Armenia's Desire for EU Membership and Iran's Stance

Armenia's Desire for EU Membership and Iran's Stance
The most suitable format among the potential scenarios for Iran is the 3+3 formula, which does not include any other actors from the region.
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Researcher Oral Toğa

Armenia has been vocally expressing its desire to join the European Union (EU) for some time. Both the recent statements by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the remarks made by Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan during his participation in the Antalya Diplomacy Forum (ADF) to TRT World indicate serious steps Armenia plans to take in its application for candidacy to the EU. On the other hand, Pashinyan's statement that "Armenia is ready to get as close as possible to the EU" demonstrates the Pashinyan government's realistic approach, showing a desire to develop relations with Europe as closely as possible, even if full membership might not be feasible.

Is Armenia's EU Membership Possible?

Before addressing the scenarios in front of Iran, it's necessary to examine the current situation in Armenia. It should be noted that not only in the Civil Contract Party led by Pashinyan but also among the general public, there is a strong desire to break away from Russia's influence and see a more integrated Armenia with the West. Despite losing a war, the public voted for Pashinyan's party, bringing it back to power. The government's ambition to integrate with the West is so strong that, in addition to expressing a desire for EU membership, Armenia has been purchasing weapons from France and India, conducting military exercises with the USA, and sending aid to Kyiv. However, the reality on the ground and statistics paint a different picture. It is necessary to mention that Armenia's dependency on Russia is quite high. Considering Russian military bases, metallurgy, energy sector, border control, Russia's intelligence network in the country, Armenian businessmen living in Russia, etc., it seems difficult for Armenia's EU goals to advance beyond rhetoric in the short to medium term. The mutual dependency suggests that the power in Armenia does not seem capable, raising the question of whether there is the capacity to realize such intentions.

Statistics support this claim. According to data from the International Trade Centre (ITC), since the war in Ukraine, there have been interesting numerical jumps in Armenia's exports to Russia. For example, there have been significant increases in the export of goods to Russia that are not produced in Armenia at all, such as smart phones and similar products. Armenia exported smart phones worth 980 million dollars in 2020, 188 million in 2021, and 251 million dollars in 2022 to Russia. Similarly, for screens, projection products, etc., Armenia exported goods worth 55 thousand dollars in 2020, only 4 thousand dollars in 2021, and 91 million dollars in 2022 to Russia. These numbers are proof that Russia is using Armenia as a bridge to circumvent the sanctions imposed on it, with numerous analyses in the international literature on this topic.

As the number of messages from Russia advising Armenia to stay away from the West increases, the tone of these statements is getting harsher. Subsequent analyses published after the expression of the desire for EU membership emphasize that the biggest obstacle in front of Armenia is the Russian military. Yet, this does not seem easy. Firstly, unlike Ukraine, Armenia does not have a land connection with Russia. However, the entire Armenian army and its staff are integrated into Russia's system. Secondly, despite the fact that Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have a stronger hand than Armenia regarding EU membership, the process and timeline remain unclear. How this process will unfold for Armenia is also a mystery. Thirdly, as mentioned above, there has been a commercial boom between Armenia and Russia after the war in Ukraine. Such a significant commercial boom would make it even more challenging for Armenia, a country already without open borders and access to the sea, to directly confront Russia. Lastly, the issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan have not yet been resolved. Military movements are occurring on both sides, and the tension remains high. If Russia wishes to punish Armenia, it could easily use this tension, as Armenia already accuses Russia of not defending it against Azerbaijan and deems the current security architecture ineffective.

What Does the Armenian Public Say?

There is not a unanimous opinion within the Armenian public. The stance of Pashinyan and his party is quite clear, and Georgia's acquisition of EU membership status seems to have further encouraged Armenia. However, the number of those who are opposed to this idea or approach it with skepticism is not insignificant. Opposing voices argue that such a move would provoke Russia and harm Armenia's national security, while discussions mostly revolve around the Eurasian Economic Union and the concept of "Eurasian Integration." This structure is seen as an alternative to the EU.

Moreover, Russian messages are frequently reported in the Armenian press, and interviews with Russian figures are broadcasted. An interview with Russian journalist Vitaly Tretyakov to the New York-based news site Arajin Lratvakan is a particularly interesting example. Tretyakov explicitly states, "Should Russia recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh? Then recognize the independence of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Novorossiya," and points to Türkiye and Iran as partners for Armenia. In the same interview, he says, "Everyone 'democratized and stabilized' by the West in the last 20 years has either collapsed or is in chaos and war. Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Libya... Anyone who wants to join this list, please cooperate with the USA."

Among the names whose statements were published in Armenia is Viktor Vodolatsky, Deputy Chairman of the Eurasian Integration Committee of the Russian Duma. Vodolatsky states that Pashinyan is following the actions of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and is moving forward in creating an anti-Russian front with the support of the West. According to Vodolatsky, Pashinyan's efforts to weaken relations with Russia and establish closer ties with the West contradict the fact that half of the Armenian population lives in Russia and does not want to sever these ties. Of course, the "other half" Vodolatsky refers to are those in Armenia who did not vote for Pashinyan's party.

Social media users also include those who say, "Armenia should not join." These individuals argue that membership would obligate participation in sanctions against Iran, potentially harming the Armenian minority in Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. They suggest finding a middle way, like in Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, to maintain balanced relations with a variety of institutions, from observer status in BRICS to the Arab League. They state that Armenia should act as a bridge between Iran and the EU.

Where Does Iran Stand in the Equation?

So far, Iran has not officially responded to these developments. Its reluctance to directly oppose its most important ally in the South Caucasus is understandable. However, according to the Armenian press, Iran has been warning Armenia against cooperating with the West. Armenia seeks a security umbrella similar to Greece's against Türkiye and Azerbaijan as part of the EU. Greece is supportive in this regard, but geographically, this is not feasible. Additionally, there are significant trade relations between Iran and the EU. Therefore, France's presence in Armenia is more acceptable than Israel's in Azerbaijan.

Analyses in Iran also share the view that the increase in trade volume between Russia and Armenia has made Armenia more dependent and vulnerable. An analysis published on Khabaronline states, "Due to the increase in concerns about Baku's aggression extending to Armenian territories and the need for more reliable allies than Russia, Pashinyan is trying to strengthen relations with the West. Despite Armenia's deep economic dependency on Russia, Armenian leaders are seeking cooperation on security issues and finding willing partners elsewhere." These and other statements in the analysis indicate a prevailing understanding in Iran regarding Armenia's search. However, Iran is showing this understanding within a comfort zone, mainly gauging Russia's reactions. Since Russia is already not warm to the idea, Iranians are not openly opposing Armenia, and no harsh criticism is coming from official sources or the media. On the other hand, a source mentioned that the signing of the Aras Corridor agreement between Azerbaijan and Iran is a message to Armenia.

In summary, as long as the borders with Armenia are not opened, the Zangezur Corridor is not activated, and relations continue as they are, Armenia moving away from Russia seems unlikely. Even if these occur, it is not possible for Armenia to sever its dependency on Russia in the short to medium term. Following the Karabakh war, a de facto alliance formed between India, Iran, Armenia, France, and Greece. All these countries either provided arms to Armenia or facilitated after the war. France sent armored vehicles to Armenia through Georgia, which did not want to be involved in arms shipments. According to one source, Iran facilitated weapons from India and Iranian military experts were present in Armenia.

In conclusion, Iran faces three scenarios: green-lighting the increase in the EU's influence led by France, not objecting to normalization with Türkiye, or finding a solution within the 3+3 format. Iran does not favor the first two scenarios. Iran, which has strongly opposed Türkiye's corridor initiatives, referred to Zangezur as the "Turan Corridor" or "NATO Corridor." In the first scenario, it's not a surprise that the power settling in the region in the medium term will not only be France but also the USA will actively be present. Therefore, this is not acceptable for Iran. Hence, the most suitable format among the potential scenarios for Iran is the 3+3 formula, which does not include any other actors from the region. This formula is frequently discussed in Iranian media and other platforms.