YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — The head of the EU delegation to Armenia has expressed confidence that planned negotiations on a new comprehensive political and economic agreement between the bloc and Yerevan won’t be derailed by “a third party’s negative involvement.”
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am), Ambassador Piotr Switalski, head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, said that based on the statements by Russian officials, including a deputy foreign minister, made through media, Russia has nothing against the development of ties between Brussels and Yerevan.
Last month the EU formally authorized its executive body, the European Commission, to launch negotiations with Armenia on a new legal basis for relations that will be a substitute for an Association Agreement that both sides nearly finalized two years ago.
In a clear policy U-turn in September 2013 Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian unexpectedly precluded the signing of that agreement by announcing the decision to take Armenia to a Russian-led customs union. Many analysts put that volte-face down to strong pressure from Moscow, but official Yerevan has never acknowledged that.
Yerevan and Brussels later began exploring possibilities of negotiating a less ambitious accord that would not contradict Armenia’s commitments as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union.
“I am confident that this negotiation will not be derailed through a third party’s negative involvement,” Switalski said in a Sunday analytical show on Azatutyun TV. He emphasized that it is a principle for the EU not to involve third parties in any negotiations on bilateral accords.
“I think that Russia should be interested that Armenia has as many friends as possible,” Switalski said. “The European Union is coming to Armenia as a friend. We are the biggest donor in Armenia, we are the biggest export market for Armenia, we are the biggest direct investor in Armenia and it is quite natural bearing in mind the role of the European Union in the Armenian economy that we want to have a solid contractual basis for our relations. So, I hope that this time we will avoid complications and sudden turnarounds.”
The senior diplomat said that on its part the European Union is returning to negotiations with Armenia “in good faith.”
“When we start negotiations we aim at concluding them with success. And here there is no change in our position. Neither now nor before the European Union tried to impose anything on Armenia or any other partner. However, the lesson of previous developments is clear, and I hope that this time the Armenian authorities know the margin of maneuver, know exactly how far they can engage with the European Union,” said Switalski.
“I hope that everything that we will be negotiating will be based on a sovereign decision of Armenia.”
The ambassador concluded by saying that the EU has a “positive agenda” in Armenia: “We want to help, no strings attached, we have no hidden agenda in Armenia. We want Armenians to feel part of the bigger European family.”