YEREVAN, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Armenia needs more maneuvers in handling its ties with the European Union and Russia in its foreign policies, an Armenia scholar said in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.
There are two agreements pending between the EU and Armenia -- the Association Agreement (AA), or political document for integration with the EU, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), an economic and trade document with the EU, said Richard Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center.
The two documents are closely related, said Giragosian.
"The AA has largely been negotiated under understanding that the key component will be that DCFTA. Therefore, if that is removed, what is left is seriously diluted -- giving Armenia very little, and giving the EU much less," he said.
Joining the Russia-led Customs Union closes the door for Armenia's access to European markets, and removes the availability of the DCFTA.
"Therefore, the EU reaction has been extremely negative but on a justifiable ground: it was a complete surprise, and it endangered several years of commitments and negotiations between Armenia and the EU," he said.
"More importantly, it also shows that EU investment and expectations in Armenia have been diminished. Therefore, Armenia is in danger of looking insincere and incompetent in the eyes of the EU," said Giragosian.
Armenia will lose an opportunity for much bigger markets if it turns away from Europe, while the Customs Union offers Armenia nothing in terms of trade with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), he said.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has said that Armenia is ready to join the Russia-led Customs Union.
Giragosian said Sargsyan took a very bold but unexpected decision to commit Armenia to joining the Customs Union at a recent meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In many ways this decision was a strategic mistake, which makes Armenia no longer be capable of signing the DCFTA with EU, he said.
"Four years of negotiations between the EU and Armenia has now been rejected, and unfortunately Armenia is in danger of returning to a vassal state within the Russian orbit," he said.
"Armenia for the past five years has been struggling to strengthen sovereignty and independence and to pursue a foreign policy designed to give more options and more space to Armenia to engage with the West while remaining a security partner of Russia."
Yet, currently there is a reversal in this trend of diversification, and the real danger for Armenia now is that it is becoming a little more than a Russian garrison-state.
Giragosian believed that economically Armenia is looking to the EU, while militarily it keeps a security agreement with Russia. "This balance is now in danger of being lost," he noted.
Giragosian said that Armenia's decision might be a result of Russian pressure, which would reveal a deeper problem of the nature of the relationship or alliance between Russia and Armenia.
If it was not a result of Russian pressure, that's another problem because it shows the weakness of the Armenian leadership and government, he said.
But the real question for Ukraine, Moldova and other former Soviet states is how to balance the need to overcome isolation and the reality of having a strong, assertive and aggressive Russia on their borders, he said.
Currently, Armenia has been actively developing ties beyond its reliance on Russia in the military cooperation, said Giragosian. It has deepened ties with NATO's Partnership for Peace Program as well as bilateral military ties with a number of other countries, including the United States, Germany and Greece.
Giragosian also said that over the past four years Armenia has been negotiating with the EU, and the Russians have never protested, opposed nor blocked.
What happened over the past several weeks was a rather late change in Moscow to exercise greater control, power and influence within the so-called near abroad -- the former Soviet states, added the scholar.
He said that Russia's playing the Armenia card was a message of strength to the West, to the United States, and more importantly to Ukraine and Belarus.
It is much more important strategically for Russia to bring Ukraine into the Customs Union. This is also linked to Russia's policy over Syria as well, in terms of confronting and containing any kind of Western or European interference within its own sphere of influence.
"It is interesting that the Russian position is based on inherent weakness, not strength. And this is actually a desperate move to reinforce the decline in Russia's long-term power and influence," he said.
"But I don't think over the long term it will work, because there is no incentive, this is more of stick than carrot. But for a small country like Armenia, it is going to be difficult to try to regain more options and more strategic maneuverability," said Giragosian.
"Russian policy has been not very strategic -- a much shorter, tactical response, counterproductive I would argue as well. Because in the long run, Armenia within this EU framework is a win-win prospect," he said.
He added that there has not been any danger of Russia losing Armenia as an ally in this region. Moreover, Armenia is the only reliable country for Russia in this region, the only member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the only country to host a Russian military presence.
"Armenia should do a better job in actually manipulating its geographic isolation and vulnerability, and think strategically in longer term, rather than giving in too soon in exchange for a little benefit," noted Giragosian.