A reflection on the “Friends of Armenia Network” white paper


On March 27, 2024, a high-level group named “Friends of Armenia Network” headed by the former Danish Prime Minister and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen published a white paper aiming to “galvanize support for democratic Armenia and promote peace in South Caucasus.” The title of the paper is “Deepening EU-Armenia Relations: More Europe in Armenia; More Armenia in Europe,” and the authors include former prime ministers, European parliamentarians and diplomats. 

“Armenia is pivoting to the West,” the paper argues, and the EU has a strategic and value-based interest in supporting this pivot. To succeed, both Yerevan and Brussels need to make a “substantial, long-term strategic commitment in terms of resources, security cooperation, trade relations, and political engagement.” To make this pivot “irreversible,” the EU must grant Armenia “EU candidate status,” which would match Yerevan’s strategic orientation, back up its geopolitical commitments and minimize the impact of Moscow’s reaction to Yerevan by increasing the latter’s resilience. 

According to the paper, the EU’s support for Armenia should be divided into three phases:

  • First offering candidate status. In parallel, Armenia and the EU must review and update the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) that was signed in 2017. CEPA entered into force in March 2021 with the aim to strengthen democracy, rule of law and human rights and engage in socio-economic reforms in Armenia. 
  • Second, once Armenia reaches an adequate level of resilience, the EU should deepen its economic ties by negotiating a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with Yerevan. Similar agreements have been signed with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The aim of DCFTA is to help countries assess the European Single Market in selected sectors and grant EU investors the same regulatory environment as they have in EU member states. It also offers the country the “four freedoms” of the EU Single Market: free movement of goods, services, capital and people (in the form of a visa-free regime for short-stay travel). If applied, this would help Armenia shift its economy closer to the EU, but in return, Armenia would have to leave the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which Armenia is benefiting from for the time being as it builds economic ties with India
  • Third, EU accession negotiations should start to fully bring Armenia into the European club. 

For these steps to happen, the EU should offer security cooperation to Armenia, notably through the European Peace Facility and enhanced border management. The main objective is to “increase Armenia’s deterrence, both against Azerbaijan launching another attack and against Russian hybrid attacks.” 

The paper also argues that, as Russia’s influence is waning in the region, the EU’s role is expanding, an opportunity the EU should not miss. But this is not an easy task, as the paper identifies three challenges: possible new attacks by Azerbaijan, Armenia’s economic dependence on Russia and increasing hybrid attacks on Armenia. To minimize pressure on Armenia, the EU should act in four areas: security cooperation, border management, the CEPA and resilience.

Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, EU High Representative/Vice-President, Josep Borrell, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen and U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken meet in Brussels (Photo: RA Prime Minister’s office, April 5, 2024)

Security cooperation

When it comes to security cooperation, the paper argues that Azerbaijan remains the main threat to Armenia, as Aliyev has territorial claims and an appetite for new incursions. Moreover, Turkey has a critical role to play in the “stability and security dynamics of the South Caucasus,” and relations with Armenia “should be raised at the highest levels in Turkey.” The paper adds that the CSTO is inactive in its support for Armenia’s territorial integrity, Armenia’s armed forces need modernization to improve operational and tactical planning, and Russia’s 102nd military base in Gyumri has “no advantage” (quoting PM Nikol Pashinyan) for Armenia. The paper argues that there is a “risk that Russia could try to insert its troops, in the event of an Azerbaijani attack on Armenia, to create a land corridor to Nakhichevan.”

The paper recommends that the EU should provide dual-use and non-lethal equipment to Armenia to increase its deterrence and decrease its dependence on Russian equipment. Such a step would send a signal to both Ankara and Baku that any attack is unacceptable and will be met with additional military assistance from the EU. The authors suggest organizing joint military exercises between European and Armenian armed forces, and the EU should deploy a “Common Security and Defense Policy” (CSDP) advisory and training mission to reform Armenia’s civilian and military security sectors. Finally, the EU must facilitate direct engagement with Turkey to open the border with Armenia and normalize relations, and a high level of dialogue is needed between Yerevan and Ankara, as Turkey’s “interests align but are not identical to those of Azerbaijan” in the region.

Border management 

The paper mentions that Armenia’s border management is dependent on the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who control the country’s border with Turkey and Iran, which it calls a “major vulnerability for Armenia and a limitation on its sovereignty.” Opening the border with Turkey would “remove the main justification for (Russia’s) military presence.” The European Union Mission in Armenia (EUMA) could play a vital role in the future, while supporting the “Crossroads of Peace” proposed by PM Pashinyan through substantial investment in railways, roads and border infrastructure. The paper argues  that the absence of a peace agreement should not hinder such investments. 

The paper argues that the EU and Frontex should immediately launch a “comprehensive program to support Armenia in establishing control over its border management.” Frontex officers could work alongside Armenian border guards to carry out surveillance and checks at border crossing points. This would be temporary until Armenia can exercise full and effective control over its borders (a similar approach has been adopted in Moldova). The authors also propose that the EUMA should expand its mission with additional monitors, field offices, technological means (surveillance UAVs, detention radars, cameras and sensors) and geographic scope along the border and close to territory occupied by Azerbaijan. 

Strengthening Armenia’s resilience 

The paper argues that Armenia’s geopolitical position is exacerbated by external attacks from Azerbaijan, its dependence on Russia and hybrid threats. Providing additional resilience will help Yerevan maneuver and “bolster its pivot Westward.” The paper highlights Armenia’s dependence on Russia in the energy sector (gas and nuclear power plant), transport (Armenia’s railway is managed by a Russian company) and food security (Armenia imports most of its wheat from Russia). Moscow could weaponize trade with Armenia by blocking Armenian products at the Russian border or increasing energy prices. 

To increase Armenia’s resilience, the authors forward the idea of inviting Yerevan to become a member of the European Energy Community to accelerate its integration into the European energy market. The EU should help the country invest in green energy and diversify its energy imports and sources, subsidize the food imports headed to Armenia and assist Armenia in being self-sufficient in wheat and critical agricultural products. 

Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA)

The paper argues that Armenia’s membership in the EAEU and its extensive trade with Russia are clear obstacles to deepening EU-Armenia relations. Meanwhile, CEPA can encourage Armenia to adopt judicial and public sector reforms that align with European values. To send a clear signal to Armenia that the EU is committed to its position, Brussels must indicate that it is ready to offer Armenia “candidate status” and deepen economic ties with Yerevan by negotiating DCFTA. In parallel, Armenia should withdraw from the customs union of the EAEU and, eventually, from the block, as membership with the EAEU is incompatible with DCFTA. A final phase in this process would be accession negotiations between the EU and Armenia. 

This process will be full of risks, and the EU should be ready to prepare Armenia for a transitional phase when leaving the EAEU by providing a free trade agreement with the EU to reorient Armenia’s economy. Meanwhile, launching an EU-Armenia dialogue on visa liberalization is an important step towards deepening ties and creating additional mutual trust. The paper suggests all these processes must be launched without delay, and “tangible results should be delivered before the European elections and next Commission is established.”

Conclusion and reflection 

The main theme of the white paper is that the EU should recognize Armenia’s “strategic shift” or “pivot” towards the West and offer the prospect of EU membership. From a security angle, it also suggests that the EU should prioritize security cooperation, strengthen Yerevan’s deterrence against future attacks launched by Azerbaijan and reorient Armenia’s political and economic relations away from Russia. 

But is Armenia pivoting towards the West? Political analyst Gevorg Melikyan argued on CivilNet that the ruling party in Armenia is not shifting the country’s foreign policy vector toward the West, but rather aiming to appease the West by taking an “anti-Russian” attitude to consolidate its rule. The analyst argued that changing a foreign policy vector needs concrete steps far from populist slogans. On the other hand, experts close to the ruling elite suggest that Armenia is indeed pivoting to the West, and Russia’s retaliation against Yerevan would be limited after the loss of Artsakh. 

However, regardless of whether or not Armenia is pivoting toward the West, we need to analyze certain gaps in the paper. The arguments made in the paper may seem appealing; however, how realistic is it for Armenia to take such a step, and are the risks calculated? Irrespective of our political position and whether we seek to see Armenia become a member of the European family, such steps will have a crucial impact on the political trajectory of Armenia. Armenia’s decision-makers should not be naïve in fantasizing about theories and concepts and should instead be practical and critically assess every step.

The paper gives importance to Turkey’s active role in the region and suggests engaging in direct dialogue with Armenia to normalize relations and open borders. Refreshing our memory, we should remember that one of the reasons for the failure of the “Armenian-Turkish Protocols” was not only Russia’s opposition but also the lack of EU’s leverage on Turkey, which was unwilling to continue with the process due to the pressures from Azerbaijan and internal political calculations. After almost a decade and a half, we should again ask: does the EU have enough leverage to exercise on Turkey? What would Turkey gain in return? Would Turkey endanger its relations with Russia, Syria, Africa and elsewhere just to please Pashinyan’s government and give oxygen to tiny Armenia? Will opening the border with Armenia compensate for the billions Turkey is making by engaging with Russia? 

Of course, Turkey would be happy to fill the Russian vacuum in the region, but is Ankara ready to directly confront Moscow and Tehran in the South Caucasus to please the West? EU’s special representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar mentioned during the recent Antalya Summit that Turkey is a leading country in the South Caucasus that can help establish regional peace. But is Ankara ready now to take this role? For Ankara (and Baku) the main objective is opening the “Zangezur corridor” and connecting both countries with a direct road, without Armenian control. This strategic objective has a geo-economic but also geopolitical background. Is the West able to convince Turkey to step back from this condition? We always assume that we know the answer, but we don’t, and even European leaders don’t.

The paper provides important recommendations for arming the Armenian military and increasing Armenia’s resilience against external threats. This is crucial and, of course, welcome. But again, a critical assessment is needed beyond idealistic emotions and illusions. Modernizing an army, training on new weapons and changing the military education and mentality take time. This is not something that can happen in a few months or a few years. It took Azerbaijan two decades to transform its Soviet-style army into a modern Turkish-standard army. Most importantly, parallel to modernizing its army, Baku established a balanced relationship with its immediate neighborhood, even with Russia and Iran (despite the tense relations with Tehran). Simply, Azerbaijan understood the regional balance of power. You don’t need to be a geopolitical expert to understand that you cannot detach your country from your neighborhood. These are your neighbors, and they will remain your neighbors. What you can do is increase your defense capabilities without antagonizing major regional powers, in this case Russia. As the Europeans have made clear, no army will come to defend an inch of Armenian territory, and no one owes us anything. 

Finally, the EU accession talks may take years and even decades. A clear example is Turkey. We should not be very enthusiastic about the EU Commission’s decision to provide candidate status to Georgia. Instead, we have to carefully evaluate every step taken by the EU and Georgia in this matter, as Armenia cannot join the EU before Georgia since it has no border with any EU country. In comparison to Armenia, Georgia has a sea and can communicate with the EU directly. What Armenia can do for the time being is continue diversifying its security and economic relations with the EU and the East. Armenia’s value is in serving as a bridge between the East and West, which countries such as India and Iran appreciate. This idea will be even more attractive to Moscow in the post-Ukraine war era. Armenia’s accession to the EU will be viewed as a political step, given the sharp geopolitical global clash between the West and Russia. Why should Armenia take a side in this battle? Why open a new battlefront when we haven’t even extinguished the fire on our border? 

To conclude, the white paper published by the “Friends of Armenia Network” contains important recommendations that need to be addressed and studied. However, some of the clauses contain risks that should be navigated for the time being, given the complex regional and global geopolitical dynamics. Diversifying foreign policy and trade does not mean detaching a country from a certain neighborhood. Instead, what Armenia needs is to balance regional and global competitors and build bridges between traditional and emerging powers. Foreign policies are not guided by idealism and fanciful theories but by realist and rational practices based on assessments of the regional and global balance of power. Ultimately, the aim of the state is to survive, and after the 2020 war, Armenia is waging a battle for its statehood.

Yeghia Tashjian

Yeghia Tashjian

Yeghia Tashjian is a regional analyst and researcher. He has graduated from the American University of Beirut in Public Policy and International Affairs. He pursued his BA at Haigazian University in political science in 2013. In 2010, he founded the New Eastern Politics forum/blog. He was a research assistant at the Armenian Diaspora Research Center at Haigazian University. Currently, he is the regional officer of Women in War, a gender-based think tank. He has participated in international conferences in Frankfurt, Vienna, Uppsala, New Delhi and Yerevan. He has presented various topics from minority rights to regional security issues. His thesis topic was on China’s geopolitical and energy security interests in Iran and the Persian Gulf. He is a contributor to various local and regional newspapers and a presenter of the “Turkey Today” program for Radio Voice of Van. Recently he has been appointed as associate fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and Middle East-South Caucasus expert in the European Geopolitical Forum.

1 Comment

  1. I take it from the last part of Yeghia Tashjian’s long article,
    I wish that the lands overlooking the Black Sea, which are currently historical Armenian lands and occupied by the Georgian state, had been Armenianised…
    Yes, the problems we are experiencing now would not exist…
    Unfortunatly true…

    network of friends of armenians ???

    I wonder if he has forgotten how these so-called friends once sold out the Armenians?
    Didn’t they sell the Armenians?
    While 1.5-2 million were being cut into pieces, they probably weren’t living in space at that time…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.