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Concerns about the Russian movements before the Vilnius Summit

AEGEE-Europe’s Reaction on the Latest Developments within the EU Eastern Partnership Program and Pressure Exercised by Russia

Within the last weeks the Head Office of AEGEE-Europe was following up the political developments in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP)  who previously officially expressed on the highest level their willingness sign the Association Agreement, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union.

At the end of November 2013, the Eastern Partnership Summit will take place in Vilnius (LT). This summit will discuss the establishment of closer relations between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries. So far, the EaP Program has worked towards providing better economic association and political integration of the Eastern Partnership members with the European Union. Also the EU Eastern Partnership Program has improved cooperation in the youth sector. Through the EaP the youth in these countries have achieved better social inclusion and have raised the quality of life of young people who have benefited from several European programs. These programs, mostly funded by the EU institutions, focused mostly in participation, mobility and education opportunities.

We witnessed in the past weeks with concern huge political pressure and speculations exercised on the EaP countries by a third party. At the brink of the upcoming Vilnius Summit, the Russian authorities are showing their reluctance to let the former Soviet allies make moves towards the European Union. Russia has set up its own equivalent of the Eastern Partnership, namely the “Customs Union”, and now Russian authorities exert pressure the Eastern Partnership countries to leave the European track and follow the Eurasian one.

AEGEE-Europe is deeply concerned with such political approach and we denounce the use of economic threats and sanctions exercised against Moldova (Russian authorities banned import of Moldovan wines, one of the country’s biggest source of income) and Ukraine (Russian authorities warned Ukraine for protective measures if Ukraine signs the Association Agreement), since they are in conflict with the right of each sovereign state to decide its political roadmap.

AEGEE-Europe emphasizes also the urgency in the EU-Armenia Association Process, which has been basically frozen as a result of the above mentioned pressure exercised by the Kremlin. On September 3rd 2013, after 3 and half years of successful and finalized negotiations on Association Agreement and DCFTA with the EU, the Armenian authorities expressed willingness to retreat from the European prospect and join in the Russian-led “Customs Union”. This decision was followed up by anti-governmental protests in Yerevan, which led to violence sometimes. Two members of protest groups (Haykak Arshamyan, from the Yerevan Press Club YPC, and Suren Saghatelyan, from Transparency International-Anticorruption Center Armenia-TI Armenia) were beaten on September 5 by a group of ‘unknown assailants’ as they returned from demonstration in support of the Armenia-EU integration process. Those intimidating attacks led to a statement of the EU Member States’ Heads of Mission in Armenia which AEGEE-Europe supports, and we call upon the Armenian authorities to take the required steps to protect the civil society.

Simultaneously, AEGEE-Europe wants to express full support to its only local representation in Armenia, AEGEE-Yerevan, and assure the members of the Organization, the Armenian students and the respective stakeholders that the activities and projects of AEGEE will not be frozen in Armenia. We again emphasize the urgency for the Armenian authorities to develop a multilateral structured dialogue with the representative of the civil society, with special attention to the youth sector, which will give overcome the existing deadlock.

We consider that the recent developments in Armenia and the pressure exercised on Moldova and Ukraine by the Russian authorities will have a very negative impact for the future of the Eastern Partnership, risking the advances in the recent 3-4 years. The countries of the Eastern Partnership can become more hesitant to sign documents with the EU. Unfortunately this may lead also to the stagnation in the field of youth cooperation with the consequent loss of opportunities for young people in the EaP countries.  Cooperation, exchanges and understanding will find more obstacles. The carefully build up relations between EU-EaP programs for formal and non-formal education will lose their visible impact. We give special importance to the position expressed in the official statements done by the European Commissioner Štefan Füle and the High Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton, as well as we appreciate the approach expressed at the special session of the European Parliament dedicated to analyze the external pressure on the EaP countries. We would like to express our full support to the principles of legal non-compliance of the Association Agreement and DCFTA with the legal framework of the “Customs Union”, as well as we call up the EaP authorities to avoid any misinterpretations of the mentioned legal documents.

AEGEE-Europe restates its faith in a Europe standing for liberty, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law, and our will to cooperate with institutions that promote these concepts. In our belief, the surprising decisions of Armenia have brought additional doubts to the future of the EU Eastern Partnership program in general. Additionally we witness increasing political and economic pressure by the Russian authorities on the EaP states to abandon their pro European policies. We consider such pressure as an inappropriate tool for development of the relationships with the EaP countries. The EaP program was not established to harm bilateral relations of the EaP countries with the Russian Federation, but foremost to give the EU Neighboring Eastern partners chance to develop market economies as well as fully functioning democracies which would correspond to the EU standards.

Written by Armenak Minasyants, Policy Officer of AEGEE-Europe for the Bridging Europe area, and Alla Resheten and Mara Ioana, from the Eastern Partnership project of AEGEE-Europe.