Category Archives: Armenia

Armenia – Is International Goodwill a Form of Soft Power? Some Insights from the South Caucasus

In September 2016, referring to the parliamentary elections due to be held in the spring of 2017, President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia declared that: “I am sure that all these measures will contribute to raising public confidence in electoral process and ensure that we meet international standards for free and fair elections. Parliamentary elections will be held in our country in several months. The Republic of Armenia will send invitations to all partners for their participation in international monitoring missions[1]”. Even though political leaders do not always implement this kind of declaration, the recent Armenian record gives some backing to the credibility of the statement.

Armenia is not a consolidated democracy, as clearly stated by “Freedom House-Nations in Transit” 2016 report. In 2016 (like in the previous years) Armenia is classed as a semi-consolidated authoritarian regime. In particular, with reference to electoral processes, it is considered that the level of local self-governance remains insufficient. Looking at the executive level, some observers and members of the opposition have criticised the recent constitutional reform[2]. According to them, rather than being aimed at the greater good of the country, the reform represents a tool to extend President Sargsyan position in power. Additionally, corruption remains pervasive. In spite of these and other shortcomings, in recent times Armenia has often searched for international advice and approval before implementing major reforms. Relevant examples of that are the forthcoming parliamentary elections, as hinted at the beginning of the post, and the recent constitutional reform (approved by referendum on December 2015).

International observers have been formally invited to monitor the forthcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for April 2, 2017. More precisely, on January 19, Arsen Babayan, Head of the Information Department of the Armenian National Assembly, declared that four international organisations have been invited: the Council of Europe, PACE, OSCE, and CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly[3]. Such a move was widely expected. Remarkably, in anticipation of a formal invitation from the Armenian authorities, in the past months, the OSCE/ODIHR conducted a “Need Assessment Mission report”, which involved consultations with both institutional and civic actors. As a result, the deployment of 24 long-term observers and 250 short-term observers has been recommended. Additionally, the Armenian government has been cooperating with international donors towards the enhancement of electoral capabilities and transparency. For example, after some talks, the Government and the EU delegation in Armenia agreed on the funding and purchasing of cameras to be placed in the polling stations. Additionally, a program for the timely acquisition of voter identification technologies has been coordinated by UNDP and funded by the EU, the USA, Germany, and Great Britain[4].

This search for the cooperation and, more indirectly, the approval of the international community (especially EU and the US) is not new. As already dealt with in this blog, in July 2015, before submitting the text of the new constitution to the voters, the Armenian authorities asked the Venice Commission (the advisory body of the Council of Europe specialised in constitutional law matters) for an advisory legal opinion. Following the opinion, the draft of the constitutional reform was amended accordingly. This cooperative attitude is diametrically opposed to the hyper-assertive behaviour of neighbouring (and arch-enemy) Azerbaijan. Notably, in November 2016, the Azerbaijani Constitution was modified by referendum. On that occasion, the government in Baku, despite of severe criticism from the opposition, refrained from asking for any external advisory opinion on the draft. Notwithstanding the lack of a formal invitation, but in response to a request from several human rights defenders, the Venice Commission issued an urgent preliminary opinion on the draft (which was not formally discussed by the Azerbaijani authorities), highlighting concerns on matters like civil liberties and over-empowerment of the presidency.

Armenia has nothing specific to gain from being a “good international citizen”. In spite of its membership in the Russian-sponsored Collective Security Treaty Organizations (CSTO) and the Eurasian Union (EEU), Armenia seems to be on remarkably good terms with the EU. Notably, even though no specific dates have been announced yet, Yerevan and Brussels are concluding the negotiation of an agreement to deepen economic and political ties. This is happening roughly three years after a Armenian u-turn. More precisely, in September 2013, after the sudden withdrawal of Yerevan from Association Agreement (AA) talks with the EU, it was made clear that Armenia was not eligible for any alternative form of association. This did not prevent Armenian officials, including the President, from making frequent comments about the desire for cooperation with Brussels[5]. The ongoing search for another form of association seems to have helped the Armenian cause, as shown by the current ongoing negotiations.

In short, Armenia is making successful use of its soft power (i.e. persuading others to do something without resorting to coercion). Notably Yerevan, in spite of its binding ties with Russia, has convinced the EU of the importance of not abandoning its “willing child”. Even though it would be superficial and dismissive to ascribe this outcome solely to Armenia’s “good international attitude”, it is safe to say that it has played some role.

If this hypothesis is correct, it can allow us to make sense of soft-power strategies implemented by extra-European states[6]. In particular, it can help us to understand why mega-events, such as sporting competitions, have limited power in seducing an external (Western) audience. As Nye points out, “The best propaganda is not propaganda”. This refers to the mediocre outcomes of Russian and Chinese soft-power strategies, which project a government-crafted message that, ultimately, is not credible[7]. A similar point can be made about neighbouring Azerbaijan, which for years has implemented an (expensive) state-sponsored public diplomacy strategy, involving both grand events and a carefully planned official narrative. In spite of the effort, during the “European Games” of 2015 the international spotlight was on political prisoners rather than on the brand-new stadiums[8].  At things stand, Baku seems to have acknowledged the limited effectivity of the strategy.

In summary, Armenia, notwithstanding its binding ties with Russia, has been successful in portraying itself as an eager partner of the EU. In addition, both before the recent constitutional reform and the forthcoming parliamentary election, external advice and approval have been proactively sought. This is in sharp contrast to the Azerbaijani strategy, which until recently was more focused on grand events rather than on initiatives and reforms that were geared towards external observers[9].  Going beyond these cases, these observations may be relevant to the broader understanding of soft-power tools. While the limits of building stadiums seems have been realised now, more attention should be paid to “international goodwill”.

This research was supported by a FP7/Marie Curie ITN action. Grant agreement N°: 316825

Notes

[1] ARMINFO News Agency. 2016. “Armenia’s President: Armenia’s new government’s task is to give new impetus to development of economy”, September 17 (retrieved through LexisNexis).

[2] This blog has analysed the Armenian constitutional reform, including the public debate around it, in the following dates: November 30, 2016; December 9, 2015; September 13, 2015.

[3] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Arsen Babayan: 4 international organizations invited to observe parliamentary elections in Armenia”, January 19.

[4] ARMINFO News Agency. 2017. “Negotiations continue on installing video cameras in polling stations in Armenia, Switalski says”, January 24.

[5] Loda, C., 2016, May. Perception of the EU in Armenia: A View from the Government and Society. In Caucasus, the EU and Russia-Triangular Cooperation? (pp. 131-152). Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG.

[6] Providing a detailed account of the Armenian geopolitical membership may be daunting. Even though the country is geographically much closer to Teheran than to Brussels, the Armenian political narrative has consistently emphasised the belonging of the country to the European-Christian civilisation.

[7] Nye, J.S. 2013. “What China and Russia Don’t Get About Soft Power”, National Herald Tribune, May 2 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[8] Loda, C. 2016. “Azerbaijan, Foreign Policy and Public Diplomacy”. Irish Studies in International Affairs, 1-17. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3318/isia.2016.27.7.

[9] Also in the case of Azerbaijan, the targeted audience is the western one. For a more detailed analysis, see: Loda, Azerbaijan, Foreign Policy and Public Diplomacy.

Armenia – One year after the Constitutional Reform: Future perspectives for the President and his party

In 2015, after a referendum, Armenia voted to switch from a semi-presidential political system to a parliamentarian one. As a consequence of that, most governing prerogatives are due to shift from the president to the prime minister. This change has been accompanied by discussions about the implications of the change. Notably, both before and after the vote, the public debate has focused on the consequences on the tenure in power of President Serzh Sargsyan, who has been ambiguous as to whether he will run for Prime Minister after the end of his second and last presidential mandate. Almost one year after the constitutional amendment, the debate has not ceased.

The debate about the constitutional reform has centred on the personal gains of politicians (especially the serving President) rather than on the institutional implication. This is nothing new in either an Armenian or the South Caucasian context. More than a decade ago, in the months preceding the Armenian Constitutional Reform in 2005, the public debate in Yerevan focused on how the new legislative provisions would give substantial immunity to the president[1]. Similarly, in 2010, when neighbouring Georgia approved a similar reform to the 2015 Armenian constitutional change, critics observed that it would secure then then President Mikheil Saakashvili’s position in power. In the end, the electoral defeat of Mr Saakashvili’s party (UNM) in the 2012 parliamentary election was followed by a smooth transfer of power, often saluted by external observers as a crucial moment in the Georgian path towards democratisation.

Back in Armenia, the debate has been recently revitalised after the public declarations of the President. At the end of October 2016, when asked by Al Jazeera about his intention to run for Prime Minister in 2017, President Sargsyan answered evasively: “You know, I find it too early for these conversations.” While, for roughly one month, Mr Sargsyan refrained from further comments, in the following days and weeks different comments came from the ruling majority, the opposition and the press. Tatevik Shahunyan, who is Vice Speaker of the Armenian Parliament and Spokesman for the ruling “Republican Party” (RP), declared that it was premature to talk about the political future of the President before knowing the results of the Parliamentary elections in 2017; this statement neither confirmed nor denied the scenario of Mr Sargsyan becoming Prime Minister at the end of his presidential mandate[2].

As expected, the opposition commented on these developments in a much more decisive way. Levon Zurabian, a parliamentary leader of Armenian National Congress (HAK), interpreted President Sarksyan’s statement as an admission of political ambitions beyond his presidential mandate. This opinion was promptly reiterated by Mr Zaruhi Postanjian, the leader of Heritage party. The press enriched the debate by pointing out the potential intra-party implications of this “tandem”. The pro-opposition paper Zhamanak reported that an exceptional electoral result by the ruling Republican Party might be interpreted as stemming from the work of the current Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan. In that case, his resignation in favour of Serzh Sargsyan would seem illogical. President Sargsyan might benefit more from a “moderately good” result which, without jeopardising the ruling majority, would not be interpreted as the personal success of Mr Karapetyan[3].

After roughly a month of silence, President Sargsyan finally spoke both about the Prime Ministership and party unity, denying any conflict between his personal ambitions and the future of his faction. On November 26, in occasion of a speech given at the “16th Convention of the Republican Party of Armenia[4]”, he ruled out the immediate substitution of the Prime Minister, saying that:  “[I]n case we receive the vote of trust in the coming elections, our government will again be headed by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian who will continue to implement the current programs.”. In spite of this declaration, which in any case did not clarify President Sargsyan’s intention after the end of his presidential mandate in 2018, some members of the opposition maintained their comments. For example, Levon Zurabyan (HAK) declared: “Karen Karapetyan is being used by the PR to secure their success in the parliamentary election. That will later pave Serzh Sargsyan’s way to the prime minister’s office”.

In relation to intra-party dynamics, President Sargsyan’s speech placed the emphasis on the need for the Republican Party to unite[5] and promote the modernization of the country. Notably, significant space was devoted to the economic results obtained in the last eight years in the face of the global financial crisis. He pointed out the need for Armenia to undergo a broad process of reforms, both in relation to the economic development of the country and in the face of external challenges. In the words of President Sargsyan: “We need to reduce and eliminate the negative [spill-over of the hostile external environment]. Any successful reform will bring also new success in other areas”. This insistence on change seems to refer not only to future targets but also to measures adopted in the recent months. Notably, a reduction in the gas price, effective as of July 2017, was approved in October. In the same month, an anticorruption bill was voted.

The lengthy speech by President Sargsyan at the annual party convention suggests that the forthcoming parliamentary campaign will be mostly centred on economic themes rather than on strong personalities. That is in line with one of the declared goals of the constitutional reform, namely the replacement of a people-based political culture with the consolidation of ideological platforms. Pertinently, the President’s rhetoric reveals the attempt to minimise intra-party divisions and shift the attention to a programmatic platform. In this perspective, the opposition, which is hardly unified, has already expressed its interest in joining forces to prevent a landslide victory of the Republican Party. The next months will be crucial in understanding whether the soon-to-be introduced parliamentary system can indeed foster democratisation as claimed by its proponents, rather than being the vehicle for personal political ambitions.

Notes

[1] Arminfo News Agency. 2005. “Those Who State that the Bill of Constitutional Reform will lead to Impunity of the President are Unaware of the Bill”, November 26 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[2] ARMINFO News Agency. 2016. “Sharmazanov in the footsteps of Serzh Sargsyan’s interview to Al Jazeera: It is tactless to speak of President’s plans after 2017 elections until election results are known”, November 4 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[3] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit. 2016. “Armenian press discuss president’s interview with Al-Jazeera”, October 29 (Retrieved through LexisNexis).

[4] In occasion of the 16th Convention of the Republican Party of Armenia, Prime Minister Karapetyan has formally joined the Republican party.

[5] In spite of this pledge for unity, analysts suspect that the inclusion of Mr Karapetyan in the Republican Party has not been received with unanimous enthusiasm [ARMINFO News Agency. 2016. “Expert: with Karapetyan’s assignment the old guard turned the most vulnerable point of Republicans”, November 28 (Retrieved through LexisNexis)].

 

Weaker Presidents, Better Semi-presidentialism?

9781137387806

Sophia Moestrup and I have just published another edited volume on semi-presidentialism. This time the focus is on Semi-presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. There are contributions from Alex Baturo on vertical power in the post-Soviet space, Alexander Markarov on Armenia, Jody LaPorte on Azerbaijan, Malkhaz Nakashidze on Georgia, Dmitry Nurumov and Vasil Vashchanka on Kazakhstan, and Matto Fumagalli on Kyrgyzstan. Sophia and I contribute two chapters. The first addresses some misconceptions about the notion of semi-presidentlaism, such as the idea that semi-presidential regimes must have quite powerful presidents but never very powerful or very weak presidents, and also that autocracies cannot be semi-presidential – they can, not least because semi-presidential regimes do not have to comprise only countries with quite powerful presidents. Our second chapter sums up the contributions to to the volume and argues that weaker presidents make for better semi-presidentialism. This is a brief summary of this second chapter.

The main attraction of institutional analysis is that it has the potential to generate better political outcomes. Given the assumption that institutions matter, we may be able to craft them so as to mitigate or even eradicate some of the negative outcomes that would otherwise be caused by the behaviour of political actors. We wish to draw one institutional policy recommendation from this book. All else equal, countries with weaker presidents are likely to experience better outcomes than countries with stronger presidents.

There is evidence from Armenia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan that weaker presidents have been associated with better outcomes. In Kyrgyzstan the decline in the president’s constitutional powers has been dramatic. That said, the shift to a weak president is relatively new, dating back to 2010. Kyrgyzstan also has a history of democratic reversals. So, we should avoid any definitive judgement at this early stage. More than that, the shift occurred in the context of the collapse of the previous regime and the desire on the part of the constitution builders to trammel the power of the presidency, which was seen as one of the main obstacles to democratic consolidation under the previous regime. This suggests that any positive effects of the weak presidency may be endogenous to the choice of the new institutional framework. All the same, we note that the early period of the new constitutional framework has been marked by less presidential posturing, less executive/legislative conflict, and, for now at least, less democratic backsliding. These are positive signs.

In Armenia, the decline in presidential power has been less dramatic. The president’s constitutional powers were never as great as the other countries in the region. Moreover, even after the passage of the 2005 reforms, the president still enjoyed some not inconsiderable constitutional powers. What is more, as in Kyrgyzstan, the context in which the president’s powers were reduced in 2005 means that we have to take account of the problem of endogenous institutional choice. Further still, Armenia remains a hybrid democratic regime in which there is plenty of political competition, but where democratic procedures have been manipulated to the advantage of incumbent power holders, although perhaps less so in the most recent elections than previously. In this context, we have to be careful about any lessons that we might we wish to draw from the Armenian case. Even so, we might benefit from thinking counterfactually. What would be the situation if there were now a super-president in Armenia? Would the situation be worse? We cannot know. Yet, we do know that in practice there was a form of super-presidentialism after the passage of the 1995 constitution. We can also confidently claim that this period marked the low point of democratic performance in Armenia to date. Armenia has not experienced a weak presidency, but it has experienced very strong presidents. It is not unreasonable to conclude by comparing the experience of the 1995-2005 super-presidency and the post-2005 period that the latter was less problematic.

By far the strongest evidence, though, comes from Georgia. Here, there were two periods when the problem of endogenous institutional choice was at least partly offset because of a dramatic change in the political context. In the first period there was a very strong president. In the second period, there was a very weak president. In this latter case, it is tempting to think in terms of quasi-experimental conditions. In the same historical, cultural, economic, and social context, there was an institutional treatment, namely the move to a weak presidency. The result has been much better political performance. The period of cohabitation under the previous president-parliamentary form of semi-presidentialism was marked by intense president/prime ministerial conflict as well as conflict between the president and the government and legislature generally. By contrast, the recent period under the weak presidency and a premier-presidential form of government has, to date, been characterized by much calmer relations. Indeed, this latter period is doubly interesting because the president distanced himself from his former political allies immediately after his election. The resulting situation should not be classed as a period of cohabitation, but it is certainly not a period where the president’s loyalty to the ruling party has quashed, perhaps artificially, any political competition within the executive branch. While there have been major disagreements between the president and the government, they have not become regime threatening. Indeed, arguably, post-2013 president/government relations in Georgia resemble those in countries like the Czech Republic or Slovakia where weak but directly elected presidents act as a counterweight to the government, but where there are no serious attempts to assume real presidential power.

If we are right to conclude that weaker presidents are better presidents, then we also wish to assert that the party system is an important intervening variable, as indicated above. It is perhaps no coincidence that in Georgia there has been a solid parliamentary majority since 2013. In other words, the president has not had the opportunity to try to offset his weak constitutional powers by building an alternative and potentially destabilizing pro-presidential coalition within the legislature. We might add that there has also been a relatively stable legislative majority in Kyrgyzstan since the 2010 reforms. Again, the president has not had the incentive to craft a majority that is personally loyal to him and that often requires the distribution of state resources in a geographically skewed and perhaps even corrupt way. In Armenia, by contrast, presidents have not always enjoyed a parliamentary majority and have been forced to forge coalitions in the legislature. This perhaps helps to account for the continued presence of a patronage president in a way that harms the rational functioning of the regime and democratic performance. Indeed, the recent constitutional reform that will introduce a parliamentary system after the next electoral contests might confirm this suspicion. The introduction of a parliamentary system and a weak president should be a positive development on the basis of our logic, but it may merely be a way of maintaining patronage politics in the context of an uninstitutionalized party system.

So, we acknowledge that many economic, social, and political factors affect political performance. We also believe that the party system is a particularly important variable for determining the practice of presidential politics. Even so, we claim that political performance is likely to be better when presidents have fewer powers. This suggests that constitution makers should consider the benefits of reforms that reduce the power of their presidency. We are aware that our conclusion assumes that institutions matter and, therefore, is susceptible to the problem of endogenous institutional choice, but we would like to address the endogeneity problem by arguing that even endogenously chosen weak presidents are better than endogenously chosen strong presidents. In other words, we believe that there are benefits to be gained from the endogenous selection of weak presidents. We should endeavour to create the conditions for decision makers to calculate that their system would benefit from a weak presidency. Fundamentally, if we are right that weak presidents bring benefits, we are unconcerned whether this outcome comes about endogenously or exogenously. That said, even if institutions are chosen endogenously, political actors still have to interpret the institutions with which they are faced. At some point, the economic, social, or political context is likely to change. At that point, if not before, institutions may have at least a partly exogenous impact. In those circumstances, it is better to have a weak presidency in place than a strong one. In other words, we would encourage upstream efforts to create the conditions for a constitutionally weak president. We believe that there are benefits to be gained from a system in which actors are willing to work without the presence of a super-president and that these benefits are likely to be both endogenous to institutional choice and at some point exogenous too.

We wish to make one final point. We promote the idea of a weak presidency, but we also wish to promote a weak presidency in the context of a wider constitutional and political system in which there is a genuine separation of powers and checks and balances. For example, we are not convinced that there are benefits to be gained from replacing a system in which there is a super-president and a weak prime minister by one where there is a weak president and a super-prime minister. This merely shifts the problem. It does not replace it. And it may characterise what is about to happen in Armenia. Let us express this point differently. We are not opposed to weak but directly elected presidents. As we argue in our introduction to the volume, semi-presidential constitutions are consistent with both very strong and very weak presidents. We prefer the latter. Let us make the same point in another way. We do not believe that parliamentarism with a weak but indirectly elected president is necessarily a guarantee of better political performance if there are no checks on the prime minister in the parliamentary system.

To sum up, we are happy to recommend a directly elected president as long as the president’s powers are weak and are exercised in the context of a system in which power is not concentrated in any political actor.

Armenia: recognizing Karabakh? The Armenian debate and the reaction from Azerbaijan

In the aftermath of the “4 Days War” in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian President, Serzh Sarkisian, declared that, in the case of resumed hostilities, his country would recognize the de facto Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. One month after, a bill titled “On recognition of Republic Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh]”, submitted by two opposition MPs, was approved by the Government and presented to the Parliament for discussion. Nevertheless, both political and media actors have bee equivocal about the suitability of the unilateral recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh. From the Azerbaijani side, it is remarkable the limited attention this event was given. In particular, President Ilham Aliyev, who in the past adopted a warmongering narrative, has not commented on this specific development.

Following the cease fire in 1994, Nagorno-Karabakh consolidated itself as a de facto state after a bloody war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Currently, its statehood remains completely unrecognized given that not even its Armenian patron has taken a formal stance in that direction. This choice has been mostly motivated by the commitment not to spoil the mediation effort of the Minsk Group, which is the OSCE group in charge of facilitating a resolution of the stalemate. For example, speaking to the representatives of the mass media in March 2013 President Sarkisian declared: “What will the citizens of NK and Armenia gain today if independence of NKR is recognized? (…) How dangerous will such a decision for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh be? (…) It means a slap in the face not only for the other side but also for the Co­chairs [of the Minsk Group]”. In brief, it is argued that recognizing Nagorno-Karabak would lead only to new troubles in the absence of tangible benefits. This position was widely shared by the Armenian political spectrum as demonstrated by the rejection of the various pro-recognition bills proposed by “Heritage Party”. However, in 2010 International Crisis Group pointed out that, in the case of resumption of full-scale hostilities, the de facto state may be recognized and a pact of mutual defense with Nagorno-Karabakh may be signed. After April 2016, political actors had to deal seriously with these issues.

“If military actions were to continue and escalate on a larger scale, the Republic of Armenia would recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh. With these words, on the 4th of April, President Sarkisian hinted at the possibility of formal recognition. However, after the end of the armed hostilities, no further declaration in this direction came from the Presidential office. By contrast, some actors in the opposition considered the time ripe to bring forward this issue again. = That translated into a bill called “On recognition of Republic Artsakh,” proposed by the opposition PMs Zaruhi Postanjyan (Heritage party) and Hrant Bagratyan (Armenian National Congress). On the 5th of May the Armenian government approved it for parliamentary discussion within 30 days. As expected, this triggered a debate not only in Armenia but also abroad.

Although most external powers did not openly comment on this decision, Russian officials manifested their opposition. Remarkably, at the beginning of May, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lavrov, spoke against unilateral recognition. It is reasonable to say that the Russian stance may have influenced the public debate. At the moment, politicians from both the government and the opposition are adopting a prudent attitude. Prime Minister Abrahamian said that, with Azerbaijan respecting the cease-fire, there is no need to rush into recognition. Similarly, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Edward Nalbandian, reassured external powers saying that: “The conclusion of the Government does not imply an endorsement of that initiative. (… ) [In that event], the President of the Republic of Armenia, would inform his partners in advance and, first of all, the heads of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries”. This moderate position is also shared by the bulk of the opposition. Armen Rustamyan, the leader of the ARF faction in parliament, declared that recognition should not be unilateral, but instead in line with the Minsk Framework. Similarly, a few days previously, former President Ter-Petrosyan stated that a premature recognition of Karabakh would irremediably jeopardize the effort of the Minsk group. Turning to the media debate, most Armenian newspapers agree that an early recognition would harm the interest and the long-terms goals of the country[1].

Given the sensitivity of the issue, Baku may be expected to react to such a move. However, it = composed behaviour adopted by Azerbaijan has taken observers by surprise. This is in striking contrast to the previously assertive narrative. Whereas in the past President Aliyev continuously reaffirmed the military strength of his country and the commitment to the re-conquest of the lost lands, recently his declarations seem more conciliatory and less in favor of resuming hostilities. Consistent with that, the reaction to the possible recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh has remained contained. Hikmet Hajiyev, the Foreign Ministry’s acting spokesperson, declared that: “By recognizing the separatist regime formed in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, Yerevan will put an end to the Minsk peace process and should this happen, the Minsk Group will possess no negotiating mandate”[2] Thus, no explicit declaration came from the President and the media debate remained limited. Speculating on the reasons behind that, it can be hypothesized that the country, which has been severely hit by the drop in oil prices, may be reconsidering its extra-assertive attitude and narrative of the previous years. The liberation of prominent political prisoners in the past months has already been read in this vein.

In sum, even though probably it will not have an immediate follow up, the Armenian debate on the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh is relevant not only for Yerevan but also for Baku. Thus, the fact that Armenia is acting cautiously makes new attempts of mediation possible. On 16th of May, the two presidents will meet in Vienna even though, given their irreconcilable positions, expectations for a breakthrough run low[3].

Notes

[1] “Armenian press say Karabakh recognition matter of time, but not now”, BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit, May 10, (2016).

[2] Russia & CIS General Newswire, “Recognition of Karabakh independence by Yerevan to derail OSCE Minsk group’s mediation efforts – Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry”, May 3, (2016).

[3] “Armenian press skeptical about “favorable” outcome of meeting with Azerbaijan”, BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit, May 14, (2016).

 

Armenia and post-sanctions Iran. Opportunities and constraints

The beginning of 2016 will be probably remembered for the lifting of international sanctions on Iran. This event has changed long-consolidated equilibria not only in the Middle East but also in the South Caucasian region. While oil-rich Azerbaijan has good reasons to fear the return of Teheran on the global energy market, apparently Armenia has only to gain from that. Even if the two bordering (and internationally isolated) countries have always somehow interacted, Yerevan knew that too much enthusiasm in this regard would have not only enraged the Russians, but also severely compromised its relations with the western word.  Departing from that, the recent international rehabilitation of Iran provides an interesting opportunity to Armenia, allowing it to have a normal relationship with another bordering country (in addition to Georgia). Currently, talks between the two countries are ongoing. Among other things, the possibility of Iranian gas transit through Armenia is being discussed. In spite of all these potential gains, the Armenian presidential office is remarkably silent on the issue. Remarkably President Sarkisian, who at the beginning of March found the time to congratulate the “Young land defender members”, did not make any public declarations about future forms of cooperation with Iran. Similarly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has actively worked to make talks happen, has not advertised these efforts loudly. This low profile can be put down to the fear of enraging Russia. However, even if this factor is absolutely crucial, it would be incorrect to explain the whole dynamic in light of the interaction with the Kremlin. Conversely, a deeper understanding can be gained first by looking at the relation of Yerevan with the West and second by looking at the domestic dimension.

Further cooperation with Iran would undoubtedly benefit Armenia. First, it would be a golden opportunity for Yerevan to break its “dual dependency” on Russia, as energy provider, and on Georgia, as a main transit route.  As result of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan have been closed. This has led to a pattern of asymmetric relations with Russia. Second, better relations with Iran would indirectly advantage Armenia vis-à-vis Azerbaijan, which in turn has been experiencing some lingering tensions with the Shi’ite giant.  More specifically, even if both Baku and Teheran are Shi’ite energy-rich countries, cooperation is hampered not only by different ideas about the role of religion in public, life but also by the presence of a large Azeri minority (around 20 million people) in Iran. In spite of that, they have found some understanding, as exemplified by their decision to complete a railway link by the end of 2016. However, this project does not mean that Mr Rohani has ruled out the Armenian option. Remarkably, in February Armenian public TV announced that Iranian specialists would soon visit the country and assess the feasibility of a railway connection. In brief Armenia, over-dependent on Russia and structurally isolated from the rest of the region, seems on the paper a less-attractive partner than Azerbaijan. However, the tensions between Teheran and Baku may work in favour of Yerevan by promoting its inclusion in Iran’s long-term plans.

Despite all the aforementioned benefits, Iranian-Armenian cooperation is not obstacle-free. First, the Armenian potential for international actions is severely restricted by its pervasive ties with Russia. Looking specifically at energy and economic factors, two elements emerge: the role of Gazprom and the membership in the Eurasian Union. First, the Russian state-owned Gazprom gas company is in control of the whole Armenian gas market. More precisely in 2014 Gazprom, which was already the majority stakeholder in the Armenian gas company, bought the remaining shares and become its sole owner[1]. Additionally, in January 2015 Armenia joined the Russian-led Eurasian Union. Due to its membership, Yerevan is barred from setting its own custom duties and, consequently, restraints are placed on its free-trade policy. All these elements are indicative not only of the Kremlin’s influence over Armenian external relations but also its interest in keeping the “smaller brother” firmly in its orbit.

As already hinted, understanding the Russian factor is necessary but not sufficient to explain the Armenian-Iranian relationship. Remarkably, the willingness to keep good ties with the United States and the European Union is another important factor in the equation. When sanctions were in place there was a tacit understanding that the West, first and foremost the US, would not have tolerated blatant violations of the international embargo. Henceforth, interactions with Teheran had to been qualitatively discreet and quantitatively limited. Even if the lifting of the sanction regimes changes this state of things, the situation is still too fluid to allow excessive public expressions of enthusiasm. The same applies to Brussels. In a recent interview the EU representative for external affairs, Federica Mogherini, when asked if Yerevan could act as the “new Hong-Kong” and connect the EU to Iran, answered that Brussels, fully aware of the potential benefits, is closely observing the situation[2]. In a nutshell, given the “in-progress” nature of this geo-political shift, Armenia seems to consider it prudent to interact discretely with Teheran rather than to voice premature enthusiasm.

The final constraint to the enhancement of the Iranian vector has domestic rather than international origins. From a series of expert interviews in summer 2015, some concerns about making deals with Iran[3] emerged. Generally speaking, the Iranians were described as difficult partners to come to terms with. This view is not restricted only to the indigenous cultural elite, but is also shared by the population at large. Remarkably, from a Caucasus Barometer survey it emerges that only 52% of Armenians approve of doing business with Iranians[4]. This approval rating is significantly lower than the case of doing business with Russians, Americans, Europeans and Georgians. This analysis of grassroots perceptions suggests that deals with Iran, even if objectively convenient, may encounter a lukewarm domestic reaction. That might explain why Armenian political actors, first and foremost the president, are not eager to advertise the recent developments with Iran too much. In sum, while international considerations are important for understanding Armenia’s cautious approach to Iran, domestic implications should be further investigated.

Notes

[1] Even before, the contractual strength of Russia over Armenia successfully prevented any real energy diversification.

[2] BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit (2016), “EU foreign policy chief interviewed on relations with Armenia”, February 29 (Retried through LexisNexis).

[3] All conducted by the author in Yerevan, in English, as part of the fieldwork related to her PHD thesis.

[4]  46% disapprove and 2% do not know.

Armenia – The constitutional referendum and the role of the president during the campaign

On Sunday a referendum took place in Armenia. Citizens were called to express their opinion on a set of constitutional amendments. With 63.35% voting in favour, the “yes front” prevailed (though the official result will be published the 13th December). Among other things, the result means a deep restructuring of the architecture of state power. More precisely, the Armenian semi-presidential political system will transition into a parliamentary one.

This result, relished by the ruling Republican Party, was not necessarily determined in advance. In fact, surveys conducted in the previous weeks did not show clear-cut result. Even the referendum day witnessed a certain surprise element. First, the voter turnout was slightly above 50%, which is the minimum threshold to validate the result. Second, and probably most importantly, some observers denounced the elections as rigged.  In particular, the opposition lamented cases of pressure, ballot-stuffing, violence and vote buying. Journalistic sources reported the episode of a man in a van distributing 10,000 drams (almost $20) to elderly voters. When asked about it, he claimed he was paying back a debt. These incidents also raised concerns among international observers. On Tuesday (8th December), the US and the EU invited the Armenian authorities  to conduct an investigation on the major irregularities that plagued the referendum.

Fraud was feared even before the vote. In fact, already in November various groups suggested that the authorities were planning to rig the referendum. The main opposition to the changes were the “No” Front and the “New Armenia Public Salvation Front”. The former is mainly composed of the Armenian National Congress (ANC), and the People’s Party of Armenia. In the past months Levon Zurabian, an ANC leader, emerged as probably the most visible character from this group. The latter is principally composed of the Heritage party, the Democratic Homeland opposition party, the socio-political organization ‘Constitutive Parliament’, and the protest movement ‘Rise, Armenia!’ Even if they occasionally cooperated in the campaign, they never merged. In the aftermath of the allegedly rigged vote, the groups are holding joint protests in the capital.

During the referendum, though, one actor was surprisingly quiet: the President of the Republic, Serzh Sarkisian. Even if the reform was strongly supported by his ruling Republican Party, President Sarkisian, who originally set up a Commission on Constitutional Reforms (on 4 September 2013) and facilitated the various stages of the referendum, did not play a role prior in the vote. In fact, after signing the decree setting the day of the referendum, he limited his number of declarations to both domestic and international media outlets.

Looking at his behavior, it seems that he did not want to present the change as his own brainchild. Even if he limited his comments, an attentive interpretation of some of his declarations supports this idea. For example, in his address to the 3rd International Forum of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MSIIR) Alumni, President Sarkisian underlined how the final text of the proposed new draft was the result of a prolonged dialogue with the opposition and the civil society. Additionally, he pointed out that the “draft of amendments to the acting Constitution [was] based on the Concept Paper published six months ago [by the Venice Commission]”. Similarly Edvard Nalbandyan, the Armenian Foreign Minister, declared in Tbilisi, at an unofficial meeting of EU Eastern Partnership foreign ministers, that the Venice Commission considered the work of the Constitutional Commission to be accurate and in line with international standards.

In addition, in the final phase of the campaign the president and (to a lesser degree) the Republican Party stated that a positive result was not an absolute priority and that, no matter what the outcome, the government’s position in office was not at stake. The press conference that the President gave on the 3rd of December, after weeks of quasi-silence, illustrates this point. President Sarkisian said that:“ Our priority is to conduct a normal referendum, within legal boundaries, and not just make changes. Changes are not the matter of life and death, and in general, for me no voting is a matter of life and death”.  Sticking to the same line a couple of days before, Vice President of the National Assembly Eduard Sharmazanov declared that the reform was not a top priority for the Republican Party.

The aforementioned declarations seem aimed to present the reform as a shared effort, bringing together domestic and international actors, instead of a personal battle. Ultimately, they might be interpreted as an effort by President Sarkisian to distance himself from the project. As reported by the pro-opposition “Zhoghovurd” Newspaper, the opposition considered this silence, which was quite unusual shortly before a referendum, as an attempt not to transform a possible defeat into a personal failure of the president and, eventually, into a de facto vote on his tenure in power[1].

In spite of this low profile, the pre-referendum press interview obtained huge attention and criticism from the opposition. The president seemed to contradict his previous declarations on his future. In the past months, he has declared that he would not be seeking the role of prime minister after the end of his presidential mandate in 2018. Departing from that position, when asked about his future intentions, he said that: “We will talk about that after the 2017 parliamentary elections”. This vagueness reinforced a major critique of the reform, namely that it was aimed at the good of the country but the perpetuation in power of President Sarkisian. In the immediate aftermath of the interview, Levon Zurabian, a leader of the “Armenian National Congress” party, said that: “Serzh Sarkisian has refuted his loyalists’ claims that he has no desire to reproduce his regime (..) With his statement, he has exposed his entire plan to retain power”.

Commenting on the final result, President Sarkisian said that:We can now conclude that the parliamentary system of government for our state is already a reality (…) It means the existence of strong government and strong opposition, an increased role for political parties and new opportunities for their development”.  He did only briefly mentioned the allegations of fraud, suggesting that the competent bodies should investigate any fraudulent episodes. At this stage, no comment was made on his political future.

Note

[1] This last point is particularly significant if we consider that one of the main discussion points in the previous months was whether the constitutional change would allow the president to remain in power. In addition, some groups started to question President Sarkisian would serve until the end of his term. More precisely, on 1st of December, the “New Armenia Public Salvation Form” held a permanent sit-in in Freedom square (one of the main squares of the capital) and openly called for the resignation of President Sarkisian.

Armenia – From semi-presidentialism to parliamentarism?

A constitutional referendum is expected to take place in Armenia by the end of the year. In the event of a positive popular vote, the current semi-presidential political system will be transformed into a parliamentary one. At this stage, the reform is strongly favoured by the ruling party, the Republican Party (HHK) while the opposition is divided.

The transformation into a parliamentary system would dramatically change a key feature of the Armenian political system: the preponderance of the presidential office. The first post-independence constitution (also called by its critics “super-presidential”), in vigour since 1995, gave extensive power to the president over all the three branches of government. The second constitution, approved by referendum in 2005, introduced some limits to the power of the president and, conversely, enhanced the prerogatives of the parliament. However, given that for the past 16 years the same party (HHK) has dominated both the executive and legislative branches, no practical change has been observable[1]. The outcome of the referendum (a mandatory step to reform the constitution and expected to take place by the end of the year) may completely shift the distribution of power.

Departing from the past, the constitutional reform would make the presidential office largely ceremonial. More specifically, instead of being the head of the executive, the successor to Mr Sarkisian, would not be directly elected anymore but would be nominated by an electoral college, and would in effect be a super partes figure with limited leeway for autonomous action. In fact, he would have practically no room for intervention in legislative matters. By contrast, the prime minister, who at the current stage has limited personal power, would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy[2]. The President would still formally perform some relevant state activities, such as changing the composition of the government, appointing or recalling diplomats and approving (or suspending) international treaties. However, all those actions should be initiated by proposal of the prime minister[3].

The recent publication of a constitutional draft is the result of almost two years of work. On 4 September 2013 President Sarkisian set up a Commission on Constitutional Reforms. In November of the same year Mr Gagik Harutyunyan[4], the coordinator of the aforementioned Commission and President of the Constitutional Court of Armenia, asked the Venice Commission, which is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, for some assistance in the drafting of a new constitution. The demand was accepted and a group of rapporteurs was constituted. After various rounds of meetings and opinions, in July 2015 a partial first draft was submitted to the Venice Commission. The advisory body praised the effort but also highlighted some points of concern. One of them, pertinent to the parliamentary elections, was the mandatory second round of voting (between the first two parties) in the event that a clear parliamentarian majority failed to emerge. In the draft of July 2015 this point was disciplined by article 89, which provided detailed disposals on the conduct of the second electoral round as well as, for example, the obligation to present the candidate prime ministers. This point, also as result of numerous consultations with opposition parties, has been modified. In fact, in the new version of the text, a run-off vote “may be held” instead of “shall be held”. Additionally, all the details have been removed and transferred to the electoral code.

The run-off issue raised a concern not only in the Venice commission but also in most opposition parties (with the sole exception of ARF). In fact, the opposition feared such a provision would give a disproportionate advantage to the current ruling party such that, if the change had been included, it would have almost certainly recorded a clear-cut victory for the ruling party[5]. For this reason, until the beginning of the summer, the reform lacked broad political support. After the government declared its intention to exclude the aforementioned run-off vote from the constitutional draft, Prosperous Armenia (the second party in the parliament) agreed to back the proposal. Other parties, namely the Armenian National Congress (ANC) and Heritage party, continue to refuse to support the process. The reason for this inflexible attitude is that, even though in principle they may favour a parliamentary system, they fear that President Sarkisian could take advantage from the reform and extend his power beyond the end of his presidential mandate in 2017.

Under the current disposal, the president cannot run for a third term. Consequently Mr Sarkisian, who is already serving his second mandate, should step down after next election. Designating a successor is no guarantee on that he or she would be willing to accept Mr Sarkisian’s influence after the election. In fact, the current president enjoys limited popularity in the country and could be easily marginalized by any heir apparent[6]. Given that, critical voices argue that adopting a parliamentarian system may enable Mr Sarkisian to retain political power beyond the end of his term. As member of the National assembly, he could prolong his duration in power either as prime minister (though it is an option that he openly excluded), or as head of the ruling party. In brief is suspected that, instead of promoting the long-term stabilization of Armenia, the main goal of the reform is to ensure the permanence in power of the current political elite[7]. This vision is also shared by former president Kocharian (1998-2008), who bluntly declared that: “Any modification of the constitution for the sake of politicians’ current interests is a sign of the country’s degradation.” and by the former ministry of foreign affairs Oskanian (1998-2008).  Mr Oskanian also considers that the current government does not enjoy enough political legitimacy to promote such a dramatic change.

Civil society, even though during the summer it was mainly mobilized around the “Electric Yerevan issue”, has shown some interest in the topic. In the past months, the civic initiative “You won’t pass it” has been voicing its concern and trying to fundraise both domestically and abroad in order to rent conference halls and print leaflets. In September 2015 the initiative “NO” appeared. Looking at the population at large, a recent survey shows limited knowledge of the domestic political system. In fact, most respondents believed the country to be a presidential republic rather than a semi-presidential one[8].  Mr Armenak Minasyants[9], a Visiting Scholar in Public Administration at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, comments that the public debate around the issue has not focused on the legal aspects or content of the proposed reform but more notably on the implication for the distribution of power in the short run. The lingering question in almost all the talks is whether the president will step down or not after the term. Given the on-going mainstream narrative, the forthcoming referendum is likely to be perceived as a sort of popular confidence vote on Mr Sarkisian.

[1] Mikayel Zolyan, Parliamentary Democracy or One-Party State: What is behind Armenia’s Constitutional Reform, Staff Analysis, Regional Studies Center (RSC), Vol.4 No.3, September 2015, http://regional-studies.org/images/pr/2015/september/11/RSC_Staff_Analysis_Constitutional_Reform_Zolyan.pdf .

[2] Kathleen C. Weinberger, Armenia’s Constitutional Reforms: Forward Movement or Momentous Fallacy?, Staff Analysis, Regional Studies Center (RSC), Vol.4 No.4, September 2015, http://regional-studies.org/images/pr/2015/september/11/RSC_Staff_Analysis_Constitutional_Reform_Weinberger.pdf .

[3] Draft Constitution (July 2015), articles 131 and 132, http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-REF(2015)023-e .

[4] A well-recognized legal scholar and practitioner, he contributed to the drafting of all the Armenian constitutions, including the 2003 version that was rejected by referendum and not adopted. Mr Harutyunyan, convinced that the Constitution of 2005 did not fully match the Armenian political context, is believed to have played a strong role in the initiation of the Commission on Constitutional Reforms (Armenak Minasyants, phone interview, 13 September 2015).

[5] Zolyan 2015

[6] Zolyan 2015

[7] Weinberger 2015

[8] Ibidem

[9] Phone interview, 13 September 2015.

Alexander Markarov – Armenia: Reasons for Protest. What Next?

This is a guest post by Alexander Markarov, who is a director of the Armenian branch of the CIS Institute

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The decision of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC) to raise electricity tariffs (for the third time in three years) by 16.7% beginning from August 1, 2015 provoked a protest movement in Armenia. Such sharp reaction to the potential price hike has become more of an expression of common protest sentiment over the complicated socio-economic situation and a reaction to the wide-spread doubts about the efficiency of energy resource management on the market by the country’s power monopolist CJSC Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA). The protesters believe that the company basically tried to settle its debts by raising the tariffs.

The bulk of the protest movement consisted of young people, who took to the streets under the slogans “No to Plunder!”, “We are the Owners of Our Country!” etc.The diversity of the slogans stressed the lack of clearly formulated political demands of the youth movement. The gist of the demands consisted in return to the old tariffs, to an inspection and control over the company’s activities. Its efficiency and transparency still raise questions, the answers to which can only be given by independent international audit.

At the peak of the protests, according to different sources of information, about 8,000-10,000 people took part in the demonstration, blocking one of the central arterial roads of Yerevan, the Marshal Baghramyan Avenue. It is noteworthy that the demonstrators included young activists and a large number of sympathizers who were reluctant to take part in any actions of the Yerevan residents. Attempts of parliamentary political opposition forces to join the protests or even head the campaign were met with a negative response from the core of the protesters. The latter were opposed to politicizing the movement and treated professional politicians with distrust, taking into account their potential attempts to rehash the format of the campaign into a protest movement against the ruling elite. The more extremism-inclined forces, for example, the Pre-Parliament civil initiative, found no support among both the activists and the demonstrators around Yerevan in general due to its radical disposition, which was at odds with the spirit of the movement.

According to the organizers of the protest, the campaign was absolutely peaceful, it was essentially a civil and social protest against the decision of the PSRC and the aspiration of the ENA to raise tariffs, though they were generally reflecting the protest potential in Armenia. The civil protest movement in Armenia born in the 1980s has become a sort of an expression of grievance without marginalization of political opposition. The form of activism has become a manifestation of protest against the complicated socio-economic conditions. At the same time, it seems that any protest in Armenia has a certain line conditioned by a safe component that no sane politician or civil rights activist would want to cross.

The population of the republic is in quite a tough socio-economic situation. Judging by different assessments, about 100,000 families receiving allowances and about 450,000 pensioners, excluding those receiving unemployment and disability benefits, belong to the poor stratum of the population. For those particular categories of citizens, higher costs of electricity and possibly higher costs of goods and services would certainly aggravate the situation.

Despite the criticism of the initiative to raise the tariffs coming from various political forces, not one of them showed the mobilizing potential which was demonstrated by the informal “No to Plunder!” movement. In other words, not a single political opposition force had the credit of trust given to the spontaneous civil movement, which suggests that the political opposition in the country is generally on the decline. The protest movement emerged extemporaneously, among young people. It had earlier taken part in other campaigns (against higher prices for public transport tickets, against the law on pension reform) and resembled an online self-organized non-political movement without any political programme, without the potential to cooperate with other political forces as a coalition, without distinct leadership, yet with a demand understood by everyone and supported in one way or another, though without any articulate political context and action programme.

Attempts to compare the protests in Yerevan to the events in Ukraine have not held up against criticism from the very beginning. The flags of the European Union that appeared on the Freedom Square in Yerevan on the first day of the protests disappeared almost as quickly as those who tried to manipulate or add political content to the protests in Yerevan. The protesters themselves had no intention to change either the elite or the course of foreign politics.

Today’s activists are not the force capable of forming any clear constructive political agenda. Despite all the potency of the movement, it has failed to formulate any demands other than return to the old tariffs. However, the demand coupled with the sui generis “occupy Baghramyan” was sufficient to convince the government to gradually start keeping its ears open to the events on the streets. From the very first days, readiness for discussions and negotiations with the organizers of the campaign has been expressed, but the call for negotiations was ignored either out of the organizational informality of the movement or due to the maximalism of its organizers. At the initial stage, the positions were absolutely opposite. On the one hand, they were a call for return to the old tariffs, on the other hand, they were a strive for keeping the PSRC’s decisions intact on condition that it would name fair reasons for raising electricity costs.

In what seemed like a deadlock situation, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s proposals to pass a moratorium on electricity bills with the new tariff (the government of Armenia will compensate the difference in price) until realization of an international audit and a presentation of a report on the results of activities of the Electric Networks of Armenia. The decision split the protesters, only part of them continued the thin protest on the Freedom Square. Most sympathizers of the movement left the streets. As for the Baghramyan Avenue, which was cleared of the garbage containers two weeks later, on July 6, only a small group of protesters stayed, failing to either provoke a public outcry or arouse any serious interest.

The response of the government did smooth out the tensions in this respect, however, there are no guarantees that the outrage would not erupt again if the audit keeps the higher tariffs intact.

Therefore, the government needs to continue constant interaction and dialogue with the society, to conduct consultations and form an agenda instead of reacting to arising challenges. A constant dialogue and real steps toward improvement of the socio-economic situation in the country can tamp down existing protest sentiments. However, with account of the factors of regional development, it is still an objectively strenuous endeavor. Moreover, the problems of Armenia can partly be solved within the framework of Eurasian integration, which raises the question about its higher efficiency. It is clear though that the project launched just recently cannot offer immediate output. At the same time, the data set fore by analysts specializing in economics before Armenia’s admittance to the EAEU should have a positive effect and should gradually have a positive impact on the living standards of the local population.

This is a co-post with the Valdai Discussion Club