In a surprise development, on September 3, 2013, Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian announced a dramatic “U-turn” in Armenian policy. While in Moscow, after being summoned to a meeting with his Russian counterpart, the Armenian president promised Russian officials that Armenia would join the Russian-led “Customs Union,” and would support Moscow’s efforts to “integrate” the former Soviet space. That decision effectively ended Armenia’s planned “initializing” of an Association Agreement and related Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the European Union set for the Vilnius Summit in late November 2013..
Clearly, there are several significant strategic concerns, including five immediate implications:
- The abrupt demise of the Association Agreement and its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between Armenia and the EU, thereby relegating Armenia to a lowered status as a mere member of the EU Eastern Partnership program;
- An immediate and significant loss of credibility, contributing to a perception of the Armenian government as insincere and incompetent among Western partners;
- A serious setback to Armenia’s strategic aspirations and Western embrace, thereby limiting Armenia’s options and more firmly locking the country within the Russian orbit, while also confirming the asymmetry of the Armenian-Russian “partnership” or alliance;
- A demonstration of the fundamental flaws in Armenia’s closed decision-making process, given the obvious lack of planning or preparation for such a policy shift, and the notable absence of analysis or assessment of its implications;
- The undermining of the course of economic and political reform, while also significantly weakening and isolating the reformers within the government, and raising fresh fear of new Russian pressure over Armenia’s embrace of Western defense reform.