Armenian MPs vote down proposal to consider quitting EEU

Armenian MPs vote down proposal to consider quitting EEU
By bne IntelliNews October 5, 2017

The Armenian national assembly turned down a motion on October 4 to revisit the country's membership in the Russia-led economic bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). 

Armenia joined the EEU in January 2015, at a time when the economy of Russia and other countries in the region were badly hit by low commodity prices and a generally depressed economic environment. Seeing how Russia is Armenia's primary trade, investment and diplomatic partner, and how the country relies on remittances from Russia for almost 10% of its GDP, the downturn in its northern neighbour stalled its growth in turn. However, both trade and investment have since picked up.

Put forward by the pro-Western opposition party Yelq, the motion was turned down by the Republican majority in parliament at a session on October 4. 79 MPs voted against the proposal to set up a commission to work on a bill on Armenia's withdrawal from the EEU, while just 10 were in favour. 

In addition to Russia and Armenia, the EEU comprises of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Armenia has little trade with the other members and, in the case of Kazakhstan has even been through diplomatic tensions because of the latter's support for Azerbaijan in the conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Yelq chairman Nikol Pashinyan has argued that, by joining the EEU, Armenia has lost both economically and in terms of its defence capabilities. He asked the government to substantiate the purported benefits of EEU membership. In response, Eduard Sharmazanov of the ruling Republican Party said that leaving the EEU would represent a blow to the Armenian economy. He offered the example of the low prices that Russia charges Armenia for natural gas.

Yelq's motion reflects the opinions of some Armenians about Russia. While the Kremlin has historically supported Armenia and, critically, helped it during the early 1990s war with Azerbaijan, it has lately been playing both sides and has sold $4bn worth of armaments to Baku. This, coupled with images of Azerbaijani soldiers using Russian weapons to target Nagorno-Karabakh, has been perceived as Moscow having betrayed its old ally.

Furthermore, being so close to Russia makes it difficult for Armenia to engage with the EU more deeply. For instance, a free trade agreement between Armenia and the EU would likely be difficult because the small nation is already a member of another trade bloc.