amounting to $51.4 million, thus bringing the total amount of credit released to Armenia to $324.4 million. The three-year $408.7 million project for Armenia was approved in 2010.

Through its representative in Yerevan the IMF, in fact, endorsed the policy of the Government of Armenia, noting only that there are still problems, especially related to venture business and attraction of investments in the country. He also hinted at the fact that officials in Armenia still take bribes from businessmen.

Foreign investments in Armenia this year have fallen by 35 percent, only the Canadian and Swiss capitals have increased their share. However, these capitals have been invested exclusively in the mining sector, and it provided grounds for concerns among Armenian experts, who argue that the West has intentions to turn Armenia into a country for raw material supply.

The United States apparently wants to offset this trend by stimulating high-tech sectors. At Stanford University in California within the framework of the ArmTech 2012 congress attended by Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, the Armenian government and the Intel Company signed a memorandum on establishing a research center in Armenia. A memorandum on the establishment of a plant in Armenia producing integrated circuits was signed with the Corparacion America company.

U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern welcomed the participants of the Congress and said that the U.S. Department of Commerce, using a range of data of UNESCO, has published a study according to which Armenia is a leader among post-Soviet countries by the number of applications for patents for different inventions. The ambassador expressed hope that these inventions will find good use in humanitarian and commercial organizations.

Russia apparently has decided to “retaliate” to the West’s offensive with a “credit counter-attack”. The Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) is due to consider a loan of $100 million for the North-South transport corridor in Armenia. This was announced in Yerevan on December 11 by EDP Board Chairman Igor Finogenov. “We are considering the possibility of funding one of the components of the corridor together with the Asian Development Bank,” he explained.

The EDB has also received a preliminary application for funding exceeding $100 million for the modernization of Armenia’s chemical giant, Nairit. It is not excluded that Russia will provide these sums.

Armenia is likely to accept both “rival” credits, as its government needs money to cover the growing external debt and prevent a social rebellion in the country. Judging by the reduction of investments during this year, the government prefers borrowing and preventing foreign capital from entering Armenia. In this sense the flow of investments from the United States may change the situation in the country.


East or West?: Armenia at Geopolitical Crossroads Ahead of 2013 Election

East or West?: Armenia at geopolitical crossroads ahead of 2013 election

An agreement on visa regime facilitation for citizens of Armenia traveling to European Union-member countries is due to be signed in Brussels today, December 17. Armenia has waived the visa requirement for citizens of EU countries who will travel to this South Caucasus republic after January 1. And this is in the case when Europe and Russia are unable to agree on visa facilitation.

The end of the year has proved rich for Armenia in terms of visits of European officials and activation of U.S. policies. Late last week Yerevan hosted a troika of top diplomats of EU-member countries – the foreign ministers of Sweden, Poland and Bulgaria, Carl Bildt, Radoslaw Sikorski and Nikolay Mladenov, respectively.

Welcoming the ministers in Yerevan, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan stressed the importance of deepening cooperation between the countries within the framework of the Eastern Partnership program. According to the parties, Armenia-EU relations are developing intensively. They also noted that Armenia has made good progress in negotiations on the Association Agreement, and the negotiations on agreement on the establishment of a deep and comprehensive free trade area have proceeded successfully. These agreements could be signed as early as in November 2013.

Polish FM Sikorski highlighted the importance of the February 18 presidential election in Armenia. “The election process, we believe, must rule out even the slightest possibility of formulating any accusation. This is very important from the point of view of the Eastern Partnership summit due to be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, next November,” he told a joint news conference of the three diplomats and Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian in Yerevan on Friday.

The visit of the EU diplomatic troika overlapped with the visit of the State Secretary of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Yves Rossier. The Swiss diplomat said that Switzerland considers it important to develop mutually beneficial cooperation with Armenia. He discussed with Armenian leadership the possibility of expanding areas of cooperation and exchanged views on cooperation within international organizations.

Simultaneously, at the December 15 special convention of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) that formally nominated him for reelection, President Sargsyan unveiled his election manifesto in which as priorities he mentioned the following: strengthening allied relations between Armenia and the Russian Federation and implementing programs to enhance strategic cooperation, development and expansion of friendly partnership with the United States, continued policy of rapprochement with Europe, strengthening of relations with the European countries.

In other words, Sargsyan is not going to get off the course of so-called complementarity”, but will deepen the foreign-policy “diversification” as far as it is possible. Russia does not seem to be quite satisfied with this course, and it is not a coincidence that the end of 2012 has also brought the news of Russian monopoly Gazprom planning to raise the price of natural gas for Armenia.

Russia’s prime minister, leader of the ruling United Russia party Dmitry Medvedev sent a message to the RPA convention delegates, warning that the decisions of the convention would “have an impact on the future of the country and, therefore, on the Armenian-Russian relations that have a nature of strategic partnership.” Perhaps he expected Sargsyan to include more categorical statements about relations with Russia in his election program.

For his part, in his message of greeting to the RPA gathering, President of the European People’s Party (EPP) Wilfried Martens confirmed full trust in Sargsyan, describing his reform agenda as the only credible agenda for the implementation of “significant and sustainable changes” in Armenia.

”We are all Europeans. Armenia belongs to Europe. We share the same heritage, and, therefore, the same fate. Due to the Armenian president and prime minister’s works, the RPA has proved to be the leader for changes. I have no doubt that after two months the Armenian people will make the right choice to have consolidated democracy and subsequent changes in the country,” the EPP leader added.

And in the White House, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan, who was on an ‘innovative’ visit to the United States, was received by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Meanwhile, Armenia was visited by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas Melia. During his meeting with the Armenian president the sides pointed out the importance of the process of democratic reforms in Armenia, and efforts aimed at ensuring the rule of law. It was emphasized that the development of Armenia is impossible without serious steps in this direction. Apparently, Washington intends to support Armenia’s “decisive steps”.


Looking Toward Europe?: President Sargsyan prefers visiting France to attending former Soviet parties’ gathering in Yerevan

Looking Toward Europe?: President Sargsyan prefers visiting France to attending former Soviet parties’ gathering in Yerevan

Monday sees the start of two-day consultations in Yerevan between major establishment parties of several former Soviet countries devoted to the discussion of the idea of forming a Eurasian Union – a Russia-led re-integration project for former Soviet space. Taking part in the events are Russia’s United Russia party, the Ukrainian Party of the Regions, Kazakhstan’s People’s Democratic Nur Otan Party, representatives of the Parliament of Belarus, as well as two Armenian parties – the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and Prosperous Armenia.

Participants of the forum are expected to hold consultations on a new platform for strengthening ties among political parties of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member countries.

But President Serzh Sargsyan, the leader of the RPA, will not be attending the meeting as on November 11 the Armenian head of state went on a three-day official visit to France, where he was due to meet with French President Francois Hollande, as well as the French prime minister, speaker of parliament and head of the Senate. In Lyon Sargsyan is due to meet with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and the business community of France.

Perhaps the overlapping of the two events is not a coincidence and the Armenian president purposely planned it so as not to be attending personally a Eurasian event hosted by the Armenian capital. Recently, Armenian leaders have demonstrated a clear commitment to Europe. Despite assurances from the Russian side that the Eurasian and European directions are not in conflict, Armenian leaders have avoided meetings that might be construed as Armenia’s consent to reintegrate into post-Soviet space.

As Zbigniew Brzezinski, a leading geo-strategist and former adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, stated in a recent media interview, no one wants to join the Eurasian Union, because it is just a whim of Putin’s Russia. In Armenia they seem to understand it all too well.

In late November Armenia is due to host a meeting of leaders of the European People’s Party (EPP) in EU Eastern Partnership Program member countries, and President Sargsyan is certain to take part in that gathering. Among the guests attending the EPP meeting in Yerevan will be EPP President Wilfried Martens, (outgoing) President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat as well as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. The goal of the gathering will be discussing issues of regional European integration.

The Armenian authorities have not yet announced their intention to join the European Union and the matter now only concerns an Association agreement. But opinions are already being voiced on some world press pages that it is necessary to give some former Soviet republics, including Armenia, a prospect of becoming members of the European Union. This is what is being actively discussed in the case with Georgia and Moldova. But Ukraine, Armenia and Belarus are not forgotten either.

Membership in the EU is a very complex process, but even the declaration by Armenia and other countries of their intent to join the EU could by itself end the senseless struggle with the yet non-existing Eurasian Union. In May 2013, Armenia will take up the rotating six-month chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Perhaps that’s why Armenia has decided to speed up negotiations on its agreement with the EU on a free economic zone and complete them in 2013 and not in 2014 as originally planned.

Apparently, Armenia is afraid that it will be too insistently invited to the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. During a meeting between President Sargsyan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow in August, the Russian leader said that he treated with understanding Armenia’s argument that it had no common borders with the countries of the Customs Union. At the same time, Putin ordered development of “creative options”, and one of them may be the opening of the railway from Russia to Armenia via Abkhazia and Georgia. Georgia has already expressed interest in the reopening of the Abkhazia railroad stretch.

At the same time, an interesting trend is emerging - Russia is trying to draw the so-called unrecognized post-Soviet states to the new re-integration project. There are not likely to be any problems with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. (Russia recognized these two Georgian breakaway regions still in the wake of the five-day Caucasus war in 2008). Recently, the Russian State held consultations on the involvement of Transnistria, a disputed region of Moldova. It is not excluded that behind-the-scenes negotiations could also be taking place with Nagorno-Karabakh.

Remarkable in this sense is that representatives of two Karabakh parties, Free Homeland and the Democratic Party of Nagorno-Karabakh, have been invited to the “Eurasian” meeting in Yerevan as observers.


NATO Week: Armenia discusses closer partnership with Western alliance under Moscow’s close watch

NATO Week: Armenia discusses closer partnership with Western alliance under Moscow’s close watch

Armenia and NATO have again exchanged their “partnership” credentials this week as events dedicated to their deepening ties were launched in Yerevan on Monday. Speaking at a seminar held as part of the NATO Week events in the Armenian capital, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia James Appathurai described Armenia as an important partner for the military alliance. He especially noted Armenia’s considerable contribution to the ISAF operation in Afghanistan.

Appathurai, who was scheduled to meet with senior government officials in Yerevan, said NATO was seeking a deeper involvement in the South Caucasus and would like to step up its cooperation with Armenia. He said the alliance leadership was now considering ways of gaining a “stronger foothold” in the volatile region.

“But, of course, we don’t want to impose ourselves. We just want to offer more opportunities for cooperation. And if countries like Armenia but also Georgia and Azerbaijan wish to take this offer, we will have more to do, more on the menu in the coming months and years,” the official said in an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also spoke of potentialities for developing further partnership with Armenia as he visited Yerevan in September. He insisted that there is “no contradiction” between Armenia’s military alliance with Russia and closer ties with NATO – a stance shared by the leadership of Armenia, a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization that hosts the only Russian military base in the South Caucasus.

Pro-establishment politicians and analysts in Armenia have also tried to present the nation’s growing ties with NATO and generally with the West (including negotiations on deeper ties with the European Union) as part of a comprehensive foreign policy agenda that does not involve any reorientation or otherwise endangers Yerevan’s traditionally close ties with Moscow.

But some early signs of worsening relations between Yerevan and Moscow suggest that Russia is watching its ally’s “flirting” with the West with a great deal of jealousy, to say the least. Last month Russia openly defied Armenia’s request to stop the operations of its controversial immigration program that is said to encourage outward migration from the tiny South Caucasus country and this difference in the positions of the two former Soviet allies had to be reflected in the minutes of a recent intergovernmental committee meeting in Yerevan.

In what could be viewed as further evidence of growing differences Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have canceled/postponed his visit to Armenia in September even though diplomats in Yerevan and Moscow rushed to explain that no visit had been scheduled in the first place. Prior to that, on several occasions, Armenia spoke dismissively of the idea of joining a Eurasian Union, a Putin-advocated reintegration project for former Soviet countries.

No wonder that such a position would draw an angry “analysis” from leading pro-Kremlin pundit Mikhail Leontyev, who published an article in October reminding Armenia about its heavy reliance on Russia for economy and security. The “privileged” price of Russian natural gas supplies to Armenia has repeatedly been mentioned as a major argument in this context. Negotiations over the price of this fuel essential to Armenia’s economy may become a further indicator of where the Armenian-Russian relations go against the background of an approaching presidential election in Armenia.

In a November 5 article published in, analysts Yekaterina Tesemnikova, from Moscow, and David Stepanyan, from Yerevan, described Armenia’s vagueness on the Eurasian Union idea as “reasonable”.

“And the reason is not the pressure of the West and not even the hope of receiving 1.5 billion euros in Europe, allegedly promised in case of an irreversible movement of Armenia on the path of “strengthening democracy.” In fact, the government of [Armenian President Serzh] Sargsyan expects from Moscow guarantees of substantial financial, economic and political support till the presidential elections, including gas prices acceptable for Armenia.”

The authors further concluded: “Persuading Armenia to participate in the Russian integration project is certainly possible, but only by applying the so-called “soft power”, popularizing and economically justifying the benefits of carrying out the idea of the Eurasian Union.”


Brussels ready to increase support, Russia wants Armenia in Customs Union

The Eastern Partnership summit of the European People’s Party (EPP) stressing Armenia’s growing Western orientation, took place in Yerevan last week. The summit was attended by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat, EPP Chairman Wilfried Martens and others. At the conclusion of the Summit a so-called “Yerevan Declaration” was adopted.

“The talks between Armenia and the European Union about the agreement on visa facilitation have been completed and the document will be signed within a few days and will take effect before mid-2013,” Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said after the summit.

Meanwhile, it has been announced that Sargsyan will be participating in the CIS summit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, on December 4. It is expected that “tempting” offers to join the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus will be made to Armenia at this summit of post-Soviet states, but Armenia is likely to refuse to do so again. Sargsyan has spoken about the terms of an association agreement with the EU very firmly.

Visiting Yerevan for the EPP Eastern Partnership Summit on November 30 European Commission President Barroso acknowledged the discussions in Armenia regarding the combination of relations with the European Union and the country’s strategic partner, Russia. Barosso said that it was up to Armenia to make a choice, on his part stressing that the EU wanted closer relations with Yerevan based on shared values.

Russian Senator Nikolai Ryzhkov, a National Hero of Armenia, also spoke about Armenia having to make a choice a day before as he visited the country. Ryzhkov stressed that no one, however, was waiting for Armenia in Europe with “kisses and hugs.” As the Armenian president said, after signing a visa facilitation agreement with the EU, Armenia will be ready to start negotiations on abolishing the visa regime. He reminded that beginning in January 2013 there will be no visa requirement for EU citizens wishing to visit Armenia.

Before the next summit scheduled in Vilnius, Lithuania, in November 2013, Armenia plans to complete talks on the Association Agreement, including negotiations on a deep and comprehensive free trade area, Sargsyan said. Barroso, in turn, said that after the end of the negotiations Armenia’s prospect will be even firmer. Among the things that Europe asks in exchange, officially, are fair presidential elections. Unofficially, Armenia is expected to reject Russian integration proposals. Armenia seems to have accepted both conditions.

“Armenia is committed to holding, in February 2013, a presidential election meeting the highest international standards,” stated Sargsyan, who will be one of the candidates, vying for reelection. He also thanked the European Commission for the promotion of Armenian reform and willingness to extend its support on the “More for More” principle.

Barroso, speaking at the Center for European Studies at the Matenadaran, said that Europe was ready to increase its support. “I mean not only financial support, although Armenia has already received 15 million euro under the Eastern Partnership program. A positive process of reform has led to the initialing of an agreement on visa facilitation, negotiations on the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Trade Zone are continuing,” said Barroso.

Both the president of Armenia and the head of the European Commission repeatedly noted that Armenia stood at the sources of Christianity and that Europe is based on Christian values of freedom and equality. “As a family of Christian Democratic parties, EPP can not tolerate the violations of democratic rights, xenophobia, militaristic rhetoric, the threat of the use of force. We cannot but be worried that Turkey, which is seeking to become an EU member, continues to illegally blockade Armenia. I am sure that the border must be opened without preconditions,” the Armenian leader stressed.

EPP, established in 1976, is one of the largest and most influential European-level political parties. The EPP includes major parties such as the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), French Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Italian People of Freedom (PdL), Spanish People's Party (PP), and Polish Civic Platform (PO), but has member parties in almost all EU states. It has no member party in the United Kingdom, as the British Conservative Party do not agree with the EPP’s federalist policies, and formed the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists. From among political parties from post-Soviet countries it includes only parties of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. Apart from Sargsyan’s Republican Party of Armenia, Armenia is represented at EPP by two other parties – governing coalition member Orinats Yerkir and opposition Heritage party.

EU, Armenia Aim to Advance Relations in Yerevan

The European Union and Armenia are building a strong relationship based on political association, economic integration and deeper people-to-people contacts, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said following his meeting in Yerevan with President Serzh Sarkisian.

“Democratic institutions, independence of the judiciary, political pluralism, media freedom and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms are the lifeblood of our partnership,” Barroso stressed, adding this had been his key message in the meetings with Armenia’s political leaders, parliamentarians and civil society.

The European Commission President hailed progress in the negotiations on the Association Agreement (including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area), due to be concluded in time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013.

Barroso also cited headway in the Mobility dialogue, with the expected signature of the Visa Facilitation Agreement on 17 December, followed, at a later date, by the signature of the Readmission Agreement. He also commended Armenia for the good conduct of the Parliamentary elections in May 2012, saying he was reassured by the President’s personal commitment to address the shortcomings raised by the OSCE/ODIHR mission.

The EU fully recognizes Armenia’s commitment to reforms and the efforts being made, said Barroso, adding the EU was determined to support Armenia, in particular by stepping up its assistance to the country this year with an additional €15 million for an existing project on the reform of the Judiciary and for an on-going operation on Vocational and Education Training.

President Barroso stressed the EU’s commitment to peace and regional stability, in particular through efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the framework of the Minsk Group, and reiterated the EU’s readiness “to provide enhanced support for confidence building measures if the parties so wish.”

In Yerevan, President Barroso said the EU attached great importance to Armenia as a country and to the Eastern neighborhood as a whole. He told an audience at the National Manuscript Museum in Yerevan that the EU and Armenia were discussing the possibility of replacing the ENP Action Plan with an ‘Association Agenda’ – “a more focused tool which will prepare the road for the implementation of our new Agreement.”

In his speech, President Barroso focused on the role of civil society in the reform process. He said the EU had developed a new instrument – the Neighborhood Civil Society Facility – “to provide additional grant support and encourage concrete actions from civil society.” He also voiced hope that the EU’s support to NGOs will continue through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights and through thematic programmes for non-state actors, as well as other EU instruments.

“But beyond the instruments what is important to note here is the political will – the political commitment to work together with your country. We believe that Armenia is a European country, that you belong to the European family of nations and that we have everything to gain from working even closer,” Barroso said.

“The Armenian people have always been steady in their aspiration to have a government system anchored on European values – freedom, democracy and rule of law. We view the cooperation with European structures as an important factor for Armenia’s institutional reinforcement and implementation of effective reforms,” Sarkisian told reporters after meeting with Barroso.

He reiterated Armenia’s resolve to deepen and develop the Armenia-EU cooperation. “We aim to complete the negotiations on the Association Agreement, including the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, before the summit in Vilnius scheduled for November 2013 and thus raise our relations to a new level.”

“During the meeting I expressed our conviction that it’s necessary to deepen the cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership format. Closed borders,  threats of use of force, xenophobia and racism have no place in the 21st century. All our statements and actions become imperfect, if against their background one of the partner countries calls the people of another partner country an enemy. This is a classical and disgusting example of hatred,” explained Sarkisian.

“We cannot pretend that it’s normal that Turkey, which is a member of the G20 and bids for EU membership, illegally keeps the border of its Eastern partner Armenia closed. This does not only contradict the simple logic of partnership, but also violates the basic principles and norms of international law. In Europe borders should not be used as dividing lines,” said Sarkisian.

“Armenia has declared on many occasions that Nagorno Karabakh is part of the European family, the bearer of the same values. Therefore, we attach importance to the immediate contacts of EU representatives with Nagorno Karabakh, particularly their periodic visits,” he said.


Barroso Comes to Armenia’s Aid

While Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and his foreign minister have traveled around the world extensively in 2012, they don’t seem to have played host to many senior guests in their own country during the year. Hosting European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and neighboring Georgia’s leader attending a major European summit in Yerevan these days is rather an exception that proves what has been a rule for Armenia recently.

Meanwhile, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the authoritarian leader of Turkmenistan, a Central Asian country rich in natural gas resources, has been the highest guest to pay an official visit to Armenia (November 29-30) as head of state so far this year. Critics say this situation shows the failure of Armenia’s foreign policy to maintain balance despite assurances to the contrary from the country’s top diplomats and political leadership.

Before Berdimuhamedov the last time Yerevan hosted a head of state was in December 2011 when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid a short visit that had been delayed several times before that. Earlier, in October 2011, the then president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, visited Armenia ahead of his reelection bid in an apparent move to win the favors of his country’s sizable ethnic Armenian community.

Even the summit of the leaders of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a defense pact of six post-Soviet countries led by allied Russia, did not take place in Yerevan despite its announcement for September. It was preceded by talk that presidents of the member states would arrive in Yerevan to observe the CSTO military exercise.

There are several possible reasons for presidents of other countries to be reluctant to visit Armenia, including because the country is marginalized in terms of its participation in major international political and economic projects. But the main factor appears to be the changing foreign policy orientation of the South Caucasus country.

President Sargsyan stubbornly insists on a policy of European integration, which itself assumes reduction of contacts at the level of post-Soviet countries. This is what Russia and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States can clearly see now. In his recent comments one senior Russian Foreign Ministry official even made a reference to Armenia as a country with aspirations to integrate with the European Union and NATO. It is this new orientation that experts say may have played a role in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “cancelling” his visit to Armenia in 2012 despite a number of announcements made about his plans. (Official Moscow and Yerevan denied any official plans for such a visit). Meanwhile, during the days of the CSTO exercises in Armenia when Putin’s visit was expected the country was unexpectedly visited by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Member of the Council of the Federation of the Russian Federal Assembly Nikolay Ryzhkov told reporters in Yerevan on Thursday that Putin was likely to visit Armenia in 2013, but he did not name any dates. The visit of France’s new president Francois Hollande to Armenia in 2013 was announced during President Sargsyan’s visit to Paris earlier this month. And 2012 would remain the year of “the Turkmen president’s visit” except for the Eastern Partnership Summit of the European People’s Party, which is scheduled to open in Yerevan today, November 30. The summit will be attended by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of Georgia, Mikhail Sakashvili, and others.

Still, it does not remove questions regarding the efficiency of Armenia’s foreign policy as many in Armenia criticize the foreign minister for taking unnecessary trips to distant countries that do not hold out any big prospects of interesting projects, attraction of investments or generate political interest otherwise. And vice versa, critics insist that visits to Armenia by leaders of countries like Turkmenistan, Belarus and other “rogue” states do not contribute to Armenia’s image and reputation in the world.

This impression could have been leveled if, for instance, Armenia and Turkmenistan announced the conclusion of some fundamental agreement. But no such agreement was announced, after all. Instead, Yerevan State University (YSU) awarded Turkmenistan’s authoritarian leader with the title of Honorary Doctor. Iran’s Ahmadinejad also received an honorary doctorate from YSU in 2007.


EU-Armenia Trade Talks are Hailed

The European Union-Armenia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee concluded its 13th session Friday and issued a joint statement that touched on all facets of Armenia-EU relations, especially the steps the two are taking in ratifying a comprehensive free trade agreement.

Under the co-chairmanship of Milan Cabrnoch (European Conservatives and Reformists Group) and Samvel Farmanyan (Republican Party of Armenia), the 13th meeting of the EU-Armenia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee carefully addressed the key elements of furthering EU-Armenia relations. The Committee heard John Kjaer, from the European External Action Service and Avet Adonts, Ambassador of Armenia to the EU.

The PCC discussed the negotiations for a new Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), should be concluded before the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Vilnius in November next year. The European Parliament and the Armenian National Assembly in their combined Parliamentary Cooperation Committee positively evaluated the ongoing negotiations and the connected reforms in Armenia, calling for a conclusion of the negotiations if possible before the Vilnius summit.

As for the regional stability and security issues, the PCC conclusions reiterate the need for a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group Basic Principles, “stresses the importance of reaching an agreement on Basic Principles for settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as an important step towards a comprehensive peace agreement to ensure lasting and sustainable peace; further stresses the importance of creating suitable conditions for a future legally-binding free expression of will concerning a final status solution.”

The PCC “deplores the decision by the President of Azerbaijan to pardon Ramil Safarov, a convicted murderer sentenced by the courts of a Member State of the European Union, and expresses its deep concern over his subsequent glorification after his extradition to Azerbaijan; regards this gesture as not only contrary to the spirit of international law but as contributing to further tensions in the region, exacerbating feelings of injustice; condemns any provocation that would add further tension to an already tense and fragile situation”; and

“Is deeply concerned that such acts could jeopardise reconciliation attempts and further undermine the future development of peaceful people-to-people contact in the region, which is a significant way to achieve lasting and sustainable peace.”

Moreover, the document highlights the EU-Armenian common ground on the planned opening of an airport in Nagorno-Karabakh, “welcomes all statements contributing to the peaceful settlement of the conflict and reminds that regarding the planned opening of an airport in Nagorno-Karabakh, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs have received renewed assurances from all sides that, in accordance with international law, they reject any threat or use of force against civil aircraft and will refrain from politicizing the issue.”

As for the normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations, the document calls upon Turkey, in particular, to meet its commitments: “Believes that the Armenia-Turkey normalization process and the OSCE Minsk Group negotiations should not be linked and supports all initiatives aimed at facilitation of regional cooperation, thus ending the policies of economic isolation of any country in the region.”

“Recalls the European Parliament resolution of 1987 on recognition of the Armenian Genocide; is however encouraged by the fact that the issue has, in recent years, become the focus of open and public debate in Turkey itself, which could contribute to reconciliation between the two neighboring nations ensuring their peaceful co-existence and lasting cooperation,” said the document.


Top American Firms Call For US Trade Agreement with Armenia

A wide range of US companies doing business in Armenia, including Microsoft, FedEx, and NASDAQ, have, in letters shared with the U.S. Embassy, called upon the Obama Administration to take concrete action prioritizing the growth of U.S.-Armenia economic relations through the negotiation of a bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).  The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), in the interest of job-creation in both America and Armenia, is actively engaged with the White House, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Congress, and the Departments of State, Treasury and Commerce in support of a broad array of practical steps and policies to promote U.S.-Armenia economic and commercial relations.

These firms employ thousands in Armenia and world-wide, generate tens of millions of dollars in revenues, and are engines of progress, friendship, and cooperation for both nations.  Among those joining with Microsoft, FedEx, and NASDAQ in petitioning for a TIFA were: Marriott, Ameria Banking Group, Prudence Legal Advisory and Counseling, Grant Thornton, Baker Tilley Armenia, Synergy, Tufenkian Heritage Hotels, Altacode, Leda Campus LLC, Levon Travel, Unicomp, Synopsys, Megerian Carpet, National Instruments, Mentor Graphics, First Mortgage, Geoteam, Hylink, LC Distribution, and Linkgard Systems.

The Armenian government has long been on record requesting that its U.S. partners join with them in negotiating a TIFA, as well as a much-needed Double Tax Treaty.  The American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia, through the active leadership of its Chairman, Edward Mouradian and professional support from its Executive Director Diana Gaziyan, has played a vital role in giving voice to the public policy priorities of the U.S. business community in Armenia.  Many members of the U.S. Congress have expressed their support for a U.S.-Armenia TIFA, as has the Armenian National Committee of America.  President Obama, for his part, promised, during his 2008 campaign, to foster expanded trade with Armenia.  U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern, during his confirmation process, also spoke of his interest in expanding the U.S.-Armenia trade relationship.

Beyond reinforcing the strong cultural bonds between the American and Armenian peoples, these corporations, in their letters, pointed out that the creation of a TIFA platform for ongoing bilateral economic dialogue would help facilitate a broad range of benefits to both the United States and Armenia, including:
  • Improving the investment climate, identifying priority areas for growth, and building trade capacity
  • Addressing regional trade issues, including the special hardships faced by Armenia due to the blockades imposed on its borders by Turkey and Azerbaijan
  • Streamlining customs systems, and increasing the transparency of governmental processes related to imports and exports
  • Discussing the effectiveness of current programs in Armenia of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency
  • Expanding agricultural trade and investment
  • Growing the level of trade in services, including banking, insurance, and tourism
  • Promoting Diasporan trade and investment, with a special focus on expanding

Armenian American trade and investment partnerships with Armenia
  • Improving Armenia’s use of U.S. Generalized System of Preferences benefits
  • Addressing any outstanding problems in the area of intellectual property rights
  • Exploring ways to deepen future U.S.-Armenia trade and investment

In their letters, these firms stressed their interest in building upon a TIFA platform through additional bilateral accords, notably a Double Tax Treaty, a Social Security Agreement, and, ultimately, a Free Trade Agreement. Copies of the letters, addressed to President Obama, were handed to Ambassador Heffern today during his meetings with Armenian American organizations and community members in the Los Angeles area.  Ambassador Heffern is participating in a series of community outreach meetings and town halls in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and New York.

The level of U.S. leadership in promoting trade and investment with Armenia was the subject of a recent, widely-circulated Asbarez commentary:  No Effort or Progress on Fostering U.S.-Armenia Trade and Investment.