What happened recently to Armenia was nothing more or less than a slap in the face of the EU. Russia proved once again a master of political intrigue making and geopolitical manipulations by making Armenia surrender in the game over strategic partnership for the future. It dealt a blow to the EU's entire Eastern Partnership Program.
The question arises as to whether we irreversibly lost Armenia or whether Russia issued a warning to other partners of this program including the major country without which this project is doomed to failure – Ukraine? I would argue that things are more complex than they appear at first glance.
First and foremost, Russia skilfully exploited Armenia’s fears and insecurities. It is a secret of Polichinelle that Armenia has no genuine friends. At this point, this country which has a quite dramatic and tragic history resembles Israel. Russia is no friend to Armenia, it has never been so, and probably never will be. Russia will always use Armenia's fragility and vulnerability. Stability of and peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan does not serve Russia's purposes. Let’s call a spade a spade.
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The same applies to Iran, which is an important player with a historically formed tradition to include an influential Armenian minority in its economic and public affairs, and which is a crucially important alternative source of oil and gas supplies should Armenia lose Russia’s favour in trade and energy contracts. To put it simple, Iran is no friend of Armenia either.
As far as friendship between Armenia and these two countries is concerned, Russia and Iran could best be described by referring to the Russian poet and actor Vladimir Vysotsky’s song about those who are neither friends nor enemies, and who are standing somewhere between the two. Complications with Turkey are too obvious to need emphasis. Friendship with Azerbaijan looks like a dirty joke.
Even so, the reasons of this total failure of the EU lie elsewhere. Had the EU been keener on Armenia by offering it a vision for the future and persuading its political elite to seek opportunities, safety, and security for their nation in the EU, Russia would never have won the battle so easily. My own experience as an MEP suggests that we are now facing the consequences of our militant mercantilism, cheap rhetoric and complacency.
Anyone knowledgeable of EU policies is aware of the fact that Azerbaijan has been far more successful in winning the sentiments and sympathies of European policy makers than Armenia. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between the two countries has split international opinion. Like in the Middle East where it would be pointless and preposterous to paint the world black and white arguing that one side is one hundred percent right and other wrong, taking sides is counterproductive here, too. It is no option when confidence building is pivotal for both nations in their conflict.
The wealth, luxurious receptions of MPs and MEPs alike, ambitions, and active diplomacy paved the way for Azerbaijan to the double standards, all-forgiveness, all-permissiveness, lies, and sheer demagoguery of European political classes with which they assessed an awful human rights record and the level of democracy in Azerbaijan. No-one is perfect there, quite far from it, and yet the fact remains that Armenia’s human rights record was and continues to be incomparably better than that of Azerbaijan.
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And here comes the most unpleasant fact related to my country. Since Armenia is seen by the majority of conservative Lithuanian politicians as pro-Russian, while Azerbaijan far more as pro-American, Azerbaijan won its propaganda-and-moral-support-war in the Baltic States. The enemy of my enemy is my friend – this logic can be grossly and dangerously misleading.
More than once I clearly saw how tendentiously Lithuanian politicians took the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In a biased manner, they were using their skepticism to Armenia to express their negative attitude to Russia (which per se cannot surprise anyone who is not devoid of a sense of reality, and who can see what is happening in Putin’s Russia). Yet taking sides and turning a blind eye to the faults of your favourite is a mean adviser in politics. It always leads to a no-win situation.
Whatever the case, this guilt by association is a flaw of political reasoning and also a token of poor political culture. No matter what they say or what they pledge, Armenia is as remote from Russia as Azerbaijan from the USA. Ultimately, every country pursues its own vital interests. We could have done much more to keep Armenia on the side of the EU. Yet our greed and obsession with oil, gas, energy, new political liaisons and quick benefits, red carpets, all this Vanity Fair led the EU to a shocking fiasco.
John Donne’s Meditation XVII has never been as telling as it is now: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the mainland; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
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Never ask for whom the bell tolls. Ukraine got a clear signal that Russia will do its utmost to blackmail, frame, set up, bribe, or otherwise affect Ukraine before the Vilnius summit in November.