Pressure exercised by Russia on countries of the Eastern Partnership
Delivered in Plenary - 11 September 2013
Along with my group, the ECR, I have long taken an interest in the Eastern Partnership countries. Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia, in particular, are countries I have come to know well during the last few years as they work hard to build strong, accountable democracies from the wreckage of their Soviet past.
It is therefore particularly distressing to witness what has happened this month in Armenia, which spent so long negotiating an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union – agreements that would have offered real benefits to the Armenian people and economy – and to see President Sargsyan and his government coming under intolerable pressure from Moscow to reject that avenue and opt instead to join the Eurasian Customs Union.
President Putin, whose crackdown on civil rights is plain for all to see, seems determined to bribe and bully his immediate neighbours in a calculated bid to spite Europe and resurrect Russia’s so-called ‘near abroad’, both politically and economically, as a zone of influence. For Armenia this is tragic, but the Russian threats to supply arms to Azerbaijan and destabilise the fragile peace in Nagorno-Karabakh, and to raise energy prices, left this small country with little choice.
We can only hope that yesterday’s announcement of a ban on Moldovan wine, which I believe is against World Trade Organization rules, will not compel Chisinau to follow Yerevan; and, even more importantly, that Tbilisi and Kiev – and of course Ukraine is the big prize for the Russians – will not also succumb to Russian pressure. I am confident, however, that Ukraine, being a much bigger country, will be able to resist. Of course, the Russians have this ridiculous outdated zero-sum game as their world view.
In the meantime, let us do all we can in the European Union to extend the hand of friendship to the Eastern Partnership countries in the true spirit of partnership, and work with them to build political and cultural links, whatever they decide for the future.