Armenia may have refused an offer of duty-free ties with the European Union, but it still hopes for a visa-free relationship.
Yerevan’s July-23 request to move toward a visa-free ride for Armenian visitors to the European Union suggests that, despite its plans to align with Russia’s would-be-rival Eurasian Union, it still wants to keep a finger in the European pie.
Armenia’s planned participation in this second Union has experienced repeated delays; according to some observers, because of the lack of consensus among the bloc’s members (Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia) about Yerevan’s political and economic requests.
The official line is that this merger still will happen. Nonetheless, Armenia clearly doesn’t want to miss out on all the easier access to Paris, Rome and beyond that three more EU-enthusiastic members of the Eastern Partnership Program are having (Moldova) or soon could be having (Georgia, Ukraine) .
The EU’s thoughts about Nalbandian’s petition do not appear to have been released yet. To enhance Yerevan’s chances on this front, the foreign minister also spoke about the possibility for stronger ties with Brussels and stressed the EU’s role in Armenia’s democratization reforms.
The EU links its visa-liberalization policy to democratization, border and migration-management reforms. So far, according to one progress-chart, Armenia is doing as well as neighboring Georgia on migration-management, and roughly the same on passport-security, but lagging behind on changes related to basic civil rights and combatting organized crime, terrorism and corruption.
Meanwhile, Russia, per Yerevan’s request, has moved to simplify its own requirements for Armenian visitors. A recent agreement, tied to the Customs Union plans, allows Armenians who stay in Russia for not more than 30 days to dispense with registering with the immigration authorities. Other foreign nationals need to register within seven days.
Most Armenian observers believe that, at this stage, it’s unlikely that Yerevan can be coaxed away from its plans to join the Eurasian Economic Union. Nonetheless, the fact that Brussels and Yerevan still are exploring areas of cooperation after Armenia’s 2013 about-face suggests that this country of chess-champions wants to keep its options open.