September 30, 2013 - 17:25 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - For decade and more after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent republic of Moldova was widely regarded in the West as a basket case, The Washington Post said in an editorial.
Governed by an unreconstructed Communist Party, it was known — when it was known at all — mainly for trafficking in organs and women. Now a liberal democracy with a growing economy, Moldova stands on the brink of initialling an association agreement with the European Union.
“Russia’s bullying is not limited to Moldova. Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine also have been the target of a mix of punitive measures and bribes in the last several months. The Kremlin’s zero-sum aim is to block those countries from completing association agreements with the European Union and compel them to join a Moscow-led customs union that would be an E.U. rival — and a means of realizing Mr. Putin’s dream of recreating something like the Soviet Union,” the editorial said.
“Earlier this month Armenia capitulated and said it would join the would-be Eurasian Union. But Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia have been holding firm, saying they will proceed with their E.U. agreements. The choice is a courageous one for all three governments. To qualify for E.U. association, and the free-trade benefits that come with it, the countries have to enact far-reaching reforms. Mr. Putin, in contrast, asks nothing more other than tariff harmonization — and implicit acceptance of Russian suzerainty,” the daily said.
“Some E.U. countries, such as Lithuania and Poland, are pressing E.U. governments to ease the political conditions in response to Russia’s pressure. That probably would be a mistake: if respect for the rule of law is not linked to the economic benfits of E.U. association, backsliding is likely. But E.U. leaders should work hard in the next two months to persuade the Eurasian countries to embrace those Western values — and they could use some help from the United States,” The Washington Post concluded.
Armenia completed technical talks on a ‘deep and comprehensive free-trade agreement' (DCFTA) with the EU in July and it was set to be signed at a summit with the EU in late November. In addition to a free-trade deal, Armenia has been working towards the signing of an association agreement with the EU, a framework agreement on co-operation that is seen as a first step towards political integration with the EU.
However, during a Sept 3 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Armenian leader Sargsyan said Armenia is ready to join Customs Union, with further plans to be involved in formation of the Eurasian Economic Union. Mr. Putin supported the initiative, vowing procedural assistance to Armenia.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt described Armenia’s intention as a U-turn in relations with the European Union. “Seems as if Armenia will break talks on free trade agreement with EU and integrate with Russia instead,” he said.
Linas Linkevicius, the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said Armenia “has blocked its chances of signing a free trade deal with the European Union by choosing to join the Russia-led union.” “We respect any choice of countries but they cannot enter both organizations at the same time because of different tariff requirements,” he said.
In a separate statement, Linkevicius and seven other ministers from Nordic and Baltic countries warned against Russian pressure on post-Soviet states. “Any economic threat or political pressure directed against Eastern partners because of their European aspirations and engagement with the EU is unacceptable,” they said.
The European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fule said the Customs Union membership is not compatible with the DCFTAs which have been negotiated with Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia.
“This is not because of ideological differences; this is not about a clash of economic blocs, or a zero-sum game. This is due to legal impossibilities: for instance, you cannot at the same time lower your customs tariffs as per the DCFTA and increase them as a result of the Customs Union membership,” he said during the European Parliament plenary meeting in Strasbourg in a statement on “the pressure exercised by Russia on countries of the Eastern Partnership.”
“It may certainly be possible for members of the Eastern Partnership to increase their cooperation with the Customs Union, perhaps as observers; and participation in a DCFTA is of course fully compatible with our partners' existing free trade agreements with other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) states,” Fule said.
The Customs Union was formed in 2010 to include of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia; Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan later expressed willingness to join the Union.