CHISINAU, Moldova—Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian at a news conference in Chisinau has urged the European Union to press Turkey to normalize relations with Armenia, saying that the closed border between the two neighboring states will hamper the implementation of Yerevan’s forthcoming Association Agreement with the EU.
“Within the framework of the [EU’s] Eastern Partnership, Armenia attaches great importance to ending the practice of closed borders,” Sarkisian said during a visit to Moldova late on Thursday.
“The agreement on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which is currently being negotiated with the European Union, cannot work in full, after coming into force, if the Armenian-Turkish border remains closed. We think that the European Union should seriously address the issue of closed borders because their existence cannot make trade with the EU’s customs union effective,” he said.
The Armenian leader referred to the customs union of the EU member states and Turkey that came into effect in 1996, abolishing virtually all trade barriers. The DCFTA is a similar arrangement that will be a key element of the Armenia-EU Association Agreement.
The EU has long been advocating an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations. Accordingly, it strongly backed normalization protocols signed by Ankara and Yerevan in 2009. The Turkish government makes their parliamentary ratification conditional on a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. The Armenian side rejects this precondition.
EU leaders have likewise called for an unconditional implementation of the protocols. But they do not seem to have raised the matter in ongoing talks on Turkey’s membership of the EU.
The European Union’s Eastern Partnership program for Armenia and five other former Soviet republics is not designed to weaken their links with Russia or any other state, Sarkisian insisted late on Thursday.
“From our perspective, the Eastern Partnership is an initiative aimed at creating cooperation rather than differences. It is not directed against any state or grouping of states. This partnership is aimed at finally overcoming division lines,” he said during a visit to Moldova.
Sarkisian was speaking at a joint news conference in Chisinau with the leaders of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia whose parties are affiliated with the European People’s Party (EPP). They, as well as EPP President Wilfried Martens, addressed the media after discussing preparations for an EU summit on the Eastern Partnership due in November. The EU is expected to finalize “association agreements” with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova during that summit.
Sarkisian’s remarks came amid signs that Russia, which has viewed the Eastern Partnership with suspicion, is unhappy with Armenia’s plans to conclude the association accord and hence avoid joining a proposed Eurasia Union of ex-Soviet states loyal to Moscow.
In an interview published on Monday, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, until recently Russia’s ambassador to Armenia, warned that Yerevan will undermine its close ties with Moscow if it steers clear of the Russian-led union. Konstantin Zatulin, a prominent Russian pundit and former parliamentarian, likewise criticized “the disdainful attitude to the Eurasian integration project in Armenia” on Thursday.
“The West is competing with Russia, trying to impede any integration processes in the Eurasian space,” Zatulin told the Regnum news agency. “He who sides with our competitor will face consequences of that choice,” he warned.
The Russian government has so far issued no such warnings in public. Sarkisian insisted in March that Yerevan is not under Russian pressure to promise membership of the Eurasian Union.